Coding bootcamps have become an increasingly popular way of learning to program. Since the first bootcamp, Code Academy, debuted in 2011, the total number of coding bootcamps has climbed to more than 95 — and that’s only including the full-time options.
Most coding bootcamps cost a fair bit of money and require a significant time commitment. That raises the question: Are they worth it? And the answer is: sometimes. Keep reading for tips on determining whether to participate in a coding bootcamp.
What is a coding bootcamp?
A coding bootcamp is any type of educational program designed to teach aspiring developers how to program in a relatively short period of time.
The goal is rarely to teach complete development skills. Instead, they usually focus on communicating the core competencies required to allow someone who has never coded before to gain the basic level of knowledge required to write working code, and to self-teach individuals more advanced programming topics and other programming languages.
Coding bootcamps vary considerably in terms of how long they take, how they are organized and which learning strategies they adopt. Some operate totally online, some in brick-and-mortar settings, and some as a combination of the two. Some bootcamps are overseen by traditional higher-education institutions, while others are run by independent companies. Some are not-for-profit, while others are out to make a buck.
Should you take a coding bootcamp?
Bootcamps are certainly not the only way to learn to code. They’re also not necessarily the fastest, cheapest or most effective way. Whether or not a coding bootcamp is the best fit for you depends on the following factors.
How many coding languages do you currently know?
As noted above, most coding bootcamps cater to people who have very little or no programming skills. A few, such as Hack Reactor, aim to provide more skills to people already familiar with coding, but they are the exception.
Thus, if you’re a CS major who already knows how to write code, or you do basic programming in your job, a bootcamp is probably not going to help you much. On the other hand, if you have no idea how to code and want to learn the fundamentals quickly, you’re a model candidate for a coding bootcamp.
Do you have spare time and money?
The cost of a coding bootcamp (in terms of both money and time) is an obvious factor to consider, but it’s also an essential one. Bootcamps will take up at least several weeks of your life — time that you could spend making money — and the average cost for a full-time bootcamp is more than $11,000, according to Course Report. (That said, some bootcamps, such as General Assembly and C4Q's Access Code, take a cut of your salary after you graduate, which could mean that you end up paying more overall, but you avoid a steep upfront cost.)
Only you can decide whether these costs are affordable and acceptable for you. Before making a choice, however, you may wish to keep in mind that post-bootcamp salaries are not as high as you might think; they average only around $65,000. That’s not a bad salary if you’re young and don’t have other educational debt to contend with. But it also means that a coding bootcamp is not the instant on-ramp to a six-figure salary that some folks imagine it to be.
Which type of job do you want?
Another money-related factor worth bearing in mind is that having a coding bootcamp on your résumé will prove much more beneficial for getting some jobs as opposed to others. If your goal is to work for a large, conservative corporation, the HR gatekeepers you’ll likely need to get past in order to land an interview may not even know what a coding bootcamp is. They may assume that only people with traditional computer-science educations are fit to work in jobs that require programming skills.
If, on the other hand, you hope to work for a tech startup, your potential employer is likelier to understand the value of your bootcamp education. Similarly, if you already have a job but want to add programming chops to your résumé in order to seek a promotion, a coding bootcamp can help you to do that effectively, because you’ll be in a position to explain to your bosses what you are doing in the bootcamp and why, if they don’t already have an understanding. (Of course, they’ll have to be comfortable with you attending a bootcamp while employed.)
Which programming languages do you want to learn?
Most coding bootcamps focus on teaching popular, general-purpose programming languages, like Python, Java or (in some cases) C.
That’s great if you want to learn to code in simple, widely used languages. If, on the other hand, you need to learn a less common, special-purpose language (like Fortran, for example) a bootcamp will prove less useful. It might give you the foundation you need to teach yourself obscure programming languages, but it won’t directly lead to the knowledge you are seeking.
Do you need to learn more than coding?
An important thing to understand about coding bootcamps is that most of them focus on teaching people to code in the narrow sense. (In other words, they teach programming.)
What they don’t generally teach is system administration, how to deploy applications, how to test software, and so on. Those are all tasks closely associated with programming. They are important in many IT careers, and because they often involve writing code in one way or another, even if it’s just light scripting, some people might consider them to be forms of coding. But they are not the things you will typically learn at a coding bootcamp.
If you seek a broader IT skillset, you may need to pursue more traditional forms of technical education, or at least take a DevOps course.
Coding bootcamps are a great resource. For many folks, they are a fast and cost-effective way to learn programming and achieve new career goals. But it’s important to keep in mind that they are not the best fit for every person or circumstance. Before enrolling, do a cost-benefit analysis to determine if a coding bootcamp is the best way to achieve your end-goals, whatever they happen to be.