Choosing Bootcamp

Spoiler alert: job placement and starting salaries don’t make the cut.

GUEST COLUMN | by Erica Prenga

CREDIT coursereport.pngI am a coding bootcamp graduate gainfully employed in Silicon Valley. About two months after completing the immersive program where I learned programming, I was invited to be in a beta cohort for a separate program created to ’jumpstart’ the job hunt for bootcamp grads. I was already in the middle of the interview process with several companies, including the one where I now work, when I accepted the opportunity to attend the program for free. About a week into that program, I received and accepted a job offer.

If a bootcamp doesn’t offer you a culture where you’ll thrive before, during, and after, it isn’t worth the time, money, and effort to attend.

Though it was clear the jumpstart program had nothing to do with landing my job, to this day, they still take credit for it on their website – touting my company’s logo and calculating my starting salary into the numbers they use to market the success of their program.

All of this is to say that bootcamps and related programs that claim high job placement numbers – or high starting salaries of graduates – may not be telling you the whole story.

In my research, I saw a lot of 5 and 6-figure starting salaries, as well as hiring rates in the high 90s. But if you dig deeper, it is difficult to tell how those numbers are derived.

Do those numbers include people who left the program prematurely? How long did it take those graduates to land a job? How do they account for graduates who go back to school instead of seeking a job? And what about the people who get jobs that aren’t in the field or that are with the bootcamp itself? Are internships receiving the same weight as a full-time job?

So, what do you make of the numbers and how can you decide which bootcamp is right for you? Here are some questions that go beyond the numbers to help guide your decision-making process:

What is your goal?  

Some bootcamps only focus on the technical skills, while others offer a combination of soft skills like portfolio development, teamwork, and interviewing prep, in addition to the technical skills. It’s important to figure out which program offers the skills that best suit your goals. I wanted to achieve personal growth alongside a career change, so I chose a program that offered personal skill development in harmony with full stack training.

Do they require prior professional experience or coding knowledge?

I didn’t have a background in tech or coding, so I eliminated the programs that required previous programming experience from my list. With the time and money it would take to acquire the skills necessary to be accepted (whether through self-teaching or a supplemental prep program), I could have already graduated from another program.

How much can you spend and how much time do you have?

The range in price and time commitment is expansive. Some of the heftier price tags also tend to be those that require prior coding experience (they also tend to be the ones which claim high job placement stats, so it seems very possible that they’re doing their best to cherry pick a certain type of student). Also, not everyone has the luxury of attending a full-time program, so finding a program that supports the commitment you’re capable of is important – just be sure you are not sacrificing quality for convenience.

Where is the program based?

When I chose to attend a bootcamp, I was specifically looking for a big change in my life, so a move to a new city was in order. That said, a move is not what everyone is looking for, so finding a program in or near your area can serve as a good filter of your options.

Does the bootcamp offer support before, during, and after the program?

I knew I would need all the help I could get in the post-program job hunt and I wanted a community I could continue a relationship with long after I graduated.

If you are currently considering attending a coding bootcamp, my advice to you is this:

  • Don’t settle on anything until it feels absolutely right
  • Don’t solely rely on the employment numbers the program boasts
  • Trust people who will tell you about their personal experiences
  • Don’t base your decision on cost or average salary alone

The very best bootcamps will be frank about realistic expectations and give you the tools you need to thrive with the firehose of information that is this industry long after you graduate. Ultimately, how hard you work and whom you meet will get you where you want to go. If a bootcamp doesn’t offer you a culture where you’ll thrive before, during, and after, it isn’t worth the time, money, and effort to attend.

If you know you’re interested, here is a great place to start your search.

Erica Prenga currently works at Adobe as an Experience Developer and is a graduate of Dev Bootcamp.

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