Coding Bootcamps Revisited

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Photo Credit: MCRD Parris Island, SC

Awhile back, I wrote a post giving advice to Coding Bootcamp Graduates.

In a nutshell, I advised people to take additional courses after their bootcamp was finished, in order to make them more appetizing for potential companies.

But I want to clarify a few things.

I don’t hold anything against coding bootcamps. I think my college degrees were a giant pain in the ass, and I would have loved another option that was less expensive and less time consuming. But given enough time and money, I would still take the undergraduate degrees over a coding bootcamp certificate, at least in the bootcamps’ current forms.

You get more hours of problem solving experience in an undergrad program. A C.S. person will typically have 2+ years of problem solving work under their belt by the time they graduate. This is even despite all the bullshit courses you have to take in college. Think of all the math, coding classes, architecture, operating systems, and algorithms classes an undergrad has to take. All of these aren’t strictly coding, but they do help build the skills necessary to be a good engineer.

Most of the bootcamps focus only on the skill of coding, which makes sense because that’s all they have time to cover. Many companies might hire you if you only know how to program, but a lot of the engineering shops won’t. And the big players – Google, Facebook, Apple, etc won’t.

So let’s talk about problem solving and analytical skills: are they really necessary skills to excel as a programmer? My answer is subjective, but I’d say yes. Most of the day to day tasks that I encounter, from debugging build systems, to figuring out Git, to putting out fires in production require excellent problem solving skills.

So if the only thing that mattered was pure coding, then I’d say the bootcamp person could compete with a standard college person. But given that problem solving experience matters, and the engineering school graduate has 4-5X as much of it coming out of school, there is no comparison.

It doesn’t mean that someone coming out of college is any smarter than a person coming out of the bootcamp, but somehow the bootcamp graduate has to make up the hours of experience, which is why I suggested taking additional courses once the bootcamp was finished.

I realize that many bootcamp people need to make money as soon as possible, and additional courses means more work, possibly before getting a job. But without that extra work, the computer science graduate is going to be a much better job candidate on average.

Let me reiterate that I like the idea of the bootcamp. I think college is getting out of control expensive, and the value is becoming more and more questionable. I think an engineering degree is still worth it, but even then, you still have to take tons of nonsense classes to fill your requirements.

If you could somehow trim the fat and leave the core of a computer science curriculum, I think that would be great. But the current crop of bootcamps has stripped too much. And maybe that’s what the founders had in mind: the bootcamp is just a start, and it’s up to the graduate to close the gap with people who went to a traditional school.

But I think many people graduate from the bootcamps and expect to be on an even footing with computer science people. After a few years of experience, they will be, but they shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that a bootcamp in its current form and a traditional computer science degree are really the same things.

They need to understand how they look to hiring managers. Right now in the job market, there is a lack of senior coders and a plethora of new grads, and most of the new grads are bootcamp graduates. All of the bootcamp résumés look exactly the same. There are no internships or other job experience, only the coding bootcamp and a few projects completed while in school.

Compare this to a standard computer science graduate. A good C.S. major will have had 1-2 internships before ever looking for a full-time position, and maybe even an on campus coding job. Add those internships to all the problem solving skills the C.S. person picked up while in school, and the company would be foolish not to look more favorably at the college grad.

In summary, think about this in terms of hours of experience. When you’ve only spent 6-8 months mastering your craft, and you’re competing with people who’ve been at it for years, you have to go above and beyond to be competitive.