With shifting perceptions about higher education and companies like Google, Apple and IBM announcing that they no longer require their employees to have college degrees, more and more people are looking towards non-traditional learning techniques to prepare for the workplace. Education has never been more accessible, with people needing only a WiFi connection to have thousands of courses at their fingertips.
Within the tech world, Coding Bootcamps are giving four-year computer science university degrees tough competition, not just in terms of the number of people enrolling but also the number of people being hired. An estimated 20,316 coders were expected to graduate from bootcamps in 2018 and 80% of employers surveyed by Indeed claim to have hired a bootcamp graduate.
What makes Coding Bootcamps so appealing? Are there any drawbacks? Let us explore the pros and cons.
Despite the fact that knowledge has never been more accessible, higher education is getting steadily more expensive. The average in-state tuition at a public university for a 4-year degree is $9,716 per year and $21,629 per year for out-of-state students. This price increases even further in private universities, where the average annual expenditure jumps to $35,676 including the cost of living. The cost of a Computer Science degree (including living costs) from Massachusetts Institute of Technology is $53,450 per year, $75,275 at the University of Southern California, and $70,094 at Carnegie Mellon – which is the most sought-after university for computer science degrees.
In contrast, Coding Bootcamps cost an average of $11,900 for an average of a mere 14.3 weeks. Online bootcamps are slightly less expensive and a little longer. This means that potential developers are getting coding skills in a much shorter time-frame for a fraction of the cost.
With this in mind, why would people still enrol in a college degree? The answer might lie in the curriculum and the individual’s interest.
CS degrees cover the following areas: Programming and Computer Science Fundamentals, Computing Principles, Advanced Mathematics, Algorithms, Computer Systems, and more (data from Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science). This gives a graduate a well-rounded, holistic understanding not only of programming and programming languages, but also computer theory, which comes in handy when trying to problem-solve.
Eventually, it all comes down to individual preference. Bootcamps provide short-term, high-impact programming knowledge, but graduates still have to spend hours on self-study to keep their skills sharp. Proficiency in programming comes with time and practice and CS degrees have that in spades.
Also, the gruelling pace of bootcamps is not for everyone. 70-80 hours per week for a continuous period of 12 weeks can lead to burnout and stress, not taking into account those individuals that might be unable to motivate themselves outside the confines of a structured program.
That said, bootcamps are ideal for those who learn better by doing rather than studying. Bootcamps are hands-on and project-oriented, with instructors often working on concepts together with the classes. Rarely will bootcamp instructors lecture the class, which is perfect for those who prefer an active approach to their learning.
In CS degrees, one is unlikely to learn current coding languages. Instead, lecturers focus on providing a strong foundation for programming and algorithms. For those that prefer to learn from the ground up by building on a conceptual grounding in computer theory, the time and cost commitment of a CS degree may well be worth it.
While employers are increasingly beginning to trust Bootcamp graduates – 72% employers think Bootcamp grads are “just as prepared” to be high performers – 41% would still rather hire candidates with Computer Science degrees. This may have something to do with the fact that 98% of employers would like more oversight and regulation of Bootcamps.
Additionally, the pragmatic nature of crash courses in coding versus a deeper learning in Computer Science means that many Bootcamp graduates are usually hired in Junior Developer roles, with meatier roles still being reserved for those with CS degrees.
However, Coding Bootcamps have made programming accessible to historically ignored minority groups. 51% of employers credit Coding Bootcamps with helping people from underrepresented backgrounds find work in tech. By requiring a much lower investment, both in terms of time and money, Bootcamps allow people to get a foothold in tech without attending college, which can be prohibitively expensive.
We also cannot ignore that software giants such as Instagram and Tumblr were both founded by self-taught programmers, while Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates both famously dropped out of college to found Facebook and Microsoft, respectively. Silicon Valley is filled with stories of founders who became successful with nothing more than strong coding skills and a passion for their project. For those that are itching to work at or found their own start-up, a coding bootcamp might be all they need to get started.
The bottom line is, when trying to pick between a Coding Bootcamp and a CS degree, it is important to consider the end goal. How much are we willing to invest, what is our learning style, what sort of job and environment do we see ourselves working at in a few years?
Learning doesn’t end with a degree or bootcamp certificate
Bootcamps and CS degrees also need not be the only choice available. Even after attending college or a Bootcamp, one needs to keep working on their programming skills to keep them sharp. Bootcamp grads, who generally tend to be weaker at algorithms and data structures, need to devote at least three further months of full-time study to up their skills after graduating.
Learning does not end with a degree or certificate. In a fast-paced industry like tech, where entire paradigms can be upended in the blink of an eye, it is imperative to stay abreast of the latest developments. Platforms like StackRaft remove selection biases done by recruiters and make hiring transparent purely based on skills acquired in a bootcamp or as regular education.