Is a coding bootcamp worth it?
Is <name of bootcamp> legit?
Is <name of bootcamp> a scam?
These are all valid questions, and if you go to Google and type them into the search, you’ll find that they are some of the most commonly searched questions associated with the bootcamp industry.
In this article, we’re going to address those questions with as much transparency and with as little bias as possible. Our hope is that you’ll feel much better informed by the end and have a better idea as to whether a coding bootcamp is right for you.
History of Bootcamps
A coding bootcamp is a short term vocational training program, designed to create a learning environment where a student can learn software development skills. Programs usually last about three months on average for a full time pace (40 hours a week).
The first coding bootcamps opened their doors in 2011 to address a key problem in the software development industry – the skills gap.
As software has continued to grow and boom, the number of people who are skilled enough to develop the software has not kept up with the number of jobs and roles required to keep up with that growth.
This is even more true as software becomes more and more deeply integrated into people’s everyday lives.
Before coding bootcamps, there were two paths to becoming a software developer or software engineer. You could go to a traditional four year college program in computer science, which usually leads to internships and eventually paid junior level positions. You could also self-teach, build projects, and network in order to secure a job. Traditionally, all software positions required a four year degree, so this approach would work best in the startup scene or for freelancers where less traditional approaches are embraced.
We’ll address the pros and cons of the four year degree program approach. The key takeaway for now: colleges just couldn’t keep up with the demand for skilled engineers in the industry. With companies and software development teams spinning up all the time, the four year timeframe has been unable to meet the demand.
Self-taught programmers can be fantastic but are hard to validate for skill. They are also often trying to cobble together their own education and may not be aware of best practices or the right technologies to focus on with their education. On the other hand, a savvy self-educator that puts the pieces together in the right order can find themselves in a very high paying job with almost no up front investment, outside of time and energy.
Now that we’ve covered a bit of history, let’s talk about the benefits of coding bootcamps.
Benefits of a Coding Bootcamp
Coding bootcamps are skill-building focused, like a trade school where you would learn to weld or learn a construction craft. That means you are actively building software in a coding bootcamp in order to develop the competencies needed to be an effective developer. When learning to write software, being immersed in it daily is the best way to learn. This builds muscle memory and problem solving rigor that can quickly decay when it isn’t used frequently and consistently.
Because they are short term programs, they take less time to complete. That’s good news for individuals who can’t afford to take significant time away from earning an income or who don’t enjoy the prospect of a years long approach to learning job-ready skills.
The shorter time frame of a coding bootcamp translates to the speed at which its curriculum can be updated. It’s much easier to update a curriculum for a 13 week program than it is to update the curriculum for an entire semester worth of material that plays well with other courses in a degree program. That means that as technology changes (which it does, rapidly), a bootcamp is better positioned to stay up to date.
Bootcamps have just one focus – the skills they teach leading to their graduates being hired. That means that they tend to develop relationships with companies who are hiring. That leads to opportunities for graduates, and also a virtuous feedback loop where the bootcamp can adjust their training to the needs of the company.
Bootcamps are often cohort based, meaning you learn along with a specific group of people that stays consistent for the whole experience. That leads to a sense of cohesion and camaraderie that makes completing the course and gaining the skills more likely.
Instruction engagement is also a positive factor – instructors in these types of programs tend to be more hands on and have relevant experience to share as they both teach and mentor you. The relationship and support you have with an instructor in that environment can be a big differentiator in the success equation – especially compared to training situations where you’re given lectures and sent off to do the work on your own.
We’ll address in a different article, but the cost is another huge factor with coding bootcamps. You will find that compared to the investment in a college degree, you’ll pay substantially less overall for a bootcamp. It is still an investment, though! The typical cost of a bootcamp ranges from $6000 to $24,000. Compared to a college degree, this is much cheaper with a national average for a four year degree coming to about $104,108 over four years.
Cons of a Coding Bootcamp
Those are the benefits of the coding bootcamp approach. What are the downsides?
For one, a shorter timeframe comes with limitations. A bootcamp course can’t afford to spend too much time going deeply on any given topic, especially computer science topics, so your depth of knowledge is limited unless you’re intentional about spending additional time studying. Also, a shorter timeframe may mean that bootcamps try to cram too many topics and concepts into the program. That makes it hard to “metabolize” the information effectively. The human mind has a finite capacity for learning new things before rest is needed. The pace of a bootcamp can make that integration process a challenge.
Another con – the bootcamp industry is largely unregulated. They typically get state level accreditation, which ensures a certain academic standard, but there’s nothing on a federal level that can guarantee standards. That means you really have to do your homework when picking a program to ensure that the bootcamp you’re looking at is up to snuff and worth your investment.
Instructor quality can range wildly as well. Because an emphasis is placed on finding software developers with real world industry experience making software, there’s less of a guarantee that they have the educational skills needed to both design good curriculum and deliver it effectively. Lots of skills go into good instruction, especially sensitivity to different learning styles, emotional intelligence, and the ability to break complex concepts down into relatable concepts. A lack of industry regulation means that you have little way of knowing whether instructors are going to be competent unless you take the time to meet with them before making your investment. It’s helpful to also see recordings of them giving lectures to make sure that you can see their skills in action.
In the bootcamp world, it’s all about two outcomes: graduation rates and job placement rates. What people want is to ultimately land that first job, so that means a lot of pressure on bootcamps to keep those outcome rates high. Often, bootcamps will offer job guarantees to entice people to enroll. Those can be effective programs, but they can also come with a lot of requirements after graduation to keep up with in order to remain eligible. That’s a hard thing for individuals who are exhausted after their intense training experience.
What about four year computer science degree programs?
Let’s be clear: four year degrees are great! There’s a reason they have become a standard for vetting candidate quality in hiring practices.
A four year computer science program is excellent for conceptual knowledge – you will have the time and space to go much more deeply on computer science knowledge. That knowledge is key to going beyond a junior level position.
Degree programs can also lead to internships and other networking opportunities depending on the school you choose. In fact, the visibility and alumni opportunities of a college are some of the biggest selling factors in investing in a college education.
On the other side, it is much harder for degree programs to stay up to date with the fast pace of technology. Because you are learning at a much slower pace, it’s also harder to build skill effectively. College programs lack the immersive quality that can make a bootcamp so effective if done correctly.
We have often seen four year computer science graduates still come to our bootcamp so they can get the best of both worlds: the skill development of a bootcamp and the conceptual rigor of a four year computer science program!
How To Choose a Bootcamp Wisely
So to answer the question – is a coding bootcamp worth it?
Frankly, it depends on a lot of different factors that are personal to you. The students that have gained the most benefit from coding bootcamps:
- Enjoy hands on, project based learning
- Are emotionally intelligent and can manage the stress of a fast paced situation
- Have a “never quit” mentality to tackling tough problems
- Are more interested in learning a specific job skill than getting a general education
- Don’t want to leave the workforce for too long to re-skill
The best way to choose the bootcamp that is right for you is to look at the following factors:
- Relevant technologies. Look at the technologies being listed in a curriculum and compare them to what is in job postings in your local area (where you would have a much better chance of being hired).
- Look at the experience of the instruction staff. Is there a good mix of educational experience with technical experience?
- Make sure the class sizes are small enough that you’ll receive individualized support if you need it.
- Pay attention to the amount of technologies taught compared to the period of time it is taught in. Listing a lot of technologies looks impressive from a selling perspective, but isn’t tenable from a learning perspective.
Probably the most important factor is whether you connect well with the instructors, so try to meet one in your research process to get a feel for whether they will be a good fit.
Just like any product of service, a bootcamp is only worth it if it solves your specific problems well enough to justify the investment you’ll make in it. Let’s be clear. Bootcamps are NOT for everyone. Those that are right for bootcamps love the experience, but there is a lot involved in making sure that it is a good fit. Make sure to do your research, test a lot of options, and weigh the pros and cons before taking the plunge!
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