What Is a Coding Bootcamp Like?
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Coding bootcamps can be a great way to quickly develop programming competencies and build a portfolio of work. Even if you have little to no experience with coding, bootcamps can teach you the technical skills needed to transition into a new career in tech. Some bootcamps are offered in person and require students to travel to a campus, while others are held entirely online.
Read on to learn about the different types of coding bootcamps, what you can expect to learn in these programs, and their unique benefits. This page also includes key insights and advice from David Kolesar, a bootcamp graduate who has since become a software engineer.
Types of Coding Bootcamps
Online vs. In-Person Bootcamps
Coding bootcamps can be online or in person. Online bootcamps are a great option for students who have obligations that may limit their ability to attend in-person classes. However, students considering an online bootcamp should make sure their internet connection and computer can support the online class materials. Online bootcamps may feature real-time remote sessions with live instruction and collaboration, self-paced work that you complete at your own pace, or a mixture of both.
In-person bootcamps offer a more traditional classroom experience, with live instruction and support from mentors, teacher assistants, and peers. In-person bootcamps may still involve some online elements. In Kolsear's experience, "the instruction in person was from a live instructor, and the online portion was a series of assignments that had interactive TAs you could ask questions to."
In-person programs are best suited for students who have the ability to travel to a campus site and enjoy working in a collaborative environment. Both online and in-person bootcamps typically last between three months and a year, depending on the program pace and structure.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time Bootcamps
Another factor to consider when shopping for bootcamps is the program's structure and pace. Online bootcamps can follow a self-paced, full-time, or part-time format.
Full-time online bootcamps often require a significant time commitment, as students may also attend lab and study sessions throughout the week. Part-time and self-paced online bootcamps are usually more relaxed and better suited for students with busy schedules.
In-person bootcamps can be full time or part time. Full-time, in-person bootcamps — sometimes referred to as immersive bootcamps — require the most time commitment, meaning students likely won't be able to maintain a full-time job during their studies.
What to Expect in a Coding Bootcamp
Students enrolled in full-time bootcamps typically spend at least 40 hours per week working through lesson materials and assignments. In addition, many bootcamps expect students to attend mentorship meetings, study groups, live discussions, and workshop sessions.
Part-time students, on the other hand, usually devote at least 25 hours per week to coursework in order to graduate within a year. Many part-time bootcamps also host weekly study groups and cohort meetups that students are expected to attend, though there may be fewer of these types of events compared to a full-time program.
These outside requirements may be time consuming, but they can also be a great way for students to network with their peers and deepen their understanding of weekly topics. More importantly, they give each student a chance to check in with their instructor to see if they are keeping pace with the curriculum.
“When I went, the only option was full time. We had roughly eight hours of instruction during the day, and the evening was spent completing assignments that would be due by the next class. — David Kolesar
Typical Daily Activities
Covered topics differ based on the technical discipline emphasized in the bootcamp, but most programs tend to follow a similar daily format. Classes typically begin with a conversation around a programming topic and a coding challenge. Students usually meet in small groups to discuss the concepts, solve the problem together, and then share their progress with the rest of the class.
Kolesar describes the first half of his typical day in a similar manner: "Our instructor would begin class by introducing a new programming concept that built off of an older one," he explains. "We'd then get a programming challenge that we could work on in small groups or individually to implement a required feature for the application.
"Afterwards, the instructor typically delivers a traditional lecture, introducing a new topic or diving deeper into previously introduced material. The rest of the day is usually spent working on class assignments.
“My primary instructor was top notch and was able to simultaneously create a psychologically safe environment for us to make mistakes, while also pushing us to do our best. — David Kolesar
The classroom environment for both in-person and online bootcamps is open, interactive, and collaborative. Bootcamps often promote open discussion, encouraging students to share their ideas and ask questions. To help establish this environment, students frequently work and solve problems together in groups.
While peer-to-peer collaboration is helpful, students often benefit the most from the one-on-one mentoring they receive. Most instructors have years of teaching and coding experience, and are trained to help students build confidence in their technical learning abilities.
“We built a lot of really cool stuff that I actually still have on my portfolio right now, but I think our capstone project was the most notable. — David Kolesar
An alluring aspect of bootcamps, especially for inexperienced students, is the ability to develop a portfolio — an essential component when applying for most programming jobs.
Rather than focusing on just one programming language, students typically learn a variety of languages and frameworks. Once they become proficient in a new area, they typically complete a small project that demonstrates their mastery, which they can then add to their portfolio.
Furthermore, nearly all coding bootcamps have some form of a final capstone project. Kolesar shares his experience completing the final bootcamp project below.
"From design to production, we built a full-stack web application content management system that had an administrator account and privileged 'contractor' accounts," he says. "The end result was a full-stack web application in which the administrator account could create content and dynamically add pages to the site, while the contractor could create content that would be put into a queue."
“I think the resource used most commonly by the most successful students was, ironically, other students. We were all learning how to ask the right questions and discovering what sources were reliable [for] solving programming problems together. Source: — David Kolesar
Coding bootcamps often provide students with extensive resources and job placement services to help them succeed in the program and in their future career. Perhaps the most convenient resources available to students are their classroom instructors.
"We had instructors, all of which had at least 10 years of enterprise-level programming experience," Kolesar says. "We had also had TAs, who would be logged into a classroom chatroom and would generally be around to answer programming-related questions."
In addition to instructors, students also greatly benefit from the group learning format. If you are having trouble understanding a concept or coding problem, it can be beneficial to have peers around who can help.
Many coding bootcamps also feature career services to help students find employment after they graduate. These resources may include career coaching, as well as help with interviewing, resume writing, portfolio building, and establishing a professional web presence.
What Are the Benefits of a Coding Bootcamp?
Attending a coding bootcamp comes with many benefits. Some students enroll in bootcamps because they have a preference for a smaller, more intimate learning environment than what is offered by many university degree programs. Other students may be looking for a quicker or more affordable option to obtain the technical skills required to transition into tech. Below, we examine the potential benefits and drawbacks of attending a coding bootcamp.
The cost of a coding bootcamp can be significantly less than a four-year college degree. According to data collected by BestColleges in 2020, the median cost of a full-time bootcamp is $13,500.
Bootcamps usually feature an intimate, collaborative learning environment, where students frequently work in groups and one-on-one instructor help is readily available to students. While it is more difficult to emulate the same immersive experience virtually, online bootcamps still strive for a similar learning environment.
Although bootcamps usually cost far less than a degree program, many students still require financing options to pay for the program. Fortunately, most bootcamps offer a variety of payment options, including income share agreements, deferred tuition plans, and bootcamp-specific loans.
Bachelor's degrees in computer science typically take four years to earn at a traditional college. At a bootcamp, students can learn similar technical skills but graduate in as little as eight weeks. However, some programs last longer and may take students up to a year to graduate. The most common length for a bootcamp is 3-6 months.
Bootcamps do not hold national or regional accreditation. As such, there is currently no way to assess the quality and reputation of most bootcamps. This may be an issue for some employers, especially for those who already hold an unfavorable view of bootcamps.
Because coding bootcamps are not accredited, you likely cannot access federal financial aid to help pay for them. Instead, you may have to rely on scholarships, payment plans, and lending options provided by specific bootcamps.
Full-time coding bootcamps, in particular, require a serious time commitment. This means you likely won't be able to maintain a full-time job during your studies. Part-time bootcamps, however, can be much more flexible.
Are All Coding Bootcamps Created Equal?
Unfortunately, not all coding bootcamps provide a quality learning experience. And because bootcamps are not accredited, it can be difficult for students — and employers — to identify which programs are more valuable than others.
"Mainly, it seems like there are a ton of bootcamps out there now, and they aren't all created equal," Kolsear warns. "The bad news is that a lot of lousy bootcamps have popped up in hopes of making a quick buck."
Given the unconventional nature of coding bootcamps, you should consider multiple factors when deciding whether or not to enroll. Job placement services, networking opportunities, curricula, and student resources should all factor into your decision-making process.
You should also look into admission rates, graduation rates, the number of graduates who were able to find in-field employment upon completion of the bootcamp, and the typical starting salaries of bootcamp graduates. It is also a good idea to speak with a representative and/or graduate from each bootcamp you are considering.
Do Coding Bootcamps Help Graduates Find Employment?
Many bootcamps have built relationships with hiring managers within the tech industry and provide a variety of placement services for graduates. During his time at The Software Craftsmanship Guild — now called The Software Guild — Kolesar took advantage of a variety of career resources.
"We had employment network specialists who would do mock interviews, help us negotiate salaries, look over our resumes, and organize employment network events where companies would actually come to the school and look at our work," he says.
Since many bootcamps post basic employment statistics, you can get a sense of how graduates from a specific bootcamp fare on the job market. However, note that some bootcamps' employment rates may not include an accurate reporting of all enrolled students in the bootcamp.
For example, some rates may leave out students who did not graduate within a certain period of time or students who could not be contacted, which may artificially inflate the reported employment rate. The employment rate may also include students who were only able to find a part-time or freelance position.
Some bootcamps belong to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) — an organization that promotes universal and transparent reporting standards in the bootcamp industry. CIRR independently audits and verifies the outcome data provided by member bootcamps, and those reports can be viewed on CIRR's website. Be sure to check and see if a bootcamp you want to apply to is a member of CIRR. If it's not, inquire with the bootcamp directly about its student outcomes.