Coding: To Bootcamp or Not to Bootcamp?
Assuming you have already decided you want to become a programmer, the next question relates to how/where to learn the required skills.
As with anything nowadays, there are many ways to learn about it. With coding it seems you have three main options:
- 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.
So, we’re now left with attending a paid bootcamp or self-teaching (which is essentially a free online bootcamp, many of which are available).
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.
Bootcamps come in many forms. The main variables are:
- 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.
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.
Even if you can afford a paid bootcamp, it’s not necessarily the case that you should. Consider the below:
- 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?;
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?
We first touch upon cost again here, but from another perspective. Do you have the money or the financial support to study full time? It goes without saying that there exists an opportunity cost as you can’t be working while studying full time and you’ll no doubt still have bills to pay.
If you need to keep working, then choose a part time bootcamp. This will anyway give you more time to absorb the concepts.
You should next consider how much energy you have. Studying something full time can be exhausting. If you start a full time course, will it burn you out and force you to quit after a month? Maybe consider part time.
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.
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.
Even if an onsite course is an option, you might still want to consider a couple of other factors before you commit.
Are you very social? Are you very anti-social?
Maybe you thrive being with and working with other people. If this is the case, there might be a lot you would miss out on with an online bootcamp. Relatedly, doing an onsite bootcamp can connect you with other people working in the same sector and help you to develop a professional network. This could be invaluable. Or, perhaps you study better alone and feel that other people get in the way.
What is your learning style? Are you a good self learner?
Perhaps you need other people around (either peers or a teacher) to drive you along the process? Again, you can check this by going through some of the many free online resources and see how it goes for you. (Do note that some of the paid online courses also provide a mentor who will track your progress and give you a call each week to address any issues you might have.)
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.
You should spend some time considering what you want your focus to be and choose accordingly. Do some research on what each of the bootcamps offer — look at the tracks they offer as well the specific subjects and languages. Switchup offers a relatively decent overview (of the paid courses).
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…
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).
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.
You can always build in stages. For example, starting with the front end and going back later for the back end, perhaps once you are already working. Or you can jump in and go straight for the full stack option.
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.
In short, whether or not you should pay to go to a bootcamp depends on your situation.
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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: