Choosing a Coding Bootcamp

(Or not — it’s up to you!)

There are many people who have gotten their start in a coding career being nothing but self-taught. I don’t believe that’s the majority of coders though. Self teaching is obviously the cheapest path to this new field, but I think it may also be one of the longest.

I attempted this path in the first year I became interested in coding and I think the main issue for me was the lack of structure. I didn’t really have an idea of exactly what I needed to be learning nor a schedule or curriculum for learning those languages effectively. Say what you will about formal education, but the managed (both in time in subject) nature of a proper program with industry professionals can really prepare you for a coding career.

I’m glad I went self-taught for a year, because it allowed me to really decide, with no financial cost, wether this was something I really wanted to really dive into.

After I knew that this was something I wanted to do as a career, I realized I needed to do something more formal. I wanted that structure, I wanted professionals I could ask questions, I wanted connections to the industry. So the answer is obviously school.

I had a choice to make: A Computer Science degree or a coding bootcamp?

The upsides to a degree are pretty obvious. University is the classic way of any higher education and so the quality of your education will be high and of course the opportunities afforded to you will be greater. Most companies still give special consideration to those with degrees when hiring junior level roles. Some even make it a requirement.

Obviously that’s quite a time commitment (a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science here in the U.K. takes at least three years) and it’s quite a bit of money too.

In fact for me it was just too much time and too much money. So I opted for the other option: Bootcamp.

Bootcamps are kinda what they sound like. A course done in a relatively short amount of time that throws your right into the fire. There is very little to no theory. Typically from day 2 your will be coding for the whole day (with lectures occasionally), nearly every day for however many weeks the course is. They are stressful courses, but their methodology works. After completion of the course (anywhere from 9 to 15 weeks) you will be job-ready. As I said before, job searchers with a degree will have an easier time getting interview and landing jobs, but the trade-off in terms of time and money is well worth it in my opinion. So what if you have to spend a extra couple of months looking for a job when you’ve saved more than 2 and a half years.

So you know where I stand, but what bootcamp should you choose?

Other than location (maybe even not if the course has a remote option) you really need to only research two things: reviews and stack.

Looking up “best coding bootcamps in <your area>” is a quick way to gain a list of viable bootcamps to look at, but don’t stop there. Look for reviews for each of those bootcamps, look at testimonials from people who actually graduated there. Search out successful graduates and their thoughts and, maybe most importantly, look for testimonials from unhappy graduates. Every school no matter how good is going to have students that have had a poor experience and have talked about it. It’s important not to just look at the flowery stuff, but gain a realistic understanding of the good and bad and decide from there.

Then you want to look at what these bootcamps teach. Every bootcamp is going to teach or expect you to have a least a cursory knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. But it’s the other things that the bootcamp teaches that will determine what jobs you’ll be getting. Search for junior dev jobs in your area and make note of what languages (beyond HTML, CSS, and JS) and frameworks they’re looking for canidates to have experience in. This will be your strongest indicator what bootcamps you should look for. Seeing a ridiculous amount of Python and C++? Well, if one of the Bootcamps you’ve seen decent reviews for offers training in one of those, then they’re definitely a school worth looking into.

To end this blog, I’ll tell you a little bit about the Bootcamp I chose.

I chose the in-person Software Engineering course at Flatiron in London. It is a 15 week long course that costs £12,000. The work day was a typical 9–5, Monday to Friday. We were taught HTML, Javascript, Ruby languages and the Rails and React frameworks. About two weeks into my course we went remote because of the Covid-19 pandemic and I was actually in one of the last cohorts before the London school shut down entirely. The instructors were fantastic and even though the school was closing down and they were having to look for new jobs, they never faltered in given us quality education.

Overall, I’m happy with the school and what I learned, but I am still, nearly six months on, looking for a job. This, I believe is party due to the pandemic, but I also worry that it could partly be down to my learning Ruby, which is a fantastic beginner language, but there doesn’t seem to be much demand for it in my area at the moment.

Whatever you choose I hope you’re successful in it and find it worth your time and money.