It’s Time to Talk About the Coding Bootcamp Promise
Here’s what you should ask before enrolling
There are a few different ways to get into software engineering. According to Hired’s 2020 State of Software Engineers, people typically choose one of four learning paths:
- get a degree in computer science (50% of respondents)
- get a degree in something related (19% of respondents)
- learn independently (22% of respondents)
- go to a coding bootcamp (10% of respondents)
These bootcamps, which typically charge between $10,000 and $15,000, produced around 34,000 graduates in 2019, representing a growth of 4.38% from the previous year.
Coding bootcamps make some big promises.
- You’ll become a full-stack developer.
- You won’t pay tuition until you get a job making at least $50,000.
- You’ll get a job within 6 months of graduating, or your tuition will be free.
- We’ll help you find a job.
- There is a huge demand for full-stack engineers.
- There is a huge demand for junior developers.
Before we break down each of these promises, it’s worth mentioning that I took the bootcamp path at the end of 2018.
The program I attended was a “software engineering intensive”, so I put my trust into the bootcamp model, just as 34,000 other people did in 2019, and even more are doing right now.
What I Learned (And Didn’t Learn) at Coding Bootcamp
A reflection, one year later
My first job after bootcamp was as a mid-level technical writer. I got promoted to senior technical writer, and I’m currently transitioning to a site reliability engineering role. Ultimately, I did end up in a software engineering role, but not until nearly two years after bootcamp.
The promises that bootcamps make aren’t necessarily deceptive, but some are farfetched, and all of them should come with disclaimers.
Here are the most common promises bootcamps make — and what you should ask before enrolling.
Promise #1: You’ll become a full-stack developer.
You should ask:
- Are you training students in web development or software engineering?
- Which languages and technologies do you teach? Why?
- Do you cover the fundamentals of computer science?
- How much of your curriculum focuses on front-end development? What about back-end development? Database work? Cloud infrastructure?
Promise #2: You won’t pay tuition until you get a job making at least $50,000.
This promise is closely related to the next one.
Promise #3: You’ll get a job within 6 months of graduating, or your tuition will be free.
For promises 2 and 3, ask the following:
- Do you mean a software engineering job? Or any job?
- Am I required to take the first offer I receive? What happens if I turn down an offer for whatever reason (location, hours, compensation)?
- What happens if I can’t find a job in engineering, so I take a job in an unrelated field while I work on my portfolio?
- What happens if I don’t find a job at all? What if I’m still searching in a year? Two years?
Note: If you aren’t required to pay tuition until you get a job, this means you’re participating in an income share agreement.
Code Now. Pay Tuition Later.
Coding schools are offering free classes in exchange for a percentage of future income. But at what cost? Last year…
Understand what you’re signing up for before you agree to the terms. Do not leave any financial questions unasked. You might not even qualify for an income share agreement.
If this is the case, you’ll either be paying out of pocket or taking out a private student loan — like this one, which is a main player in the bootcamp industry and comes with a hefty interest rate of 10–13%, depending on the school.
Promise #4: We’ll help you find a job.
“We have a really big network” is not the same as “we’ll help you find a job”.
- How do you help graduates find jobs?
- Do you have a career coach? What does this person do?
- Do you offer job placement? If so, are these contract roles? Internships? Full-time jobs? What if I’m not placed in a job?
- Do you send resumes and portfolios directly to recruiters?
- For how long after graduation will you support me in my job search?
Sometimes, “we’ll help you find a job” just means “we’ll tell you what to put on LinkedIn and we’ll send you to a job fair”.
Promise #5: There is a huge demand for full-stack developers.
- Is this true in our geographical location, too, or only in tech hubs like San Francisco and New York City?
- Is there a huge demand for junior full-stack developers who know the specific languages and technologies you teach?
- Will there be any major gaps in my knowledge after graduating from this bootcamp? If yes: How do students fill in those gaps? Why aren’t these things addressed in the curriculum?
Promise #6: There is a huge demand for junior developers.
Now, this is the one promise that I have a real issue with. There is not a demand for junior developers. See for yourself. Go to LinkedIn or Indeed and search for junior developer jobs.
Here’s an example.
105 people have applied — and this is just through LinkedIn — for this junior developer position. This job requires 2–3 years of experience in software development. This is not probably not something you’ll be qualified to do when you graduate from a bootcamp, even if it has a junior title.
Also, be on the lookout for things like this:
This job pays $15–20 an hour. Minimum wage is $15 an hour in some places. If you live in the United States and if you’re about to drop $15,000 on a coding bootcamp, a job that pays $15 isn’t going to pay back the loan you just took out.
You should ask:
- Do you work with recruiters who hire entry-level developers?
- How many of your recent graduates are currently employed as junior developers?
- How many of your graduates are still employed as developers X years after graduating?
Don’t be fooled by things like “Our graduates work at Google!” It’s possible that someone lands a job at one of the big five tech companies. I promise you that it’s not the norm. This is more likely to happen if you have prior experience and if you spend months grinding on LeetCode before applying anywhere. It’s also more likely to happen several years after bootcamp, when you have solid experience under your belt.
Coding bootcamps make a lot of promises. Take these promises with a grain of salt.
Yes, a bootcamp can help you embark on a great career, but your growth is ultimately your responsibility — not a school’s responsibility. Ask questions, know what you’re signing up for, and know what you need to learn before you pick a bootcamp at random.
No matter which path you choose, you need to put in the work. Nobody else is going to make you a developer. You are going to make yourself a developer.