By John Sonmez August 22, 2016

Hack Your Programming Education (By Going to a Coding Boot Camp)

In the not-too-distant past there were only two choices if you wanted to become a programmer: go to college or teach yourself.

In the past few years—at least at the time of writing this book—a new option has emerged.

For many, this is an exciting option that offers new opportunities and ushers in a new age of computer programmers who believe anyone can learn to code—in as little as three months.

From the programming elitists who say that you have to spend years in school or hacking out code at 12:00 am in order to really call yourself a coder, this is a scary threat.

Like it or not, coding boot camps have emerged, and it looks like they are here to stay.

Regardless of which option you choose, it's essential that you learn efficiently. Do take a look at my course “10 Steps to Learn Anything Quickly” for a few tips on this.

What Is a Coding Boot Camp?

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Before we can get into the advantages and disadvantages of coding bootcamps, we need to first talk about exactly what a coding boot camp is.

A coding boot camp is much like it sounds.

While there is a huge amount of variety in what each coding boot camp teaches, how they teach it, and how long the boot camps are, they are all focused on one basic idea.

They teach you to become a programmer FAST.

Most boot camps aim to teach you enough to get a job as a software developer in a compressed amount of time by just focusing on what is really important and by having you really focus on as much real world type programming as possible.

Is a programming boot camp a good idea—and is it the right choice for you?

Let’s find out.

Advantages to a Coding Boot Camp

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First, let’s talk about the advantages of attending a coding boot camp instead of either following a traditional education route, i.e., college, or learning completely on your own.

Contrary to popular belief, there are certainly a large number of advantages to going down the coding boot camp route.

Enough that if I were starting out today, I’d probably enroll in one myself.

In fact, even as an experienced developer, I’m tempted to enroll in one to see what it is like to learn a new technology at one of these boot camps.

Maybe I’ll go undercover and do that one of these days.

Short Learning Time

One of the biggest advantages you’ll find that a coding boot camp offers is the compression of learning into a very short period of time.

Going to college or even learning on your own could takes years.

Some boot camps promise to get you a job as a software developer in as little as three months.

Now, while this claim may seem difficult to believe, I’m convinced, and here’s why.

Some boot camps have you working 10-12 hours a day, six days a week, doing nothing but learning to code and practicing programming.

I believe many developers could get the equivalent of several years of experience in that time because, in a typical workplace, you might only code about 20% of your time—if that.

If you apply yourself and really buckle down, I could see you feasibly learning in an even shorter timeframe than three months.

We’ll talk about the possible disadvantages of this approach in a little bit, but I ultimately see this as a huge advantage.

Time is money (and vice versa).

I’d rather immerse myself in something completely for three to six months than learn it slowly over a period of years.

I’d rather jump in, get going, and get a job in the real world as soon as possible, because that is where all the most valuable experience comes from.

As advantages go, it’s pretty clear that this one can’t be overlooked, as long as you are willing to accept that you can actually learn to program in this short time frame—which I definitely believe is possible.

Difficult, but possible.

High Placement Rate

Hired-3 Coding Bootcamp High Replacement Rate

It’s undeniable that many boot camps have an extremely high placement rate for their students with real jobs working at real companies—especially in Silicon Valley.

Now, not all boot camps are created equal, but I have heard of good boot camps having placement rates as high or higher than 90%.

This is an insanely valuable advantage.

To think that someone could go from making $30k a year to making $80-$100k a year as a software developer in as little as a few grueling months.

That is pretty awesome.

If you get a college degree, some degree programs will try and help you get a placement, but most leave you on your own—unless you enroll in an internship program.

I know plenty of college graduates who can’t find jobs and frequently complain about it on my YouTube channel.

I don’t know anyone who has completed a boot camp and hasn’t been able to find a job.

Granted, I’m sure that not all boot camp graduates are able to find a job easily, but since one of the biggest advantages that a boot camp offers is the ability to get you a job, many boot camps set up great relationships with employers to help them do just that.

Boot camps have a vested interest in you getting a job after completing their program.

In fact, some boot camps actually give you a full refund of your tuition and only make money when you find a job, at which point they take a cut of your first year’s salary.

It is difficult to get a job without experience, so I consider this to be a significant advantage.

Low Price

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While some people complain about how expensive boot camps are, I find them to be extremely cheap for the value you get—especially compared to traditional college tuitions.

Boot camps range in price from free to around $20,000 at the top end.

When you consider that cheap college tuition might be around $10-$20k per year for 4+ years, even the most expensive boot camp is really quite cheap.

I also really like the idea that the amount of money a boot camp charges is an amount that most people could save up for and afford without having to get loans. (Yes, it might take a while to save that much, but saving $40-$80k for college is an impossible task for most.)

I will tell you, though, that I would not price-shop boot camps. I would base my decision on which boot camp to attend on many other factors, leaving price only as a final consideration.

No need to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to investing in your career and yourself.

All in all, the value you get out of a boot camp for the price you pay creates a ridiculous arbitrage situation for anyone willing to do the hard work and take advantage of the situation.

Focused Study

Another major advantage of a boot camp is the opportunity for a very focused and intense study of the craft of programming.

While you may focus for periods of time when going to college—especially when finals are coming up—more of your energy is scattered as you are learning information over several years and it’s mixed with other subjects.

Not so with a boot camp.

Some boot camps have students working six days a week at 10-12 hours a day, focused solely on learning to code.

While some people may see this as a drawback, I’ve always found the best way to learn and improve at anything is through long periods of very intense focus.

You’ve probably heard that the total immersion technique is the best way to learn a foreign language, and I’d say it’s pretty much the same for programming as well.

This kind of focus is one of the reasons why boot camps can cover a large amount of information in such a small period of time.

Real Work-Like Setting

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As I mentioned in the last chapter, most college and university degree programs don’t do a great job of preparing a student for what programming in the real world is like.

I was just talking to a beginner programmer today who had recently received his degree, and he was complaining how he didn’t feel like college prepared him for what the real world of software development was like and how he was trying to learn these important skills on his own.

Since boot camps are usually focused on taking someone who has conceivably never written code before and getting them ready to immediately start working in a real job as a programmer in as short a time period as possible, you can bet that most coding boot camps will be structured in such a way as to mimic real programming environments.

The focus within most boot camps is pragmatic in nature, which I find to be highly advantageous if you want to get up to speed and working as soon as possible.

Work with Other Highly Motivated People

I actually left this advantage out on my first draft of this chapter because, honestly, it didn’t occur to me.

I’m happy to give credit where credit is due, and the credit in this case belongs to David Tromholt who left this comment on one of my YouTube videos about coding boot camps:

“For those who are wondering why some people are willing to pay a lot of money to go to a bootcamp, it's not because they don't know that you can learn this stuff on your own, obviously there's an abundance of cheap or even free resources on the web.

But you can potentially get more personal growth by going to a bootcamp, there's a social aspect to it, and some people learn better when they have a specific structure to follow.

It can be extremely motivating to be surrounded by other like-minded students, and the type of inspiration you take in is more direct than if you get everything from a book or a video.”

This is an excellent point and a great advantage that I didn’t even think of.

Many coding boot camps are set up like a hybrid classroom / work environment where you work and learn directly with other students.

Not only can this be motivating, but it is some good training for what it’s like to work on a team.

Disadvantages to a Coding Boot Camp

So far I’ve listed quite a few advantages for coding boot camps, but almost every one of these advantages has a corresponding disadvantage, depending on how you look at it.

Coding boot camps are not for the timid or lazy. If you fall into one of those categories, many of the advantages I talked about above might have already appeared to you as one of the disadvantages we’ll cover below.

Huge Time Commitment

Even though you’ll be learning to program rather quickly in calendar time, there is a massive time commitment required to attend and graduate from a coding boot camp.

This isn’t something you do in the evenings, or as a hobby. It’s not like working out or going for a run. A coding boot camp is pretty much a full-time commitment.

If you enroll in a coding boot camp, expect it to completely consume your life.

You are pretty much going to have to quit your job and drop everything else you have going on to focus only on learning to code for three or even six months.

Some of the longer programs might go at a slower pace, but the time commitment is still going to be much more intense than going to college or learning slowly on your own.

Like I said before, some coding boot camps require students to be in the classroom or working on projects 10-12 hours a day, six days a week.

Can Be Extremely Difficult

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That brings me to the next major disadvantage: coding boot camps—at least the good ones—are notoriously difficult.

We’ve already talked about the time commitment, but doing well in a coding boot camp is going to require more than just showing up. You are likely going to have to work your ass off.

Most coding boot camps are extremely fast paced, taking you from knowing nothing about programming to writing real code in the first week.

There is a huge amount to learn in a very compressed amount of time, so there is exactly zero room for slacking off—especially if you have no programming background at all.

If you are the kind of person who thrives under challenging situations, you may actually find this to be a good thing, but I imagine most people will consider this at least somewhat of a disadvantage, one that should not be overlooked.

Still Somewhat Expensive

Even though coding boot camps are much cheaper than traditional colleges, they are still expensive, and they can seem even more expensive if there isn’t an option of financial aid.

As far as I know, there are no government programs that help pay the cost of your coding boot camp or give you student loans that you can defer until you graduate. (Perhaps there are, but I’m sure they are not common.)

Anyway, I suppose this disadvantage is relative.

For a lawyer looking to switch careers and learn programming, $10k might seem like a bargain price and extremely cheap.

However, for an 18-year-old kid who just graduated high school and never had a job making more than $10 an hour, the tuition for a coding boot camp can seem extremely expensive.

If you wish to attend one, no matter your situation, you’ll have to budget yourself wisely.

Plenty of Scammy Code CampsScammy Bootcamps 8

This is probably the worst disadvantage I can think of when it comes to coding boot camps: there are so many bad ones out there.

A coding boot camp is a great way to make a large amount of cash quickly—and anyone can start one.

As I’ve been writing this chapter, I’ve even been thinking to myself that I should open one.

Remember then, you have to be extremely careful when picking a coding boot camp.

The last thing you want to do is to spend several thousands of dollars, quit your current job, and devote three months of your life to something, only to find out it was all a waste of time and money.

While there are plenty of legitimate coding boot camps out there with good track records and happy students, there are many more fly-by-night companies trying to make a quick buck off of the coding boot camps craze.

An experienced programmer might be able to spot these scams from a mile away, but for someone just starting out in the field, it could be very difficult to tell legitimate operations from money-grabbers. When we talk strategy, I’ll show you some ways you can choose a good coding bootcamp for yourself.

No Degree to Fall Back On

Even though a coding boot camp may teach you to program and help you get a job as a software developer, it doesn’t mean you are set for life.

If you decide to change professions or want to apply to a company which requires applicants to have a degree, you might be out of luck if you invested in a coding boot camp instead of a college or university.

It all depends on how risk averse you are and how much importance you place on having an actual degree.

Once you break into the field of software development, a degree isn’t nearly as important, but others might disagree—and who knows if that will change in the future.

May Be Lacking in Some Areas of Computer Science Knowledge

Remember how I said that boot camps are pragmatic?

That can be both good and bad.

It’s good because you are going to learn exactly what you need to know to get a job as a software developer and write code, but it can be bad because you might be missing some other knowledge which could genuinely help you in your career long term.

In fact, the reason why so many experienced programmers seem to have a large amount of animosity towards coding boot camps probably stems from this concern.

Coding boot camps tend to focus on how to develop software, not the whys or science behind it.

This can sometimes result in an overconfidence in your abilities without really understanding what you are doing.

Imagine a doctor who didn’t attend medical school and sort of learned on the job while working with a few other doctors.

It’s not quite the same thing as learning programming by going to a coding boot camp, but many experienced programmers—who in my opinion think far too highly of their skills—tend to think it is.

Now, while I think they are just being a little overprotective of their jobs, they are partially right.

Of course, it’s easy to remedy this problem by going back and learning some of the computer science concepts not covered in your boot camp later on in your career, but most developers never seem to find the time to go back and do it.

Therefore, realize that even if attending a coding boot camp can teach you to code and get you a job as a programmer, it may leave you with some knowledge gaps that you may want to go back and fill in if you don’t want to be held back from reaching your full potential.

StrategyStrategy 9

Alright, let’s get to my favorite part: strategy.

I’ve advised many starting programmers on how best to prepare for attending a coding boot camp, so I’ve thought about this quite a bit.

I’m going to share with you some of the tips I’ve given to those wannabe coders and some advice I’d follow myself if I were just starting out and planning on going down the boot camp route.

Research to Make Sure You Aren’t Being Scammed

First of all, do the research to make sure you aren’t enrolling into one of those less-than-reputable coding boot camps I mentioned earlier.

This should go without saying, but enough people get sucked into opportunities that seem too good to be true that I think it is worth mentioning—just to be sure.

Make sure you don’t bargain hunt when shopping for a coding boot camp.

It is much better to pay a few thousand more dollars and actually learn something valuable and get a real job as a software developer than to save a few bucks.

The easiest way to check out a coding boot camp is to talk to its previous students.

I would be very wary of enrolling in any boot camp that hadn't already had several classes of students you could interrogate.

Make sure you talk to multiple previous students about their experiences with the boot camp, what they learned, and how easy it was to find a job after graduating.

This is a basic step of due diligence that can save you from being scammed out of thousands of dollars and help you avoid many days of heartache and regret.

Take the time, do the research, and be willing to pay a higher price for a higher quality result.

Save up to Pay in Full

Going into debt to pay for college is a bad idea, and—in almost all situations—I’d say the same thing about a coding boot camp.

There is no guarantee you are going to get a job after graduating from a coding boot camp, so don’t max out your credit cards, take a hammer to your piggy bank, mortgage your house, and borrow against your 401k to attend one.

Instead, be smart about it.

While you are researching boot camps, be saving money as well.

Sure, it might take you a bit longer before you can enroll and start your career as a newly minted programmer, but you’ll also be hedging your bet and not be overcommitting yourself financially to something you can’t afford, solely on the hope of future prospects.

In just about any arena, this kind of short-sighted thinking is a recipe for disaster.

Clear Your Schedule Completely

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As humans, we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a day.

To-do lists never end up getting done.

We always pack more into our schedule than humanly possible.

If you are going to spend the time, money, and effort to attend a coding boot camp, I would suggest clearing everything off of your schedule and giving all your time and focus to that endeavor.

Yes, it might be possible to hold down a job and attend a coding boot camp at night or to continue to work on a side project or go to school, but because coding boot camps tend to be so fast paced, I wouldn’t take the risk.

If I were attending a coding boot camp today, I’d completely eliminate everything else off of my schedule, except perhaps workouts, and make sure I gave it all I had—and that’s what I suggest you do as well.

Stay After and Network as Much as Possible

I’d also highly advise spending as much time at the boot camp as possible.

Stay after and work more on your projects.

Talk to people in the boot camp.

Get in good with the instructors and offer to help them with anything they might need help on so that you can have a chance to learn even more.

Show that you are committed and willing to help others, and I promise it will go a long way. People will see you working hard, they’ll see your earnestness, and they’ll remember that, which will come in handy when you do go looking for that job.

Make Sure You Are the Top of the Class

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If a coding boot camp has a 90% placement rate of students into real jobs, after the boot camp is over, you want to be damn sure that you are not in the bottom 10% of the class.

If I were you, I’d aim to be in the top 10% of the class.

In fact, I’d be vying as hard as I could for the top spot because that spot is almost guaranteed a great job.

So give it your all. Breaking into the software development industry without any experience or a degree is extremely difficult. I wouldn’t want to take any chances, especially if I was paying a big chunk of cash and committing a large amount of time to the endeavor.

Learn the Basics Ahead of Time

Last but not least, come into a coding boot camp with as much programming knowledge as possible in the language you are going to be learning.

If you want to be one of the top students in the coding boot camp and you want to make sure you get the most out of it, you want to make sure you don’t get left behind.

Every advantage you can have, you should try to take, and one of the biggest advantages you can start with is to already be at least somewhat familiar with the programming language and technology you will be learning in the coding boot camp.

Set yourself up for success. Don’t assume you are going to learn everything you need to know in a coding boot camp.

Instead, come in with the attitude that you are going to the boot camp to accelerate your learning and leave with the knowledge of how to apply what you have learned to a real world setting.

But maybe coding boot camps aren’t for you. Perhaps you are more of a “lone wolf.”

No matter, I’ve got you covered.

In the next chapter we’ll talk all about self-teaching and what it’s like to learn completely on your own.


About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."