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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.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.