Should I do a coding boot camp or a uni degree?

Photo credit: David Straight.

Gone are the days when you worked the same job from leaving school until retirement; the current crop of under 35 year-olds are set to work more different jobs in their lifetimes than any generation previously. You might be wondering how to prepare for this future if you’re interested in a career in tech. Your parents are pressuring you to do a university degree, but you don’t fancy the four years plus student loan. The 18-week length of a boot camp course like Enspiral Dev Academy appeals — plus there are currently $2k scholarships on offer for anyone part of a group that’s underrepresented in tech. But will you learn everything you need to know?

Joshua Vial is a catalyst at Enspiral Dev Academy. We asked him to explain why 80% of Dev Academy’s grads have tech jobs within four months of graduating.

Joshua Vial. Photo credit:

We teach full-stack Javascript for 18 weeks, and that’s heaps better than what you’d learn in an it degree at uni. A lot of the frustration that led to us at the Enspiral network starting Dev Academy was that universities weren’t producing the kind of graduates we could work with, or training them in stuff that was valuable to us in the real world. University computer science degrees teach students algorithms and theory, so over three years they might spend two papers coding — or four papers coding if it’s intensive.

We spend all our time coding at EDA. We train programmers, not computer scientists, because the market doesn’t actually need very many computer scientists. You’re going to have to spend your career learning anyway, so our philosophy is to train students in practical skills for a very small amount of time, and then for the next two-three years, graduates need to be very deeply engaged in learning on their job. They can learn the computer science stuff later; you don’t need to learn the theoretical fundamentals before you can be useful. You can be useful and get paid, and then you can learn the theoretical fundamentals. Sure, it’s important knowledge; if you don’t have that knowledge, you’ll always have gaps in what you can do. But in our industry before boot camps, there were heaps of self-trained programmers.

When we did a survey at Enspiral, 50% of the programmers and developers hadn’t done computer science degrees and they were the best engineers in the company. Even the people who’d done the computer science degrees had to learn all this practical stuff, and vice versa. Everyone is always learning and always will be.

Photo credit: WoC in Tech Chat

I think more industries are going to look like this, with short, intensive training courses, followed by learning on the job. Tech was at the forefront of the change, but it’s shifting across the board — every industry’s being disrupted by technology and in every industry, people are having to retrain. I think this way of education is catching on — just learning enough to be practically useful and then back-filling on the theoretical concepts while you’re getting paid and going through more of an apprenticeship model of development.

A company can’t be effective without senior people, but after two to five years, apprentices can back-fill their theoretical knowledge while also deepening their practical skills, and then they can start to mentor other people while moving into junior developer and senior developer roles. It’s just a better way to work and learn.

Listen to Joshua Vial talking about the future of tertiary education on RNZ National.

Universities just haven’t adapted with the times — they could; they’ve got potential. But the main thing I’d say about how our graduates compare to university graduates is that ours are ready, now, to work. We had one great employer who took three of our graduates and three university graduates and put them on a technical challenge, and it was one where our graduates weren’t that familiar with the technology, but they just kicked the university grads’ arses. They could build stuff, they were comfortable, and they were doing stuff at which the university grads were just lost, because they’d had such a theoretical education. That’s really disappointing for students. We’ve had a good half-dozen people quit computer science degrees and come to Enspiral Dev Academy; I don’t know of anyone who’s quit our course and done a computer science degree.

The way I’d describe the difference is that computer science graduates are theoretically strong and practically weak; our graduates are practically strong and theoretically weak, and they’ve invested one sixth of the time.

There are some other schools out there doing a kind of alternative-to-university tech training, but they’re doing a different thing to what we do; they don’t train programmers. They train web developers to do a little bit of Javascript; they don’t train engineers. What they teach is completely different and it’s not comparable. They’re primarily design schools that teach some Javascript; we’re not a Javascript school, we’re a programming school. While I’m not an expert in their curricula, the sort of stuff I’ve seen in them is things like learning a Wordpress website, or learning some CSS or HTML, and then just learning Javascript for dynamic things. We’ve had a few people from Enspiral go through Yoobee courses for example, and they’re great, but they’re mostly design and web design; we train engineers and programmers.

Keen to dive in? Enspiral Dev Academy has cohorts starting every month in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand. Students are welcome from overseas, and scholarships are available for people who belong to a group underrepresented in tech. Join an 18 week boot camp now, and you could be working as a web developer this summer.

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