Michele Farquharson,Director of Education, Betamore Academy
Software engineering is one of the country’s fastest growing fields, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 22 percent growth between 2012 and 2022. Exploding career potential, average salaries in excess of $100,000, and demand for more talented developers make jobs in this field some of the most popular professional options today.
While a college degree in computer science has long been the traditional educational route to becoming a software developer or engineer, coding bootcamps have begun disrupting the learning landscape. Through fast-paced and intensive courses, bootcamps are marketed as a cost-effective and rewarding way for both tech and non-tech college graduates to develop real-world skills and land a job in the industry in a relatively short amount of time.
The following guide provides a deep look into coding bootcamps by discussing the types and costs of programs available alongside their pros and cons. Those who are on the fence can review expert insight on instruction and expectations. Read on to get the information you need before signing up.
The 4 W’s
Coding is what makes modern technology possible. From apps running on Apple’s iWatch to our ability to post and share a picture on Facebook, all of these applications are made with code. Put simply, coding tells a computer what to do.
Various types of programming languages exist, with each serving as a set of rules governing how code should be formatted and written. A list of common programming languages and their uses is given below:
PHP: Web pages
Ruby: Web pages and websites
C++: hardware programs, Windows operating systems
Coding bootcamps were created to provide short, intensive training in programming languages to prepare students for careers in the growing software development industry.
what is it?
Coding bootcamp is a type of technical training program offering students with little-to-no coding experience an opportunity to develop professional level, job-ready skills through accelerated, intensive, and immersive training programs. Typically lasting 8-12 weeks, these fast-tracked programs require students dedicate 90 to 100 hours per week studying. Learning takes place onsite in major cities and technical hubs, including San Francisco and New York. They focus on real-world, experiential skill building in a variety of program languages. Upon completion, graduates should be prepared to pursue and land an entry to mid-level job in programming.
when is a good time to go to enroll?
Bootcamps schedule programs throughout the year, allowing greater levels of flexibility for potential applicants. Time is subjective and dependent on the individual student, but all must wholly commit to living and breathing coding for the duration of the program.
where are they?
Bootcamp programs are on-site and require students to attend full-time until completed. They can be found throughout the country, but most are in major urban areas and technology hubs, including the following:
who is attending them?
Those interested in bootcamps tend to be adults who have a degree or at least some college education and are already working. The average participant is 29 years old and has six years of professional experience, but has never worked as a programmer. Reasons for attendance vary by student, however, and other common themes and student profiles include those who want to switch careers, advance in a current position, gain professional mobility in the growing technology industry, and compete for higher paying tech positions. Nearly 6,000 individuals completed a coding program in 2014.
While some bootcamps are being touted as a replacement for a college education, college graduates comprise the large majority of enrollments. A 2014 survey conducted by Course Report found that 71 percent of students hold a bachelor’s degree and 15 percent have completed a master’s level program prior to attending.
With some coding bootcamps touting themselves as an alternative to college, students may be tempted to forgo college altogether in exchange for a bootcamp experience. While it may be tempting, there’s still no foolproof substitute to a well-rounded college education.
College vs. Bootcamp
College degrees are still considered the gold standard for many jobs in programming. Because coding bootcamps are relatively new, the jury is still out on how they stack up to a college education. According to Farquharson, “the main thing college degrees offer is time and immersion. Four years of coursework allows students time to process, internalize, and apply skills.” She continues, “The major difference between college and bootcamp is that a college program provides greater opportunities for exploring software development. This allows students to develop a more extensive understanding of a broader range of material.”
On the other hand, Shawn Drost feels there is “not much” a coding bootcamp can’t match in terms of what college programs currently offer. Remarking on his own college experience, he shared four reasons why attending college is beneficial:
Broad learning opportunities
“I personally audited over 70 credits of classes in a variety of subjects, in addition to my regular full-time schedule. I also studied abroad twice. While this didn’t translate into real-world results, I value education for education’s sake. College is a thrilling world.”
“There are some disciplines of computer science where the most advanced work is done in academia, such as computer vision and artificial intelligence. Students with exclusive interest in these fields might benefit from going through an undergraduate program.”
“A four-year degree can be an extended course in becoming an adult. It’s pretty great! I really enjoyed my time at university.”
You’re extremely self-driven
“If you’re the kind of person that learns extremely effectively on your own, instead of at a full-time job where you learn more about coding by solving hard problems at a company, then you may find that college is a true boon.”
Still not sure? Here’s a side-by-side look at the differences between college and bootcamp programs:
Associate degrees typically take two years, while a bachelor’s degree in computer science takes four or more years
Approximately 8 to 12 weeks
Well-rounded coursework, including general education classes outside of computer science. Provides a broader study of theory and programming principles
No instruction in computer theory, but a greater focus on skill building in Web development, HTML, CSS, and programming languages
Lecture-based with some hands-on programming
Minimal lectures with practical instruction in coding through individual and group projects
Typically ranges from $15,000 – $40,000+
$5,000 to $20,000
Some career and internship placement assistance post-graduation
On-site job fairs and access to hiring managers (varies by program)
Pros and Cons of Attending a Coding Bootcamp
Practical, career-focused skill development
Demanding and intensive learning environment
Less expensive than a four-year degree
Likely requires relocation to attend program
Head start on career opportunities
Lack of well-rounded education
Less time to graduate
Lack of deeper understanding of computer science theory
Develop technical skills current in the industry
Less time to explore professional fit
Instruction from professional programmers
Does not result in college degree
No student loans
No financial aid and minimum payment assistance programs
“A coding bootcamp isn’t for a lazy student who’s just trying to get by. It’s for a student who is willing to be nose down temporarily so they can have a lucrative career permanently.”
Shana Mysko, We Can Code IT
A Day in the Life at Coding Bootcamp
Intensive. Grueling. Demanding.
These are some of the adjectives used by coding bootcamps to describe their programs. Most operate Monday through Friday on a set schedule, but students may find themselves working into the evenings and on weekends to complete projects. Although the instructional delivery format varies by program, most offer a structured method of instruction. This approach includes a blend of individual and collaborative project, lectures, homework, guest lectures, and presentations.
Shana Mysko of We Can Code IT, Michele Farquharson of Betamore Academy, and Shawn Drost of Hack Reactor offered brief snapshots of their daily coding bootcamp schedules.
Students meet on campus from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. twice per week for 10-12 weeks. In addition to classroom-based instruction, students receive assigned readings and homework in the form of Web development projects.
We Can Code IT
The length of a typical day at a coding bootcamp is between six and eight hours, Monday through Friday. Part of the day is spent in lectures, with the remainder in labs working collaboratively with other students. Learners are expected to work on projects for a couple hours each evening.
Example of a Daily Schedule
8:00 a.m.Class starts
8:00 – 8:40 a.m.Lecture
8:40 – 11:30 a.m.Programming in pairs
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.Lunch & working on side projects
1:00 p.m.Class resumes
1:00 p.m. – 1:40 PM Lecture
1:40 – 3:40 p.m.Pair programming
3:40 PM – 4:00 p.m.Guest speaker
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.Individual programming project
5:00 p.m. Class ends
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.Continued on-site work
8:00 p.m. – onwardsAssigned readings, project work
“It is a large time commitment and there is an expectation that students commit the time and energy that is needed for successful completion of the coursework”
Michele Farquharson, Betamore Academy
The Cost of Attending
While the coding bootcamp industry is still in its formative stages, there are already approximately 50 to 65 full-time programs scattered across America. Each employs a pricing and tuition structure unique to the program, with most costing between $3,000 and $20,000. Course Report’s survey of 48 programs found the average cost of tuition as of 2014 was $9,920. Nearly half of all surveyed programs had tuition between $5,000 and $10,000. The breakdown of pricing structures is shown below:
$5,000 or less
$5,000 to $10,000
$10,000 or more
A number of models for tuition repayment exist within the industry and are detailed below.
Students are accountable for paying the entire tuition amount prior to beginning a program.
Students may attend for no charge in exchange for a percentage of their starting salary. App Academy charges graduates 18 percent of their first-year earnings after landing a position in the industry.
Students are offered an employment guarantee, meaning the program refunds tuition if a student does not find a job within a certain timeframe after graduation. If a student does not receive a job offer within nine months of completing the program, Code Fellows will refund tuition. Other programs, such as the Nashville Software School, offer various forms of refunds. The school will refund $3,000 of the $10,500 tuition if a student secures a job through the school’s job placement program. It also has a tech apprenticeship program allowing students to only pay $1,000 in tuition, with the remainder paid by the student’s employer after graduation.
Although some programs regularly cite six figure salaries for their graduates, students should be realistic about their earning potential after graduation. Shana Mysko of Betamore Academy says the goal is for graduates to be comfortable starting in an entry-level position. Those types of positions can pay between $30,000 and $60,000 in the first year of work.
“As students gain valuable work experience and continue to expand their skills, there are development positions with two or so years of experience at $80,000 to $120,000.”
What’s the ROI?
According to co-founder Shawn Drost, “Hack Reactor maintains a 99 percent employment rate and a median graduate salary of $110,000.” He also notes that alumni of Hack Reactor go on to careers at industry leaders such as Microsoft, Google, Uber and Facebook. “I would guess the average graduate gets a $50,000 raise after paying $17,780 in tuition,” he says. “Even half of that amount would be a ridiculously high return-on-investment.” Salary information within the industry is as follows:
– $110,00 median salary
– $105,000 (San Francisco); $89,000 (New York) median salary
– $13,000 average salary increase first year after completing the program
San Francisco and New York City
No tuition. $5,000 refundable deposit plus a placement fee of 18 percent of first year salary after securing a job as a developer
Prior programming is a plus; college degree is not required
10 weeks for front-end Web development; 12 weeks for back-end Web development
Varies by program
Front-end program: $1,500 refundable deposit; $3,000 total. Back-end program: $1,700 deposit; $3,400 total. Students receive a 10 percent discount if paying for the program in full.
No experience required for front-end Web development. Back-end Web development candidates should be familiar with programming concepts, some CSS and HTML, and basic command line.
Atlanta, GA and Monterey, CA
Varies by class
$3,700 – $6,000
Applicants should have intermediate programming experience with knowledge requirements varying by class
No prior academic or professional experience is required, but successful applicants should have familiarity and background with coding and programming
Launch Academy in Boston provides students with an end-to-end bootcamp experience, beginning with Ignition, a pre-learning program that includes 60 to 80 hours of preparatory work. During this phase, students are introduced to CSS, HTML, the command line, HTML, Ruby, database fundamentals, and object-oriented programming concepts. The 10-week intensive program focuses on Ruby on Rails. Upon graduation, students receive six months of post-graduation support and career placement opportunities with partner companies.
10 weeks with 60 to 80 hour preparation program
$12,500, paid upfront or via a 24-month payment plan
No previous computer science experience required
“Learn as much as you can on your own first! It’s important to see whether you like this.”
Shawn Drost, Hack Reactor
Programming for Non-Tech College Graduates
Coding bootcamps present an opportunity for graduates with a non-technical degree to pivot into programming, a growing and in-demand career field. However, the decision to quit a job, possibly move, and enroll in a three-month intensive training program is not one to be made lightly. There are numerous reasons why non-tech college graduates may choose to enroll in a bootcamp. According to Shana Mysko, “Most students are career changers whose post-college careers didn’t work out for them due to a lack of employability or have a lack of engagement with their careers.” Landing a highly lucrative job after graduation is a major reason non-tech graduates choose bootcamps, she says. Below is a list of tips for prospective students to consider to ensure they are a good candidate for a coding bootcamp:
You like to code
You are motivated to immerse into a full-time intensive training program
You have an aptitude for technical work
You enjoy solving complex problems
You are able to work with others
You have basic computer proficiency skills
You are able to concentrate for long periods of time
Is coding bootcamp a good fit?
Participating in a coding bootcamp requires a significant investment of time and finances. Although programs can lead to new employment opportunities, they are expensive, time consuming and difficult. Given the overall cost, figuring out the best option can be challenging. Below is a series of questions to help decide if coding bootcamp is a good fit, regardless of prior educational backgrounds.
1What are your career goals?
Coding bootcamps are designed to provide graduates with a workable level of knowledge in computer programming. Students should establish their motivations and goals for attending before enrolling. Is the goal to start a company? Develop a skill set to change careers? Prospective attendees should make sure their future aspirations align with what they will learn and that those skills translate to upcoming opportunities.
2Can you afford the tuition?
A full-time program can cost upwards of $20,000. Financial aid and scholarships are not widely available, although some programs may offer a discount if tuition is fully paid prior to starting the course. Other programs, such as Launch Academy, provide various types of payment plans. Programs such as App Academy may allow tuition deferment until students complete the program and secure a job.
3Can you handle the opportunity cost?
Beyond tuition, other costs to consider include relocation and housing expenses. Because programs are largely concentrated in major cities, prospective students should be prepared to move in order to attend the program. Can you afford to relocate to a new city for three months or longer? Can you finance not only tuition, but also related expenditures such as housing and food while attending the program?
4Can you thrive in an intense environment?
The majority of coding bootcamps operate Monday through Friday, with students spending 8 to 12 hours per day in their studies. Can you deal with a challenging learning curve, dedicating 60 to 100 hours per week to learning about coding? Because of the accelerated schedule, students that fall behind may struggle to catch up.
What to Consider When Choosing a Bootcamp
Establishing if bootcamp is a good fit professionally is the first step to making a decision. The second step is figuring out which bootcamp is best tailored to individual interests. Below are three things to review prior to selecting a program.
1. Programming language focus
2. Quality of instructors
Before enrolling, students should inquire about the program’s instructors. Are they industry professionals? What type of professional coding experience do they have? Some programs employ recent grads to teach, meaning they won’t have the same level of real-world knowledge as seasoned professionals.
3. Career placement services
The ultimate goal for attending a program of this nature is to land a new job. Prospective students should ask about the program’s career assistance services. Does the school offer resume support, career placement services, or job fairs? According to Course Report’s 2014, survey, 60 percent of surveyed bootcamps help with internship or apprenticeship placements, while 87 percent provide resume assistance.
Hack Reactor designed its program with job placement in mind. “By graduation, students will have a solid GitHub presence, tons of technical interview experience, a personal site, LinkedIn profile, and resume,” says Drost. The school also hosts a hiring day for prospective employers to view student projects.
Insight from Computer Science and Bootcamp Experts
According to a recent survey, over 70 percent of coding bootcamp attendees are college graduates. Why are they enrolling in these programs?
Farquharson: Students that did not major in computer science are looking for ways to improve their skill sets without returning to college for another degree. The technology being used in startups and other innovative companies changes so rapidly. Instructors are industry-experts who see first-hand what is needed in the workplace and ensure those skills are reflected in the curriculum.
Drost: We’re in the middle of an unusual historical anomaly: there are one million more jobs for programmers than programmers to fill them. Most people, college graduates included, are in a career that doesn’t excite them or offer opportunities for growth.
Mysko: Students attend coding bootcamps to receive a highly focused education in technology. Most are career changers whose post-college careers didn’t work out for them due to lack of employability or engagement with the work. They attend coding bootcamps to get the training they need to pursue lucrative, fulfilling careers. Having a highly focused curriculum and not taking unnecessary “filler” courses means students can get into the workforce quickly and start being paid higher salaries much sooner than if they went to a tech school or a four-year college. That’s money in the bank.
Can a college degree set the stage for a successful bootcamp experience?
Farquharson: A college degree lowers barriers to certain positions. Many human resource departments look for that college experience, even if the degree or concentration is not in a technology-related field. If you’ve been successful in college, you have demonstrated a degree of discipline and self-motivation. That being said, having a college degree does not guarantee a successful bootcamp experience.
Drost: Many students have college degrees, but prior industry or academic experience is not required. A college degree isn’t an indicator for one’s success in our program. Most successful applicants have been introduced to programming by writing code independently, or by working through courses on e-learning platforms.
What are the major benefits of coding bootcamps?
Farquharson: They are a great way to expand both your skill set and your network. By interacting and learning from some of the best in the business, students expand their professional network, lowering some of the barriers to employment.
Mysko: The major benefits are getting the skills you need to start a new career and obtaining those skills in such a short amount of time. It saves time and money in the long run.
Drost: Bootcamps provide a foundation for a career in software engineering, an ability to create amazing and world-changing software, the chance for high paying jobs, opportunities to work with a peer group full of brilliant people—all at a dramatically cheaper cost and less time consuming manner than a computer science degree. You get more effective coding experience and review critical content that computer science programs don’t cover.
What are the major drawbacks of coding bootcamps?
Farquharson: Coding bootcamps are not a magic pill. They provide a foundation, but upon completion you are still looking at an entry-level job—and there will still be a lot to learn.
Drost: It’s hard to quit your job and commit to a full-time program. I don’t think any program has figured out how to successfully offer a part-time program yet.
Alternatives to coding bootcamp Individuals who aspire to become computer programmers but are unable to complete a four-year degree or attend a coding bootcamp have alternatives, including paid online services, free open courses, and community college classes.
Below is a snapshot of resources available to prospective programmers seeking different learning formats:
Leada. Offers a range of paid online courses in areas such as Python to help the self-learner develop professional-level skills. Students receive lifetime access to course material and four weeks of instructor support.
Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is a question and answer site run by a community of both professional and aspiring programmers. Prospective programmers can connect with like-minded individuals, get support for their programming questions, and use Stack Overflow as a way to develop new programming skills.
Community College. Community college can be a good option for individuals looking to enhance their knowledge or acquire a new skill set in order to change careers. Students can select from traditional two-year associate degree programs in computer science, as well as accelerated computer programming courses providing competency-based training through topic-focused modules. For example, Austin Community College offers accelerated certificate and degree-based programs in topic such as in JAVA, C++, and database programming.