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Bootcamp Curious? Perspective from a Recovering Academic March 09, 2017

I’ve been a student for most of my life. By the time I completed my Ph.D. in 2012, I’d spent a decade as a student in higher education (four years as an undergraduate, and 6 years as a graduate student).

Now I teach at a program that trains people for web development careers in just a few months. While I’m no longer in academia, I’m also skeptical of claims that coding schools reduce the need for college graduates with computer science degrees. Both options have a lot to offer, but they’re fundamentally different and serve different needs. In this post, I’d like to share some of my own experiences teaching and learning in both environments.

Bootcamps vs. Colleges: What’s the difference?

Accelerated coding programs are relatively new, and for many people it’s hard to imagine what the experience is really like. While there are obvious differences between a bootcamp and a more traditional educational experience (e.g. cost and duration), there are many other things to be mindful of if you’re thinking of going to a coding school.

  • Depth of knowledge. The purpose of an immersive program is to provide you with sufficient breadth of knowledge so that you can get a job, but keep in mind that first job will likely still involve a fair amount of mentorship and learning. No matter how intense the program, there’s only so much the mind can absorb in a few months.
  • Relevance. One downside of more traditional coursework is that it is often less sensitive to the demands of the industry. If you want to jump into mobile development, or master the latest front-end frameworks, you may have a difficult time finding a university program that can meet your needs. Immersive programs, or bootcamps, tend to be more closely aligned to the immediate needs of the job market.
  • Variance in quality of instruction. Certainly no two university lecturers teach in the same way, and the “publish-or-perish” mentality often incentivizes great researchers over great teachers. There’s often no telling what kind of teacher you’ll get in an immersive coding program, either. In general, turnover rates are quite high, and there’s a tendency to hire recent graduates who may or may not have any teaching experience. If you’re considering attending a coding school, it’s essential that you try to meet the actual instructors who will be leading your class before making your final decision.

Bootcamps as a replacement for college?

For the most part, students who come to coding schools have a college degree and some work experience, but are looking to make a career change. For them, going back to school for a more advanced degree either isn’t something they’re interested in, or is too expensive.

Occasionally, however, we do get students without college degrees. While these students can absolutely have successful outcomes, they tend to share certain similarities. Specifically, these students tend to:

  • Have clear career goals. Unlike college students, who can go years without declaring a major, successful students at bootcamps are very clearly committed to pursuing a career as a software engineer. This clarity of vision is often what drives them to a bootcamp in the first place: they know what they want to do, and they want to get started as quickly as possible.
  • Have spent time in college. From my own experience, I’ve noticed that most people without college degrees don’t go directly from high school to a bootcamp. Instead, they go to college, and later decide to drop out in favor of a bootcamp. In other words, they’ve experienced what college has to offer them, and they know what they’re giving up in favor of attending a coding school.
  • Be realistic and persistent. Though the tech industry claims to be a meritocracy, in practice it can be difficult to get your foot in the door without a college degree. Successful students without a degree recognize this fact, and aren’t easily discouraged if they need to work a little harder to land that first technical interview.

Bootcamps as a replacement for graduate school?

If you’ve finished college and want to break into technology, the biggest question to ask yourself is: what are my career goals? Do you want to be in industry, or do you want to do research? Do you want to work at a company, or in a more academic setting? Are your interests more practical or theoretical? While an academic path doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with less practical job skills, there is a tendency for people in academia to be biased towards more academic pursuits. Bootcamps set you on the path to contributing to real-world products and solutions in a short period of time.

I hope this perspective proves valuable if you’re thinking of attending a coding school. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us. We’re here to help!

Written by Matt Matt

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