Home Bootcamps Online Coding Bootcamps: 4 Things Nobody Tells You

Online Coding Bootcamps: 4 Things Nobody Tells You


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Whether you want to change careers or expand your skills as a software engineer, online coding bootcamps can be a great way to achieve this. Designed for both beginners and veteran engineers, bootcamps come in a variety of formats and have gone live widely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lately, they have also attracted partnership from educational institutions like Harvard University and even big tech companies. like Amazon.

The goal? To get you coding (and hired) fast — without the time commitment of a four-year degree.

Enrolling in a coding bootcamp can equip you with programming skills applicable to jobs such as front-end developer, back-end developer, QA engineer, or web developer. Of course, you can learn programming languages like Python through free online courses, but paid, hands-on bootcamps include projects, commentary, and networking that allow you to deepen your knowledge and gain professional skills.

With a median salary of $77,000 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, enrolling in a coding bootcamp might seem like an obvious alternative to a bachelor’s degree. But coding bootcamps have drawn criticism since their rise in popularity, and it turns out they’re not for everyone.

What is a coding bootcamp?

Online coding bootcamps are fast and intensive ways to learn technical skills such as web development, cybersecurity, UX/UI design, and mobile development. People who complete a web development bootcamp, for example, can go on to build websites and apps.

In a non-pandemic environment, coding bootcamps are offered in-person and online. But due to the increased need for distance learning due to the pandemic, many of these programs are now online only. And that’s what we’re focusing on here. Well-known online coding bootcamps include Flatiron School, Thinkful, Fullstack Academy, and General Assembly.

Bootcamps are offered in a variety of formats: full-time, part-time, and self-paced. Full-time programs tend to be shorter and last three to five months. Part-time, self-paced programs can take six months or more, depending on how much time you commit. Depending on the program, tuition fees can range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.

Think about it before you sign up

If taking a coding bootcamp sounds like a compelling way to advance your career, increase your salary, or change careers altogether, consider these considerations first.

Take a Free (or Cheap) Course First

Coding bootcamps have made tech careers more accessible than ever. But coding isn’t for everyone. Problem-based work can be incredibly difficult, especially for those without a technical background.

Before you spend thousands of dollars on a coding bootcamp, find out if it’s right for you by signing up for a short, free coding course. This will help you determine if you will even enjoy coding. Plus, you’ll gain valuable foundational knowledge for your paid bootcamp. Some graduates even recommend first learn the most common coding languages, like Python, before registering, to make the bootcamp less stressful.

Plan to work on projects outside of class

In a coding bootcamp, the work doesn’t stop at the end of the instruction. As new skills are taught, you will be given assignments (or “labs”) to apply your knowledge. Students often report having more homework than they can complete, so expect to spend a lot of time outside of class solving problems and completing projects.

Read the revenue sharing agreement carefully

Spending up to $20,000 (and possibly months without a job) is a huge risk. To attract more students, most coding bootcamps offer Revenue Sharing Agreements, or ISAs, which allow students to defer paying most (or all) of their tuition until that they have found a job. In California, these agreements are called Retail Sales Agreements, or RICs.

Unlike a traditional student loan, where the student repays a loan in pre-determined installments with interest after completing their studies, ISAs take a reduction from a graduate’s future salary. Once you complete a bootcamp and earn minimum wage, the coding bootcamp claims a percentage of your earnings until the tuition is refunded (and beyond). And if you don’t land a job within a certain number of years (say, five), the ISA will be forgiven.

As formidable as they may seem, ISAs and RICs have come under intense scrutiny. Same dispute.

In June 2019, Senator Elizabeth Warren write a letter (PDF link) to the US Department of Education criticizing ISAs, saying that ISAs can do more harm than good, especially since the minimum wage threshold can leave students pocketing less than a living wage.

For example, the Coding Temple bootcamp has a tuition fee of $12,995, according to the course report. With an ISA, this tuition can be deferred until a graduate barely earns $33,000, at which point they will owe 12% of their monthly salary to Coding Temple for 36 months. The maximum a student will repay is $21,990, which is approximately $9,000 more than the initial tuition.

Sometimes the math makes sense. ISAs can be a way for people without access to traditional loans or savings to advance their careers and lives. But it’s hard to know if an ISA was worth it until you land a job.

Bottom line: Consider all post-graduation scenarios before signing an ISA, especially if the minimum wage threshold is low.

Bootcamps are not accredited

Colleges and universities are subject to accreditation or legal obligation to meet strict quality standards. This means that no matter where you pursue higher education, you can expect a certain level of quality education. Additionally, accreditation provides students with access to federally supported financial aid.

Coding bootcamps are owned and operated by individuals. They are not accredited, even when administered by a traditional university. This means that while bootcamp institutions have the freedom to rapidly evolve their curriculum to stay current, they are also immune to scrutiny. Especially when it comes to reporting.

One of the many marketing tools used by coding bootcamps is the graduation and placement rate. Currently, no independent third-party organization accurately reports bootcamp placement rates. Instead, bootcamps self-report, leaving their numbers open to skepticism.

In May 2021, three students sued Lambda School, citing that the bootcamp inflated placement rates to lure students into their program and sign ISAs. At the time, the school was marketing an 80% graduation rate, according to TechCrunch. This statistic has since been removed from the Lambda website.

The best way to find out if a school is preparing its students for success is to have real conversations with past graduates. Do your research, get recommendations from friends, and proceed with caution before making a decision based on self-reported data.