Screenshot of Sarah Ransohoff’s Emergency Bootcamp Motivator.
If you are considering making a career change into tech, you have no doubt come across one of these developer bootcamps or intensives.
Most of these schools follow a similar model: students enroll in a 3-4 month full-time program. Students pay between $5,000-$15,000 for their session, and at the end of the course of study, students apply for entry level development jobs at local tech companies.
Developer schools are popping up all over the country, literally: in Austin you’ve got Maker Square, Chicago’s got Starter League and the Startup Institute, Boston’s got Startup Institute and Dev Bootcamp, Seattle has Ada Developer’s Academy and Code Fellows, and no surprise, New York and San Francisco both boast a veritable buffet of options: New York has Flatiron School, Hacker School, Dev Bootcamp, Fullstack Academy, Startup Institute, App Academy, and more. San Francisco has Hackbright, Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, and many more.
In other words, if you are interested in making a dramatic career change, there are plenty of places that are excited to help you do it.
But quitting your job, picking up and moving, and plunking down most of your life savings is no small thing. So we sat down with two Skillcrush alums, Sarah Ransohoff and Christina Thompson, who both made the leap into a full-time program.
Four questions you must ask yourself before you enroll in a developer training program:
1. How do you learn best?
Developer intensives are called that for a reason. Sarah, a current student at the Flatiron School in New York, says that “this will be what you do, and likely the only thing you do, for the next x number of weeks (or however long your program is).” What that means is that you better like focusing all your attention on one thing all day, 6-7 days a week.
So you really need to ask yourself, says Sarah, “what is your learning strategy? How do you learn best? The reason it’s so important to know the answer to this question, is that every day at a dev bootcamp a lot of information is thrown at you, and you’re trying to make at least some of it stick.” And does your method of learning jive with how the school does things?
If you’re not sure, try experimenting a little bit before you commit to three full months (or more). Try an online course or two, a weekend workshop, or go see if you can’t visit the school for a day. See what style fits with you and make sure that you will get the most out of your experience.
Remember, bootcamps “aren’t 4 year C.S. programs,” says Christina, a current student at Ada Developer’s Academy in Seattle. “They are condensed and move fast. You must quickly get comfortable with learning on the fly. I think the purpose of dev bootcamps are to give you basic skills and teach you to be a continuous learner.”
2. Can you afford it?
These programs aren’t cheap. The first question you have to ask yourself is whether you have the $5-15k to plunk down.
If your answer is no, you are not completely out of luck. Many of the schools do offer scholarship opportunities, especially if you are a woman or minority. Hacker School teamed up with Etsy to provide grants, Flatiron School is offering scholarships to NYC residents, Ada Developer’s Academy and Hackbright are both tuition free for any exceptionally qualified ladies who get in.
That said, even if you do get your tuition covered, you are not entirely in the clear. “It’s a full time commitment,” says Christina, so you will need to also have money saved away to pay all your living expenses while you are in the program.
The good news though is that if you have the money to spend up front, your chance of recouping your expense is really good. Remember the average salary for developers is upwards of $90,000 a year.
But of course, there are other ways to get the same education without having to uproot your life or gamble your savings.
3. Do you have the technical foundation to get the most out of it?
These bootcamps expect you to learn a lot in a compressed period of time, so it’s important that you , in fact some passing knowledge of technology is a requirement for most schools.
Before you begin, “try to lay a foundation” recommends Christina. This doesn’t have to be hard, you just need to “read, do tutorials, find out what languages and tools you’ll be working with and get some practice in them.”
As Sarah put it, you “might as well test the waters before you spend on a lot of time and money on something that you may not like at all.”
4. What is your end goal? And where do you want to be?
It’s not that you have to know exactly where you want to end up and what you want to be doing, you just want to make sure that enrolling in a developer bootcamp makes sense for your goals (and that you aren’t just being swept up in the latest fad).
Your goals don’t have to be super specific. Sarah, for example, says that “my long-term goal is to be a user experience designer for a shared economy company (e.g. Airbnb or Zipcar, who are encouraging large-scale sustainable behavior).” But she’s not wed to that path, instead she approaches learning with an open mind: “I basically approach the lessons at Flatiron with the goal of: Understand this, right now, as much as possible. It will help you build whatever you end up wanting to build in the future.”
What you need to remember is why you got into this thing, you have to answer the “Why do I want to do this?” question agrees Christina. “Because when it gets hard, and it will, the answer to that will help you get through.”
The other thing to consider is where you want to be when you leave. In general, most of the developer bootcamps have the most established relationships with employers in their area. So if you want to end up working in San Francisco, best to enroll in a local program.