LEAP and Other Apprenticeships: Job Paths for Non-Traditional Background Programmers

(Previous: You Can’t Program a Duck)

From the LEAP website: www.industryexplorers.com

Last week marked my one-year anniversary of working full time as a software engineer!

I can’t believe how fast time has gone by. When I look back to what I could do a year ago, I can see how much I’ve learned and grown as a developer, and I feel really proud of that. At the same time, I can see how much I still don’t know, and I love that part of my job is to keep pushing myself to learn more, one week at a time.

A year ago (last week) is when I started LEAP, a Microsoft-sponsored apprenticeship for non-traditional background programmers. I was a part of the third LEAP cohort, and ended up getting a full time job offer at Microsoft when the program ended. They have a great website that explains all about the program; here’s their description:

  • LEAP is an immersive, 16-week diversity program that provides participants with real-world development experience.
  • The program combines traditional classroom learning with hands-on projects.
  • The lectures are led by senior engineers and are designed to both enhance existing technical skills as well as teach new ones.
  • In the second and third months of the program participants will work on projects provided directly by and under the supervision of Microsoft product teams.

I get questions about LEAP from time to time from people on LinkedIn, so I thought I’d post a few things I say a lot on here. But of course, feel free to reach out if you have other questions!

What is an apprenticeship? An apprenticeship is like an internship, but for people who haven’t been in school for a while. Coding bootcamp grads and other non-traditional background programmers sometimes don’t qualify for internships because of the schooling requirement, but need an opportunity for very, very junior level developer positions where they can learn a lot and add a line to their resumes. That’s what apprenticeships are for.

What is a typical day like in LEAP? Depends on the day. During my cohort, the first five weeks were a combination of lectures from senior engineers on OOP, best practices in C#, debugging, and other important topics; plus lab hours to work on exercises, and working in teams with other LEAP participants on mini-projects. The next ten weeks were spent with product teams, working on specific projects that were relevant to each participant’s team. And the last week was a project fair, interviewing practice, actual interviewing, and wrap-up time. The instructional portion of the program has probably changed somewhat from my cohort, but I believe the overall idea is the same.

What is the interview process like? Round one is applying through the website; candidates are asked to submit a resume and write about their experience learning to program–what they have done to expose themselves to programming, and why they like it, or something similar. Round two, for those who are selected from round one, is interviewing. Like all technical interviews, there are no guarantees on what you’ll be asked, but usually it’s technical problem solving, similar to questions you might see on GeeksForGeeks and other sites.

How much experience do you need to apply? Do you need to know C# already? In my cohort, new programmers had been programming for about a year, give or take a little. Others were returning to engineering after a significant absence, so they had more previous experience, but a different skill set than the bootcamp-trained developers. Some had no C# experience, others did. If you’ve built a full-stack app or something similar, and feel okay with a whiteboarding interview, I’d say go ahead and apply and see what happens.

Are there other apprenticeships out there for coding bootcamp grads? Yes! As of writing this post, I know of LEAP (at Microsoft), REACH (at LinkedIn), Facebook’s Rotational Engineering Program, Amazon’s Software Development Engineer Apprentice roles, and also programs at AirBnB, Adobe, and Pinterest (and Pinterest link #2).* These all have different requirements and opportunities, I am not an expert on them. I’ve heard rumors that other companies are starting to offer more apprenticeship-style opportunities as well, I’ll keep this list updated if I hear of more… send me links if you have them. Please keep in mind that most of these programs have open periods and closed periods, so it’s important to keep track of when application periods will open next.**

In all, I feel really lucky that I got to be a part of LEAP, and doubly lucky that it led to a full-time job (that I really enjoy). I hope that when I look back in another year, I’ll have continued to grow and push myself to do more.

Sending out positive thoughts to all the non-traditional background programmers who are looking for their first opportunity–good luck in your search, and may the whiteboards be ever in your favor.


*There are also built-in apprenticeships available through the programs at Ada Developers Academy and Apprenti. There’s also Microsoft AI Residency, which seems to allow for a broader range of majors besides Computer Science.

**There’s also a lot of great advice out there on how to network on LinkedIn and at tech events open doors to job interviews, so if there isn’t an apprenticeship near you, you might want to do some research and start going to local Meetups and other events.


7 thoughts on “LEAP and Other Apprenticeships: Job Paths for Non-Traditional Background Programmers

  1. I’m trying to decide between attending a bootcamp (hack reactor / full stack web dev) and self-teaching the whole way. Do you have any tips / opinions for one or the other?

    1. That’s great! I think a lot depends on your individual learning style, as well as your life situation. For me, getting started on my own wasn’t bad, but I hit a rough spot in the middle where having input from professionals was really, really important (so I went to Kal Academy for weekend classes). But also, my husband is a developer, so I could ask him questions when I got stuck, and not everyone has in-home developer help. Bootcamps seem to be good for holding you to a really, really accelerated schedule, while putting you into a room with others who are in similar stages of learning and teachers who can help you when you get stuck. So I think both can be good. In my case, I had been accepted to a bootcamp (Coding Dojo), so I knew I could always go there if my self-study/weekend classes weren’t going well.

  2. also, while you were learning how to code, were you working full-time? if not, do you think you could have been ready for the apprenticeship in 6 months or so of self-learning without a full-time job?


    1. I answered this more fully on the other post, but short answer: I think 6 months while working is probably unrealistic for most people. Most of the people in my apprenticeship cohort had been learning for 6 months to a year fulltime. At the same time, Kalacademy.org offers weekend classes so you can do both pretty easily until you feel ready to quit (if you’re in the Seattle/Redmond area)

  3. I have just read your entire blog and I just want to say that it really inspired me, I loved your posts (and so that you know how far your words “traveled” to influence someone’s life, I live in central Brazil!).

    Given your education background, I guess you might sometimes prefer to learn some things from books, rather than from online videos. Do you have any good books that you encountered in your journey that you might want to recommend? (I am currently trying to learn Javascript using “Eloquent Javascript”, and I am really liking it so far).

    Also, write more whenever you can, your posts are really great!

    Best regards from the tropics.

    1. Thanks, that’s really encouraging to hear!

      I feel spoiled with online resources, so even when I read “books”, they are usually online. One of my favorites is definitely Kyle Simpson’s “You Don’t Know JS” series: https://github.com/getify/You-Dont-Know-JS, and he also does online tutorials that cover the same topics. I use Angular and D3.js at work, so I find myself reading the docs for both of those quite a bit, and I think they’re really useful: https://angular.io/docs and https://d3js.org/ And of course W3Schools when I get stuck with CSS: https://www.w3schools.com/

      Thanks again and have a great day!

  4. Pingback: Coding First

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