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The truth about coding bootcamp

Coding on a laptop at bootcamp

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Bryn Bennet started his software engineering career by going to bootcamp. He was encouraged to do so by a very successful software engineer, who also went to bootcamp. The institution has exploded in popularity over the last 5–10 years — but what is a software engineering bootcamp really like?

When I first encountered the concept of a coding bootcamp, it was totally unfamiliar to me. I was working in the entertainment industry at the time, and the idea of someone promising me infinite possibilities in exhange for thousands of dollars felt, well, scammy at best. It was hard to believe that it was little more than smoke and mirrors.

Only after speaking with people who actually found success through these programs, reassuring me of their legitimacy, did I decide to take the leap. So now, more than 3 years into my “new” career, I often find myself having similar conversations with prospective bootcamp attendees. The main question though has not changed — what is the truth about coding bootcamp? Do these programs really live up to all of their promises? My answer is not black and white, but it can best be summed up as — No, bootcamp is not the magic bullet that it claims to be, but yes, it is truly one of best, most life-changing, decisions I have ever made.

THE BAD

Bootcamps love to boast their incredible job placement rates. At the end of the day, thats what it’s all about, right? We all approach them as a pre-cursor to a new job. These statistics are even placed alongside money-back guarantees — get a job or your money back? 95% of graduates get a job? Wow — it almost sounds too good to be true. And well, it kind of is.

Bootcamps like to make it sound as though you can essentially pay X amount of money for a new career. If that seems suspect, that’s because it is. These programs (and granted, they are not all equal — I can speak really only to mine, Flatiron School) basically do one thing very well. They teach you the absolute bare minimum of a new skill that is needed to claw your way into your new career. Bootcamps cannot guarantee anything, and at the end of the day, it is you who has to go out and get the actual job. Getting a job after bootcamp is really hard — I cannot stress this enough. There are literally hundreds of other candidates who have the exact same bootcamp skills and resume as you, applying for the exact same jobs.

Bootcamps cannot guarantee anything, and at the end of the day, it is you who has to go out and get the actual job.

The teachers who instruct in these programs are an eclectic group. I have heard a number of stories of staffing issues, such as switching instructors due to organizational restructuring, or switching instructors due to effectiveness. Much like every other version of schooling, the success of one’s learning with a teacher with likely be specific to them and to the teacher.

Many bootcamps will reassure that they provide career coaching and guidance, even access to job opportunities. This isn’t inaccurate, but its definitely more of a “nice to have”.

The career coaches are there to keep you on track. They make sure you are doing the work you are supposed to be doing, like applying to jobs and reaching out to people in your network. They are certainly helpful, but nothing groundbreaking. This is more akin to having a cheerleader — someone in your corner on a tough day — than it is it to having a headhunter actually helping you get hired.

The job opportunities that come through are blasted to everyone in the entire recent-grad network, and immediately flooded by the same group. Additionally, at least from what I remember, many of them were apprenticeships and such — not that this isn’t valuable, but it was more like a few companies who put out a number of very entry-level roles, than it was an actual pipeline.

Bootcamps are businesses. They care about your success to the extent that it helps their business. In other words, their main goal is to keep the stats that they can tell future students high and marketable. Whether or not you as an individual are successful is neither here nor there.

THE GOOD

I always start with the bad because by the time a person finds themselves in this conversation with me, they’ve likely read all kinds of glorious things about bootcamps, and I feel the need to bring them back down to Earth a bit. While everything above is extremely true, attending a software engineering bootcamp was one of the absolute best decisions I have made, and will probably ever make, in my life.

Above we discuss the fact that bootcamps teach you the bare minimum required to get a job in the field. This actually isn’t a criticism, though. Before bootcamps, the pre-requisite to a software engineering career was either a 4-year degree, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or years of self-teaching. The fact that bootcamps are able to teach you the bare minimum needed to embark on this road is absolutely incredible. There are very few careers that offer the same types of opportunity as software engineering, that also have only months-long bootcamps that can take you from zero to career-ready — even if it is the bare-minimum of career-ready.

The fact that bootcamps are able to teach you the bare minimum needed to embark on this road is absolutely incredible.

As for the rest of it — the teachers, the job hunt — being a software engineer is so much about self-sufficiency. I find myself constantly explaining to bootcamp grads that their value to a company will be less about knowing any one skill, and more about their ability to learn new skills as new needs arise. So teachers, career coaches, and job access aside, your success will always fall squarely on your ability to be resourceful. The first job hunt is an amazing opportunity to become accustomed to this.

THE CONCLUSION

I cannot think of any other role that offers as much flexibility with as much opportunity as software engineering. Do you want to work from an office, or your home? Do you want to work in finance, travel, or AI? Do you want to build beautiful products, or do you want to think through deep, algorithmic questions?

The possibilities are endless — the opportunities, seemingly limitless — the road to the trailhead, hard.

Engineering isn’t for everyone. I have absolutely brilliant friends in advertising, entertainment, real estate, etc., who do things I could never do. Likewise, software engineering is not for them, and no bootcamp could make engineering for them. But if your interest is piqued by engineering, I highly recommend you start playing around on Codecademy. You’ll quickly be able to tell if you either A. find it miserable or B. want to do it all day. If you’re in the B camp, bootcamp is for you. Just be prepared for a hard, uphill battle to the prize — but it is so, so worth it.

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