“Is a coding bootcamp right for me?” “Would I be accepted into a coding bootcamp?” “Are coding bootcamps a scam?” “Is a coding bootcamp worth the money?”
If you’re considering a career change into software development, you’ve probably heard of coding bootcamps. You may have researched a few of them, or talked to people who went through one. You might even have asked yourself one or more of these questions.
Fortunately, I went through a bootcamp myself, and I can help answer what I believe is the main question people have when considering a bootcamp: Is a coding bootcamp worth it? For the purposes of this article, I will assume that a “coding bootcamp” is an in-person course that lasts about 3 months and teaches you the necessary skills to be hired in your new field after graduating.
In order to decide whether a coding bootcamp will be worth it for you, you need to ask yourself some other questions first.
What is my career goal for the next year?
If your goal is to leave your current position and start a new job in tech within the year, then a coding bootcamp might be the right move. You need to be extremely motivated to make a coding bootcamp work for you, so having a specific timeline and clear, actionable goals is helpful to keep yourself on track.
You also need to make sure that you actually want a career in the subject being taught. It’s one thing to code as a hobby, or play around with design on the weekends, but the reality of a bootcamp (not to mention the day-to-day demands of the job) will be quite different. Once you graduate, you must be 100% committed to the job hunt, and once you get a job, you must be 100% committed to that job.
A bootcamp is an all-or-nothing decision. You can’t “dabble” and you can’t half-ass it. If you are at all undecided about your reasons for starting a bootcamp, or not sure about whether you want to look for a career afterwards, I would not recommend it.
How much time can I commit?
Most of the top in-person bootcamps require you to be there 6 days a week for around 3 months. And those 6 days a week are not 9-5 days. Depending on your background and level of experience, you should expect to spend anywhere from 10-16 hours per day working on the material. Many students also spend their day-off studying the previous week’s material or preparing for the next week.
There are bootcamps that offer more flexible schedules, or even online bootcamps that allow students to go completely at their own pace. For a student who is serious about changing their career in a short amount of time, however, I would not recommend this route. The advantage of the rigorous pace of in-person 3-month programs is that it forces you to concentrate on the material. When you’re studying on your own, even if you are a very diligent student, there is always the chance that life will get in the way. Additionally, if you are still working a full time or even part-time job while trying to learn such a large amount of dense material, you will fall behind.
If you are hoping to change careers within a year, I highly recommend taking the time off to dedicate yourself completely to the program. If you are unable to, or you have a longer timeline for making the switch, it might be worthwhile to look into a program with a more flexible schedule.
How much can I afford to spend?
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: coding bootcamps are expensive. Hack Reactor, one of the top schools in SF, costs about $20k for 3 months. Compared with the price of a master’s degree in CS, this is a bargain. However, it’s not a sum of money that most people have lying around.
When I went to Hack Reactor, I spent nearly my entire savings on the course, and borrowed money from family to cover the rest. I won’t lie: it was scary! There is a certain amount of risk involved in spending that much money at once. However, I looked at it as an investment in my future. I was confident that if I stayed focused on my goal, put in the time and worked hard, I would make my money back – and I did. I was able to pay back all the money borrowed, and significantly improve my financial situation in just a few short years after graduation.
Many bootcamps offer scholarships, particularly for people from minority groups, and others partner with lending institutions to offer loans. There are also bootcamps that don’t charge up front, and only take money if you land a job (often this means they take a percentage of your wages for the first year or so.)
How hard am I willing to work?
A coding bootcamp is more than a financial investment: it is a mental and emotional investment. Most of my days at bootcamp were full of fun, fascinating conversations and eye-opening learning. However, there were days that I cried. There were days that I got home so exhausted I couldn’t think, but still had to work on a project for two hours. There were weekends when all I wanted to do was sleep in, but instead I had to meet up with other students to study.
What I didn’t realize going in is that the hard part doesn’t stop once bootcamp ends. As soon as you graduate, you are thrown into the job market. A good bootcamp will provide career support, but they will not be able to find a job for you. Job-hunting is itself a full-time job. You will be sending out at least 20 resumes and personalized cover letters per week while also practicing for your white boarding interview, solidifying your understanding of what you already learned, and working on personal projects. Learning doesn’t stop once you leave bootcamp. In fact, learning doesn’t stop even after you’re hired. Tech moves fast, and it is up to you to stay on top of your skills.
If you’ve answered all these questions, and have decided that you are willing to
- set a specific career goal
- put in the time
- risk the financial investment
- work your ass off
then congratulations! A coding bootcamp is definitely worth it for you. But don’t just take my advice. I highly recommend you reach out to people who have gone through bootcamps and talk to them about their experience. Career changers and developers are some of the most generous, helpful people on the planet, and they love to help beginners figure out their path.