We have all heard of the past year’s hiring woes for tech employers and the massive boon that software developers stand gain by jumping ship from their current gigs. From the outside looking in, it would seem that a rising tide raises all ships and it would be a great time to head down the path to become a software developer if you aren’t already.

Full disclosure for everything that follows:

I am a bootcamp graduate myself. I attended a virtual bootcamp hosted by Vanderbilt University via 2U (then Trilogy Education) from February 2019 to August 2019. I was employed by Trilogy for a 6 month period from August 2019 to January 2020.

The following post reflects my opinions only.

If you’d like to read more of my posts regarding bootcamp experiences, feel free to check out the posts tagged bootcamps.

Bootcamps Are a Shortcut – Know What This Means

Bootcamps offer a faster and less expensive method for breaking into the software industry. Bu do they truly prepare you for the rigors of industry? And better yet, do they get you ready even for the interviews you’ll need to get past to even acquire a job?

It’s well known that bootcamps can have a few, shall we say, shady practices in order to maximize profit. Usually there isn’t anything inherently wrong with doing these things, but it’s very important that you understand what bootcamps do in order to get your enrollment before you sign on the dotted line. There are a couple of disingenuous ways to entice new students:

  1. Offer an Income Sharing Agreement (or ISA)
    • What it is: You don’t pay tuition unless you get a job in the tech industry, and when you do, you agree to “share” a part of your salary to pay back tuition. If you don’t get a job, you don’t pay.
    • What it can mean: It can be hard to get out of paying. They can consider lots of “tech-adjacent” jobs to be a true tech role.
  2. Entice you with a high job placement rate
    • What it is: Just what it says – a job placement rate of 90+%.
    • What it can mean: Lots of things. Anything from hiring their own good (or bad!) students as TAs to considering “tech-adjacent” jobs in their placement rate.
  3. Boast a huge alumni and industry network
    • What it is: It can take a lot of shapes from job guarantees from the network, claiming many people go on to take jobs at FAANG, promises of industry meetups, etc.
    • What it can mean: This one’s problematic at every bootcamp I’ve ever seen. The size and scope of the network is usually vastly overstated. Plus, the network rarely matters when searching for a job, and the number of alumni who actually get the dream jobs are vastly overqualified (think CS majors who took a gap year and want to refresh skills or move from academia to industry or need a course on a specific framework). Don’t forget, Your experience may vary. It just probably won’t.

Recently in the news there have also been lawsuits against Lambda School alleging false advertising.

The Real Problem

The biggest issue for me is the course material. It is simply so diluted that you must study on your own to get any meaningful learning done. This, in essence, dilutes the value of a certification from a bootcamp, because employers know that the course load wasn’t as rigorous as, say, a college degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fault the bootcamps themselves for this shortcoming. After all, this is the point of accelerator programs to distill the information to its very essence such that students have a chance to make it through the course quickly – hence, accelerated timeline.

Unfortunately, this means that if you do the bare minimum (i.e. “the course requirements”), you will “fail” the bootcamp because it will simply be impossible to pass interviews or perform well at your job. There isn’t enough time spent immersed in the material to learn it well enough on its own. Too often I see students that I either mentored or went through the course with stop learning new things, writing code, and engaging with tech as a whole. Those individuals never found tech jobs and went back their old careers.

The Good

There are certainly upsides to enrolling in a bootcamp. I was very fortunate and got a great job and career out of my experience, and for people in my situation it’s easy to recommend a bootcamp.

What bootcamps are great at is direction. They give you a great starting point, show you how to build something with minimal effort, then say “Okay, we got you this far, now what can you do with it?”. Do not expect any handholding – you will get little of it once it’s time to learn or search for jobs.

If you learn like this (and again, take time to go off on your own and try to build new things), then you will find success. Your first few weeks will be spent getting up to speed on basics and the following weeks and months will be solidifying the understanding you’ve just made. You will seek to satisfy your own curiosity over simply ticking the boxes for graduation. This type of learning leads to organically building a portfolio of work – which is what prospective employers really want to see instead of 10 tutorial templates copied from your bootcamp.

On the other hand, you might find you really aren’t that great at learning this way. This isn’t a bad thing, it might simply be a sign that this might not be the right career choice. I would argue that this is actually a positive as at least you didn’t make it all the way through the bootcamp, start a career, and then get stuck in something you hate.

In Summary

Bootcamps are no longer the slam dunk they once were at their inception. Enough time has passed to shake out the issues that they create by teaching functionality over methodology so quickly.

With that being said, they can be a good idea if:

  1. You know what you’re getting into
  2. You commit to it, not just until you graduate, but for the length of your career
  3. You actively seek out and learn above and beyond your bootcamp

The demographics for something like this typically might have an associates or bachelors degree (possibly in another discipline – mine’s in molecular biology) that already have a proven track record of learning. That’s not to say you won’t succeed with less education, but that’s what I’ve seen from my personal experience.

Just remember that simply attending a bootcamp doesn’t cut it anymore, if it ever did. It is what you make of it.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!