Coding: To Bootcamp or Not to Bootcamp?

Becoming a programmer: Diary entry #4

An image of three soldiers at a training bootcamp, intended to be a play on words with coding bootcamp.
An image of three soldiers at a training bootcamp, intended to be a play on words with coding bootcamp.
Image by Carl Nenzen Loven, available on unsplash.com

Assuming you have already decided you want to become a programmer, the next question relates to how/where to learn the required skills.

  • university;
  • a (paid) bootcamp (online or onsite);
  • self-teaching (either a free online bootcamp or your own blend of online resources and books).

You’ll then of course continue to learn on the job.

Let’s begin by assuming you don’t already have a computer or information science degree from a university or three or four years to get one.

I’m sure you’ve heard about coding bootcamps. It is difficult not to. I can’t begin to guess how many articles or advert headlines I’ve seen which proclaim how the featured individual obtained a “six figure salary within six months”.

In case you haven’t:

A bootcamp is essentially a technical training program, focussed on getting your coding/programming skills job-ready in a short period of time.

  • Cost (paid, ~$5,000 → $20,000+/free);
  • Intensity (full time/part time);
  • Location (online/onsite);
  • Focus (front end, back end, full stack, UX/UI, data science, software engineer, cyber security, digital marketing, AI programming, etc.);
  • Start point (beginner/intermediate/advanced);
  • Length (4 weeks → 40+ weeks).

These are the six main factors you will want to consider when taking your decision. We will look at each of them in turn.

Cost

This is a big consideration and we consider it first as it is simply not a choice for many. A paid bootcamp can range from between around $5,000 and $24,000, depending on various factors. You can see some examples at Course Report. While much cheaper than studying for a degree, this is still a considerable amount of money.

And while some do offer deferred tuition, allowing you to pay no upfront cost, only paying back once you land a post-bootcamp job (with a fixed amount taken from your salary), this doesn’t change the fact that they cost a significant sum of money. Even the deferred tuition options are scary and prohibitive for those from lower income backgrounds; taking on debt is scary (and a risk), whatever the terms. Really think about this before signing up.

If you can’t afford it, then choose a free, online bootcamp. This isn’t a bad thing.

  • There are a huge number of free, quality, and extensive resources available online. What else could you do with the money while you complete a free bootcamp?;
  • Are you sure you are interested and committed enough to plunge straight in and pay such a large sum? Perhaps test your commitment first by completing some of the free online courses. Learn a bit about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and see if you enjoy it. If nothing else, these will make you better prepared when you start your paid bootcamp.

Intensity

Should you do a full time or a part time bootcamp?

You need to evaluate the rest of your life that you have to fit around the bootcamp. How much space do you have?

If you need to keep working, then choose a part time bootcamp. This will anyway give you more time to absorb the concepts.

Alternatively, studying part time may put too much extra time in between you and your end goal. Do you want to start looking for a job like NOW? In this case, full time might be better for you.

Location

Where do you live? What is available locally? If there is nothing locally and, referring back to the first point on cost, you can’t afford to go somewhere else for many weeks or months, online is probably your only option. If so, decision taken. Easy.

If there is nothing available locally and you can’t afford to go somewhere else, decision taken. Easy: do it online.

Are you very social? Are you very anti-social?

What is your learning style? Are you a good self learner?

Focus

Next you will want to consider the type of programmer do you want to be and what type of job do you want to land.

Each bootcamp (paid and free) offers a different curricula with a different focus.

At a glance, the available bootcamps offer front end, back end, full stack, UX/UI, data science, software engineer, cyber security, digital marketing, AI programming, and more.

And you can of course supplement any program you do choose with other resources…

Start Point

On to our penultimate consideration: how much do you already know? Maybe you know absolutely nothing. Perhaps you’re already comfortable with the basics. You might even consider yourself advanced.

Different bootcamps presume varying levels of pre exposure to programming. Some, for example offer dedicated prep courses, others focus on a very specific topic that requires a whole wealth of knowledge on day one.

Figure out where you are, choose a course level that is appropriate for you, and consider using the myriad of free online courses to get a head start (especially if you end up choosing a paid, full time bootcamp).

Length

Finally, bootcamps range from 4 weeks to 40 weeks. This is a wild difference. What you choose depends on what you want to achieve in terms of the area of programming you want to enter, how soon you want to try to hit the ground running, how much time you have, whether it is part or full time, and the area you would like to get into.

If you want to be full stack, this will of course take longer than focussing on the front end alone.

Other things to consider

From what I have read about bootcamp coding educations as opposed to university coding educations, they lack sufficient focus on problem solving and theoretical concepts, such as algorithms and data structures. They focus more exclusively on the technical and code skills to get job-ready on paper.

You might want to consider seeking supplemental reading materials that focus on these areas to overcome this weakness.

To conclude

In short, whether or not you should pay to go to a bootcamp depends on your situation.

Who knows if this is the correct choice. Time will tell. To date, I have not been disappointed.

In terms of developing a professional network, I plan to go to more specialised (shorter) onsite bootcamps in the future once I have already broken into the sector and know a bit more about what I am doing.

In a chart

And here it is all again in an image combining all six considerations:

A chart illustrating the factors when deciding what type of coding bootcamp to select.
A chart illustrating the factors when deciding what type of coding bootcamp to select.
Photo by me.

Choose well!

Overcoming a fear of public displays of writing (PDW) while teaching myself coding and hoping to make a career transition.

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