Should you self study or join a coding bootcamp?
Honest opinions from a bootcamp alumni
10 min read
My name is Edmond Hui and I am a coding bootcamp alumnus, and I'm here to tell you everything you need to know about diving into tech. If you haven't read my journey about becoming a software engineer, I share my secrets about how I attended a coding bootcamp and successfully became a software engineer in 3 months.
As someone who recently abandoned his career to become a software engineer, I want to share my first-hand experience transitioning into tech to inspire new developers and help them make informed decisions.
If you are thinking about becoming a software engineer you probably have many questions. I'll try to answer the most common ones with my personal perspective and a modern lens as someone who attended and graduated from a coding bootcamp during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The most important step for success, making a plan
You may have heard that becoming a software engineer is an easy way to increase your income. Many of my friends told me, "just learn how to code" as an easy way to secure the bag. When I started my coding journey, I was not prepared for the amount of work that was required to make the transition into tech.
Becoming a software engineer through coding bootcamps may not even be possible depending on your current situation. Some people may not be able to dedicate the time required to succeed and may need to take a different route. It definitely isn't as easy as everyone makes it out to seem. If it were that easy, then it wouldn't be valuable.
Basic programming skills are easy to pick up. I learned some code at a young age and was always interested in tech. I even took multiple intro programming courses and an advanced placement computer science course in high school.
When you get into the job market, companies aren't looking for warm bodies that know how to code. They are looking for a specific person with a niche skillset who can help solve problems they are facing. This comes with experience and niche knowledge about coding languages and their relationships with other libraries and frameworks.
This is where many bootcamps fall short. Bootcamps have a hard time teaching the idiosyncrasies of software engineering. You can only learn this through making mistakes and coding without guard rails.
This is why it is extremely important to continuously learn as a software engineer.
Do extensive research before pulling the trigger because once you start learning how to code, you have to be fully committed. People who think it will be enough to code part-time WILL NOT SUCCEED. You will have to sacrifice to make this switch. Whether this is quitting your job, not going out on weekends, etc. You will have to be prepared to make changes in your lifestyle to put aside some time to study or join a bootcamp.
You have to put in the time.
Should you do a bootcamp?
According to the Career Karma 2021 State of the Bootcamp Market Report, the average coding bootcamp cost is $11,272. Many bootcamps have payment plans that can help you stomach this cost. At App Academy, I did not have to pay for my tuition until I landed a job. App Academy also offers a discount for students that want to pay upfront.
According to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR), 79 percent of bootcamp grads find a job within 180 days of completing the program. This data is based on reports from 46 different coding bootcamps. Keep in mind that many bootcamps hire their own graduates as teachers so this number may be inflated. You can also google the Lambda School lawsuit as well. "Scambda School" inflated its outcome metrics and used other deceptive marketing practices to swindle students hand over fist.
In the context of the U.S., Course Report (which analyzes the bootcamp market) reported in 2021 that the average bootcamp graduate earns a starting salary of $69,000.
These statistics sound great, but will a bootcamp work for you? I'm here to give you my thoughts on whether you should do a bootcamp because they definitely work if the conditions are right (see me for example).
The biggest hurdles to doing a bootcamp are the time commitment and the high costs of tuition. You will have to dedicate 9 - 12 weeks with large blocks of time where you cannot be interrupted to successfully complete a coding bootcamp.
When going into App Academy, I fully expected to be able to continue working while I did the coursework. I quickly realized that this was not going to be possible. There are large opportunity costs when going the bootcamp route and I want to explain the full picture so readers will be able to make an informed decision.
Sigma coding bootcamp student grindset 📖🕖🕛🕟🕗
Take a look at a normal day at a bootcamp.
There were 51 minutes of materials we had to go through, 34 minutes of additional resources we had to read, 1 hour 30 minutes of homework, and 7 hours of projects. This is also on top of the lectures and questions we had to go through every day. Let's say we had a 1 hour lecture, that would mean we have committed 10 hours and 55 minutes to the bootcamp, JUST TODAY.
Students are expected to spend 80 - 100 hours per week coding and learning throughout the duration of the course. There is no sugar coating it. If you are in a reputable program you will be expected to meet minimum coding standards. App Academy had tests every few weeks and if failed, you would be moved to a later cohort. If failed again you would be removed from the program and your deposit refunded.
Luckily, I had my parents who were there to support me throughout my journey. I would not have been able to survive without them. Having the comfort of home-cooked meals helped my mental health and allowed me to persevere. A support system you can turn to if things are becoming too much to handle is extremely helpful.
I also moved in with my parents at the time so I didn't have to worry about rent, utilities, or other expenses. My only concern at the time was learning how to code.
Selling the shovels to the next gold rush
"The people that made the most money in the gold rush were selling shovels, not digging gold"
In the modern era, there is nothing that a bootcamp or school can teach you that you cannot teach yourself for free. Bootcamps package this free info into a neat package and then charge you an arm and a leg.
Many bootcamps require payment upfront and don't guarantee a job. Others like App Academy offer ISAs or income share agreements that require you to pay a large percentage of your income after you land a job. These often cost more than paying upfront, and it's possible you'll net less than your previous job after paying tuition payments!
In my opinion, bootcamps only make sense in situations where you can give up the next 1 - 2 years to dedicate to transitioning into the tech industry. If you change your mind or cannot continue you will lose a lot of time and money with NOTHING to show for it.
Should you self study?
At my first job out of bootcamp I met a dev named Brodie. He was self taught and is still the most talented programmer I have met. It goes to show you can become an amazing developer without any formal technical education.
I'm happy that I went into tech but I'm not sure I would necessarily recommend it unless you can go all in for the first couple years. It just seems like there are so many concepts to learn and things to study for interviews that it's much harder to break in now than a few years ago.
There are so many more CS and bootcamp grads that you are competing with that you have to somehow stand out amongst them which the only way is just endless hours of work.
It seems that self taught developers have the same problems bootcamp graduates do, but they have even more competition. The only perks of self studying are that you can do it on your own schedule and it's free. Graduating from a bootcamp does not give you any inherent advantage in the job search. It all comes down to your projects, portfolio, and interviewing skills. Bootcamps help you prepare for your first job quickly and efficiently while learning on your own may take a lot more time as you figure things out.
You should self study If you are someone who can keep yourself accountable. You have to be confident that you can persevere and succeed. Motivation will get you started, good habits will keep you going. Before you know it you will be coding every day, just like how you brush your teeth every day.
Another thing that Brodie said piqued my interest. There were so many things to study. You may not know what to start on. It's so easy to get analysis paralysis. Bootcamps help because they guide you and basically hold your hand through the whole process. When self studying, you have to identify what you are deficient in, and what you need to improve on, then create your own curriculum.
Free resources for self taught developers
My suggestion to people thinking about self studying would be to just start. Code as much as you can, as often as you can.
Listed below are some of my favorite resources that may help a self taught developer:
- freeCodeCamp is a non-profit organization that consists of an interactive learning web platform, an online community forum, chat rooms, online publications and local organizations that intend to make learning web development accessible to anyone.
- The Odin Project (TOP) is an open-source curriculum for learning full-stack web development. We help users learn the skills and build the impressive portfolio of projects they need to get hired as a web developer.
- With App Academy Open you’ll get free access to App Academy’s entire 24 Week Online Software Engineering Program curriculum (that's over 500 hours of material!), which has placed thousands of people in software development jobs. This is exactly the same course that I took and paid ~$30,000 for.
- 100 days of code is a challenge that will help you become a better programmer. It helps you build momentum and makes coding a habit you look forward to. You will also meet like-minded individuals with similar goals to help motivate you to succeed.
- Lastly, this is a GitHub repository called Project Based Learning that compiles some of the best free coding tutorials available online. I believe that the easiest way to learn is to do a project. With project based learning you can do projects in any language of your choice. I highly recommend checking the repo out and giving it a star ⭐ (I am not affiliated with them).
If you are still determined to become a software engineer after reading this article, it shows you are seriously committed. I believe if you try to get into the tech industry with the wrong intentions you will not have a good time. It is not as easy as going to class for a few months and then coming out with a 6 figure job.
Even after you land your first job as a software engineer or developer that is just the start of your journey. You cannot know everything about best practices and code standards after 3 months of learning. I have gotten hate saying I was not a "software engineer" because I only had 3 months of experience.
I have been doing this for 2 years now and I am constantly learning and growing. I think that is what truly makes you a "software engineer". Having the courage to continue writing code and improving is what will set you on your path to achieving your goal.
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