Coding bootcamps can teach you in-demand software engineering skills for a fraction of the cost of a traditional degree. But are coding bootcamps worth it? Ultimately, yes, they can be, but it depends on your career goals and you need to be careful about what program you choose.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- What Are Bootcamps?
- Pros and Cons of Coding Bootcamps
- How to Determine if Coding Bootcamps Are Worth It
- Bottom Line: Are They Worth It?
What Are Bootcamps?
Bootcamps are intensive courses designed to teach a specific set of skills. Since first hitting the scene in 2011, bootcamps have expanded to cover a wide range of topics and coding languages. Even colleges and universities are starting to partner with bootcamp companies to provide intensive tech skill courses.
The growth of bootcamps makes sense considering how in-demand many tech-focused roles are. For example, employment of software developers is expected to increase 25% from 2021 to 2031, and employment of data scientists is projected to grow 36% in that same timeframe.
According to a 2022 study by Stack Overflow, more than 10% of software developers surveyed reported learning to code through bootcamps. So, while they may not be the right option for everyone, coding bootcamps can be an excellent way to learn a coding language and other tech skills.
Types of Bootcamps
Some of the types of bootcamps available focus on:
- Front-end engineering
- Back-end engineering
- Full-stack engineering
- User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design
- Data science
- Marketing and business data analytics
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Pros and Cons of Coding Bootcamps
Bootcamps can be an alternative to college in certain circumstances, but the skills you learn from a coding bootcamp alone may not be enough to land the job you want.
ProsConsCheaper than a degreeCan be costlyFaster than a degreeStill a commitment AccessibleNot standardizedProvides a foundation in codingLimited in scope
Bootcamps Can Be An Alternative to College
Coding bootcamps cost around $11,000 on average, according to Career Karma’s 2021 State of the Bootcamp Market report. On the other hand, a traditional degree can easily cost more than $100,000 when taking into account books, fees, and room and board. This isn’t to say that coding bootcamps are cheap, though. If you can’t afford to pay upfront or out of pocket, your options ultimately become debt or deferment. Loans can be a helpful tool to help cover the costs of tuition and living expenses during the course, but loans should always be carefully considered.
Some programs offer deferment options, instead, called income share agreements (ISAs). With an ISA, you sign a contract with the company agreeing to repay the cost of tuition, with interest, once you’ve landed a job that pays above a certain amount. However, make sure to read the terms of ISAs thoroughly before signing — some ISAs involve paying up to 30% of your monthly income back to the company for several years.
Still, bootcamps are a faster option than most degrees. While a bachelor’s degree typically requires four years to complete, most bootcamps only take six months to one year. Bootcamps can be worthwhile investments for those who can afford to dedicate full-time commitment for several months. Not everyone can afford to go without a job for that period of time, though.
So, when the decision is between a college degree and a coding bootcamp, bootcamps can provide an attractive alternative route for those who can’t afford the cost or commitment of college. Bootcamps can be especially good options for students from marginalized communities who may not have the same access to higher education as other students — bootcamps have much lower barriers to entry.
Bootcamp Skills Alone May Not Be Enough
If your goal is to learn to code, bootcamps can do just that — these programs are typically designed to provide a strong foundation in coding and computer science. However, teaching coding or giving a general foundation is about as far as most bootcamps go.
“Often, the people who did bootcamps will take themselves back to school to learn what they missed in the camp once they have a well-paying job,” says Elisa Pineda, talent acquisition manager at Forage.
Although coding is a vital skill for many careers in tech, it may not be enough on its own to land a job. You may need a broader set of skills in computer science or a specialized field to get the roles you want. Additionally, you need those interpersonal or soft skills that allow you to work effectively in a team and communicate with coworkers and stakeholders.
“It’s very important to be able to work with your peers in-person, as crazy as that may seem today,” says Justin Haar, app developer and founder of the dating and social app Eden, “but I believe software companies are trying to trickle back into the way life was pre-pandemic, where we were in the office working side-by-side.”
Bootcamps don’t have any standardization, either, so there are a lot of discrepancies between different programs and companies. While colleges have accreditation metrics to ensure certain standards across the board, bootcamps don’t have this oversight. Although one bootcamp may be thorough enough to land you a great job, a different program may not provide nearly enough.
Since new bootcamps keep popping up every day, it’s hard for hiring managers and recruiters to know which programs prepare students best. This lack of standardization across the board leads some hiring managers to “prefer people that have some amount of experience after taking the bootcamp and/or education that backs up the bootcamp, like computer science,” notes Pineda.
>>MORE: Explore a day in the life of a software engineer with the Electronic Arts Software Engineering Virtual Experience Program.
How to Determine if Coding Bootcamps Are Worth It
Determining if a coding bootcamp is worth it for you ultimately comes down to weighing different factors and figuring out which programs, if any, fit into your needs and lifestyle best. The factors to consider when looking into coding bootcamps include:
Online vs. In-Person
Online programs can be great for people who don’t live in areas with many in-person options. Also, online bootcamps can be more flexible, making them easier to complete for those who have children or need to be home during the day.
However, in-person bootcamps may be better for people who want more direct interaction with peers and instructors. Having an in-person class every day can also keep you more accountable, ensuring you stay focused. Additionally, the networking that comes from in-person bootcamps can be invaluable.
>>MORE: See our top picks for online coding bootcamps.
Self-Taught vs. Instructor Led
Self-taught courses, where you follow a tutorial or guide without a live instructor, are good for people with a computer science foundation or some coding experience. These courses are also typically self-paced, making them a flexible option for those who can’t commit to a full-time bootcamp.
Keep in mind, though, that taking a self-taught program can be very difficult for those with no experience or who want the ability to ask for help easily.
“I figured that I’d need more of a hands-on approach because I did not have any coding or computer science experience prior,” says Haar, “and because there really isn’t anything that can compare to having classroom experience and having instructors at your disposal to ask questions.”
Shorter programs that take only a few weeks to finish can be a good choice for those with some coding experience who are looking to expand or brush up their skills. In addition, a shorter bootcamp can give you insights into programming skills, helping you determine if it’s something you enjoy and want to pursue before committing more time or money.
If your goal is to make a career change and you’re relying on a bootcamp to provide a complete education, shorter programs may not be the best idea since they often aren’t very in-depth.
“The longer bootcamps that take months are likely the ones we will consider the most,” says Pineda.
Weekly Time Commitment
Although full-time programs (requiring 40+ hours per week) can provide in-depth instruction, they may not fit everyone’s schedule. Part-time programs (requiring less than 30 hours per week) are a better option for those who need to maintain a job while studying or have other obligations to family or friends. Less time commitment during the week often means the program will take longer to complete, especially for more thorough courses.
>>MORE: Check out our picks for the best SQL bootcamps of 2023.
Some bootcamps may have prerequisites or require passing various technical tests before admittance. Additionally, not every program is built for beginners. Always check that the bootcamp you want is designed for your skill level.
In-person and free coding bootcamps may have even stricter requirements, too. For example, some free programs only accept students from specific socioeconomic backgrounds and some in-person bootcamps are only available to particular zip codes and residents.
Before signing up for a bootcamp, look through some reviews. Places like Reddit and LinkedIn can be great resources for finding people who have gone through the bootcamp and can give a thorough review. You can also talk to friends or family members who have taken bootcamps or work in tech jobs to better understand what options may be best for you.
The cost of a coding bootcamp is one of the most important factors to consider. If you’re just curious about coding and want to see if it’s the career for you, investing thousands into a program probably isn’t worth it.
On the other hand, if you want to make a big career change, spending more on a high-quality coding bootcamp can provide a good return on investment. For example, software developers have an average salary of $120,990, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So, if the salary you make after taking a program is significantly more than the investment you make, it may be a good option. Remember that taking out loans or using ISAs for coding bootcamps typically includes paying interest, though.
Your End Goal
Figuring out what you want to get from a bootcamp is the primary way to determine if it’s worth it for you. Different bootcamps offer varying levels of training and come with a range of price points and time commitments. While one program may be perfect for someone wanting to go into data science, another would be better suited for someone who wants to try making mobile apps for fun.
>>MORE: Learn what it’s like working in tech at a major bank with JPMorgan’s Software Engineering Virtual Experience Program.
Bottom Line: Are They Worth It?
Yes, coding bootcamps can be worth it.
However, it’s important to remember that “coding bootcamps will NOT give you a golden ticket to getting a high paying software engineering job,” says Haar. “It took me about 6-12 months to land a full-time role and that was because I continued to code and build apps after I graduated from the bootcamp.”
If your goal is to transition into a software engineer role, you may need more than just a bootcamp.
“It’s one thing to take and graduate from a bootcamp, but it is another to demonstrate that you are passionate about it and continue to want to learn and build new things,” says Haar.
Coding bootcamps can teach you to code, but you’ll need to pair that with soft and interpersonal skills to show employers you are a well-rounded employee. On the other hand, if your goal is to learn new skills for the fun of it, you likely don’t need a full-time, expensive bootcamp to do that.
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