There are pros and cons to both coding bootcamps and computer science degrees. Each are valuable in their own way, and which path you choose depends on a number of factors. Both can lead to a rewarding career in tech with a significant return on your investment. Which one you choose depends on how much time you can invest, your preferred type of learning, your lifestyle, and your career goals.
Just like any purchase you make, it pays to do your research. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are a huge number of coding bootcamps out there that make bold claims about how 99% of their graduates find full-time web-design or software engineering jobs within three months of completing the course. Sounds awesome. Is it true? Doubtful. Most of these claims aren’t verifiable and aren’t backed up by any solid data. So should you just take their word for it? Probably not a good idea.
Not every bootcamp is a scam, of course. Many are successful and offer genuine programs with solid teaching modules and successful career outcomes. A few even guarantee graduate job placements and median salaries. And some reputable sites, like Flatiron School, publish independently audited job reports to verify their graduate employment results.
Use trusted sites like Course Report to see graduate employment data, graduate and participant reviews, and important school notes and overviews. Think of your commitment to a coding bootcamp as a significant investment — you wouldn’t just throw large sums of money at the first investment firm, financial advisor, or hedge fund manager you came across on Google. You’d do multiple searches, read reviews, compare your options, and learn everything you could. And investing in a coding bootcamp is no different. Do your due diligence to avoid any nasty surprises or crushing disappointments, and be sure to review their course modules and sylabi.
How Motivated Are You?
Coding bootcamps, particularly on-campus ones, provide an immersive learning experience that will drive most people forward, even if their motivation isn’t that great. But, when you graduate, you aren’t necessarily a well-rounded developer. You’ve got the fundamental skills, but you need a huge amount of motivation to keep self-learning and building a portfolio of impressive work. So, if you lack real burning passion and motivation, a coding bootcamp may not be the best answer. You only get a few months of learning, then you’re on your own.
What Kind of Learner Are You?
If you’re an experiential learner – you learn best by doing and experiencing – then a coding bootcamp is a smart option. These software engineering or web development bootcamps provide immersive experiential learning, teaching you the foundational programming skills you need to develop your fledgling career. But bootcamps are intense and not necessarily predictable, and they usually have a heavy focus on group and partner work. Some people prefer structured, predictable syllabi, solitary, verbal, and logical learning. These folks may do better with a computer science degree. A CS degree involves more theory and a more traditional educational approach.
Bootcamp vs. Computer Science Degree Curriculum
The curriculum varies hugely – not just between CS degrees and bootcamps, but between schools, too. However, as a general rule, computer science degrees provide students with a comprehensive, deep knowledge of computers, networking, and operating systems, including the hows and whys. They do teach programming, of course, but you’ll likely learn languages like Java and C++ rather than the latest popular languages that will help you build the next cutting-edge app. You will, however, get invaluable mathematics and algorithm training that you just don’t get in bootcamps. And, of course, you have far more time to learn, practice, and absorb all that knowledge. A computer science degree usually lasts for four years, during which you can also self-study and supplement your knowledge and employability by learning the latest languages and developments.
Bootcamps teach you the basic skills that you need to start building stuff. With a coding bootcamp, you’ll dive right into learning languages and practical problem sets. You’ll work in groups, in pairs, and alone, and your tutor will likely provide a brief introduction to a topic or application, then provide you with problems or scenarios to solve and things to build. It’s also important to remember that to truly become skilled, you need to put in a lot of extra time. Just your 3 months of 9 to 5 bootcamp training doesn’t necessarily make you employment-ready or particularly skilled or outstanding. StackOverflow’s co-founder, Jeff Atwood, has this little pearl of wisdom that really sums it up nicely:
“While I love that programming is an egalitarian field where degrees and certifications are irrelevant in the face of experience, you still gotta put in your ten thousand hours like the rest of us.”
What’s Your Career Outlook?
Long term, where do you want to work? Who do you want to work for? What’s your ideal goal? Where do you see yourself in 20 years? These are vital questions that play an important role in determining whether a bootcamp or a degree is the best option for you.
If you want to be in a very senior position with a big brand like Apple, Facebook, or Google, you’re only really likely to get there with a computer science degree from a top educational establishment. If your aspirations don’t include climbing the management ladder, it is possible to get a rewarding job at one of those huge corporations without a degree, but it’s more challenging, as you’ll need to work harder at the application and interview stage to prove you’re up to the job.
If, however, working for the Tech Giants fills you with dread and you’d much rather be working for an exciting startup or starting up a fabulous business of your own, a coding bootcamp is a great choice. Particularly if you’ve put in the extra time to build an outstanding portfolio. Startups often see your continued self-learning as evidence of your tenacity, motivation, and entrepreneurial spirit — all of which they highly value.
Not too sure exactly what kind of company you want to work for? Check out our types of tech companies to work for post to give you some insight.
A Coding Bootcamp as a Degree Alternative
Yes, the right coding bootcamp is a perfectly acceptable alternative to a computer science degree to start you on your way to a career in tech. But remember, you’re competing with an ever-increasing number of bootcamp grads, and you’ll have to do a huge amount of self-study and project/portfolio work to stand out from the crowd. And remember to only go with a school with an awesome reputation – among employers and graduates alike.
Many bootcamps don’t carry any kind of certification or accreditation, unlike CS degrees, so it’s also worth considering choosing a bootcamp that’s affiliated or partnered with a recognized university and offers college credits and some kind of certification.
You also don’t have to choose one over the other. Many people complete a bootcamp, develop their skills, land a great job, then embark on a computer science degree. Others get the degree, then follow it with bootcamps or, after landing a great job, they take bootcamps to brush up their skills or learn new ones.
So you’ve got options. There’s no right or wrong answer and no single template that works for everyone. We all learn differently and have different goals and priorities. Take stock of where you’re at, your commitments, and your financial and time constraints, then look at where you want to go in 1 year, 5, 10, and 20. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can find the right educational path to get there. It’s never too late to make a dramatic change and embark on the career you’ve always wanted. Not sure if the rewards are really worth your time, money, and energy? Take a look at the salary data for software engineers and full stack web developers.