Sorry, developer bootcamps: I was wrong

Dillon Forrest
Apr 4, 2016 · 4 min read

Developer bootcamps are surging in tech right now. I know lots of pockets in the industry have strong thoughts about them and their grads, but I’m here to say that most perceptions towards bootcamp grads are wrong.

I wrote this piece with a few people in mind:

  • Employers looking to hire more engineers
  • Founders looking for a cofounder
  • Prospective developer bootcamp students
  • Recent developer bootcamp alumni looking for their first programming job

Bootcamp grads are easily among the top 10% of people with whom I’d like to work. If they’re not in your own personal top 10%, I’m here to convince you to reconsider.

What types of people enroll in developer bootcamps?

There’s some noise with this observation, but I noticed a few common patterns with bootcamp grads:

  • Intelligence: They learned how to build production software. Hardly trivial.
  • Risk appetite: They are capable of executing on calculated risks to advance their career. Most people have zero risk appetite at all. Most people talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk and take the leap as bootcamp grads do.
  • Resilience: They are tough as nails. A bootcamp is 60–70 hours a week with no guarantee of a payoff in the end. They’re willing to go VERY far out of their comfort zone and bust ass to get what they want.
  • Self-investment: They’re highly motivated to invest in themselves. A bootcamp might cost about $17,000 for 10 weeks, not including living expenses or opportunity cost of foregone salary. How many people do you know invested $17,000 in their self-improvement?
  • Entrepreneurship: They’re often more business- and product-minded than the classic software engineer. Lots of bootcamp grads are aiming to become founders or product leaders, not just engineers. They frequently have huge side projects that actually earn money.
  • Growth trajectory: They learned a completely new skillset and turned it into their profession. They demonstrated they can pivot and transform their careers, and their careers will likely continue to transform. Bootcamp grads will grow more in 3 years than the median software engineer will.

Again, there’s some noise to these observations of mine, but overall these are precisely the types of people I want around me. Many of these people self-select by enrolling in a developer bootcamp.

How are developer bootcamp currently perceived?

It’s difficult to aggregate everybody’s perspectives, but I’d suggest the overall perception toward bootcamps is not super great.

First, the stigma. The stigma against bootcamps is unfair and unwarranted. Most critics haven’t even worked with or hired a bootcamp grad. Sure, maybe you had a bad interview experience with one, but I’d bet they still interviewed better than the average university candidate.

Second, the price tag. Bootcamps are expensive, and people rail on bootcamps for that. To reiterate, a bootcamp might cost about $17,000 for 10 weeks. There might be a selection bias for me, but I have yet to meet a bootcamp grad who hasn’t found a job after their bootcamp. One of my bootcamp grad friends told me, “Bootcamp ROI beats college any day.”

Third, the unwelcoming attitude towards bootcamp grads and the possessiveness towards the craft of programming. Frankly, many engineers feel threatened by developer bootcamps.

Many engineers feel bootcamps diminish their profession by suggesting that programming can be commoditized and packaged into a 10-week bootcamp. For their own self-worth, they want bootcamps to fail.

How can we make the most of developer bootcamps?

Thankfully, we don’t have to be so contentious. This industry has more than enough room for everyone to be better off. We’re not fighting for a bigger slice of the pie; we’re fighting to grow the whole pie for everyone, together. The judgments, selfishness, and possessiveness are unnecessary.

If you’re considering a developer bootcamp, I’d highly recommend you do it. Make sure you do your research and find the one most likely to make your tuition dollars worthwhile!

If you’re a recent bootcamp grad looking for a job, I recommend continuing to be resilient. Don’t give up! Keep coding, interviewing, and improving.

If you’re interviewing bootcamp grads, meeting ones who you like a lot, but rejecting them because of their inexperience, I’d suggest you re-interview them after one or two months. They will grow more in the next two months than your current engineers will in the same timespan. When you re-interview them in two months, they will likely surprise you with their growth.

If you’re looking for a cofounder for a startup or a project, do NOT forget about bootcamp grads! They’re fucking smart, hungry, and tough as nails.

The industry generally undervalues bootcamps grads. Don’t dismiss them if you want to buy low on great talent.

By the way, I’m a cofounder at RankScience based in San Francisco. If you found this post helpful, or if you have any questions or feedback, or if you’d just like to say hi, I’d love to chat! You can contact me by email or Twitter. It’d make my day to hear from you!

Thanks to my friends Stephanie Oh and Mike Luby for reviewing drafts of this post.

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