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Thinking About Enrolling in a Coding Bootcamp? Ask Yourself These Four Questions First

should i go to a dev bootcamp?
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If you’re looking to break out of a dead-end job and into a flexible tech career, there’s some good news right off the bat: You won’t have to spend years going back to a traditional college for a new degree. Coding skills can be picked up a number of ways, most of which take months to complete instead of years.

Among these quick routes to tech are immersive, in-person coding schools called developer bootcamps. Bootcamps are traditionally 8-12 week on-site programs (with some programs going as long as six months to two years) where students take on an intensive learn-to-code regimen, after which they apply for entry-level developer jobs. Still, quitting your current job, possibly moving, and coming up with the cash to pay for tuition and other expenses (see below) is no small thing. Before making a commitment to going the bootcamp route, Skillcrush alum, bootcamp alum, and software engineer Sarah Ransohoff suggests there are four main questions you should ask yourself to see if the bootcamp approach is right for you.

1. What Learning Style Works Best For You?

“Bootcamps” have that name for a reason—they are intensive programs designed to take over your life for the weeks you’re enrolled. Ransohoff, who attended a five-month bootcamp program at the the Flatiron School in New York, says that if you’re considering enrolling in a bootcamp it’s critical to keep in mind that the bootcamp will be what you do (and likely the only thing you’ll do) for the duration of your program. According to Ransohoff, this means that your ability to succeed in the bootcamp format depends on whether you’re someone who is comfortable focusing all your attention on one task, all day long, six to seven days a week.

And so, Ransohoff says, before you set your sights on a bootcamp program you need to step back and ask yourself how you learn best. “It’s so important to know the answer to this question,” Ransohoff says. “Every day in a dev bootcamp, a ton of information is thrown at you, and you’re trying to make at least some of it stick, so your method of learning needs to jive with how the school does things.”

In Ransohoff’s case, she says she learns things best by getting hands-on and doing whatever it is she’s trying to learn, so the bootcamp format worked perfectly for her—she was able to immerse herself in concrete, practical applications of tech skills, which translated directly into learning those skills. Of course, the hands-on, intensive learning style doesn’t work for everyone—for some people an extreme immersion approach might be too overwhelming, and a self-paced, online learning format might work better. If you’re not sure how you’ll respond to an intensive bootcamp, Ransohoff says it’s a good idea to test the waters before you commit to multiple months of immersion. Try an online course, a coding workshop, or see if you can arrange a visit to the school you’re considering for a day. Your success rests on whether or not you’ll be able to learn effectively in a bootcamp environment, so doing a little bit of homework first will pay off in the long run.

2. Can You Afford a Coding Bootcamp?

Bootcamp programs are not cheap. According to Course Report, full-time coding bootcamp tuition in the US runs an average of $11,451, and can range between $9,000 to $21,000. That’s a huge investment (though, based on tech pay ranges, one with a considerable return down the road), so you need to seriously consider your financials and decide whether or not you’re able and willing to sink that kind of cash into a bootcamp experience.

The good news is—even if those figures look astronomical to you—bootcamps aren’t necessarily out of reach. Scholarship and grant opportunities do exist—for instance, e-commerce stalwart Etsy offers “hacker grants” to attend the Recurse Center in New York, Flatiron School offers fellowship programs for underrepresented groups and a Women Take Tech scholarship for female applicants, and Ada Developers Academy is tuition free for female and gender diverse applicants.

However—even if you’re able to cover tuition with a fellowship, grant, or scholarship—Ransohoff says there’s another component of bootcamp costs to keep in mind. While Ransohoff was fortunate enough to have her own tuition paid by Flatiron’s fellowship program, she was still on the hook for five months of living costs in NYC without the ability to work and generate income during that time (due to the rigorous bootcamp schedule). Ransohoff stresses that it’s crucial to factor these additional and hidden expenses into your plans if you’re considering a bootcamp. You’ll need to save up whatever funds are required to get you through the program ahead of time, since it will be difficult to make money during your enrollment. If those kind of savings are out of reach, you may want to consider an online coding school as an alternative to the ultimately more costly (and less flexible) on-site bootcamp solution.

3. Have You Already Spent Some Time with Tech Basics?

Because the bootcamp format hits the ground running and never lets up, there isn’t much space for an adjustment period. With this in mind, it’s probably not the best idea to use a bootcamp program as your very first exposure to basic coding concepts and terminology. Ransohoff says that before attending Flatiron she started dabbling in basic HTML, CSS, and JQuery skills while studying design (her original career goal). She says that—looking back—it was a good idea to go for a tech test drive and see if coding was something that actually appealed to her before making a big investment of time and money. With this in mind, consider establishing a very basic tech foundation before going all-in with a bootcamp. Doing some leg work with online tutorial resources like Skillcrush to get a sense of what languages and tools you’ll be working with will make it easier to take advantage of your immersion if you decide to go the bootcamp route. Still, you don’t have to worry about “knowing it all” (or even “a lot”) before starting a bootcamp. Ransohoff says that despite her basic exposure to coding, her experience really didn’t become significant until she started with Flatiron.

4. What Do You Want to Get Out of a Coding Bootcamp?

While you don’t need to have your entire career trajectory plotted out before enrolling in a bootcamp, it’s still helpful to temper your decision with a general idea of what you’re trying to accomplish—a coding bootcamp is too intense an investment to take on just because it sounds good in the moment.
Ransohoff says that her long-term goal when she enrolled at Flatiron was to become a user experience (UX) designer, but she kept an open mind during her bootcamp experience. “I basically approached the lessons at Flatiron with the goal of: understand this, right now, as much as possible, and it will help you with whatever tech career you end up building in the future.” The key point is that Ransohoff’s goal was a tech career of some kind, so there was never a question of whether or not her bootcamp experience fit in with her general plans. Today she’s a software engineer, so even though she’d started to learn programming as a way to improve her UX design skills, those programming skills still became the foundation for everything she does professionally.

Overall, Ransohoff says that being able to answer each of these questions positively meant that the bootcamp format was a natural fit for her. While it wasn’t always easy—”It felt like I was breaking my brain in order to rebuild it in a new way,” Ransohoff says—she came out of the experience with a firm handle on coding skills, which led to a successful career in tech.

If, like Ransohoff, you’re able to satisfactorily answer these questions, a coding bootcamp might be right for you. And if not, there are plenty of alternatives—between bootcamps, online schools like Skillcrush or Codeacademy, or shorter, in-person training sessions through organizations like General Assembly and Girl Develop It, there’s a “right fit” for for every situation.

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11 comments

  1. Just an FYI Dev Bootcamp who was the first immersive web development program is located in San Francisco, New York City and Chicago, not Boston!

  2. Sheonna Harris Replied

    So, is this article stating that your courses are compressible to Codecademy?

  3. There is another really good training center to learn everything in UI. Its called Go-Live Labs, They actually turned out to be an amazing deal for me.

    They offered me Free – Yes FREE!!!! 12 weeks programs – The most complete program I could ever dream of.

    The catch? You have to work with them in a consulting role for one year. Or you pay $8000 in 4 installments if you leave and join a full time position. Compare that to others now!
    They offered me a great salary + H1B Sponsorship (at No Cost unlike some of these Indian staffing companies who ask candidates to pay for legal fees).
    I recently interviewed with them and got in. Check out their website. Not only do they give one on one attention to all of us in class (small class of 6) but also have a career department that actively circulates our resumes and gets us interviews. The previous batch got some awesome job offers since they knew all the latest JavaScript Frameworks like Angular JS, Backbone JS & Core OO
    JS.

    There is an interview but it’s mostly to assess how seriously you are pursuing a career in UI/UX and if you know basic programming. They demand minimum 40 hours in their classroom and Lab per week. They do 3 classes of 4 hours each per week.

    They are still growing so you may not have heard of it. I am learning so much! They are in Sunnyvale downtown on Murphy Street with a nice Training and Lab space. Check them out here http://GoLiveLabs.io .

  4. On the tuition front, App Academy (in NY and SF) is completely free until you get a job. Disclosure: I went there and worked there. I love the work Skillcrush has done to build a knowledge base around tech and web dev in general. I link out to your explanations from the curriculum I’ve built at The Odin Project (http://theodinproject.com) fairly frequently. The project is meant to actually help people who can’t do in-person bootcamps (like @susanwilson:disqus above) but still want to access the same path forward on their own terms (for free).

  5. Bobby Replied

    Great article! Some additional online resources related to bootcamps; Epicodus in Portland put up the material for their entire four-month program online. Flatiron school put an excellent list together of their “pre-work” for incoming students online (With awesome definitions from Skillcrush). JumpstartLab, creators of Hungry Academy & gSchool, have a great list of tutorials, including daily outlines for gSchool (They’ll no longer run gSchool after the current cohort). Quora and Reddit have a lot of answers to questions about bootcamps also. For me, Twitter has also been a good resource for finding out information. Throw any of that in your favorite search engine.

    Make sure to do your research! The programs vary greatly, new ones have been popping up quite frequently. Some good advice I’ve seen is to look at the reputation of instructors and each program’s focus to make sure it aligns with your goals and learning style. Check out what your local community college offers as well and the “Meetups” in your area.

    Happy Coding!!

    “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right” -Henry Ford

    • MikeG Replied

      Even though JumpstartLab isn’t going to run gSchool after this cohort, the program will continue to operate. The next class will be in Boulder, CO starting March 2014. Check it out here:

      https://www.gschool.it/programs/1

  6. I love the idea of a crash course in coding but the reality is that if your over 40 or a mom, these intensives just aren’t doable. I use a few different solutions to teach myself and I’m making progress, but I figured I’d ask the group if there’s a program that’s geared more toward older women and moms that have to juggle a bit more and cannot (no matter how much they wish they could) focus 24/7 on coding and their start up?

    • Just a normal woman Replied

      Hi Susan,
      I wish you wouldn’t presume to speak for all moms or older women. I’m 55 and I’m having no problem re-learning to code most hours of the day… and have been doing it for months on my own… and no one codes 24/7.

      That is a ridiculous rumor that you are helping to perpetuate. I don’t spend time watching tv and I’m an empty-nester. This is exactly what I want to spend my time doing and I love it. I know many older men and women that have plenty of energy and focus.

      • Sorry, never meant to speak for everyone. I’ll work on that. I’m not an empty-nester. My 3 kids are 10, 15 & 17 so I can’t just leave them for the intensives. That was the point I was trying to make. I didn’t mean all moms. I just meant moms with kids that they can’t just leave for a month or six weeks to focus on coding at a boot camp. But maybe you know of a viable solution. I really am trying but it’s frustrating. I’ve already done 3 tech startups and the first was started in 1998 and sold for $100M in 2000 so I SWEAR I’m not an idiot, but I was 2nd in command and the business person who knew a little about coding. Now I just want to be able to build the stuff I dream up – especially because most of my ideas are complicated to build.

        Again, apologies for perpetuating any stereotypes but for me, “Coding Bootcamp for 43 Year Old Entrepreneur Moms that Can’t Remember What They Had for Breakfast” would be ideal.

        Anyone???

      • Laraa Replied

        Hi Susan, I’m also a mom (to a 7 year old) and I’m working on my idea for a startup for a while… I’ve been thinking about taking a bootcamp and I experience the same problem: to have peace of mind while I’m there (that means to be sure that my son is taken care of), so, one of the possibilities for me is doing the bootcamp during the summer and leaving my son with my mom (she is loving it since we live far apart and she doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with him). But there is also online options: Bloc.io and Thinkful. have you heard of them? Bloc.io is expensive, but they guarantee you have a mentor that you will meet online 3 x a week. Hope it helps!!

  7. Tess Replied

    Don’t forget about gSchool. It’s a great program that focuses on leveling the playing field and doesn’t require a bazillion dollars up front.

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