Home Bootcamps Are coding bootcamps worth it?

Are coding bootcamps worth it?


It wasn’t until recently that, for many, software development seemed like an out-of-reach career reserved only for the smartest whizkids everyone knew in school. But with the proliferation of self-paced online courses, free tutorials and software development bootcamps – as well as highly controversial government promotions – a career in programming has become less daunting for more individuals.

Bootcamps have become arguably the most popular route for would-be programmers to retrain into a secure, well-paying career path. However, this popularity has given rise to more or less trustworthy organizations selling the dream of becoming employable in often unrealistic time frames. The harsh reality is that many come across as scam artists trying to make a quick buck.

Indeed, it can be difficult to sift through – and verify – the dozens of organizations that claim to offer a new career in a matter of weeks. It can also be equally difficult to figure out which one will equip students with the most employable skills. However, not all coding bootcamps are the same, and there are a few gems, with characteristics such as a large number of positive reviews and accolades from well-known companies.

The debate between hiring programmers who have undertaken three- or four-year computer science degrees, versus those who have completed a 12-week development bootcamp, has been simmering for years. Senior engineers and IT recruiters who are the only ones standing in the way of potential developers and their dream jobs, reveal what bootcamps really offer and if they’re worth the money in today’s job market .

What are the differences between computer science graduates and bootcamp graduates?

It’s the age-old argument: academic knowledge versus practical experience – two qualities extremely valuable in any profession, but rarely taught together. As it concerns coding bootcamps versus computer science degrees go, experts echo that sentiment. They agree that a computer science degree provides a holistic understanding of programming, but cannot provide students with the same level of hands-on experience as a bootcamp.

Among them is Mark Chaffey, CEO of hackajob – a platform for companies to hire software developers and evaluate them based on their overall skills. He adds, however, that following a self-study or bootcamp route doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t learn the theory at a later date. Some even raise the possibility of university students “wasting time” learning material in the first year of a degree that will no longer be relevant towards the end of the program.

“A computer science graduate will learn more about the theory required to be a software engineer, while a bootcamp graduate will have more hands-on experience,” he says. “We always suggest that bootcamp engineers study computer theory in their spare time, as it will really help them improve their overall skills.”

Sam Rowlands, co-founder and director of community at Distributed – a company that manages flexible teams of software and website developers – says IT Professional that unless they have a degree from a major university, graduates will face the same difficulties as those coming from bootcamps. Experience reigns supreme, and without a solid portfolio of work, aspiring developers will have to undertake internships and other programs to gain the experience they need.

“Graduates can, of course, tick the ‘I have a degree’ box,” he says. “While degree saturation means each has less impact on potential employers, [the university courses] should ensure that students will come away with a relatively good understanding of basic coding principles.

“With bootcamps, participants should leave knowing the syntax and basics of writing code, along with some portfolio material. They should also know how to ask the right questions to find the answers they need.

Do employers have different perceptions of coding bootcamp graduates?

From an employer’s perspective, both paths have drawbacks and both types of graduates will need to spend their time developing the key employable skills needed to succeed in the job market. But there can be lingering doubt about how a candidate without a degree will be seen among the pile of applicants for a given development job.

For some, a candidate’s mettle is only truly tested in the interview when the stakes are high. A good candidate may be dressed in every degree under the sun, but how they carry themselves day to day and how they can demonstrate their suitability for the role will be the ultimate determining factor.

On the other hand, some corners of the industry accept that software development bootcamps can produce highly skilled programmers, depending on the quality of the course and provided the individual has internalized its content. As Nick Sewell, UK Software Development Manager at Expleo, says, bootcamps are still relatively new and as such there is a lot of misinformation around them and the programmers they produce. Often, bootcamp graduates are thought to not have the same approach to problem solving and programming as computer science grads, for example.

“Coding bootcamps can be viewed in different ways,” he says. “However, as they become more popular, companies are beginning to recognize that job candidates who successfully complete coding bootcamps often show a hands-on approach to solving problems in a fast-paced environment. This may reflect a real working environment.

Small companies and startups are more likely to be receptive to hiring people from alternative backgrounds, while larger companies often still prefer those with CS degrees, he adds. The bootcamp path will also naturally be more favorable to junior roles than to more senior positions where experience will really be the main differentiator between candidates.

Do coding bootcamps offer enough earning potential?

Higher-than-average salaries in tech, compared to many other industries, naturally lead us to wonder if a short-term coding bootcamp can really offer the same financial prospects as a dedicated, multi-year degree. While this is one of the most marketable aspects of bootcamp programs, the financial outlook for these graduates is slightly worse, at least early in their careers.

Computer science graduates can expect better salaries, assuming the level of experience is broadly similar, Sewell says. “They have the practical skills that can be applied immediately on the job rather than needing training to get up to speed – which comes at a cost to the employer.”

This conclusion, of course, will depend on the bootcamp, the employer, the specific position, and the requirements of each role. Experts say IT Professionalfor example, they’ve seen some bootcamp graduates get better offers than their graduate counterparts, though that’s certainly a rarity.

The prevailing advice is that potential programmers should focus less on total compensation, especially when looking for their first job. Instead, they should find a company where they can develop their skills in a way that prepares their career for life. The money will come, but having the right first job can make a huge difference in the long run.

Are coding bootcamps selling a fake dream?

The phrase “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is” rings true in most life scenarios. When budding developers are served, say, a targeted social media ad promising a high-paying career in as little as 12 weeks — or even eight weeks — that same skepticism can set in.

The truth is, bootcamp graduates can expect to be job-ready, at least for a junior developer position, and employers are certainly open to hiring them. What may not be communicated well enough, however, is the amount of additional learning they will have to do on the job compared to their university-educated peers.

It’s likely that if a company hires two junior developers, one from a bootcamp and the other straight out of college, the latter will progress faster with their existing theoretical understanding, experts say. Likewise, if it’s the same two candidates vying for the same junior position, then an IT graduate with a strong GitHub portfolio will – in most cases – be considered the safest choice. However, this does not mean that bootcamp-trained developers are at a significant disadvantage. Many employers realize the value these individuals can add, and as bootcamps become more popular, the quality of their graduates may be viewed more favorably over time.

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