QUEST Alumnus Ryan Atkinson on Hack Reactor Coding Bootcamp

Ryan Atkinson is a QUEST Cohort 17 Alumnus and 2012 UMD graduate in Mechanical Engineering. After graduating, Ryan worked for two and a half years as a Mechanical Engineer for ExxonMobil in New Orleans. In early 2016, he enrolled in Hack Reactor, a coding bootcamp in San Francisco. Shortly after graduating from Hack Reactor, Ryan signed with SolarCity where he works today as a Software Engineer.

As a recent graduate, can you tell us a little bit about Hack Reactor?

Absolutely. The general hook is that Hack Reactor is an intensive three-month school that helps passionate individuals learn to be software engineers, and it boasts a 99% placement rate with an average starting salary of $105K, trending north. Intense, in this case, describes the 11 hours per day x 6 days per week x 12 weeks, or 792 hours of required class time, which equals about 1.65 years of traditional university class time.

For QUEST students, I’ll propose a different angle. My perception during and after Hack Reactor was that I was experiencing one of the two most unique, carefully-curated, and inspiring academic experiences available; the other being QUEST. I thought QUEST was brilliant because you were immersed in an environment of exceptional and highly motivated individuals, the instructors had an unusual and inspiring passion for the program, and the curriculum was always pushed to be as forward-thinking and valuable to students as possible, all things I was happy to find at Hack Reactor as well.

Outside of the schedule difference, how is Hack Reactor different than traditional academia?

I remember taking Dynamics during my sophomore year of college and finally feeling like I had discovered the subject matter that captured my excitement and interest. Of course, this was one of five very different classes I was taking at the time, and I was half a semester away from moving on to a completely new slate of subjects.

Bootcamps are the complete opposite. Every lesson is strategically placed to build off of the previous one as students cultivate an ever-growing grasp of the bigger picture that is application engineering. A class on server technology, potentially a semester long subject at a traditional university, could leave you concurrently thrilled, confused, and simply salivating for related content to fill out the big picture puzzle. At Hack Reactor, the other pieces of that puzzle, classes on user interfaces, database technology, data structures, etc., are scheduled as separate two-day sprints just a few days later.

In this sense, the script is flipped. It’s this connection of concepts and curated series of “aha” moments that I don’t remember having in college when relating different courses. Rather than drilling down to the extreme depths of each subject matter independently, at bootcamps, the topics are highly related and delivered to the point of proficiency. This leaves it up to the individual to separately explore any specific topic of interest in as much detail as they desire.

Who makes a good candidate for bootcamps?

It’s hard not to be overly subjective here, as so many different types have been successful in the program. Thankfully, there’s a very objective way to find out.

  • Give chapters 1-5 of Eloquent Javascript a read.
  • (Or) if that’s a little too dull for you, try the first two courses in Code School’s Javascript track, then head back to Eloquent Javascript.
  • When you’re done, stop by CoderByte and start knocking out the easy coding challenges*.
  • If you think completing these challenges is a lot of fun, you like computers, and love at least the idea of building things, the odds are that good you’re a great fit for bootcamps.

*Tip – ignore and avoid answers utilizing RegEx, not a great use of time.

Additionally, a few of you have probably kicked around some VBA in Excel or MATLAB for calculus. If you found the power of the code and the fact that you can automate pretty much anything really exciting (read: tell the computer how to check into Southwest flights for you), that’s typically an indication you’ll be a good fit. If you hated MATLAB (me), don’t worry, most coding languages are way more fun.

How does this all fit in for a current student at UMD?

The background of students at Hack Reactor is very diverse, including roughly (my estimation) 25% that either took time off, squeezed it in between semesters, or dropped out of college to attend. A surprising and increasing number of new students show up with degrees in computer science simply because they don’t feel they have the skills necessary to land a job in the industry.

If you’re really interested, the safe play is to shoot for a spot in one of the summer cohorts and skip a round of the traditional university internship plan. To be clear, once you start day one at Hack Reactor, you won’t have any inclination to go back.

If you would like to contact Ryan for more information, he can be reached at

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