The tremendous demand for skilled coders has led to creation of hundreds of coding academies across the U.S., most of which are for-profit. Bootcamps attract students with a lower price tag and a much faster program than a college degree. Most also claim to give you solid skills that will lead to immediate employment in the tech field, rather than “academic” type training. But there are some important questions you should answer before choosing a bootcamp vs a more traditional college degree in computer science.
Bootcamps aren’t really a new idea. Super focused “trade” or “vocational” schools for computer programming have been around for many years. A bootcamp can make sense as a way to get an entry level position in tech – if it actually delivers the promised technical training. College CS degrees, on the other hand, provide a more rounded education that is seen as a plus by some employers and can equip you with management, communication and other skills you’ll need to move up the corporate ladder into management type position eventually.
Pick A Coding Bootcamp That Works
Coding academies operate under a mish-mash of national and regional regulations. In truth, though, they live in a “wild west” where regulation is unclear. There have been many cases where a coding school has failed to get it’s grads hired or, even worse, turned out to be a total scam. Because bootcamps aren’t accredited (more on accreditation below) you will not be able to get a federal grant or loan to pay for one – the cost will rest entirely on you. Here’s a process to follow that can help you pick a good one:
Picking the Coding Skills You Want
Two important things should influence your choice of a coding academy. The first is whether you want to study multiple languages or focus in on one in particular that can lead you to a specific type of job. It’s perfectly fine to study several frameworks – you don’t necessarily have to know exactly where you want to work before you start your studies. Key issue number two is the question of how advanced your technical knowledge is right now. Code camps such as Flatiron School and DigitalCrafts are set up to bring beginners up to speed quickly, while schools like Hack Reactor and App Academy are more geared to students who already have a strong basic tech knowledge and who may have even worked already in IT, who want to move quickly into mid to higher level tech jobs.
A third question too many students overlook is: “Do I really have any aptitude for coding?” Writing code pays well because it isn’t easy. Frankly, it can also be a pretty lonely kind of job. If you’ve never actually worked in tech, it’s advisable to at least take read a few books on it or take some coding classes on YouTube to see if you’re comfortable learning it before you sign up for an intensive academy program.
Code Camp Cost
Coding camps cost less than college, but they’re not exactly cheap. At the time of this writing, most coding camps are priced in a broad range between $15,000. – $20,000. for a 12 or 14 week program that results in you getting a certificate.
As we’ve mentioned, you can’t get federal Pell Grant money or loans to pay for them a coding camp, as you often can for a college CS degree. However, because these camps have exploded in the past 10 years, there’s now cutthroat competition among them for students. Many of them are offering creative ways for students to pay, including deferred tuition or income share agreements where the camp will take a part of your salary for a time after graduation to cover their fee. Hack Reactor, for example, allows you to pay for your courses after you get employed, while Wyncode will have you pay your tuition back only when you get a job paying $40,000. per year or more.
What’s the Value of A Coding Academy Certificate?
Most camps confer a certificate on students at the time of graduation. But the certificate itself has little value. You want to know what a camp will do to make sure you get hired after graduation, and how successful previous grads have been. At a bare minimum, you should leave a coding camp with a portfolio, a quality website to show employers and a knowledge of what to say in a job interview.
Don’t believe too many of the promotional materials you’ll see from the academies. They all tend to promise very high rates of job hiring and great salaries for their graduations. But many of the camps have gotten into trouble with regulators because these numbers are exaggerated. To protect yourself, make a point of find one or two graduates of an academy and ask them if they got real help in finding a job after graduation. Even better, find a way to have a conversation with someone in tech management, and ask them what they think of the quality of the camp you’re considering. They’ll be able to give you the unvarnished truth.
Does Accreditation Really Matter With Coding Bootcamps?
Strictly speaking, the answer is no, because employers generally know that almost none of the bootcamps have traditional regional accreditation. But there are a few organizations that rate the quality of bootcamps that it doesn’t hurt for you to look into. Several groups designed to certify the quality of code camps have come and gone. The most credible one at the moment is the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR). It allegedly provides transparent data on graduation rates and earnings of graduates of member bootcamps. It’s a good idea to look at their website, but don’t consider them gospel. Some of the bootcamp companies that have helped create quality assurance councils in the past have nonetheless wound up getting in trouble for reporting exaggerated results. Alternatively, you can look to sign up for courses with company certifications. IBM, for example, certifies the quality of data science courses at some bootcamps.
What About A College Computer Science Program?
College and university tech programs generally operate under the accreditation of their parent school, which means you can get various types of student aid and loans to pay for them. They will take longer and cost more than a bootcamp – a bachelor degree in CS is generally a four year commitment. But it will usually provide you with valuable “soft skills” like time management, public speaking and teamwork that large corporations in particular tend to value highly. Additionally, a college will probably have many different course options you can take as you go through your studies and begin to hone in on exactly what you are good and what you want to study. You just need to balance that benefit against the fact that some hard-core techies consider a college degree to be too “academic,” and that typical estimates for the cost of a full CS degree now range well over $60,000.
Coding Academy Within The College
An interesting new wrinkle has emerged, as some universities have actually acquired coding academies. The University of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), which has often taken an innovative approach to alternative learning programs, announced in March of 2021 that it was acquiring Kenzie Academy, which offers software engineering, experience design programs and business-to-business programs. Kenzie will now operate as a nonprofit entity under Southern New Hampshire’s umbrella. Not addressed in the school’s announcement is whether or not Kenzie will share in SNHU’s high quality regional accreditation. Kenzie offers short term and full-length programs that range in cost from $10,000. to $20,000. Other schools including Case Western, George Washington University and Rutgers have also built or purchased coding bootcamps.
Both a CS Degree and an Academy Certificate?
Finally, keep in mind that these two options aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not unusual, in fact, for someone with a college CS degree to take a course or two at a coding academy in mid-career to boost his or her skills.