Bootcamps are a great way to move into a new career with little experience. It was why I went to my bootcamp, and why I recommend them to others (with certain caveats and a hefty grain of salt). Being able to go from zero experience in technology or programming to working as a Software Engineer for a Fortune 500 Company in six months is enough to convince me of their value.
I knew I had to make a career change. I was working private security after finishing my military career, and was making ends meet just enough to support my wife and our three dogs. When we learned my wife was pregnant with our first child, that paycheck didn’t seem to be so large after all. I had planned on going back to school the coming fall, but suddenly I couldn’t justify the time commitment. After a lot of research and a lot of budgeting, I realized that if I started at DevMountain at the very next cohort start date, I could finish 7 days before my son’s due date. Plenty of time! Looking back on the course, there were a lot of things that proved beneficial, and some that were less so.
To be forthcoming, I am not bashing bootcamps as an alternative to formal education. I loved my experience at my bootcamp, but I’m not blind to the inherent flaws of such a fast-paced system. There are things bootcamps could focus on more. Or at minimum, there are things for a bootcamp student or aspiring student to try to teach themselves. Technology is constantly evolving and no single degree/course/what-have-you will fully prepare you for a job. You’ll have to learn how to teach yourself eventually.
Pros: Long term cost of attending in comparison to college, immersive environment, focus on modern languages and frameworks, and emphasis on practical skills over theory.
Cons: Large upfront cost, focus on modern languages and frameworks, lack of emphasis on computer science concepts, sterilized learning environments, and overhyped job search assistance and alumni networks
You’ll notice some things are in both columns. Big shock, right?
The average annual in-state four year college tuition in Texas was $15,399/year for the 2017–2018 academic year.
-U.S. Department of Education
One of the largest hurdles of attending a bootcamp is the cost. Not only is there usually a large tuition due at the start, but full-time courses don’t allow the time for students to hold down jobs while attending. Of course if you can manage the lack of income for a couple months, the long term cost is significantly cheaper than a college degree. Not everyone has the ability to shell out the cash or take out private loans for bootcamps (mine was not eligible for pell grants or federal loans), so this may be the reason some bootcamps are taking a different approach to tuition. Opting instead for income sharing agreements up to a fixed cap once the student finds a job in the field.
Is the cost worth it? Can you even afford it? Sure there are loans, but the grace period will end in a couple months and you’ll be required to starting chipping away at the payments regardless of if you’ve found a job or not. These are all things to think about, and if you don’t have the financial means to both pay upfront, and cover your financial needs during the course (rent, food, gas, etc) then you can spread yourself pretty thin. I happened to be fortunate enough to make it work, but living off only my wife’s income was a stretch for us. I think the cost is worth it in the long run, as I’m making over twice what I was making August of last year. Your results may vary.
As I was finishing up my bootcamp, I had a phone call with an Architect for a local startup about interviewing for a job. When they asked me what I knew, I felt like I had a good list of things. React, Node.js, SQL, Redux, HTML/CSS…and that was about it. Sure, there were a couple different tools and libraries that I could throw in, but that just pertained to building smaller projects in a school environment. I was thoroughly unprepared for the follow-up questions: “How comfortable are you with Data Structures & Algorithms”. “Do you have any experience with Agile?”. “How do you approach Technical Debt”. “Do you have any experience in Containers or Cloud Deployment?”.
I had no idea how to answer these questions. I knew how to do some things, but couldn’t really tell you the nuts and bolts of why. And whenever I gave explanations or examples, deep in my heart I felt like I was bullshitting. I walked away from that phone call with a large amount of homework.
I feel like a lot of bootcamps focus on specific languages or tech stacks without really focusing on the core fundamentals of what’s happening. The “rules” for coding are the same regardless of what language you write in, and more focus should be put on the theoretical aspects of software.
Sterilized Learning Environments
“Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.”
― Jim Rohn
Most students at bootcamps will make 3–4 smaller projects during their time. In three months I completed a simple “No Database” project, a full-stack personal project, and group project. All three were helpful learning experiences, and gave credibility to my resume when I started looking for work. I think projects like that are great, and I wish the bootcamp had been longer so that I could have done and learned more during the cohort. There were also daily labs and lectures that involved much more hand-holding, and where solutions were given ahead of time. Like many people, I find it hard to learn concepts deeply if all the answers are given to me. This is most likely a necessary evil due to the short time frame in comparison to formal education. If you are anything like me, you should expect to have to relearn things constantly until they stick.
Overhyped Job Search Assistance and Alumni Networks
This is the only part that is really upsetting. Students take an incredible gamble on attending bootcamps. There are many hiring managers who don’t care what your portfolio looks like, if you don’t have a degree you will not be considered. During my cohort I was told over and over again that the quarterly “Meet and Hire” event with local businesses would the most important thing I would do during my time there. I was sold on the robust alumni network and the support I could expect from the campus staff. When I went to the Meet and Hire event, I along with 14 of my classmates had dressed up and printed resumes ready to find a job. Four companies showed up, and three of them started the conversation by saying “We’re not planning on hiring anyone, but…”. A giant waste of time, especially considering how many tech companies are located in Dallas, TX. I am 100% sure the only reason I got hired is because I went out to local meetups and networked with recruiters. Had I relied on campus hiring events, I would still be looking for work.
To Sum It Up
Are bootcamps worth it? I think so. Are they all created equal? Absolutely not. Are they better than a college degree? Not necessarily. Anyone who wants to learn programming is going to have to be highly-motivated to do well and get a job. Bootcamps do enough to get you through the door, but that amount of knowledge won’t last long. As long as you are willing to self-teach, a bootcamp might be exactly what you are looking for.