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Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?

After spending an entire summer in the Bay Area at an intensive coding bootcamp called Horizons, I have been trying to reflect on one of the biggest decisions in my college career thus far. This is because the way high achieving students utilize their vacations determines how much of an edge they can get against the competition. This is present in all fields, not just computers and technology. Students spend summers shadowing doctors if they are premed or interning at bulge bracket banks if they are in finance, all in the hope of clout and leverage over competition back in school.

I will try my best to give an objective analysis of my summer there and apply it to bootcamps in general, but the truth is everyone has their own biases. Everyone’s situation is different. It is important to take analysis and reviews with a grain of salt.

Bootcamps market the wrong mentality

The main mentality behind this is that 12 weeks will make you into an amazing coder or “fat stack” banker is false. This is far from the truth and a lot of my peers (including myself) came into Horizons with the idea that we would become coding wizards that could make random shit levitate by the time we are done. The sad thing is that a lot of these schools or programs market themselves like “become a full stack developer in 3 months” or “data scientist in 8 weeks”. This feeds into our reliance of quick solutions over true mastery, which takes years and years of practice and constant repetition. In these past 10 weeks, I sort of lost sight of that and I forgot that the things I was really good at in the past took me years to get good at. Coding is no different and in fact, it may arguably take longer. That being said, a lot of my peers knew that they wouldn’t become experts, but came here to learn.

There are always cheaper, more efficient alternatives

These programs are extremely expensive. I was deciding between two programs, Ixperience and Horizons. Without any financial aid, both of these programs come up to around $10,000 for a summer. The only differences were that Horizons put an emphasis on entrepreneurship and SWE (software engineering) and Ixperience put an emphasis on having a fun time abroad and learning R. If you are talking about just the knowledge, what these programs give you is no different than some of the courses you can get on Udemy (online course website). In fact, if you bought these four courses ( Web Development Bootcamp , Web Developer Bootcamp 2.0, ReactJS and Redux, Javascript), you could basically have the same knowledge I had (maybe even more) coming out of this program. The same goes for Ixperience, except you probably need only one course (Machine Learning and Data Science Bootcamp- done in Python instead of R) for it. Some of my peers in Horizons said that they wouldn’t have done half the stuff they did if it wasn’t for the environment that Horizons facilitated, so take this information as you wish. For my situation, I wanted to learn these skills regardless, so the online courses seemed like very cheap and useful alternatives that I could’ve used instead of Horizons.

There is still a very good reason to go

So now there are courses online that can teach you everything I learned for $60. Why would people still go to these camps? My justification for these camps (which also ended being the reason why I chose Horizons over Ixperience) is because of the location and people. You can check out my other article on this which describes the importance of thinking in this way. These benchmarks are largely intertwined because the people are usually what make a location so useful to take advantage of. San Francisco is known to have a thriving tech community, but you can only take advantage of that if you go out there and talk to people. The bootcamp won’t do anything to help connect you, so your best bet is either cold calling or going to meetups with a lot of tech wizards there.

If you think about the program itself, the idea is that if you surround yourself with extremely motivated individuals, then you eventually ingrain those traits in yourself. You take in the mentalities of the people around you. This, and the “entrepreneurial vibe” was the reason I came here over Cape Town. After meeting all these incredible people, I honestly felt intimidated at first just based on how much they knew more than me, but I took it as an opportunity to learn. I saw this as an incredible opportunity to meet awesome people at meetups like founders of cryptocurrency companies and engineers at startups causing huge disruptions.

But, the living conditions suck

Being in this tech atmosphere came with a huge caveat. Our housing was in SoMa next to the Tenderloin, which is one of the worst places to live in San Francisco. This is where a large portion of the homeless community resides, so almost every day, my walk to the gym would consist of someone either saying derogatory comments about me or someone shooting up heroin within feet of my hotel. These are not even the worst things that happened to me in my short time here. Obviously, these living conditions were given to us by Horizons and by no means is representative of other programs. However, most bootcamps in the San Fran area place their students in locations like these because of the cheaper housing. The lesson is to do a lot of research of the location in terms of career opportunities AND where you are living. Also, for Horizons, the program is very difficult, especially if you don’t have any coding experience. I am a firm believer in having the optimal environment for learning, and I don’t think SoMa helped alleviate anything with the intense program. Even if people don’t admit it in their reviews, they lose the level of drive that they had in weeks 1–3 because that level of stress is difficult for anyone to maintain (with or without an optimal environment). People stopped showing up to class around weeks 6 and by the time it was week 9, only 25% of the most motivated students were showing up.

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The connections can last IF you want it to

There is another part of the experience of an intensive bootcamp, and that is the friends you make within the program. Now, many of my friends here are downright amazing people that will do amazing things in their lifetime, but keeping a connection with them after this program is going to be difficult. Some of my friends will go back to China, Europe, or Canada, so it will be difficult to keep in touch with them after we go our separate ways. A lot of these programs pitch in their marketing schemes that “you could find a potential co-founder” or “create friendships that last a lifetime”. The first one shouldn’t be happening in the first place unless you live near each other. A long distance relationship is hard by itself, but long distance with your co-founder is stupid and downright near impossible to do. The second can be true if you really hit it off with a person or a couple people, but even then it would be hard to maintain if you go to separate schools a lot of miles apart. But, this is something that should be expected for all camps. That being said, I know that there are some people that I will continue to keep in touch with.

Bootcamps are not life changing experiences

You shouldn’t view these camps as “life changing opportunities” or even as sufficient ways of learning any skill because there are way, way, way cheaper options in terms of acquiring knowledge. You also won’t be a wizard at programming coming out of the program. At best, you will be borderline competent. In my opinion the location and type of people are probably the most important things to consider. I can say this for a fact because with the internet, you can learn anything at any time. For example, I bought an online course and with a little research, I started to learn the fundamentals of data science, machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, and neural networks on the side of a software engineering bootcamp. This is not to show off that I did a lot this summer, but show that you don’t need to spend a ton of money to learn skills and acquire knowledge (which is something that a lot of people base their decisions off of). You will not become in expert in anything if you are just starting, so base your decision off of the location that helps you meet the most like-minded people in terms of goals.

If you really feel like you should do a coding camp, despite all the alternatives, make sure the location of the camp is the most important thing you consider because the time you spend outside of your program is just as important as what you do inside of it. Talk to people that have done those programs before and see what they say about it. My choice was pretty simple given my goals. I had to choose between San Francisco and Cape Town and the only goal I had was to get into technology entrepreneurship. Think about what you want and see which location will benefit you the most while you are there. Go through this type of thought process and I am sure you will have a much more worthwhile experience should you choose to go to a coding program.