Editor: Coding boot camps are becoming increasingly popular, and there are publicly validated data sets that we analyzed to understand what happens to these graduates. In a two-part series, ConductScience looks at both the 1) outcomes as well as a 2) cost-benefit analysis.
Wondering whether attending a coding boot camp is worth your time and money or whether you’re better off going the traditional route?
Here’s what you’ll actually spend in terms of your hours and dollars:
Program Length (Time Cost)
Most coding bootcamps take anywhere from 10-28 weeks to complete. The latest in-depth Market Sizing Report from Course Report states that the average coding bootcamp takes about 15.1 weeks to complete. In contrast, receiving your bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering from a college or university takes about 4 years (208 weeks) in total. That’s 13.7x more time spent in the classroom if you go the traditional route.
What about the sticker cost? The average tuition cost for a coding bootcamp is $13,584. In contrast, traditional four-year degrees cost $28,804 (for in-state tuition) and $43,644 (for out-of-state tuition) according to College Tuition Compare, which compared 254 colleges and universities offering Computer Science vocational programs in the United States.
Finally, there’s opportunity cost. Bootcamp graduates typically land a job in their target field within six months of graduation (and some as early as three months!). Within the four-year window that it takes a college student to pursue a traditional computer science degree, a bootcamp graduate can be making an average salary of $75,000 a year (notably, starting median salaries for the top-performing bootcamps such as Codesmith or Hack reactor are in the $100,000 range) three full years ahead of the college graduate (that’s at least $225,000 over the course of three years!)
Beyond the Numbers
Although some employers indicate that a college degree is mandatory (though not necessarily in computer science), this is not always a hard and fast rule. If you don’t have a college degree and want to assess your marketability after attending a coding bootcamp, it’s especially important to do your research on graduate outcomes for your shortlist of bootcamp programs. You can obtain reports on bootcamp graduate outcomes twice a year from the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR). All graduate outcome data from the CIRR is verified by an independent auditor, so you can rest assured that CIRR-participating bootcamps are confident enough in their outcomes that they are remaining transparent.
Just looking at the numbers, you may be tempted to say: “Well then, forget the college degree! I’ll go straight into a bootcamp and save myself both time and money!” A few years ago, The Washington Post published an article discussing this trend. Indeed, many prospective students have begun applying to coding bootcamps in lieu of the traditional four-year degree. So what’s left to discuss here? It’s a no-brainer, right?
Not exactly. You also have to consider how marketable you will be once you graduate.
How do tech employers perceive bootcamp graduates versus graduates of four-year colleges?
A study from 2018 found that hiring managers (across 12 companies polled) typically view bootcamp graduates favorably when it comes to soft skills “such as teamwork, passion, and persistence.” Since most coding bootcamps place an emphasis on mimicking real-life projects and teams, instructors explicitly take the time to teach their students these skills and hiring managers are taking note. However, when it comes to technical skills, most hiring managers still view computer science graduates as more competitive than graduates of weeks-long coding bootcamp programs. In a blog post published last fall by Peterson’s, a leading educational services company, the message was clear: bootcamp graduates are superficial and lack the breadth and depth that university graduates receive.
But here’s the thing: you absolutely can still learn on the job if you’re willing to put in the extra time and hours to catch up with graduates of computer science programs. This willingness to continuously push and improve yourself as a programmer and software engineer will also increase your chances of upward mobility once you are hired. As Erik Gross, Co-founder of The Tech Academy put it:
“If the hiring managers, recruiters, and other folks involved in vetting and employing developers will take the time to look into every aspect of a boot camp grad – including learning how they think; what their approach is to solving problems; and how hard they’re willing to work when trying to accomplish something, they’ll make a well-informed decision in bringing on a boot camp grad – in my experience, hiring an employee with less experience but more willingness to learn is a good way to go.” (ref)
Finally, it’s worth noting that a handful of coding boot camps out there are explicitly training their students on thinking deeply about programming problems. In this way, graduates of more rigorous boot camps are viewed favorably and competitively by employers.
When comparing coding bootcamps, it’s not always apples to apples
The general perception that bootcamp graduates receive superficial training and lack the theoretical framework necessary to think deeply about programming problems is not entirely true. Hack Reactor’s entire teaching philosophy is premised on teaching its students how to think as deeply as a software engineer. Their landing page states: “Don’t just learn how to code: think like a software engineer.” Likewise, Codesmith states: “Become a master software engineer.” You should, of course, look beyond the web pages. You should look for the public and free course offerings the bootcamps offer to determine what kind of instructors they are and what they value; look at the role they play in the larger community to get a better sense of the teaching culture; dive deeply into student reviews on CourseReport, SwitchUp, and Quora.
In this video, a recently admitted student explains, that it’s important to “have the skills, tools, knowledge, and trade to face any problem you’re faced with.” Rather than hitting a snag in the code and reflexively turning to Stack Overflow for a single line of code that can help fix things, coding camps want to train their students to think deeply about the code and have the necessary skills to come up with their own solution.
Finally, while most bootcamps require graduates to focus their final projects on user-facing products, camps sometimes require their students to create a developer tool – a more challenging final project that will undoubtedly signal to prospective employers that you’re anything but a superficial coder. After such a curriculum, you will be as competitive (if not arguably more so) as a graduate of a four-year college or university.
It’s no wonder then that the median starting salaries for Codesmith and Hack Reactor graduates are significantly higher than most other bootcamp programs. According to the latest CIRR reports, CodeSmith boasts a median base salary of $106,580 and $112,500 (for its Los Angeles and New York branches, respectively). Hack Reactor boasts median base salaries of $109,000 and $100,000 (for its San Francisco and New York branches,
For the right candidate, a coding bootcamp like Codesmith or Hack Reactor can be the difference between being stuck in a mid-level job running the code someone else designed, to be a software engineering expert at Google or Amazon, capable of commanding upwards of $100,000 in salary.
However, if your goal is not necessarily to work as a leading software engineer at a big company like Google, Amazon, or PayPal, if you’re more interested in learning some quick skills you can apply on the job and don’t necessarily need the breadth of knowledge that four-year degree would offer, then other bootcamps (ones that de-emphasize the engineering mindset) are a better fit for you. Just make sure that you choose a program that teaches you just what you need and no more. You’ll still save money compared to a four-year degree and also you will learn the technical skills you need accordingly. Just recognize that your upward mobility will be limited compared to graduates of more rigorous bootcamps or graduates of four-year colleges.
If you do want the breadth of a traditional computer science degree and would rather receive that instruction in a less intense manner, then you’re probably better suited for the traditional route. While you’ll pay significantly more in tuition overall and the opportunity cost will be hefty, you will still land that coveted dream job when you graduate. Plus, you can always opt to sign up for a short boot camp that can train you on any outstanding gaps you may have on the “soft skills” front. Many computer science graduates do just this to increase their chances of landing an initial interview. Then again: that’s just more time and money spent on your end.
Finally, if you are serious about giving yourself a leg-up in the tech industry as a software engineer or computer scientist and you want to receive rigorous training while also learning the coveted soft skills that boot camp graduates are so well-known for, then a bootcamp like CodeSmith and Hack Reactor is hands-down the way to go. This is especially true if you are interested in upward mobility in the tech industry after you’ve been hired. In terms of cost – well worth the investment of your time and money.