If you’re thinking about transitioning into tech, it can be hard to choose the right path. Depending on a multitude of factors, you might consider going back to college, learning on your own using the thousands of free resources online, or signing up for a coding bootcamp.
There are pros and cons to each approach; college would likely plunge you into student debt for decades to come and provide no job training or assistance finding a job post graduation, but many employers see it as a necessity. Bootcamps, while less expensive, still cost upwards of $15,000 and require loans if you don’t have that on hand. The free learning option is enticing, but not everyone can adhere to an unstructured curriculum with no peers, no accountability, and no clear beginning or end.
Here are five reasons why I’m glad I signed up for a bootcamp. These reasons are not meant to persuade you. Instead, you should ask yourself if these are important to you. Would they make a difference to you over a college experience or learning for free by yourself?
I am making the assumption that the bootcamp experience would involve a group of peers learning together over a period of time. Some bootcamps have independent study options, but I do not recommend that.
Reason 1: A Network of Peers
The positive effects of having peers who, like me, were transitioning from other careers into tech were unexpected. I consider myself an introvert, so I really don’t go out of my way to meet people or be social. In the case of learning in a bootcamp environment that is extremely fast paced, with coding challenges every couple of weeks and projects to be built in a few days, having a team of people who were struggling, learning, crying, and laughing along with me made a world of difference. We were there for each other when the pressure got to be too much, and we laughed so much — probably because the stress was so high that bouts of the giggles were too common.
From a professional standpoint, we were building a network that will last beyond the bootcamp and continue to provide value for years to come. We were able to asses each other’s skills and get an idea of what it might be like working with each other, which is invaluable when you consider that we’re starting new careers and can help each other find opportunities years down the line. Several times during my bootcamp I honestly felt that the most worthwhile thing I’d paid for was the network of peers I’d made.
Reason 2: Support Post Graduation
I’m not sure if this in an offering of all bootcamps, but at Flatiron I was assigned a career coach who guided me during my job search post graduation (the limit at Flatiron at the time I attended was 8 months of post graduation guidance.) Coaches look over resumes, emails and messages sent to potential employers, and help you feel prepared overall by providing any level of support you may need. They don’t search for jobs, that’s up to you, but they are experienced at helping people in tech find jobs. Having someone who was watching my progress, who I could go to for help when I was stuck or demotivated made me feel like I was still part of the bootcamp community. They personally prepare you for the job search, so if you struggle with resumes and talking about yourself having a coach makes a huge difference.
Reason 3: Help Building Your Portfolio
This is one of the most under-appreciated side effects of attending a bootcamp. By the time you graduate, you will have accumulated projects that you built while learning during your bootcamp. As an entry level candidate in tech, this is often the only tech related experience you will have on your resume that showcases your skills. Of course, as an independent learner you can also build projects and showcase them on your resume, but in a bootcamp environment you have the support from your instructors and classmates while you build them.
Bugs that you might have been stuck on for hours by yourself get promptly solved once several eyes scan your code, and getting your project proposals reviewed even before starting helps you make better implementation decisions to begin with. This results in stronger projects that hopefully catch the eyes of recruiters and hiring managers. Even if you keep building projects after graduating (which you should!) the network of peers you created can still help you fix bugs or bounce ideas.
Reason 4: Build Your confidence
I was always questioning if I had the aptitude to be a a software engineer, or if there was something intrinsic that I lacked. Now that I’ve graduated, I can look at the things I’ve built and the things I’ve learned and know for a fact that I have the aptitude to do this. If you’re learning on your own, this doubt alone can slow you down for months or even stop you if you can’t get over it. During the bootcamp, I didn’t have time to doubt myself, there was always a mountain of reading and coding to do, another language or framework to learn, and the fact was — I was learning. Even people who were slow to grasp concepts were able to perform as long as they put in the effort. People who quickly grasped topics and syntax still struggled in other areas, no one had an absolute advantage. The bottom line was determined by how much work you put in. After going through something so intense and rewarding, you can’t help but have more confidence in yourself and your skills. Even when your confidence falters, there is objective evidence (the projects you built, the coding challenges you passed, etc.) to remind you that you can and did learn, and you can and will succeed as a software engineer.
Reason 5: Job Adjacent Situations
During a coding bootcamp you will experience a lot of situations that are similar to having a job and needing to perform. Flatiron stresses that their bootcamp is job training more than anything, and I definitely feel more prepared to dive into a job and learn on the fly. Even though you learn a particular tech stack which might vary depending on which bootcamp you attend, you will inevitably need to learn new skills when you get hired.
Quickly picking up a language or framework and moving from introduction, understanding, and usage are skills that you develop in order to survive at a bootcamp. Remembering these stages helps me every time I need to learn something at an accelerated pace:
- Introduction to the new topic — feeling confused and overwhelmed.
- Being exposed to the topic, becoming familiar with syntax and rules, but still not ready to produce code on my own
- Produce code on my own with help from docs and tutorials, but feeling anxious that I’m not learning fast enough.
- Remember to trust the process and keep practicing.
- Confidently use the new language or framework to build something non trivial.
If thrown into a work environment where I need to learn a new language or framework, I know I have the ability to do so.
Along with learning at an accelerated pace, building projects in groups or pairs was common. Pair programming in particular is crucial to both bootcamps and workplaces, and having experienced it will help you better handle situations that are less than ideal. Pair programming while stressed with an upcoming deadline and an incompatible partner is likely something you will experience many times in your career. Getting familiar with situations like this and learning how to handle them diplomatically takes experience.
I hope these reasons help you make a decision about whether a bootcamp is right for you. They’re definitely not right for everyone, and plenty of people have transitioned to successful careers in tech without them. If the points above are important to you, it might be worth considering a bootcamp. Whatever you choose, make sure you make your choice swiftly and thoughtfully. Time will pass anyway. Five months from now, would you rather wonder if you should join a bootcamp, or be a confident bootcamp grad on the hunt for your first software engineer position?