Now is an exciting time to explore a career in tech! The coding skills gap is projected to grow, and job opportunities in this sector are on the rise. Programming jobs also boost high opportunity for growth and attractive earning potential. According to Burning Glass, jobs that require coding pay up to $22,000 per year more than jobs that don’t.
What is a Coding Bootcamp?
Coding bootcamps are immersive training programs that help students from all backgrounds transition into a tech career. Since they started in 2012, these private education courses have been training software engineers with very positive job placement and salary outcomes.
Recently, many new schools and different formats of training have emerged, as well as government and private financial aid programs. So, how can a student choose the perfect bootcamp? To help you begin your search, SwitchUp has compiled the bootcamps that stand out to our community.
Coding Bootcamp Reviews and 2017 Rankings
Throughout 2017, we amassed thousands of alumni reviews and data points to bring you our list of recommendations. We’ve analyzed price, location, job support, alumni reviews, instructor quality, and several other important indicators of quality. We’ve narrowed it down to provide you with a starting point of well-reviewed, fully-vetted bootcamps:
A Brief History of Coding Bootcamps
A coding bootcamp is a form of vocational training popularized in late 2011 and early 2012. In simple terms, they offer an accelerated, immersive education that turns students into working developers.
Among the first successful programs was Dev Bootcamp, founded when a friend challenged Shereef Bishay to train him as a software engineer in just nine weeks. Bishay accepted the challenge, recruiting his first Dev Bootcamp cohort through a post on Hacker News. Over 90% of the bootcamp's first two graduating classes reportedly landed a full-time job, paying more than $80,000 per year on average.
This early success gave rise to competitors and spin offs, with some alumni going on to found schools of their own. As the educational model spread — and as the media took notice — the notion of an immersive programming education gradually begun to enter the mainstream.
So what does this "immersive" model of education mean, exactly? Starting from day one, students are thrown into the deep end to start swimming in the river of code. For ten hours a day or more, students learn to code, and do this for two to three months until they're deemed proficient for an entry-level developer role. Some bootcamps further supplement hands-on learning with relevant activities such as guest lectures on building real-world technologies and career-building workshops.
Think of graduating from a coding boot camp not as the end, but the beginning of your journey. Learning is lifelong.
The intensity of programming immersion allows students to move up the learning curve at a rate far greater than self-paced leaning, weekly classes, or even a university curriculum would typically allow. Though many schools and universities offer computer science classes, their focus often falls heavily on theory, forgoing real-world practices and industry technologies used on a day-to-day basis. Said one student of his education: "I'm graduating with a computer science degree, but I don't feel like I know how to program."
Traditional classrooms also commonly fail to provide substantial individual attention and mentorship to students. Just last year, Harvard University's introductory computer science course was attended by a record 818 undergraduates, overtaking economics to become the school's most popular course.
The growth of the bootcamp industry has been immense. Currently, there are well over 100 schools of all shapes and sizes around the world, graduating close to an estimated 10,000 students this year. At the beginning of 2015, bootcamps that offered a full-time program charged a tuition of $9,900 and lasted 10.4 weeks on average.
Since coding boot camps have gained popularity, major criticism has been directed toward the industry. Critics say that the accelerated model produces lower-quality programmers, that instructors are often inexperienced, and that many of these programs are primarily concerned with maximizing profits. While many of these concerns are valid, it's unlikely that bootcamps which have not made an effort to improve their pedagogy will find success beyond their first cohorts in the long run. Programs which have been able to prove their effectiveness through a rigorous curriculum, a strong teaching staff, and high-performing graduates will achieve longevity far more easily. Additionally, a growing number of third-party coding bootcamp reviews and emerging forms of regulation and accreditation can only help to lend transparency to this new industry.
While interested applicants should always do proper research and beware of unethical marketing tactics, the quality of education in the industry remains healthy overall. We have begun to see bootcamps like gSchool announce higher education offerings and traditional schools such as Concordia University begin to develop shorter, career-focused programs. A competitive educational marketplace has begun to yield a diverse spectrum of options that can cater to a wider range of needs, backgrounds, and skill levels.
As former bootcamp students and instructors, we can attest to the effectiveness of a good bootcamp. If you ask us, learning always happens best in an immersive environment, where you can minimize distraction and maximize learning. It's much like immersive education for a foreign language — except here, the language might be Ruby or Python and the study abroad location is your text editor. But, oh, the places you can go with that foundation of knowledge. Think of graduating from a bootcamp not as the end, but the beginning of your journey. Learning is lifelong.
That said, it's important to note that there are BIG differences between bootcamps. Some, unsurprisingly, are much better than others. It's important that you avoid the scams and choose one that is a good fit. Keep reading to find out how.
What to Research When Choosing A Coding Bootcamp
In the past few years, the bootcamp industry has exploded throughout the world. Here on Switchup, we now have over 500 listings — and new bootcamps seem to pop up everyday. But bootcamps vary drastically in regards to cost, time-commitment, and career-growth options, and on top of that, there are numerous online options available for self learners. When faced with all these factors, the decision can be daunting for many prospective students.
There are many differences between boot camps that you should carefully consider. In this section we will present the a few common questions and issues that students face when researching schools. We will give you some pointers on how to address these issues and what to pay attention to.
1. What programming language should you learn?
That's one of the most common questions we hear from new students, though the right answer may be more difficult than you think. Over 50% of programming bootcamps currently teaching Ruby on Rails, but the reality is that there are many valid starting points. While Ruby is a wonderful language, you should also consider other languages as well. Data from 2015 varies, but Ruby is perhaps not as hot as one might think, so it's wise to check out other technologies too before making a decision.
First, understand that some languages are inherently harder to learn than others. Ruby gained its popularity precisely because it is a great language for beginners to pick up. A language like C, for example, is much more complex and requires a longer time for mastery.
There is lots of hype around different languages...Be careful of hype, technology changes fast.
Second, know that different languages are used for different types of products. If you want to build web applications, Ruby or Python are the most common languages that startups use. For iOS mobile applications, you will have to learn Objective-C or Swift. For Android applications, you will have to learn Java and the Android framework. For video games, many of today's popular console and PC titles require knowledge of C and C++ to build.
In general, ignore those conversations about what language is “best” and focus on your career goals and the type of company that you want to work for (e.g. web vs mobile, enterprise vs. consumer, startup vs. large corporation). Different types of companies with different products tend to use a certain type of language. For example, academic researchers typically use Python for their simulations and data analysis, whereas an enterprise desktop software company might be using C++.
To summarize: Make a career plan and decide what types of products you want to build. Research the types of companies you want to work for and the types of products you want to build and find out what technlogies are used in those areas. By making a long-term career plan about what/where you want to end up in 5-10 years, choosing the right language will be easy!
See this list of the top programming languages of 2014 to get an idea of the common languages that different companies and products use.
2. What is the class size and instructor-student ratio?
Probably the single most important factor in your decision should be the class size and instructor ratio. That is what you’re paying for! What gets you through the tough bugs and the rugged learning curve is the one-to-one time with someone more experienced than you.
Of course, curriculum design matters. That said, many programming bootcamps teach a relatively standard curriculum which goes over exercises that students can find in most programming books. If they tell you they have innovative curriculum that nobody else has, be careful. Exercises and tutorials can be easy to cobble together with the plethora of books and online tutorials out there, so don't be fooled by marketing hype either way.
The biggest factor in your experience is the class size and instructor ratios. The smaller the class size, the better the experience. Instructor-student ratios range from 1:4 to 1:25, so the range can be varied. Be careful when choosing a program with a very few instructors and a lot of students. You won't be getting the attention that you might need.
3. Talk to alumni from the program and read reviews.
The best sources of data on student outcomes are talking to graduated students and reading reviews online.
When you’re reaching out to graduated students on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter or email, here’s a few questions that you might want to ask:
• What type of job or experiences did you have before your bootcamp?
• Do you think you got good value from your bootcamp?
• What did you like most about your experience, and what would you change?
• What adjectives would you use to describe the culture of your bootcamp?
• What's a typical day like at your bootcamp?
• What was your instructor like?
• What was your curriculum like?
• What's unique or distinguishing about your bootcamp?
• What kind of jobs did you and your classmates get after graduating?
What an alumni will tell you face-to-face is often times different to what you’ll read online. There’s nothing that replaces a coffee meeting to get the insights and dirt on the schools you’re applying to. A hackathon, maybe?
It's hard for people to judge the quality of a bootcamp.
To supplement your alumni conversations, we've collected numerous reviews here on switchup to get the ball rolling. Note that the industry is still young, so the ratings on switchup.org are only a start at best. But data is still data. It's worth reading the reviews and seeing what alumni have had to say.
One final note: Because very few alumni have ever attended more than one bootcamp, there is little baseline for comparison. It's hard for people to judge the quality of a bootcamp. A review can be 5 stars simply because students haven't ever experienced better. That's why it's always important to talk to these students over the phone or in person, so you can gauge their thoughts beyond what's on the page.
4. Who is teaching you?
One of the most important questions you need to ask any bootcamp is, "Who will the instructor be?" Good instructors make a big difference and they can make or break your experience. With the large turnover in the industry, teachers don’t usually stay at schools very long — since they're coders and prefer to be coding, probably! This can result in lots of new and inexperienced instructors.
Think of an interview with a bootcamp as a two-way street.
It’s crucial for you to assess whether your instructors have teaching experience. One of the biggest complaints in the industry, after all, is that teachers just don’t have the right experience. We've all heard of nightmares where the instructors at a bootcamp have never taught a class before. This is more common than you might think, even at "reputable" bootcamps.
It's definitely worth the effort to try to set up a call with your potential instructor before forking out a lot of money. Think of an interview with a bootcamp as a two-way street. They're assessing who you are and whether you're a good fit, and you should not be afraid to assess them and ask for more information.
Look for passionate teachers and good communicators. Communication is paramount to making a good teacher, and those skills can be rare in the coding industry. Do you feel comfortable speaking to them? Do they seem confident in what they're saying? Do past students think the teacher was able to explain programming concepts in a simple and clear manner?
5. Are bootcamps worth the money?
That's perhaps the other biggest questions that we get asked. The answer is, unfortunately, "it depends". The honest truth is that a lot of it depends on your own financial situation and the quality of the school.
In the ideal situation — which is never the case — education should be completely affordable and free for all. But at the same time, free self-paced tutorials or cheap one-off classes may not cut it when it comes to getting people job ready. Depending on your situation, it may be worth it to commit a few thousand dollars for an immersive experience that will hold you accountable to achieving your career goals. Unless you're super self motivated and are willing to work hours after your day job to learn coding on your own, a bootcamp can fill a useful gap with learning how to code in a short period of time.
What it comes down to at the end of the day is your own financial situation, how much capital you have to invest in your education, your career goals, and the return on investment.
There are big differences in prices. For example, Hack Reactor comes in at a whopping $18,000, whereas some schools like Tech Talent South might only charge $6,000. Know that expensive does not necessarily mean better, and cheap does not necessarily mean value for money. It all depends on the individual school and situation.
Use the guidelines we've outlined so far as a starting point to evaluating a bootcamp as being "worth" its value. Then look at the price tag. Some bootcamps prefer to price themselves high to make them seem like a high-end product — a classic marketing strategy! — while others like to price low so they can reach a broader audience. Other programs offer opportunities to receive partial or even full scholarships, so make sure to ask if financial support is offered. Remember, however, that many of these schools are for-profit businesses.
What it comes down to at the end of the day is your own financial situation, how much capital you have to invest in your education, your career goals, and the return on investment. Make sure you plan for at least 3-6 months of job hunting after the bootcamp. You are not always guaranteed a job and still have to beat out your competition to get an offer, so having enough money ready or a part-time job lined up to help you bridge the gap when you are not working is important. Again, try to seek out scholarship opportunities and consider many of the financial lending options out there that will help ease your payments over time.
Once you have a solid financial plan in place and are sure that you want to commit to a career change into software, then you're ready to attend a bootcamp!
6. Job Support
This is a complex topic that requires a chapter of its own. In Part 3 of this series, we'll cover job support provided by bootcamps, career change, and various strategies to ensure your transition is as smooth as it can be. We'll also soon be publishing a book about software engineering and career change in the next few months, so stay tuned! In the meantime, checkout this video guide:
Video Guide To Coding Bootcamps
This video guide covers reviews, job placement statistics, and tips for chosing the best coding schools for you!
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