Coding Boot Camps: Preparing for the War Against the Machines

Feb 1 · 6 min read
“soldiers on top of battle tanks” by Chuanchai Pundej on Unsplash

“When machinery seizes on an industry by degrees, it produces chronic misery among the operatives who compete with it.” That was written by Karl Marx in 1867. At that time, advanced technology consisted of something called the self-acting mule. Every generations sees its self-acting mule (whether it takes the form of the steam engine, the automobile or the articulated robot). And now of course artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) looms on the horizon like an army amassing at the border. If you believe the predictions (McKinsey, ai-vs-humanity), it’s not a matter of if but when the machines will take over the jobs we hold now.

Currently, AI already engages us in multiple theaters:

  1. Finance: software is used to check credit, detect fraud and automate tasks previously done by humans (CFTE).
  2. Legal: machines are now involved in basic legal work (Forbes).
  3. Healthcare: AI-powered virtual nurse assistants are being tested (HBR).

Those are just a few examples of the assault the machines are making on the employment market. A white-collar uniform is no shield against the attack; the machines are coming for your cubicle.

But what can you do about it?

If you don’t have a technical background (like me), then it might be time to consider arming yourself with some technical skills. There are multiple ways one could obtain technical skills of course, but here, I am focusing only on coding boot camps. Higher educations options are not in scope here.

“Matrix movie still” by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What is a coding boot camp?

Coding boot camps sometimes called web development boot camps or full-stack development coding boot camp can be defined this way:

Coding boot camps are intensive programs of software development which started in 2011. — Wikipedia.com

Or…

Coding boot camps are intensive, immersive instructor-led learning programs that teach beginners digital skills like Full-Stack Web Development, Data Science, Digital Marketing, and UX/UI Design. Boot camps vary in length from 8 to 28 weeks, with the average boot camp being about 10 weeks long. — Course Report.

Or…

A full-stack development boot camp is basically like being shoved into a steel cage with a dozen professional fighters, and then being told to bare-knuckle fight your way to safety while watching instructional videos on your cellphone. By the end of the brawl you’ll know how to take a kick to the face, but you won’t be a professional fighter. -Me.

Okay, a bit of an exaggeration for sure. At the end of a decent web development boot camp, you’ll know how to build a website, but whether you can call yourself a developer is up for debate, (see opinions: Aggarwal in Medium, Hwang in Viget, James in Inc).

Believe it or not, these classes can be valuable for someone who doesn’t want to be a full-time developer. To use my fighting analogy from above, maybe you don’t want to be the overweight bare-knuckle boxing champion of the world, but you still want to learn how to gouge an eye out gracefully — just in case you need to do that.

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

The point: the skills learned in a boot camp can be used at your current job, or you can use the technical skills to build your own website, or mobile application, as noted by Jon WestenBergNobody wants to be your technical co-founder”.


Take or Not

A few things to consider before signing up for a development boot camp:

Take it,
if you want to learn what the “stack” in full stack means.
You will have a much better understanding and appreciation of the technology stack after a standard boot camp, from the front-end GUI (what people see and interact with) to the server (what controls the electronic traffic) to the database (what stores the data).

Don’t take it,
if you got an ole school gig and that’s not changing.
If your company, your job, your future company or your future job has little interaction with web browsers, mobile applications, rich client applications, the cloud, software, hardware, light switches. Basically you have and plan on having a tech-less job.

Take it,
if you have the type of personality that thrives under deadlines, forced participation and peer pressure.
You’re the type of person that likes to take classes at the gym because you don’t want the group of octogenarians in the front row to finish the set of handstand burpees before you, then consider a boot camp. I mean its called a boot camp for a reason.

Don’t take it,
if you like to learn at your own pace.
Some people will get more from an online, self-paced course where you don’t have to worry about deadlines and classes. A boot camp’s pace is not for everyone.

Take it,
if your family and work lifestyle can handle it.
Boot camp is going to eat your time. Period. I suggest the part-time night courses for those who want to keep their 9–5 gigs, but those still require a lot of your time. Make sure you discuss it with your kinfolk and they can handle the increased foraging duties.

Don’t take it,
if you don’t have the time — duh.
The warning label should say: Do not take multiple classes per week without consulting your manager, spouse, partner, guardian or boo.

Take it,
if you have the money to spend on education.
You may qualify for an education tax credit (AOTC or LLC) from the tax collectors, but you’ll still have to transfer your capital to the boot camp to begin the class.

Don’t take it,
if you cannot spend the money.
There are dozens of great and free online courses, books, videos, and blog posts that you can use to educated yourself instead of spending your hard earned chedda (slang for cash).

Take it,
if you’re interested in coding and have some aptitude for it.
Before signing up for an onsite web development program, take and complete an online course in HTML (5 free courses here), Linux Command Line (I like this Udacity course), Git (codeacademy) or something technical like this free Harvard Computer Science class.

Don’t take it,
if you’re not interested or have an aversion to logic and technical challenges.
Seriously, I’ve seen people get 95% of the way through coding boot camp and then quit in the last month because they were drowning in code and they couldn’t get their life vest inflated. You don’t want to be the one found face-down on the shores of coding boot camp.

Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

The Strong and the Weak

In the table below, I analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a web development boot camp. In the first category, the terms “frameworks and libraries”, can be loosely defined as collections of software code created by someone else for anyone to use. Frameworks and libraries are necessary tools for the vast majority of developers, so understanding their general use and meaning is necessary for this analysis. The rest of the table should be self explanatory.

Before considering a boot camp, a serious developer candidate should review job placement opportunities after a course, (see Feng, 2016, “I spent 3 months applying to jobs after a coding bootcamp”; Stevens-Huffman, 2017 “Landing…Job After… Bootcamp). Others may be skeptical of these boot camps in general since there are number of naysayers out there, (see Thayer & Ko, 2017, “Barriers Faced by Coding Bootcamp Students”; McBride, 2016, “Want a Job in Silicon Valley? Keep Away From Coding Schools”).

Conclusion

Given the onslaught of technology in every facet of our lives, those without technical backgrounds should consider a coding boot camp as reasonable form of continuing education. This advice is for those who don’t want to become a full time developers, like product managers, project managers and program managers.

Mark Cameron

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Project Manager | Technology | Writing

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