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    Categories: Expert InterviewsExpert Roundup

Expert Roundup: Online Courses & Coding Bootcamps

It’s no secret that more and more people are pursuing careers in tech. Given the relatively high salaries of software engineers and the level of demand for their skills, it’s become a career path that many working adults want to switch into.

That has been followed by the rise of online courses and coding bootcamps. The market for coding bootcamps grew by 50% in 2017 with just under 23,000 graduates.

So that leads to an important question – can a bootcamp or online course replace a computer science degree? It’s shorter and in many cases less expensive, but do students learn enough to be viable job candidates? And what is the impact on their long term career prospects?

It’s a decision that has to be weighed by both students fresh out of high school, and adults that want to go into a new career.

We asked 7 experts what their thoughts were, as well as what role they thought employers should play.

Our panel included:

1. Prasid Pathak – Head of Marketing at Code Academy 

2. Poornima Vijayashanker – Founder of Femgineer 

3. Adda Birnir – CEO of Skillcrush 

4. David Yang – Co-Founder of Fullstack Academy 

5. Austen Allred – CEO of Lambda School 

6. Kent Dodds – Speaker, Trainer, and Javascript Engineer 

7. Christopher Watkins – Marketing at Udacity

And here’s what they had to say:

 

Prasid Pathak, Head of Marketing
https://www.Codecademy.com/
@Codecademy

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee?

We see two big things happening in industry.

First, software is eating the world. And so, software is being infused into every job. To be a marketer, product manager, or entrepreneur today means being data-driven. Oftentimes you don’t have access to a data scientist who can write queries for you, so modern tech workers are learning to write SQL queries themselves. Similarly, when it comes to making frontend website changes, Product Managers, marketers, designers, and founders are all learning to be self-sufficient. Here at Codecademy, folks across the Product, Marketing, and Design teams all know how to deploy frontend website changes. And we expect that trend will continue.

When you think about learning to code, you’re typically thinking about one of three use cases.

If you’re in high school or college – and you’re considering computer science. If this is you – give it a shot – take some classes – it’s a fulfilling and lucrative career.

If you’ve already graduated, I wouldn’t recommend going back to school and studying computer science because there are so many viable options out there from coding bootcamps to online courses.

And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career?

So, the question really becomes, are you happy in your current career? If you’re dissatisfied with your career and looking for a complete career change, you should be looking at full-time immersive bootcamps. I love the bootcamp model and believe for this type of person, it can work really well.

On the other hand, most of the learners I speak with are generally happy in their careers. They’re looking to take the next step, to get more technical, so they can be more self-sufficient, gain more responsibility, and more option-power in their career. For these folks, a bootcamp that requires quitting your job may be overkill. Instead, look for part-time online options, but options that offer real-world projects that sound like the types of problems you’ll need to solve on-the-job.

Can the employer help?

About 20% of our students get their Codecademy Pro subscription paid for by their employer – which means many employers out there are already helping, whether they realize it or not. Going back to my first point, software is eating the world, and programming skills are no longer the domain of developers alone. instead, coding skills are being infused into design, product management, marketing, and business analysis.

The best thing that employers can do is to acknowledge this evolution, and continue investing in their employees. This starts with a culture of openness – so that employees on every team can get access to the database to write queries, or get a dev environment set up, so they can deploy site changes. Next comes a culture of mentorship, because these things often aren’t all that hard, but they require someone experienced to invest in teaching beginners. And finally, employers can help by giving their teams access to training resources so they can keep learning on their own.

 

Poornima Vijayashanker, Founder
http://femgineer.com/
@femgineer

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee?

Having a CS degree myself, and having mentored a number of bootcamp graduates, I’d honestly say one is not a replacement for another. Graduating from either can help you get your foot in the door, but you have to think about how you are going to fill in the gaps. General knowledge is good for building, but experience gives you intuition to make decisions and understand tradeoffs when building, which is what engineering is all about.

When I graduated in 2004 there were no bootcamps. I had to teach myself new skills every year. I’d read, take additional courses at local universities, attend training programs, and come up with projects to apply my new skills.

While many of my peers who didn’t have a 4-year degree in CS, found that as they needed to advance in their careers, they needed more than just skills. Knowing how to code wasn’t enough. They needed to understand how the entire system worked, learn about theories and best practices, and apply that knowledge to make decisions that would impact how products were built, scaled, and secured.

I think it’s OK to pick either at this point. The decision comes down to what stage you are in your career, your financial situation, how you plan to apply your knowledge + skills to a job when you graduate, and where you want to take your career long term.

If you plan to be a software engineer and have the means, go for the 4-year degree, but know that you may need a bootcamp at some stage to supplement skills.

If you want to explore coding and you’re concerned about making a big investment, go to a bootcamp first or take an online course to see if it’s a skill you’d like to practice. And if you want to go deeper in the field, you will need to find ways to supplement your knowledge.

So, as you are evaluating programs, be honest with yourself about your goals, understand what type of learner you are, how much time you need to grasp concepts, what areas you want to explore, how in-depth you want to go, and when you graduate, how you plan to keep your knowledge + skills fresh.

Don’t feel beholden to one path or the other. They can complement one another well.

And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career?

In tech, things move pretty quickly. New languages, frameworks, and paradigms are introduced yearly. It doesn’t mean old skills become obsolete overnight. It just means you have to periodically take inventory of your skills, and consider taking a refresher course or learning something new. In the midst of juggling work + life, bootcamps and online courses make it easy for busy working to learn on their time, avoid a commute, and keep their skills fresh.

Can the employer help?

Employers can help by first building an awareness because many employees aren’t aware of programs or that their company provides support. Next, employers can make use of lulls throughout the year to encourage employees to attend training programs, or invite programs on site. Finally, the best employers empower their employees to put their new skills and learnings into practice by carving out projects or initiatives where they could be applied. This could be in the form of a hackathon, side project (20% time), or prototype.

 

Adda Birnir, CEO
https://skillcrush.com/
@Skillcrush

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee?

Yes, most importantly, the benefit is saving both time and money.

Online classes are especially helpful for people who are considering going back to school to learn tech skills, but don’t have the time or money for another four-year degree. Going this route instead of going “back to school” has one big benefit: the ability to start working much more quickly without taking on what could be hundreds of thousands in debt. And the truth is, you simply don’t need a computer science degree to work in tech (less than half of developers have computer science degrees)—you just need tech skills, and those you can learn!

And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career?

Tech employees are already in a lucky spot: they have those in-demand skills. But in my experience, tech employees need to keep a pulse on changes in the field—maybe more than in any other industry. Online classes are perfect for learning new languages or technologies, so that an employee can stay relevant and up-to-date.

There’s also no reason why a person couldn’t learn a new programming language and say to their boss “I’ve expanded my skills since I was hired and would like to be considered for more advanced projects.” That person is well on their way to a promotion (and a raise).

Can the employer help?

Employers can help from two angles: First, they can stop including education levels in their job listings. It doesn’t matter how someone came by the skills they have and letters at the end of a name shouldn’t disqualify someone from a job they’d excel at. Skills are what matter. So, think creatively and find other ways to tell if a potential employee is qualified.

Then, employers can invest in their employees. As tech skills become more and more necessary even outside of the tech industry, bosses can subsidize online coding classes for their employees. It’s cheaper for the employer than to deal with high attrition—why hire someone new when your trusted employee can quickly pick up the new skills they need? It will keep their workforce adaptable and agile, and make the business ready to face new challenges—whether they’re a tech business or not.


David Yang, Co-Founder
https://www.fullstackacademy.com/
@fullstack

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee? And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career?

It really depends on the context of the person asking this question – a CS degree from a top university when you’re 18 is still very valuable both for the credential signaling, the people you’ll meet and the stuff you’ll learn.   For people who are already into a career, coding bootcamps and online classes are much better.  If you’re 25+, already working and use a coding bootcamp or a MOOC to get into programming, then you can pursue getting a CS degree while you’re working.  It’s much easier and better than spending 2-4 years back at school.

Employees should always be mindful of the skills that they are or are not developing in their career and if they match their own personal growth goals.  The corporate ladder and climb to executive is a vestige of a previous generation and will be much more difficult for millennials to climb.  People need to think about their career goals and then research the types of education that match those goals.  Bootcamps are particularly attractive for tech employees because they are industry-adjacent (teach you skills you know are valuable), focused on outcomes, fast and fun.  Colleges are adapting to this type of market but are way behind.

Can the employer help?

Companies are very actively engaged in upskilling their employees and are viewing training as a retention tool.  I think one thing I see is that companies are less willing to invest in long training periods up-front, but if they value you as an employee are happy to develop you over the longer term.

 

Austen Allred, CEO
https://lambdaschool.com/
@LambdaSchool

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee?

It depends on what your goals are. Many students would be better off with some degree of computer science education. Although you can certainly get a job and get started out of a bootcamp, recognize that there will be gaps in your knowledge you will still need to fill. We try to fill those gaps at Lambda School by going much longer and including computer science fundamentals as a part of the curriculum, but if you don’t have that you’ll want to study.

And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career?

Recognize that bootcamps will get you in the door, which lets you get paid while you’re still learning, but don’t think that a three-month bootcamp will be equivalent in depth to a CS degree. You’ll have learning still to do. Luckily bootcamps optimize on being practical, so you’ll have more experience with modern tools, but make sure to try and understand at some point what’s happening underneath the hood.

Can the employer help?

The employer absolutely can, and should. An employer should recognize that hiring somebody out of a bootcamp doesn’t mean they’re able to scale software or write software that will never be buggy. But the good thing is they can write software. So, have someone senior that can help them, and put them on a path to getting better. Computer Science grads come with a need for training as well, and employers should plan to train junior hires whenever they have them.

 

Kent Dodds, Speaker, Trainer, Javascript Engineer
https://kentcdodds.com/
@kentcdodds

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee?

I received a Master’s degree in Information Systems at BYU a few years ago. I learned a lot of valuable lessons at school (in addition to meeting my wife while at school, so that was worth it for sure). I think most of the practical things I’ve learned however has been on side-projects on my own as well as on the job experience. In this industry, there’s no shortcut to experience and you can get that experience from a University or a coding bootcamp.

Considering the university path requires a lot more time and money upfront, I would say that someone looking to write software would probably be better served attending a bootcamp or online coding school.

And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career?

Learning is a multi-step process. First you keep yourself aware of current trends and tools by following people on twitter, going to meetups, and subscribing to newsletters and podcasts.

Then you come up with a project you want to build. Something that you would be motivated to create because you’re interested in the final product. Because you’re aware of current trends and tools you hopefully have an idea of some of the things you can use to build this project. You can use learning material to learn more about these tools so you can be as effective as possible when building out the project. This process will be difficult, but you’ll learn a lot through it.

The final step then is to teach the things you’ve learned to others. You will likely forget many of the things you learned if you don’t reinforce your learning by teaching it to others. Blog posts, video screencasts, talks, workshops, really anything. This process has done wonders for me personally.

Considering this learning process, people in tech should think about any learning material in the context of this process. Online educational material fits in perfectly during the building phase when you have the context of the project upon which to apply what you’re learning.

Can the employer help?

Absolutely. The employer should have a budget to fund their engineers learning. They should make it easy by buying company subscriptions to online training sites (I suggest Frontend Masters and Egghead.io) for their employees. They should allow time for their employees to be involved in open source, tech conferences, and workshops. By doing things like this, employees will enjoy their work more and become more skilled.

 

Christopher Watkins, Marketing
https://www.udacity.com/
@udacity

With the prevalence of coding bootcamps and online classes, it is easier than ever to learn coding and other technical skills. Does pursuing this path in lieu of a Computer Science degree benefit the future tech employee?

There is no one right answer here, and that’s both the opportunity and challenge of today’s hiring landscape. It puts the onus on the job-seeker to deepen their research on a role-by-role and field-by-field basis, and success means staying abreast of hiring trends, monitoring demand for different skills, and tracking which learning institutions and platforms are offering valuable and relevant training. All of this can be a challenge, whether you’re a new job-seeker, a mid-career professional, or someone closing in on a traditional hiring age.

But, there is great opportunity here as well; the freedom to craft an individual career path that is expressly targeted to a specific role or profession, and that is optimized to highlight one’s particular suite of strengths, skills, and experience, makes for an ideal chance to present a richer expression of competitive differentiation.

So, whether you go with a “traditional” degree program, an online credential program, or pursue a “stackable skills” approach that layers in-demand specializations on top of a brick-and-mortar foundation, the real key is to tailor your suite of achievements to the demands and requirements of the well-researched role you’re pursuing. Given the pace of technological change we’re seeing these days, online providers are uniquely equipped to ensure up-to-the-minute relevance for what’s being taught, and that’s very important to consider for anyone pursuing “new collar” jobs, or who is interested in the career opportunities presented by emerging and transformational technologies.

Two final factors to note here are cost and flexibility. The best online learning providers are able to offer world-class curriculum at fractions of the cost of brick-and-mortar institutions, and they’re able to do so in ways that allow for much greater degrees of schedule flexibility for students. For many aspiring learners, these factors are the difference between being able to pursue new learning opportunities or not.

And how should the tech employee think about utilizing online bootcamps and courses to advance their career? Can the employer help?

This is an arena where curriculum and hiring partnerships between companies and learning providers can really make all the difference. In a perfectly symbiotic ecosystem, employers can partner with learning providers to develop curriculum that ensures students are learning the skills they want to see in their job candidates. In this way, the employer sits at both the beginning and at the conclusion of the learning journey—they’re there at the front, helping to identify key skills and develop core curriculum, and they’re there at the back, as hiring partners, getting first look at candidates that have acquired exactly the right skills. In this model, every stakeholder benefits—employers connect to an optimized talent stream, and job-seekers optimize their chances of getting hired.


Readers, what are your thoughts? Would you concentrate on a degree, or going through a bootcamp? Join the conversation at our FB Group page.

 

Author: Paysa