Although programming is something you can learn on your own, many people still go to college to learn it. Computer science is a vast, complex subject, and has many intricacies and details that the average person would be unable to comprehend on their own. However, with the help of world-class professors and graduate TAs who have been through it all before, the process of learning it becomes much easier.
These days, however, a new innovation has popped up: coding bootcamps. Instead of going to college for four years, these programs, ranging from three months to a year, perform the educational equivalent of strapping you to a rocket and shooting you into outer space. Full-time courses can have you spending as little as 40 hours a week or as much as 100 hours a week hammering away at code, stuffing the basics into your brain at an insane rate while you and your other bootcamp members attempt to piece it all together. These bootcamps have received much media coverage, and for good reason: they represent a budding industry that could potentially become a great alternative to the traditional universities, which have, as an institution, stood alone for so many years. Now, the question is: are coding bootcamps worth it?
Coding Bootcamp Pros
Coding bootcamps are, relative to universities, much cheaper. App Academy is actually free to participate in (although there is a $5,000 deposit you can get back upon course completion, as well as an 18% cut of your first year salary that App Academy takes), while Dev Bootcamp costs around $14,000 for the whole course. Hack Reactor, which is one of the most expensive ones, is $17,780 for its 12-week program. Compared to the UC schools, which can cost around $30,000 per year, or private schools like Harvard, which can cost over $50,000 a year, coding bootcamps have a serious financial edge. In this sense, coding bootcamps also provide great second chances for people looking to move into different careers or better support themselves and their families.
In addition, bootcamps keep the entire experience relevant to the subject. Those who solely want to focus on programming can do just that, because that’s what the entire course is about. There are no general education requirements that you’d have to spend your time with, no extraneous courses to pull your focus away from programming like there are in college – in coding bootcamps, it’s all programming, all the time. Such an intense focus on the subject will surely help drill it into your head. The average college student probably barely remembers what they learn in a semester when finals come around because they’re cramming all different kinds of subjects into their head, but if you’re just working on one thing all the time, at some point, it might just imprint itself into your head for good.
The intensity of coding bootcamps is also unrivaled. Many bootcamps structure their programs like demanding full-time jobs, asking students to spend at least 40 hours a week in class and studying. Dev Bootcamp takes this approach a couple further, calling for its students to spend 12 hours a day, six days a week, on learning how to program. That’s a cumulative 72 hours spent every week on coding for a bootcamp that’s 9-12 weeks long, with very specialized, direct attention and instruction from teachers in relatively small classes. Compare that to universities, which can have class sizes spanning in the hundreds, a disinterested lecturer clicking through PowerPoint slides, and classes only a couple hours per week, and you can see just how intensely coding bootcamps drill their instructions into their students.
Coding Bootcamps Cons
It seems like many of the people drawn to bootcamps are those who either have a little bit of programming experience but did not get a degree in computer science, or those who have found their majors unemployable and want a shot at bettering their lives in a booming industry.
However, can you truly become a good programmer in three months? There’s a reason why universities as we know them haven’t changed much: they’re a tried-and-true system. Coding bootcamps love to talk about getting their students into prestigious Silicon Valley or Bay Area tech companies, but the majority of people who work for them are graduates of four-year colleges. Can coding bootcamps like Dev Bootcamp truly emulate the excellence of the programs at MIT, Stanford, or Berkeley? Do they faithfully compress and replicate the experience of hundreds of hours slaving away in labs, working on side projects and group projects, and enrolling in a variety of courses that expand your palette as a programmer?
Furthermore, even if coding bootcamps were objectively of the same quality as four-year computer science programs, but just shorter, the significantly decreased timespan should be a serious warning flag to those who aren’t absolutely committed to becoming programmers. Programming can be a difficult, bumpy ride even stretched over four years, so squishing it into three months, or even a year, can result in some serious burnout or exhaustion to say the least.
Finally, if you don’t really want to learn web development, bootcamps probably aren’t for you. Going through this comprehensive list of coding bootcamps, you’ll find that the bootcamps seem to be almost entirely oriented towards web dev, with some bootcamps teaching you how to do mobile development. If you’d rather be a software engineer, or work on things like operating systems and network security, then you should probably turn elsewhere.
It should be noted that most of the cons listed for coding bootcamps, perhaps excluding the last one, are subjective. It’s quite possible that the best programs, such as Hack Reactor, can indeed make you a great programmer in a short amount of time. After all, they have very low acceptance rates, meaning that they only accept those they deem are capable of handling their rigorous pace, and they only hire the best of the best to be instructors and mentors. Furthermore, perhaps the ramped-up pace is conducive to learning. Maybe the way they drill things into your head is good for retaining all the information (as is, of course, competing in Topcoder challenges!)
A search for “are coding bootcamps good” nets you many glowing responses. People are keen to talk at length about how coding bootcamps changed their lives and how great they are. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a search for “are coding bootcamps bad” returns only a few results that detail a bad experience with bootcamps. While it does seem that the majority of experiences are positive, the ones that are negative do list reasons similar to the ones I’ve outlined. So while I’m doubtful that coding bootcamps can actually replace established computer science programs at colleges, I do believe they can be useful supplementary pursuits if you want to learn how to do web dev or create mobile apps.