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Will a "Programming Boot Camp" Help Me Get a Coding Job?

Melanie Pinola 7
Filed to: ASK LIFEHACKER
4/03/15 8:00am

Dear Lifehacker,
Im interested in getting a job as a programmer, but I dont have any formal training. I heard boot
camps can get me into a job in just a couple of months. They seem intense and expensive, though.
Are they worth it?

Signed,
Could-be Coder

Dear Coder,
Youre definitely not alone in your interest in coding as a career. Programming is one of the highest
paying and most in-demand careers you can find these daysand it doesnt require a four-year
degree. Coding boot camps promise to get you job-ready in a relatively short amount of time.

Over 60 boot camps have risen up in the last few years to meet the needs of career changers and
others looking to get on the fast track to a nearly six-figure job in software development. These
programsusually 8 to 12 weeks long and costing $10,000 on averageoffer hands-on training,
career guidance and community support, and the opportunity to work on personal projects you can
showcase to prospective employers. Theyre like trade schools for the digital age. Although they can
be a great way to become a professional coder, boot camps arent for everyone. Lets look at the
pros and cons.

The Programming Skills, Jobs, and Company Types Th


Read more

Boot Camps Versus Self-Study and College Degrees

In terms of costs and time commitment, coding boot camps fall in between self-study and the
traditional university computer science degrees.

Self -study: Many successful and awesome programmers are entirely self-taught. Propelled by their
natural interest, they tinker with and break others code and otherwise learn by doingsometimes
with their own personal learning plans or through the myriad of online coding courses and resources
available. The benefits of this approach are the $0 tuition cost, of course, and the flexible schedule,
but you need a great amount discipline to learn in your free time, as well as the skill and insight to
put together your own curriculum, so to speak. Also, without any kind of formal training, you might
have a harder time landing a job unless you have a solid body of work to prove your programming
skills and experience.

College degrees: On the other side of the spectrum are formal university degree programs and
classes. A degree in computer science will give you a broader foundation and open more job doors
for you when employers are looking at candidates credentials. After all, some argue its more
important to learn how to think like a computer scientist than to learn how to code. College degrees,
however, are expensive, and for those who want to start their career as soon as possible in a
particular programming role, a traditional degree can feel like overkill or even like a waste of time.

Boot camps fall in between both of these, both in terms of cost and time investment. They offer a
much more focused education in programming languages or tracks. While boot camps can get you
job-ready faster than the college route, the industry isnt regulated (yet), you wont get as well-
rounded an education as you would at university, theres only a short time to learn, and, like
enrolling in a vocational school, getting a good job isnt guaranteed. The Wall Street Journal reports
(emphasis mine):

Entry-level coders earn less than programmers with university degrees who enter the job
market. Some major IT companies contacted by SeedPaths havent been interested in its
boot-camp graduates because they usually lack a college degree. And because boot camps
are so new, the jury is out on whether they are producing successful programmers.

Hiring someone straight from school, from a coding course or a four-year university, is an
investment, said Will Cole, director of products for Stack Overflow Careers, which employs
40 software developers. We dont have the infrastructure to train new people without much
experience.

But Mr. Cole said he does like boot camps for taking the mystique out of programming.

Compared to self-study, however, boot camps offer more support and additional motivation to learn
and succeed. After all, youre investing $10,000 and 10 sleepless weeks of your life to this one
purpose. Because of that investment and the immersive nature of these boot camps, youll learn
more quickly and thoroughly through a boot camp than you likely would on your own. Plus, youll
become part of a community of coders, a very valuable resource in itself.

So far, enrolling in a boot camp might sound ideal if youre dead set on a programming career, but it
does cost thousands of dollars, and most programs will require you to quit your job and drop
everything for weeks, so enrolling isnt a decision you can make lightly.

What Boot Camps Are Like and What Youll Learn


In a nutshell, coding boot camps help you learn to code, whether you choose a web developer or a
mobile app developer track, the JavaScript or Java program. Most boot camps seem to have a
similar structurea dedicated amount of time for lectures followed by hands-on experience.
Lifehacker reader NH tells me:

It was intense. Mornings were spent learning a new concept along with an instructor and
afternoons left us mostly on our own to apply the new concepts in daily challenges. I rarely
left the classroom before 10pm. Weekdays were basically wake up, work in class, go home,
go to bed. Even weekends, though there was no class, rarely offered a reprieve. By the end
of the 8 weeks I couldnt imagine going any longer. But I loved every moment of it.

Because of the round-the-clock time commitment, boot camps arent ideal for people who hope to
keep working (or having a life) while they study, as most are in-person programs with set schedules.
A few online boot camps like Bloc and Career Foundry offer more flexibility, but even these courses
require you to put in a significant amount of time each weekfor several weeksto acquire the
skills you seek.

Depending on the boot camp, the intensive courses can also teach you more nuanced, professional
skills that can be invaluable when starting out in your new job. Victoria Barr, who had almost no prior
tech experience before attending Makers Academy and just started her first developing job, said:

Im not a software expert by any means, but Makers definitely prepared me for a number of
aspects of my job: diving into the code, learning on the fly, asking the right questions to get
myself where I need to be. I was able to dive into the legacy code Ill be working with and
know what I was looking at.
Boot camp is incredible because you get to learn by doing. There are a lot of great online
resources out there, but things like Codecademy exist in a vacuum. When youre just starting
out on your own, you dont even know what you dont know and what kinds of things you
should be looking to learn. Makers taught me more than just syntax for programming
languages. It taught me TDD, SOLID principles, how to take sort of nebulous programming
logic and turn it into something concrete in the form of a web site with a lot of moving parts.
You also get to learn with others, pair programming, working together. Its better than
learning alone. We had really long days. A lot of us were at the office from 9am to 9pm. But
we had lunch together, played a lot of ping pong, grabbed a few beers after hours. It was
hard, but fun and oh so educational. Id definitely do it again.

More important than learning a specific language is the basic ability to pick up new technologies
quicklysomething boot camp alumni should be able to prove easily to employers. Siena Aguayo,
who attended the all-women Hackbright Academy says:

Once I started working, I was put on our iOS team, which was a stack I had no experience
with (iOS is programmed in Objective-C and Hackbright had taught me Python, and
programming mobile apps has a different set of challenges than programming for the web).
But, I had proved that I could learn a ton in 10 weeks and was prepared to do it againI was
part of the team that shipped our first iOS app in July of last year, and then dove right in to
do it again for Android, which shipped in December. Im now working on our web site, writing
mostly Angular and Rails, so Ive basically completely changed my tech stack every 6
months. Theres only so much you can learn in a 10 week boot camp, but the important thing
is that you prove you can pick up new technologies quickly, which is an essential skill for a
software engineer, since the landscape changes all the time. So, in that way, I did feel as
prepared as I could have been for someone who had really only been coding sincerely for
less than 5 months. There was still a ton I had to learn on the job, but it was mostly things
that you only learn from working with a team in a professional environment, and not things
you could learn on your own.

The end goal for most boot camp attendees is to go in and a few weeks later emerge with the
coding chops and confidence to not just get a job as a full-time software engineer, but make a
career out of it. And some boot camps offer job searching as part of the curriculum, which is one of
the reasons Curtis Mitchell chose Hack Reactor:

About halfway through their program the focus shifts from learning programming to actually
making web applications to build a portfolio, followed by interview and job search
preparation. HR had staff and former alumni dedicated to helping students with their job
search. They taught us how to sell ourselves and our skill sets, talk about our portfolios, and
search for relevant companies and suitable roles. They had frequent checkins with students
and recently-graduated alums during the job search process.

All but one of the 15 or so people who shared their boot camp experiences with me were positive
about it, even though a few people arent working as programmers now but instead working as
project managers and founders of their own startups. The majority went into it with some
programming experience already and were completely sure about their decision, however. That
surety seems to be critical.

How to Tell If a Boot Camp Is Right for You

As with other educational choices and career paths, making this big decision boils down to what you
hope to achieve. The ideal boot camp candidates, according to Jesse Farmer, co-founder of
CodeUnion, meet four criteria:

1. They want to change careers and become a full-time (junior) software engineer.
2. They can afford the opportunity cost, i.e., they can quit their jobs, move across the country, etc.
3. They can afford the tuition.

4. They know they can thrive in intense environments.

Although anyone can attend a boot camp (if accepted), because of the high tuition cost and the
drop-everything-youre-doing, full-day and full-week courseload, boot camps are most suited for
people committed to a career change and sure they want to go into programming.

Most of the people who talked to me about their reasons for attending a boot camp had a similar
background: They had some to little background in coding but they knew that if they wanted to go to
the next level they had to do something drastic.

Not everyone has to have some experience in coding to get accepted to a boot camp, but it helps.
You dont want to invest thousands of dollars, quit your job, and go full-time into one of these
programs only to drop out mid-way when you realize this isnt the path for you. So if you dont have
much experience in programming or arent sure about it as a career, first: try one of the many free
options like Codecademy to see if you actually like programming, join a Meetup group like Girl
Develop It or Railsbridge, and take an online, community-driven class to test the waters, Skillcrush
recommends. (Skillcrush offers a free 10-day career-focused boot camp as an introduction to boot
camps, at least online.)

NH says:

Everyone who Ive talked to since who has been interested in attending this bootcamp Ive
told the same thing: you have to want it. Like, REALLY want it. You cant go in just hoping to
scrape enough from it to get a new job. Itll defeat you. You have to want to learn for the
sake of learning or youll never make it. If you dont have a passion for it, boot camps arent
for you. Youll get frustrated, youll give up, youll tell yourself its just not for you or that
youre not good enough. I saw it happen in my own cohort. I had a little prior experience that
gave me a slight leg up from others coming in fresh, but I dont think thats why I succeeded.
I got what I wanted out of it because I wanted it more than anything so I put everything I had
into it. So I tell people if they can do the same then theyll get everything they want from the
experience and then some.

In other words, like all other experiences with the boot camp name (think Navy SEAL training and
baby boot camp), this is not a casual experience and you will have to be fully invested in it.

Will Boot Camps Get You a Job?

If youre dedicated to it, a boot camp can turn you into a software engineer in a couple of months,
but the bigger question might be: will it get you a better job?

Graduates of boot camps surveyed by Course Report had an average 44% boost in income after
attending the boot camp. (The survey included 432 graduates from 48 programming schools.)
Before attending the boot camp, 48% were employed full-time, and after attending the boot camp,
63% were employed full-time. The majority of boot camps surveyed offer career services such as
resume assistance or internship/apprenticeship placement.

If your goal is to land a career in programming, youll probably want to look carefully at each boot
camps job placement rates and career services. According to Launch Academy co-founder Evan
Charles on Quora:
As of now, there is not a standardized calculation for placement rates amongst boot camps
(were going to try our best to help the consumer out on this over the next few months). At
Launch Academy, our placement rate is calculated as job seekers who obtain paid positions
with companies within 90-days of graduation where job seekers is defined as graduates
who are actively communicating with our Talent Director, attending scheduled interviews
and/or participating in any of the various career service resources we offer during the Post
Grad Support stage of the program.

Published Placement Rates of Popular Boot Camps

Dev Bootcamp: 85% placement rate overall; 100% in some specific cohorts
Hack Reactor: 98-99% overall
Launch Academy: 96% placement rate overall (in some cohorts 100% of job seekers
have found jobs over time)
MakerSquare: 96% placement rate overall

Hackbrights job placement is 90% within 3 months.

85-96% placement rates are pretty good! But you wouldnt want to be in the 4-15% who paid for the
education and are still looking for work.

Some schools offer a job-offer guarantee: Youll land a job within a set number of months of
graduating in set locations (you must be willing to relocate to tech-friendly cities) or your tuition will
be reimbursed. Code Fellows and Viking Code School offer a guarantee or refund of tuition if you
dont get hired. Many schools also offer a partial tuition reimbursementof several thousand dollars
if you get a job with one of the boot camps partner companies.

Although most of the people who emailed me about their experiences said they got job offers before
or shortly the program even ended, unless the program offers a 100% job placement guarantee,
theres no assurance your time and financial investment will lead to a job. Rachel, a Bloc.io graduate
who took the online boot camp from Crete, Greece because she could do it while still working, said:

I havent yet gotten a job and Ive been looking for over a month. Starting to get worried. A
recruiter told me that initially web dev boot camp graduates were having a lot of success
getting hired because it was such a new thing, but its not the case now. I wish I had work
experience to show that Im a developer. I just got denied from a job because I had no work
experience in Rails.

So while a coding boot camp looks like a promising fast track to a career in coding, being a boot
camp graduate in itself probably shouldnt be your biggest selling point for potential employers. Also,
despite the high job placement rates, it could take months to get a job after graduating from a boot
camp.

How to Choose and Pay for a Coding Boot Camp

Perhaps the most important decision is picking the right bootcamp. When choosing a particular boot
camp, youll want to look at the programs success rate and curriculum first and foremost (e.g., if the
program has a strong emphasis on JavaScript and thats what you want to learn), but there are
other considerations, such as location and alumni network. A few tips:

Check this list of the factors you should consider when choosing a boot camp from Jeff Lee
from the technical and non-tech skills they teach to the facilities, payment plans, typical
schedule, and culture of the program

Narrow your list of schools with boot camp directories from Course Report, Bootcamps.in, or
Skilledup

Read reviews at Thinkful and Switchup to see what others are saying about the programs.
Read all the reviews you can find, in fact, on Quora and Hacker News too, because you might
find some horror stories like these

Ask alumnis and program directors or teachers more about the programthings like how
many students are in each class, what kinds of job assistance they offer, how much
experience students are expected to have upon entering, how they help students who are
struggling, and what daily life is like at the boot camp

To pay the large price tag, some boot camps offer payment plans and deferred payment (e.g., a
percent of your first years salary after you graduate), but otherwise, youll need to save up for or
finance this tuition expense the way you would other similar large expenses. Some code schools
offer scholarships for veterans/military personnel, women, minorities, and other select groups.

Not all boot camps are the same, and youll want to make sure you pick the best one before you
spend tens of thousands of dollars on one. But it could be life-changing and the easiest way to
break into a programming career if youre not fresh out of college with a computer science degree.
Makers Academy graduate Christopher Batts adds:

Probably the most amazing thing about the course that I saw throughout it, and often isnt
discussed, is that for many this is the last chance for that career change. Its really really
hard to break into the tech world as a coder from a non-coding job. Usually coders are self-
taught from a young age or went the computer science at uni route. If Makers didnt exist, Im
sure a lot of the guys that have gone through it would still be stuck in a role they hated, doing
something that didnt challenge them. Makers really was one of the only options for them to
make that career change.

Just know what youre getting into and be ready to dive in.

Love,
Lifehacker

Title image by Tina Mailhot-Roberge. Photo by DBCphotography.

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