The Dirty Little Secrets About The Worst Coding Bootcamps Out There

9 out of 10 programs are outright scams.

There is massive confusion in the marketplace today. Marketers and the media have brainwashed people into thinking that it’s a cakewalk getting a job paying six figures as a developer. All you need to do is sign up for any coding bootcamp, study for 8 weeks (~40 business days), and you’ll walk into your first job. With many programs, this is incredibly far from the truth.

All of the largest coding bootcamps have a reputation among hiring managers for churning out developers who have the professional maturity of a teenager at a One Direction concert. After struggling in the job market, some alumni give up. Other alumni study on their own and after several months of perseverance are able to start applying for jobs.

It’s not their fault. Here’s the hype that isn’t true that beginners are brainwashed to believe about coding bootcamps:

Myth #1: All Coding Bootcamps Teach the Skills You Need to Get Hired

Maybe you haven’t heard what I’ve been screaming about: Fundamentals Matter

When I look at the curriculum of most coding bootcamps, the largest programs out there skip teaching one minor thing: how to program.

Instead, they focus on the latest trends, like reactive-backbones-for-angularstrap-5. I get it. Beginners think they need to know this stuff, even though they’d get further knowing the fundamentals. It’s something that helps sell students, rather than help students get where they need to be. Playing into beginners’ naivety instead of teaching them what they actually need to learn is what 99% of coding bootcamps that need to go out of business do.

Coding bootcamps usually focus on teaching people how to use specific technologies. But many do a poor job of teaching you how to think through and solve complex problems and become a practitioner of the actual programming language. Many never teach you how to be an actual programmer.

Learning how to think through complex problems and teach yourself new concepts on the fly is the only thing that matters. Becoming a self-sufficient developer who can figure out how to build out complex features is where it is at, friends. Please believe me, having a buzzword on your resume is so much less important.

The number of “software developers” who have graduated from different programs, but are incapable of solving rudimentary coding challenges is astonishing.

Myth #2: Getting Your First Job As a Programmer is Easy

It’s not. It takes hustle. A lot of it.

The fact of the matter is the job market is saturated with a lot of people seeking out entry level positions — many of whom are not qualified.

If you just graduated a coding bootcamp, on paper (your resume), you probably look just like the rest of the people who graduated. This means that resume-blasting is a highly ineffective way to get your first job, even if you actually do have chops.

Since you look similar on paper to many other junior web developers, applying for jobs in the traditional sense will be a high-volume/low-yield experience. This means if you choose to use this tactic you should be applying to ~100 positions a week. From there you’ll probably land 4–8 interviews, and from that maybe 1 offer if you actually have skills. A quick math-check shows 99 no’s for 1 yes — quite a bit of rejection.

If you don’t want to play an inefficient numbers game, I highly suggest you go out to your local community, build meaningful relationships (over the course of a month or two while you’re learning) and then ask your network for help when you’re ready. People often underestimate the importance of a network. It is important. It is everything. It takes work. And it takes time. But it is a highly effective way to get a job if you have skills.

If you’re seeking out your first job as a web developer now, I highly suggest you watch this 40 minute video: Tactics a Firehose Graduate Used to Land His First Web Development Position.

Myth #3: Two Weeks of Career Prep Will Prepare You For a Technical Interview

Technical interviews are designed to cut through the veneer of applicants and assess “does this person actually have skills?”. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it only will take you so far.

Ignoring the fundamentals of programming and then expecting to get the skills from a 2-week overview is the equivalent of the magic pill that will give you six-pack abs and allow you to eat pizza all day — there is no version of that, and believing in something like that is a failure in understanding how the world actually works.

It’s long-term, put-in-the-work mentality and focusing on the fundamentals that actually matter that will help you get where you need to be. There is no substitute for that.

Curious what the technical interview entails? I wrote this article that goes into detail about the process of technical interviews.

Myth #4: Job Placement Networks Help Students

Many programs try to sell students the idea that job placement networks are built to get their students jobs. They’re not. Job placement networks are a way for coding bootcamps to monetize students who would be able to get jobs on their own.

I’ve heard of a well-known program calling up an employer outside their network who hired one of their alumni (the student found the position on their own), and demanding they pay them thousands of dollars as a “recruiting fee” — even though they weren’t involved in the hiring process at all.

It’s unreal.

Myth #5: You Can Trust Job Placement Rates That Are Advertised

They say there are Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics. Most of the statistics you read about job placement rates are grossly inflated by clever math nonsense.

Many times, the metrics you see advertised on the company’s sites read like they apply across all graduates. It’s not uncommon for the statement to be cleverly worded to imply that that percent of graduates get jobs, but in fact it’s a small filtered pool of the best graduates. In statistics this practice is called selection bias.

People doing the calculating have the ability to give highly misleading statistics. With the right selection bias, anything is possible. Here’s an example of how meaningless these numbers are.

Say the first cohort of a coding bootcamp has a job placement rate of 90%. The second has a placement rate of 40%. First, it’s on a downward trajectory, so you’d probably expect the placement rate to be lower than 40% going forward. The program would be highly incentivized to advertise their job placement rate of 90% — which is true if you just don’t take into account the second cohort which sucked for them, or the direction the program is going.

Myth #6: Computer Science Degrees Don’t Matter

Most colleges take 4 years to graduate. Going through a traditional 4-year computer science program shows a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness and demonstrates you’ve been thinking about coding and technology for a long time.

A close friend of mine was looking for a job as a developer. He was good. Real good. I tried to help him out and I referred him to the VP of Engineering of a company that begged me for someone I knew who could fill the position. After I gave someone who trusted me an intro with a glowing recommendation, I got this response back:

Now long-term, my friend got a job someplace else and things worked out for him, but the fact of the matter is there are certain people who will discriminate against candidates without a computer science degree. That’s just how the world works — but it is starting to change slowly.

The story senior developers tell that goes, “I didn’t learn anything from my computer science degree — it’s totally useless” is more about them boosting their ego than helping people make informed decisions.

What universities do a poor job of teaching is practical, applicable knowledge you can use on day 1 of your job. On the flip side, most (good) universities do a wonderful job of teaching complex CS topics that help hone problem-solving abilities and produce self-sufficient programmers.

The good coding bootcamps out there will cover CS topics around algorithms and data structures, but 9 out of 10 coding bootcamps won’t cover these topics at all — because these topics can be difficult to teach.

If your coding bootcamp doesn’t cover these types of things, you should go all-in on learning algorithms and data structures on your own time.

On the flip side— although I appreciate the value of a Computer Science degree tremendously — it’s less practical than ever to go to a university. Spending 4 years of your life — going $100,000 into debt is a serious commitment.

If you’re willing to put in serious time and energy into learning the skill and finding your first position, being self-taught (by this I mean not having a CS degree) is a fine way to break into the industry.

Most hiring managers are more interested in the years of experience you have coding in the real world rather than what you studied in college. And once you have a couple years of experience under your belt, however you got to where you are, you’ll be in high demand.

When you’re starting out, it’s hard because you have to hustle to get your first job. After you’ve been working for a year or so, the tables will start to turn and you’ll start getting unsolicited emails from recruiters out of the blue trying to hire you. Getting 10–20 emails from recruiters trying to hire you each month is so common — most seasoned developers spend more time ridiculing recruiters than talking with them! [The Last Email Thread I’ve Been on Ridiculing Recruiters]

The fact is — some high-growth tech companies are screwed!

Talent capital of experienced developers is hard to find! Companies that raise millions of dollars are in a position where they need to spend that money — and usually the asset they value most is technical experience.

Many companies are in the position where they need to grow their engineering team by 20+ members. You might not appreciate how impossible this task is.

Finding a good senior developer, who is located in your city, and convincing them to join your team, is like finding a a diamond the size of a refrigerator in your backyard. Finding 20 is like winning the lottery twice in a row.

Add on top of it that most technical recruiters barely know anything about technology or what the buzzwords they talk about all day mean. This is what recruiters think programming life is like:

It’s never been more practical to transition careers and become a software developer. Even though it takes a bit of work to get your first job, once you break into the industry, writing software is a rewarding craft. Once you have a track-record of putting the work in and solid experience to speak from, you’ll be in a great spot.

This is why I co-founded theFirehoseProject— to help students transition into full-time web developers, who can solve complex problems, write algorithms and use the latest technologies.

Let me just say things how they are. The world’s largest coding bootcamps only care about churning out students (and aren’t driven by their students’ results) — and many of them have a board of directors that will fire the CEO if they don’t close enough sales. They focus on volume and it’s the only metric they care about.

Most coding bootcamps are not playing the long game. They focus on the short-term goal of closing a sale instead of the long-term goal of producing employable engineers. This means in 9 out of 10 programs the curriculum and instructors are a mere after-thought.

This means you can sign up and pay without having any experience or knowing if the craft of coding is even for you. The fact of the matter is programming isn’t for everyone and any coding bootcamp that allows you to pay without proving you’re capable of programming by solving specific coding challenges doesn’t give a shit about student outcomes. Period. End of story.

The low bar that is set by the worst programs out there is ruining the reputation of all coding bootcamps!

As soon as a hiring manager interviews a couple candidates from these low-quality courses they immediately discriminate against all the coding bootcamps that exist. These programs are ruining things for all entry-level programmers.

If you’re considering joining a program, I highly suggest you do your research and make sure the program you choose covers algorithms and data structures if you’re looking to transition careers. Otherwise, you’ll face a lot of questions you don’t understand in the job interview process.

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Published in Techspiration + Ideas + Making It Happen.