3 Pros and Cons of Engineering Bootcamps
A software engineering graduate’s 2 cents on the state of bootcamps
It sounds nice when you say it, almost just rolls off the tongue. It is a challenging, stimulating, and rewarding line of work that is one of the fastest growing and highest paying professions in this day and age.
But is it possible to become a well-trained, efficient engineer if you don’t have a background in programming and/or computer science?
I would say the answer is yes and no, and I’ll give you my reasons.
Let’s start with how you would do it. At the end of the day, there are two ways to develop the needed skills to become an engineer:
1. Teach yourself
2. Be taught by somebody else
For the purposes of this article, I will stick to the latter. The reason why is because if you do not have a background in programming or CS, there is a higher chance you get a new job faster if a trained professional presents you relevant content in a well-structured way. Most bootcamps will teach you skills that are sought after by tech companies, and the amount of content you could potentially learn can be very overwhelming once you start diving in.
Having said that, if you are going to invest a great deal of your time and money into an engineering bootcamp, I would highly recommend learning a few skills or concepts on your own to see if it is something you can picture yourself doing over many years (see here, here, here, or here for resources on teaching yourself). Just do it for 30–60 minutes a day, every day, for a few months and see if you stick with it and if it peaks your interest.
Let’s start with the negatives, beginning with the obvious one:
Boot camps are not cheap
Many of them will cost you 10–20k over a period of 3–6 months (see here). That can be a lot to stomach, especially if you are looking to do an immersive where you will potentially be without income for an extended period of time. Additionally, it is highly unlikely that you will get a job immediately after completing your bootcamp.
I was admittedly too optimistic in thinking that if I started applying a month before I graduated, I would find something very shortly after graduation. Unfortunately, it took me another 2 months to find a job (albeit a perfect one).
I remember sitting in a Starbucks down the street from my house every day, for 4–5 hours a day during that 2 months, devoting the majority of that time to applying to most every software engineer job I could find. It wasn’t until I branched out and started applying to different niches (more on that later) that I really started to find success.
I believe the reason why it took so long is because…
The job market for new software engineers is very saturated
You are going to have a lot of competition when you apply for jobs, especially at any desirable company that has a nice work schedule, competitive pay, great perks/benefits, etc.
Many companies unfortunately see boot camp graduates as unqualified or not having enough experience. I’m not a fan of this perception either, but that’s just the way it is with this amount of bootcamp graduates every year. And that’s not including the 4–6 year college graduates applying for some of the same jobs bootcamp grads are seeking.
In order to standout, not only must you commit 30–50 hours a week with your dedicated coursework, you need to be spending another 10–30 building side projects, going to local meetups and networking, learning new things outside of your standardized curriculum, and doing homework assignments so you can actually graduate from your bootcamp. Finally, let’s talk about one more overlooked point to working as a developer that is often overlooked:
Being a developer is EXTREMELY challenging
Every single day you will be humbled by having to figure out something you have never seen or heard of before, and at first is not going to make a lot of sense (hello React components and call stack order of operations!).
It is amazing how much goes on behind the scenes of a simple google search, and the thousands of things that must go right within a second in order to get millions of users (also per second) the information they need takes an army of engineers. Depending on what kind of job you end up with, you will be expected to know more or less, in a greater or less amount of time.
For example, at a fresh start up, you will most likely be handed more full stack responsibilities, or you may have to learn about systems and networking architecture. Even better, what happens when Taylor Swift tweets about your company and the amount of traffic from that crashes your servers and your website?
On the other hand, at a larger corporation you may only deal with a niche area, such as AWS infrastructure or working on only one small component of a much larger project, so you may have more time to learn and more room for error. A drawback to larger companies is that there may be limited room for growth as opposed to a startup.
It is clear that there are a few things you need to take into consideration before going all-in into a bootcamp. However, I would like to present you with a few reasons why going through a bootcamp could be the best decision you will ever make.
“You know what my company doesn’t need anymore? A website.”
- Nobody, ever.
Technology is growing at an incredible rate, and it is not going anywhere.
If you are looking for job security, look no further than the world of tech. I believe that this is by far the best era to be alive in, because of how technology has helped further innovation and communication. Everything from grocery stores, large car corporations, the stock market, farming industries, and everything in between depends on technology in some way shape or form.
The reason there is so much to be learned as an engineer, is because the current levels of innovation and what is possible are being pushed every day. The possibilities are endless in what technology can do for our world, and I personally get very excited thinking about this. Speaking of endless possibilities…
You don’t have to be a software engineer after your bootcamp.
Another nice thing about bootcamps is that they teach you a set of skills that go beyond writing lines of code. You will learn how to communicate better, solve problems faster, and think of more creative solutions.
Personally, I ended up being a support engineer, which is basically a troubleshooter for when things go wrong with the data analysis platform I currently work with. Here are a few paths you could pursue on top of being a front/back end or full stack web developer:
- Freelance web designer
- UX/UI designer
- Support engineer
- Cloud architect
- Solutions architect
- Systems architect
- Network technician
- IT sales
- IT Enterprise Architect
- Database analyst/administrator
- Big data analyst
- And more…
The point is, you don’t have to fit the mold of what you go to bootcamp for. Just like many of you probably don’t even directly use the degree you got from college, but you use some of the skills you learned while getting that degree.
Speaking of degrees, I have always been a C student so personally I am not a fan of our (United States) traditional education system. Because of this reason, I have saved the biggest positive quality of going to a bootcamp and getting involved in the world of tech for last:
It’s ok to be wrong, and you don’t have to know everything.
If you get A’s that means you got more right answers on your tests, and you will be successful in life. If you get C’s or D’s then that means you are a FAILURE and your chances of success are slim because you couldn’t pass some standardized tests. What a load of bullsh*t.
Yes, it is ok to be wrong. Many times, it is expected that there will be errors in your program, or your database, or your servers, or something else. Mistakes are encouraged, it is how companies learn and get better. In fact when you release a new product or app or feature, your users will be the first to let you know that something is wrong. That is when you make changes to your programs and make everything better and more efficient! Without mistakes, there would be no progress. Do not be afraid to fail.
Any kind of career change can be overwhelming, and sometimes it can feel like there is so much to learn and do that it doesn’t even make sense to get started right now. Or maybe you are perfectly happy with where you are now and what you do for work. If that’s the case, congratulations! You are one of the lucky few that finds pleasure and fulfillment in the work you do every day, and I would encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.
However, if something needs to change, switching to tech could be the best decision you ever make if you are willing to make a few sacrifices and get outside your comfort zone. So, I would encourage you to dive into some self-taught resources (listed above as the “here” links) to see if it is for you. Who knows what kind of position you could be in a year from today?
P.S. In case you are wondering, I attended General Assembly’s SEI on the Denver campus. I would obviously recommend it!