Are programming bootcamps worth it? 

Your hacker elitism is shitting all over my good mood.

Tea Ho
Tea Ho
Jan 3, 2014 · 5 min read

While researching programming bootcamps for a friend of mine who was interested because I can’t shut up about how much I loved my experience at General Assembly, I came across a lot of skepticism and cynicism regarding programming bootcamps in general. I read many of these opinion pieces months earlier when I was trying to decide whether or not I should bother applying to one because $12K is a lot of money to invest in something that may essentially be a scam. I had read these before, weighed my pros and cons, but decided to go for it.

It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and damn, I’ve had a lot of good experiences.

Hacker Elitism

The thing that bothers me most about these opinion pieces that criticize the idea of a programming bootcamp (not even a particular school) are that the opinions aren’t from anyone who’s actually experienced the bootcamp, taught it, sat in on courses, seen student work, or talked to previous students about their experiences.

They’re completely steeped in elitism. Hacker elitism. They espouse the idea that the best/true/only way to learn how to program is to teach it yourself or get a degree. It’s the idea that if you didn’t start at 12 and you didn’t teach yourself, you’re a hobbyist or a dabbler or a fake.

A popular opinion is that if you don’t teach yourself, you’re not a real hacker. Even worse, you don’t have what it takes to be a programmer. A commenter said that paying for a bootcamp:

“makes a clear statement about personality that shows itself in practice here and there, when they chose to throw money at the problem, a whole lot of money, instead of demonstrating resourcefulness and self initiative by learning it for free with all the resources available today, the kind of self-initiative programming requires… Their choice is not that of a self-starter.

People who sign up for these programs don’t lack the initiative to learn themselves. Telling someone who has spent over a year teaching themselves during the wee hours of the night/morning before and after work that saving $12K to put into a program lacks self-initiative is not only misguided, it’s offensive.

Pitfalls to Teaching Yourself How to Code

Programming is beautiful in that there are so many resources online that one *could* teach themselves—unlike medicine. Don’t trust a doctor who taught him/herself online.

The best thing about teaching yourself to code is that it’s free, but it’s not a viable option for everyone. There are lots of roadblocks to learning on your own, the biggest of them all is that when you don’t know much, it’s hard to figure out what you don’t know.

As someone who did a ton of codecademy, codeschool, and spent time on stack overflow, I can say that I learned more in my first two weeks at General Assembly than I had in the year prior to starting at GA. The lessons are planned out to logically flow from one to the next. There’s a curriculum—a road map. They give you instructors who are there with you every step of the way. You can get to the core, to the important things. Once you have those basics down, teaching yourself other things makes a helluva lot more sense.

Having instructors and a good foundation from the beginning also means you don’t have the bad habits that can often come with self-teaching.

Realistic Expectations of the Bootcamp Experience

My favorite line from “Are Dev Bootcamps a scam? A Hacker’s perspective” is:

“The bootcamp model gives you an “intensive” course good enough so that you’re able to build a shitty web app, and then they hopefully place you in a job needing a code monkey.”

It’s akin to yelling at a pre-med student for not being able to perform surgery on someone. Bootcamps don’t (or shouldn’t) claim to be the entire journey. You don’t leave a programming bootcamp with all the skills and knowledge you’ll ever need. But it’s a start. We have the basic building blocks to continue the path of learning. To get a job as junior developers, apprenticeships, internships.

Besides, technology changes so quickly that what’s really important is helping people ask the right questions, get their foot in the door, and teaching them how to continue their journey.

Learning to Code should be Free

“Personally I’m against charging to teach others how to code. If people come to the profession with drive and passion, I believe it should be free. I wasn’t charged when I first asked how to code.” — dpg

I doubt this guy is willing to sit there and answer your hours of questions, help you figure out why your program won’t run, answer basic questions, and he certainly wouldn’t do it without being condescending.

If education were free, that’d be awesome. It’s typically not in the US.

Good bootcamps are run in nice buildings in nice areas with fast internet. What you’re paying for isn’t just information you can find for free online. You’re paying for a tested and developed curriculum that’s undergoing constant revision to make it better. You’re paying for a crew of instructors who are putting in full time hours to make sure you understand the material. You’re paying for community. It can be incredibly isolating seeking answers on your own. When you’re learning by yourself, the internet seems to be full of people smarter than you. At a bootcamp, you have peers struggle next to you. The value of having people learning at your level is that you’re not just learning and taking, you’re giving back to them. It’s having dialogue and feeling like you’re contributing.

My instructors at General Assembly were incredibly patient. They helped us ask the right questions. I’ve seen them sit for a couple of hours with one student just to help get over whatever intellectual or emotional block they had. It’s hard stuff learning things by yourself. It’s easy to feel dumb and question yourself. Sometimes you need a support network. Having people who are really committed and invested in your success is almost worth the money all by itself.

If anyone wants to complain about the prices bootcamps are charging, but are somehow capable of providing the same level of instruction for free with no strings attached, let me know. That’d be great.

Last Word

“In the end, while some graduates may have potential, I’d be willing to bet the majority are unemployable if it weren’t for such a talent drought.” -dpg

This sentence complains about the skill level of those hired while also complaining about the “talent drought.”

This jerk elite attitude is what puts off a lot of people to learning how to program. This elitism is what makes so many people think it’s impossible to learn how to code or think that they’re too dumb. Maybe some just don’t want to work with people who are mean-spirited and socially inept. These attitudes need to change.

It also ignores the fact that everyone isn’t and doesn’t need to be at the same skill level. There are lots of jobs. There aren’t enough programmers. There is a place in the grand scheme for all of us and we all need to start somewhere.

    Tea Ho

    Written by

    Tea Ho

    Product designer