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Choosing the Right Bootcamp

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Rithm School

Jun 23, 2022

The beginning of your bootcamp journey can be an exciting—but scary—position to be in. There’s so much to learn, so many paths to take, and so many bootcamps to consider. There are hundreds of bootcamps in the world right now, and we’re all making you the same promise: Do our program, and we’ll change your life. It’s a big promise on our part, and a big investment on yours. So how do you decide which is the best one for you?

With so many options to think about, it’s important that you’re asking the right questions. To do this, first you’ll want to think about what you want out of your bootcamp experience and what you need in order to set yourself up for success.

What do you want out of your bootcamp experience?

Are you looking to switch careers? Do you want to level up in your current position? Is there a project idea you want to bring to life? Spend a lot of time thinking about what your motivations are and what your ultimate goal is. Don’t skip this step! You can’t plan a thoughtful and strategic career change without it.

What do you need to set yourself up for success?

Think about your goals and your learning style. What do you need to be successful in a learning environment? Do you need small class sizes and direct interaction with your instructors? Do you need detailed code reviews to show you what you’re doing right and what you need to improve on? Bootcamps are intense and cram a lot of information into a small period of time, so consider what you need in order to get the most out of it.

To help you on your bootcamp journey, we’ve prepared a list of important things to ask of each bootcamp you consider. Remember, bootcamps are asking a lot from you—not just in terms of money, but also in terms of time and effort—so you deserve to be discerning. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to make sure you have all the information you need to choose the right one for you.

Bootcamp format

There are three things to consider here: full time vs. part time, in person vs. remote, and beginner-friendly vs. intermediate. It’s a good idea to get a sense for what bootcamp format works best for you, and let that information guide your search. Keep in mind that the format on your bootcamp will have an impact on the tuition you can expect to pay. We’ll talk more about that later.

Is the program full time or part time?

Usually the deciding factor here is whether you’ll want to continue working while you’re learning. In a full time, immersive program you won’t be able to hold your job and learn at the same time. If you want to continue working while you’re completing bootcamp, a part time or self-paced program would be a better fit for you. However, keep in mind that working full time while learning on the side can add up to very long hours! It’s also important to note that full time programs are typically shorter (3 to 4 months) and more expensive, while part time programs are generally cheaper but much longer (6 to 9 months).

Things to consider:

  • What are the days and hours you’ll be in class?
  • How many hours are you expected to study outside of class?
  • Will you have classes on the weekend?
  • If it’s a part time course, is it self-paced or scheduled? (For self-paced programs, keep in mind that with flexibility comes a need for a lot of self-discipline! No one will be holding you accountable to study each day.)

Are classes held in person or remotely?

Prior to 2020, most bootcamps were offered in person. When COVID hit, coding bootcamps had to adapt to offer remote learning. The good news is: They were successful! Now, many bootcamps offer online programs. In fact, it can even be hard to find in person programs. Consider whether you have a preference for in person or remote learning. While in person can be great to keep engaged, you may also be limited in which programs you can attend in your area.

Things to consider:

  • If you’re learning remotely, are lectures live or pre-recorded? Are classes interactive? Will you be pair programming?
  • If you’re looking for in person programs, will you be able to attend the program from where you live, or will you need to relocate? How long will you be gone for the day, taking your commute into account?

Is the program an intermediate-level program, or is it more beginner-friendly?

Beginner-friendly bootcamps require no or very little knowledge of coding in order to get in. They will start from day one (think “Hello, world!”) and work their way up from there. Meanwhile, intermediate programs require a higher level of technical skill and will have a technical interview in their admissions process to ensure their students are adequately prepared. There’s something very important to keep in mind here: The more you know coming in, the more you’ll know coming out. There’s only so much you can learn in the course of 3 or 4 months, so beginner-friendly bootcamps will not be able to get as far into advanced topics as intermediate ones. If you’re able to self-teach the basics, it’s always worth it to do so, so that you can be more job-ready by the time you graduate. However, if you’re looking for a program to teach you from the ground up, a beginner-friendly route will be the way to go.

Course content and structure

After deciding on the bootcamp format that’s right for you, you can next move on to considering the content and structure of the classes. Let’s face it: The truth is, everything you need to know to become a software engineer is available online for free or very cheap. The value of a bootcamp isn’t in the content itself. What you’re paying for when you sign up for a bootcamp is a curated curriculum, insight from expert instructors, and hands-on support when you start to struggle. It’s critical to make sure the program you’re looking at provides those things.

What languages and skills do they teach?

Pull up your favorite job listing platform and search for terms related to entry level software engineering. If you know already, you can even search for your dream role and company. Read these listings and make a note of the languages, skills, and technologies you see listed in the job descriptions most often. Is the program you’re considering teaching these things?

How many people are in each cohort?

Student-to-instructor ratio is paramount. That’s because a more intimate class setting is the only way everyone can be guaranteed a high level of hands-on support from their instructors. Larger classes mean less time for questions, less time for advising sessions, and little or no time for code reviews. If that’s the case, you may find yourself feeling like you’re paying someone just to teach yourself.

Things to consider:

  • Do you have direct interaction with your instructors?
  • Can you get one-on-one feedback and detailed code reviews? How often?
  • Will you be matched with an advisor?
  • What are they doing to make sure you get the support and attention you need?

What are the instructors like?

Do your research to look into who you’ll be learning from. Search for their profiles on LinkedIn to gauge their experience both as engineers and as instructors (remember, not all great engineers make great teachers). It’s also important to get a feel for the teaching style at the program you’re considering. Some bootcamps rely on what they might call “hard learning,” in which students are given minimal guidance and are expected to connect the dots on the topics they learn by themselves. While it’s definitely important that you’re taught to be an independent developer that can solve problems on your own, that shouldn’t come at the expense of not getting support when you’re truly stuck on a problem. 

One more thing: A lot of bootcamps hire their recent grads to lead future cohorts. From their perspective, it makes sense—these grads are relatively cheap labor for the bootcamp, and they get a job out of the deal, so it’s a win-win. And we agree, but only to an extent. Hiring bootcamp grads as teaching assistants is a great idea! Having recently graduated, they are coming to the content with fresh eyes and a lot of empathy for what areas might be particularly challenging to new students. However, we strongly believe that recent grads should not be leading cohorts because they just don’t have the industry experience needed to be able to make knowledgeable decisions about the content or pace of the curriculum. We leave those decisions to our seasoned lead instructors.

Things to consider:

  • Who is teaching your cohort? Are they dedicated to your cohort, or do they teach in other concurrent cohorts as well?
  • Can you meet your instructors before committing to the program? 
  • What is their engineering background? What is their teaching background?
  • What support do they offer when students are struggling?

What projects will you graduate with?

Projects are a major piece of your portfolio that will demonstrate to employers that you have the skills to be successful on the job. Take a look at grads’ portfolios from the bootcamp you’re considering to find out what sort of projects you complete if you enter the program. (Keep in mind that these shouldn’t be your only projects. We highly recommend completing personal projects while you job search!) If possible, seek out programs that offer real world, professional experience. At Rithm, we find that recruiters and hiring managers are particularly excited about our grads’ professional projects, as they demonstrate that the grads are capable of working in a production-level codebase from their first day on the job.

Outcomes and career support

Learning for its own sake is great, but we know that most bootcamp students don’t attend just for fun. Their goal is to learn the skills they need to start a new career as a software engineer! So pay close attention to any data you can find about a bootcamp’s outcomes and career support, and be sure that they can back that data up.

What do their outcomes numbers look like?

This question isn’t as easy to answer as you might think. Unfortunately, there’s very little regulation to how bootcamps report their outcomes numbers. This means that some programs might report old numbers, misleading numbers, or even no numbers at all. We’ve all heard before that “numbers don’t lie,” but this isn’t always the case. Like any data, outcomes reports can be manipulated to deceive prospective students. Because of this, you’ll have to do some sleuthing to understand what you’re looking at when reviewing outcomes reports.

Things to consider:

  • What is considered a successful outcome? 
  • How is it determined that a graduate is job-seeking?
  • How are salaries measured?
  • Who is excluded from graduate outcomes data?
  • When was the data collected, and by whom? Was it audited?
  • Does the outcome report clearly specify how numbers are measured and terms are defined?

What does their career support entail?

Make sure you have a thorough understanding of what you can expect as a job seeker at the program you’re considering. Most bootcamps will spend at least a week of their curriculum dedicated to job search prep, but students may find that to be an inadequate amount of time to fully prepare themselves. Get a sense for what their version of career support entails—resume optimization, mock interviews, hiring partnerships, mentorship, etc. Lastly, be wary of programs that “time out” their career support after X amount of months post-graduation. You invested in the bootcamp, so they should invest in you as well.

Things to consider:

  • How much time is dedicated to career support during the course?
  • How long does career support last after graduation?
  • What sort of support will you get? Will you be learning in group settings or one-on-one?
  • What partnerships does the bootcamp have to help you during your job search?

Overall quality

Lastly, it’s time to decide whether what the bootcamp is offering is truly worth what they’re asking from you. 

What do their alumni say about them?

All the great things you hear about a program from their website and staff don’t mean anything if they don’t stack up to what their grads have to say about them. While review sites like CourseReport or SwitchUp can be a fine starting point, reviews of any kind will usually skew overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. Think about it: When you go to a restaurant and the food is just okay—not bad, but nothing to write home about either—you’re probably not scrambling to get back home to write a Yelp review.

Instead, talk to the program’s graduates and see how their experiences line up with what you’ve been told. These grads are the single most qualified people to tell you about the student experience at their bootcamp, so listen closely and ask questions as needed. Connect with alumni on LinkedIn to set up time to chat.

How much does the course cost?

It may seem weird to save this central question for last, but we did it for a reason: Cost should be considered in line with offerings. As with many things, in the bootcamp world, you get what you pay for. Prices range from free to nearly $40,000! It’s a huge range, but after some research, you’ll get a sense for what to expect at each price point. Typically, free or cheap bootcamps rely on self-teaching with no (or very little) instructor support, and no career support once you complete the program. As you progress to more expensive bootcamps, this is where you can start expecting full time programs with live learning, higher support from instructors, and dedicated career support post-graduation.

Things to consider:

  • What are the financing options?
  • Do they offer scholarships?
  • Is the cost of the course in line with their offerings?

We encourage you to ask these questions not just when considering other bootcamps, but also while considering ours. We hope we’re the right choice for you—and we design our program in a way where we truly feel that we are the best choice for most students—but we also expect and welcome you to do your own research and comparisons. If you have questions or concerns, we’re here to talk through them with you! Reach out to us or schedule a call with our admissions team to find out more.

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