Maddy Ford (5 minute read) October 28 2020
Is a bootcamp education worth the cost?
Chances are you’ve asked yourself this question at least once if you’ve ever thought about pursuing a coding bootcamp education. Many cost exorbitant amounts of money, take up a bunch of time, are lots of work, and you know at least a couple of friends who didn’t get a tech job either for a really long time or at all after graduating. What gives?
On several things. But mostly these things fall into two areas: 1) Your expectations as a learner. 2) The bootcamp itself. In this article, I want to address a few important things in both areas, including setting reasonable expectations for coding bootcamps (no matter how much pie in the sky an admissions representative promises you), as well as a few tactics and questions you can use to get a more detailed sense of the value a coding bootcamp opportunity can provide you before investing in it. Your experience of a bootcamp and whether it feels like a worthwhile investment of your time and money can depend on the following things:
A coding bootcamp is an accelerated course teaching programming fundamentals (usually - some offer content in more specific areas of tech like data science where fundamentals may be a prerequisite). What it is not is a surefire, guaranteed ticket into a high-paying engineering job. If you enroll in a coding bootcamp thinking it will be easy, or that you can land a job right after graduation, not only did the enrollment staff fail to create appropriate expectations, but you are more than likely going to be disappointed and this could give you the impression that the bootcamp was a ripoff. If any bootcamp is actively trying to give you the impression that bootcamp won’t be hard, or that it’s easy to get a job after graduating, that is a major red flag.
The value you get from a coding bootcamp experience is directly proportional to how well your learning style matches what your chosen bootcamp is offering. If you’re someone who excels with in-person teaching and the accountability of having a classroom to go to and be present in, an online course may leave you feeling like you got ripped off. Or maybe you’ve got other obligations that make attending an in-person course challenging or nearly impossible, leaving you feeling like you didn’t get the value out of it that you could have. Fortunately, many coding bootcamps aren’t a one-size-fits-all operation. Whether it’s online, in-person, 6-months, 12 months, evening classes, daytime classes, or custom paced classes, there are several bootcamp options to choose from. To get the most value out of your experience, it helps to reflect on and know what sort of educational experience you’re looking for and what works best with your learning needs.
Absolutely no coding bootcamp you will ever find gives a bona-fide guarantee that you will get an engineering job. Period. There are some that might claim just that - these are the ones that should have you scrutinizing the fine print. Ultimately, the “getting the job” portion of this equation is primarily on you, and it’s up to you to determine how much work you’re willing and able to put into a career transition. As part of your coding bootcamp research, take some time to reflect on and come up with an honest estimate of how many hours per week you have to devote to coding and or job searching, and over what period of time. The coding bootcamp may span just six months, but the job search journey can take up many months or even years after that.
To best serve students and to remain competitive, coding bootcamps have a responsibility to create and maintain relatively current material. Tech moves fast, and bootcamps that don’t keep up compromise their standing as being worthwhile investments. That said, writing curriculum takes time, and a bootcamp can still be a valuable experience even without coverage of the newest, fanciest technologies. The point is that when you ask an enrollment representative how frequently curriculum gets re-evaluated and or re-written, they should have a solid answer for you, or at least be able to direct you to someone who does.
It’s important to evaluate what you’re getting for the price, and what your total cost will be when thinking about coding bootcamps. This includes not only curriculum content, but in-class learning, tutoring or additional support, possible events or job placement support (again - never truly a bona fide-guarantee). For cost, are you paying up-front? In installments? Are you paying nothing upfront, but paying back a portion of your salary upon getting a job? How big is that portion? It’s important to note that these portions should be compared against your projected salary as an engineer. This can be a lot, and a percentage of a lot is still, frequently, a lot. There is a wide range in prices for a coding bootcamp education, and like in any business sector (because ultimately every bootcamp is a business that needs to make money), there will always be competitors who are overcharging. One effective way to evaluate whether a bootcamp you’re considering is by talking to current students who can share their experience and the value they’re getting out of what the bootcamp is offering. Based on that feedback, you can decide whether those offerings are worth the value on the price tag in your opinion.
If a bootcamp promises you a certain level of support in the learning process and you’re not feeling supported, it may not feel like a worthwhile investment. No one gets very far in learning to code without asking for help from others, so it’s important to have great help you can rely on during your bootcamp experience, and help that fits your needs schedule-wise or otherwise. Good questions to ask enrollment representatives when researching bootcamps can be about what kind of support is available during and outside of class time. You can also request to audit a class (not all bootcamps may allow this, but it’s still worth asking). Doing so can give you a sense for how much support students receive, what that support is like, and the learning atmosphere.
All of this is to say that your experience of a bootcamp and whether it was worthwhile is partially dependent on the expectations you have going in, and having clarity on your needs in the learning and - if you’re looking for a career change - the career change process. It also depends on the bootcamp, and the way the members of the organization set and communicate expectations. By deploying the tactics outlined here, as well as doing due diligence in research by going to Course Report and other bootcamp review sites, you can be more prepared and well-informed so that should you choose to enter a coding bootcamp, you’ll feel even more confident in the worth of your investment.
Maddy is a coding bootcamp graduate and software engineer. She graduated from UW-Madison with a Bachelor's degree in Genetics, and also has a background in nonprofit work. Having created a career transition into tech for herself, she is passionate about teaching others and facilitating their growth in tech.
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