Is a coding bootcamp worth it? 12 questions you need to ask yourself

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A coding bootcamp is a several-thousand-dollar investment, and that’s not even factoring in the cost of your time. It’s a big decision to make. You may be wondering if you should invest in one: will it be worth it?

I put together a set of 12 questions to help guide you to the right decision. These questions have been created based on insights from previous bootcamp graduates. And by the end you’ll determine if a coding bootcamp is for you — because it’s not for everyone.

Question #1: “Is a coding bootcamp vital to reaching my goals? ”

This is actually a two-part question:

  1. What are my end goals?
  2. Is a coding bootcamp necessary to achieve them?

Before knowing if a bootcamp is necessary, you must first establish your end goals. Astrid Willis Countee, who attended The Iron Yard, suggests to ask yourself, “Do you want to get a job as a developer? Do you want to better understand code for the job you have? Do you want to build your own company?”

Astrid explains that having an end goal is really important, especially for when times get tough. (Which, inevitably they will.)

“Being interested is most likely not enough because you could learn to code in your free time, and not in an accelerated program. Doing a bootcamp is about buckling down to reach that next step. Understanding and being committed to that step is crucial,” she says.

For Astrid, her initial end goal, or target, was to move beyond her position at the time as a data analyst in the oil/gas industry. Instead of just being an analyst, she wanted to help build out solutions to problems that she had in her role. Learning about software development would help her do exactly that.

For Karin Nielsen, who attended Makers Academy in London, her end goal was launching her startup Fluently. “If you really want to learn to code, it helps to have a strong driver and/or mission to help keep you motivated,” says Karin.

Whatever your end goal(s) may be, make sure you’re committed to it.

Question #2: “Have I exhausted other options?”

If you’re unclear on your end goals, you should probably stick to free/cheap resources like Team Treehouse, courses on Udemy, and so on, until you become clear. This will also help you learn enough basics to feel confident about a bootcamp if you decide to attend one later on.

Todd Squitieri, who attended the online bootcamp Firehose, recommends to consider a coding bootcamp after “you’ve exhausted all of the courses that you can get your hands on.”

He explains that the availability of free/cheap coding resources is expanding “at such a rapid pace that you can surely find what you’re looking for a lot faster these days than if you were to just take the path of least resistance and enroll in a multi-thousand dollar commitment to a bootcamp.”

Question #3: “Will the skills/technologies I learn be in demand?”

Bootcamps vary. A lot. There are full-time options, and part-time. Online and offline. They also vary based on topic:

  • Fullstack development
  • Frontend development
  • Backend development
  • Mobile development
  • Software engineering
  • User experience design
  • Web design

And others. Shop around and make sure that what you’ll be learning at your bootcamp will be relevant in the “real world.”

Some coding bootcamps, like Iron Yard (which has 18 campuses now), make a point to research the community they are going into to see what the tech ecosystem is like, and what companies in that area are looking for.

“Working one-on-one with the people who hire tech talent helps us gain a better understanding of how our students can be successful in that metro area,” says Iron Yard CMO Eric Dodds. This kind of personalization can make bootcamps much more valuable to your bottom line.

Question #4: “Will this bootcamp teach more than hard skills?”

Beyond researching the actual tech skills you’ll be learning, also consider whether the bootcamp will help you in other ways. Does it include a resume workshop? Does it have connections with companies who like to hire its graduates?

industry-connections

For instance, Todd Squitieri attended Firehose project. He explains that there is a “job component to the program whereby you’ll learn how to go through an intense interview for a coding job and prepare your resume and portfolio for hiring managers.”

Eric Dodds, CMO at The Iron Yard, says that on each campus, they establish an advisory board made up of people and companies involved in the local tech market. “These partners give us an insider’s perspective on the area’s tech needs, and provide invaluable feedback on our local curriculum and graduates.”

Kailash Duraiswami, who attended Dev Bootcamp, appreciated the extra assistance he was given there: “We had help with doing our resume and LinkedIn. While I had confidence in my networking ability, career coaching and accountability after the program was helpful in keeping me dedicated to my search.”

Question #5: “Am I financially ready for the investment?”

Coding bootcamps are not usually considered affordable. Even though most offer some kind of payment plans, and others offer scholarships, it can be a big investment.

Some programs offer alternative payment options. Joshua Penman, who is now a software engineer at Asana, attended App Academy, and says, “Rather, one pays 18% of one’s first year’s salary after one is hired – so financial preparation was just about making sure I had enough runway to look comfortably look for jobs for a few months after App Academy ended.”

On the other hand, Todd “made sure to have six months worth of safety income” before he started his online program at Firehose.

Regardless of what kind of program you attend, also make sure to take into consideration living and relocation expenses if doing an in-person bootcamp.

Jake Lare, who went to Ironhack, was fortunate to have savings to cover the cost of his program—which was $8,000 at the time. (The price since increased to $10,000.) Still, he ended up dropping about $4,000 on living expenses alone, as well as paying for relocation. (And Miami isn’t exactly a destination for those on a budget.)

Miami

There are some cities, like San Francisco and New York City, that have extremely high costs of living. With rent alone costing in the thousands per month, you could easily spend the same amount on your living expenses as you do for the program itself.

Lastly, keep in mind that most of the intensive programs allow for little free time. If you’re coding 60+ hours a week, you can’t exactly “freelance on the side” or “side hustle”. Unless you attend a part-time bootcamp, you can forget about keeping your current full-time job—at least for the duration of the program.

Question #6: “Do I want to move quickly?”

“Fast-paced.” “Accelerated.” These are terms often associated with coding bootcamps.

Learning to code is frustrating even when you take it slow. But, according to Karin Nielsen, that may be exacerbated at “a fast paced program where you are in a constant state of playing catch-up.”

Coding bootcamps aren’t leisurely; they’re not for the code hobbyist. Rather, most of these programs have been “designed to push you past your comfort zone,” says Astrid, who attended The Iron Yard.

Astrid continues, “A bootcamp is challenging, the information comes fast, and it builds on each passing day. Some people have a hard time making progress under those circumstances and give up.” Others, of course, thrive in fast-paced situations. You know your learning style best — try not to bite off more than you can chew.

Question #7: “Can I handle frustrating and high-pressure situations?”

Not only are you moving quickly, you’re also under a lot of pressure.

John Armbruster, who went to DevMountain, explains, “High-quality bootcamps are a high-pressure situation. Accept the fact that you are going to get frustrated and the thought of quitting will most likely cross your mind. Suppress it. Learning how to deal with that stress and push through it is worth the trouble. It will not be the last time you feel it.”

Kailash Duraiswami, who attended Dev Bootcamp, echoes these sentiments. “This will likely be one of the hardest things you have done so far in life.”

If you don’t embrace challenges and do well under pressure, then a coding bootcamp may not be the best learning environment for you.

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Question #8: “Am I willing to practice on my own time?”

Not only is it a massive time commitment while you’re actually attending the classes or workshops, but there is also often work that must be done outside the classroom.

time

Joshua, now a software engineer at Asana, says that “if you really want to be the best, you need to study and create outside of class as well.” He recommends reading algorithm textbooks and building your own apps on the side. Learn things, and then implement them. “I did this pretty much every waking hour for 5 months or so,” he says.

Jake Lare says, “If there was extra work I needed to get done, I would come into the building on Saturdays.”

Other programs encourage students to attend events outside the classroom—like meetups, workshops and other conferences.

The point is: while you’re in this intensive program, you still may be expected to keep learning and practicing outside of the structured classroom setting.

Question #9: “Do I desire one-on-one help/individualized attention?”

A major draw of coding bootcamps is the one-on-one help/individualized attention. This can save you hundreds of hours of chasing the wrong solutions and ill-directed trial and error.

“The hardest part about being self-taught is that you don’t have someone there with you to answer your questions. Having mentors/teachers/instructors there to answer your question in-person when you need help is extremely helpful,” says John (from DevMountain).

Jake (from Ironhack) says, “If you asked one of the instructors for a one on one session, you would always get it. They would work with you during lunch, or after hours to make sure you were caught up. They never got annoyed at explaining the same question five different times. I assume that most other coding boot camps operate in the same way. You’re giving the school a lot of money for three months worth of work. It’s their job to make sure you understand the material.”

Before signing up for a bootcamp, see if you can find reviews that mention the quality of the instruction. That can be what makes or breaks your experience.

Question #10: “Do I value community?”

Aside from having individualized attention from instructors, another advantage of a coding bootcamp is the community of peers that you’re sharing the experience with. This can lead to great personal and professional relationships.

Photo credit: DBCphotography via VisualHunt / CC BY

Photo credit: DBCphotography via VisualHunt / CC BY

Without a doubt, you’ll be spending a lot of time together. “We saw each other 90 hours a week, ate together, joked together, studied together, etc.” says Joshua (from App Academy).

John (from DevMountain) appreciated the opportunity to network with “like-minded people with similar goals,” as well as with the instructors who might have connections that could prove helpful in his future job search.

For others, like Kailash, the community of the city where the bootcamp was located was the initial draw. “The Silicon Valley community was the entire reason I came to SF and wanted to get the skills to become a developer.” However, he notes that the in-class connections were a valuable bonus; he’s still in contact with some of the people he met.

Question #11: “Do I want industry connections?”

A huge draw for many bootcamp participants is the chance to rub elbows with people in the tech industry, forming connections which can lead into career opportunities.

In fact, for Astrid, this was her favorite component of the The Iron Yard program. “Most bootcamps not only teach you to code, but they guide you in becoming a developer,” she says. “You have the chance to make connections with established senior devs and local tech companies.“

And, as was briefly mentioned earlier, many programs have career resources to help students. For example, part of the Iron Yard curriculum covers, “what goes into great portfolios, cover letters, communication and project management,” explains CMO Eric Dodds. In addition, guest lecturers “help conduct mock interviews, facilitate hackathons and advise on final projects.”

iron-yard-employers

Jake Lare (from Ironhack) says, “We had speakers come in from different companies at least twice a week. I met a lot of employers that were ready to hire me on the spot. Most of my classmates stayed in the area and found work immediately after graduation.”

This also serves as a reminder to go to a bootcamp (if an in-person one) in a city where you’d like to establish roots, because that’s where a majority of the resulting job opportunities will be.

Question #12: “Am I REALLY committed to this?”

When it comes down to it, a programming bootcamp is not a walk in the park. It’s not the easy way out. So before starting one, make sure you are truly committed.

Kailash explains that his program (Dev Bootcamp) was “completely immersive, so there isn’t much time to do anything else at all. Outside of ‘official’ program hours (9-6 pm), my cohort members and I probably spent an additional 4 or 5 hours a day on campus after hours or on the weekend.” You can do the math: that’s over 12 hours per day.

“Not everyone in our cohort succeeded,” says Karin (from Makers Academy). “The ones who failed were not committed and/or tenacious enough.”

Joshua (from App Academy) explains that “you have to love this stuff, love the logic and the design and the creation.” More than that, have you must have an “extremely high tolerance for frustration and things not working.”

What will carry you through to the finish line will be your commitment to your end goals. Those will be your light at the end of the tunnel.

If you answered yes to all or most of these questions, you should probably consider a coding bootcamp.

Ultimately, a coding bootcamp is for those who

  • Have an end goal in sight
  • Already dabbled in other free/affordable resources
  • Know the skills they will acquire are in demand at the companies they want to work for
  • Are financially ready
  • Want to move quickly, and can handle high-pressure situations
  • Value mentorship, community, and industry connections

Here’s what you should do next

Deciding if a coding bootcamp is right for you is only the beginning.

Next, you want to research programs, talk with those who work at the bootcamp you are interested in, and connect with past students. Make sure to familiarize yourself with their terms as well as refund policy (if they have any). This kind of diligent research applies for both online and in-person programs.

So, is a coding bootcamp right for you? Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!


  • Jonathan Tewodros

    Great article! A very detailed guide for asking the proper questions before “taking path of least resistance.”

  • This was a great read Laurence! This is helpful for me specially that I’m not financially prepared to invest in bootcamps. Good thing I have your blog as a guide for the free/cheap resources. :)

    • Hey Regie! Happy to hear that you found it to be useful. Take care and good luck learning,
      Laurence