Which Do I Choose? Coding Bootcamp vs. Self-Taught

Coding bootcamp vs. self-taught instruction both offer viable paths that can lead to a career in coding. Learn which method is right for you.
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Updated on April 21, 2023
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Madison Hoehn has worked as an associate editor for BestColleges, focusing on coding bootcamp rankings and the skilled trades. She is passionate about providing readers with alternatives to a traditional four-year college. She holds a BA in English l...
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  • Self-instruction and bootcamps offer viable pathways into a coding career.
  • Bootcamps provide structured learning as well as instructor and peer support.
  • Self-taught coders benefit from flexible schedules and lower costs.

Several years ago, big tech companies started undermining the trend of requiring a degree for coders. In 2017, Joanna Daley, VP of talent at IBM, told CNBC that the company started looking for candidates with hands-on experience through vocational classes or coding bootcamps.

Today, companies like Google and Apple look for proof of that hands-on experience. For many, this comes from portfolios, certificates, and assessing candidates directly. For those with motivation, drive, and a strong interest in coding, self-education and bootcamps offer a viable path into coding positions.

But which path is right for you? To help you in your decision, we've listed some of the most important considerations. These include the amount of experience you possess, the time and money you want to invest, and the learning style that works best for you.

Let's explore the options.

Coding Bootcamps for You

Past Coding Experience

Just like building a strong structure requires a solid foundation, learning to code requires knowing the fundamentals and building upon that knowledge. If you possess little to no experience with coding, it's often best to learn these fundamentals in a coding bootcamp.

The structured curriculum of a bootcamp can ensure you won't miss vital details that are essential as you progress. Additionally, learning the fundamentals and your first language can be extremely challenging. If you get stuck, as everyone does at some point, you can turn to fellow students or instructors for help and support.

Here's the good news: Once you understand the principles of coding and learn your first language, it's easier to learn the next. Those with past coding experience can more readily understand the material in online courses or YouTube videos, making self-learning a reasonable option. Once you understand the core concepts of programming, you can apply this to every other language.

I have never coded before.

I do not have any programming language knowledge or experience.

I am trying to learn the basics of computer science.

Coding Bootcamp

I feel comfortable coding.

I know at least one programming language and want to learn more!

I am trying to learn a new professional skill.

Self-Taught Learning

Time and Money

Aspiring coders should also consider the time commitment when comparing self-taught instruction vs. coding bootcamps. Coding bootcamps may take several weeks to months of full-time, part-time, in-person, or online study. Several bootcamps offer self-paced online classes.

Self-teaching lets you learn on your own schedule and provides greater flexibility. For those with significant responsibilities — like full-time jobs or caring for a family — this option enables them to enter an exciting field instead of waiting for the "right" time. Self-taught coders may get help learning coding through books, websites, online courses, and YouTube videos.

Another important consideration is financing. According to data collected by BestColleges, the tuition cost for intensive, full-time coding bootcamps usually ranges from $10,000-$15,000. Many bootcamps also offer introductory courses or classes geared toward a specific language for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

Some bootcamps offer scholarships or allow qualifying students to use their GI Bill® to pay tuition. Others provide deferred tuition, enabling students to start paying after they complete the bootcamp and get a tech job.

I am prepared to dedicate lots of time per week to learning how to code.

I am willing and able to pay for tuition.

I qualify for a GI Bill, a coding bootcamp scholarship, or an ISA.

Coding Bootcamp

I have work or at-home duties that may limit my learning time.

I am unsure if I can afford tuition.

I do not qualify for a GI Bill or other method of bootcamps payment.

Self-Taught Learning

Learning Style

Consider things you learned in the past. Did you learn a foreign language, graphic design, or a musical instrument? Like coding, these subjects take determination and consistent practice. Which method works best for you?

Some people learn and perform better when they have a teacher helping them stay motivated and on target. Others learn perfectly well on their own and excel at self-paced study. Considering your strengths in these areas can help you determine the best option.

Networking with a supportive community that helps each other through tough spots can also help students persevere. Many bootcamps offer a cohort model of instruction, where students work together and provide online or in-person support. A coding bootcamp may offer the best option for students who appreciate the encouragement of a coding community.

I find that I need a set class schedule to keep me on track with my projects.

Having a live instructor so I can ask questions is beneficial to me.

Networking within a coding community is important to me.

Coding Bootcamp

I am highly self-motivated and keep myself on track.

I work best alone and do not need a live instructor.

Having a coding community isn't a big priority for me.

Self-Taught Learning

Other Important Things to Consider

The self-taught option requires students to research what they need to learn to pursue their career goals. For example, if your goal is to get a job as a full-stack web developer, you may start with HTML, a markup language, and CSS, a style sheet, before learning about JavaScript and frameworks like Django and React.

Also, remember that while many companies have lessened their degree requirements, you still need a technical portfolio to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Part of the instruction in most bootcamps involves completing projects that you can include in your portfolio.

Self-taught coders need to build a portfolio from personal projects, websites, or apps they've developed, or open-source projects.

Another important consideration is your support system. Will your family and friends encourage you on whichever path you take? Either road requires analytical thinking, extreme patience, and perseverance when challenged. A supportive environment can help you get through the late nights and complex instructions.

Coding Bootcamps That Might Interest You

Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Taught vs. Coding Bootcamp

Is a college degree or coding bootcamp better?

The answer to the coding bootcamp vs. college question depends on your career goals. Coding bootcamp graduates may start their careers as junior developers, allowing them to learn on the job and show off their technical prowess. Those holding a bachelor's degree develop greater theoretical knowledge and may qualify for more advanced positions.

The cost also plays a significant part in this choice. Bootcamp tuition is often much less expensive than a four-year college degree.

Where can I learn self-taught coding online?

Some of the best online courses to learn coding include Google IT Support and Python for Everybody, both by Coursera. Udemy, Khan Academy, and edX are also popular sources for learning to code online.

You can also access numerous books and YouTube videos dedicated to the art of coding. Some of these YouTube channels include CS Dojo, Academind, and Derek Banas. GameDev Academy offers Coding for Beginners, a free ebook. One of the many books for beginning coders is "The Self-Taught Programmer" by Cory Althoff.

Are there self-paced coding bootcamps?

Yes, there are self-paced coding bootcamps. These may offer the ideal learning format for students with other full-time obligations. Most bootcamps allow students to complete the instruction at their own pace while offering some of the many benefits full-time students receive.

Resources may include career support, mentoring, tutoring, and help in creating the all-important portfolio. These bootcamps may also offer peer and instructor support via video sessions. Additional options for those with busy schedules include bootcamps with evening and weekend courses.

Where can I learn to code for free?

Aspiring coders can find extensive online resources that teach coding for free. These include coding bootcamps, books, online classes, coding support groups, and YouTube videos, to name a few. Some of the best free coding bootcamps include Ada Developers Academy, Codecademy, and Flatiron School.

The nonprofit organization freeCodeCamp offers thousands of videos and interactive coding lessons for free. Numerous other online guides offer lessons via free tutorials, cheat sheets, and quizzes. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) also offer free online classes. Additionally, consider joining one of the many online coding communities for support and online learning. These communities share knowledge, support, tools, and mentorship.

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