The Ultimate Guide to Coding Bootcamps
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Careers in technical fields like computer science, information security, and data analysis continue to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there will be more than 500,000 new jobs in these fields between 2019 and 2029.
Many colleges and universities offer degrees in computer science. But demand for computer programmers continues to outpace graduation rates from colleges. Coding bootcamps provide another path to enter this fast-growing field.
What is a bootcamp? Bootcamps are educational programs that teach you a specific skill set. They are usually shorter than a degree program, ranging from a few weeks to less than two years. They also often cost less than a degree program, and offer a variety of flexible payment options for students. Payment options frequently include income share agreements and deferred tuition plans that require payment only when a graduate finds a job.
Bootcamps may offer in-person instruction, online learning, or a combination of the two. Prospective bootcamp students can select a program that fits their schedule, with full-time, part-time, and self-paced programs often available.
While coding bootcamps continue to grow in popularity, prospective students should choose their program with care. Read on to learn more about the types of coding bootcamps available, possible career paths, and how to pay for a bootcamp.
What Is a Coding Bootcamp?
Bootcamps typically last a few months, with part-time or full-time enrollment options available. In contrast, most bachelor's degrees in computer science require a commitment of four years or more. Career switchers may find the shorter, skill-specific programs, like bootcamps, an attractive alternative to returning to school.
Because technology continues to evolve, bootcamps also attract computer programmers looking to learn new skills. These students already have work experience in their field and use bootcamps for professional development purposes.
Coding Bootcamp Career Paths
Bootcamps strive to provide relevant, real-world computer coding skills that prepare graduates to enter the web development or software engineering field. Bootcamps often offer specialized instruction within a specific field of computer science, like information security or data analytics.
Positions in the information technology industry should remain in high demand across the country, with an 11% increase projected by the BLS between 2019 and 2029, compared to an average of 4% growth for other occupations. This industry also proves lucrative, with computer and information technology professionals earning a median salary of $88,240 in 2019.
Below, learn more about specific career paths you can take as a coding bootcamp graduate. While a coding bootcamp may qualify you for some positions, be aware that many employers still require a college degree for certain jobs.
Professionals in the computer science field may program computers to run specific software or set up computer networks. They may also develop new applications, build websites, and provide quality control to ensure a good user experience.
Most coding bootcamps focus on some aspect of computer science. A report by RTI International found that web development was the most common bootcamp specialization in 2017, with almost 60% of bootcamps focused on this topic. While this is still the most popular specialization, prospective learners can also find many bootcamps that train participants in web design, mobile app development, and software engineering.
Software engineers create software and ensure software works as intended. They collaborate with designers and other coders, outlining each task software should perform. They may oversee development as a project manager, tracking a project from its initial ideas to final software deployment. Most software engineers need a bachelor's degree in computer engineering and a portfolio that shows their practical experience.
Web developers write code to generate web pages, carry out specific web-based tasks, or access databases. They often work in tandem with web designers and content producers. They usually need to know several programming languages and understand information security. While employers may seek web developers with a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, work experience and a portfolio of projects can often take the place of a degree.
Mobile App Developer
More and more consumers access websites and programs through their mobile devices. Mobile application developers specialize in mobile operating systems, cloud storage, and wireless networks. They often need familiarity with multiple programming languages and an understanding of user experience design, testing, and product improvement.
User experience and user interface designers make sure users can navigate a specific website, mobile app, or piece of software. They carry out various quality assurance tests before introducing a new product and work closely with software engineers and web developers to address concerns before a product reaches the market. They also receive feedback from users, documenting recommendations for new versions. Skills useful for this career include proficiency in coding languages and graphic design.
Data Science and Engineering
Companies, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies all collect large volumes of data. This information can help develop new policies or identify business opportunities. Data science and engineering professionals help these organizations collect, store, and analyze data.
Data science bootcamps often focus on programming languages like SQL and Python, and students may benefit from a background in statistical analysis. Learn more about potential careers in data science below.
Data engineers focus on storing data and making it accessible. They develop algorithms to help identify trends in large data sets. They usually need experience working with Linux systems and a background in coding languages like Python or Hive. They use verbal and written communication skills to develop reports. Most data engineers have a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field.
Data analysts help teams and companies understand and interpret data. They often create charts, graphs, and other visual representations of data. In addition to coding languages, they usually need to know how to use SQL, Microsoft Excel, and SharePoint. Successful data analysts may go on to work as data scientists or analytics managers.
Data scientists work in a variety of fields, including finance and healthcare. They combine their technical skills in database management and data analysis with business expertise. They often use data from multiple sources to develop insights and solutions to business problems. Most data scientists have a bachelor's degree in computer science. Many pursue advanced degrees in their field.
IT and Cybersecurity
Information technology (IT) and cybersecurity deal with keeping data safe. Much of the data companies collect contains sensitive information, including customer data. Cybersecurity and IT teams work together to protect business systems and databases from malicious attacks. The BLS projects that jobs for information security analysts will grow by 31% between 2019 and 2029. These analysts earned a median salary of $99,730 in 2019.
Most employers seek candidates for cybersecurity positions who hold a bachelor's degree in computer science, as well as industry certifications. However, bootcamps offer established computer programmers a chance to gain expertise in this growing tech field.
Information Systems Security Engineer
Security engineers for information systems design networks and security software to protect sensitive data. They often work as part of an information security team -- with analysts, technicians, and directors -- to test systems, establish data security policies, and identify security breaches. Many employers require a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or a related field.
Data Security Analyst
Data security analysts study how businesses store data, and develop protocols and security programs to protect proprietary and confidential information. They may help shape policies regarding the type of data businesses can store in cloud servers, and how to achieve secure access for remote workers. They often have education in IT security with experience in computer network architecture.
Network Security Engineer
Network security engineers maintain the network infrastructure that keeps data safe. They carefully log security incidents and investigate breaches. They also set up security-related hardware (e.g., routers and switches) and software (e.g., virtual private networks and firewalls). A traditional degree, appropriate network certifications, and/or relevant work experience may qualify applicants for these positions.
Independent coding bootcamp providers include for-profit and nonprofit educational providers, although for-profit providers are more common. Independent providers offer both intensive bootcamps designed to deliver in-depth career training and shorter, more specialized bootcamps that operate more like a traditional course. Independent bootcamp providers made up 88% of bootcamps in 2017, and most bootcamps are still offered through independent providers today.
Established in 2011, General Assembly offers the most coding bootcamps, with 115 program variations. Students can take bootcamps in computer science, data analytics, design, digital marketing, and more. As of 2019, most General Assembly bootcamps took place in person at more than 30 campuses nationwide. Other popular bootcamp providers include Flatiron School, Fullstack Academy, Hack Reactor, and Thinkful.
Most independent bootcamp providers are not federally regulated, as they do not go through the same accreditation process that most colleges and universities go through. This has led to concerns about instructional quality, graduation rates, and employment outcomes in the bootcamp industry. Some independent bootcamp providers have joined the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR), which has created standards for transparent reporting of bootcamp outcomes such as job placement rates of graduates.
In addition to independent providers, some colleges and universities also offer coding bootcamps. While there are much fewer of these providers than independent organizations, a growing number of colleges and universities have launched coding bootcamps in recent years.
Top schools such as Northwestern University; the University of California, Berkeley; and Vanderbilt University now offer coding bootcamps in data science, cybersecurity, and web development. Most programs offer in-person instruction and a part-time schedule.
Universities frequently partner with another education provider, like Trilogy Education Services, to design and deliver bootcamp curricula. Trilogy brands itself as a workforce accelerator, with a curriculum driven by market needs. As of 2017, Trilogy partnered with 68% of all university-affiliated bootcamps.
Graduates of university-affiliated coding bootcamps obtain a certificate of completion, but typically do not earn college credit for their bootcamp work. University-affiliated bootcamps also do not qualify for federal financial aid programs, but offer a variety of payment options for students.
Coding bootcamps sometimes offer short, stand-alone courses dedicated to specific skills. Individual courses serve a few purposes. First, a course can provide an introduction to computer programming. People who wonder "What's coding?" or "Is coding hard?" can learn more about the field and whether they want to pursue a career in computer coding. These courses also allow prospective learners to test-drive a bootcamp before committing to one of their intensive, full-time programs.
Courses can also serve working computer programmers who need to overcome a skills gap or master a new development in technology. This ever-evolving field requires a commitment to lifelong education and ongoing professional development.
Intensive career preparation programs make up most coding bootcamps, with about 500 programs available. Bootcamp providers intend for these programs to provide a path to a new career. As such, they are usually longer and require a greater time commitment per week than an individual, short course.
These programs delve into a broad topic, like data science or web development. The curriculum often includes both front-end and back-end web development, multiple coding languages, and database theory. Most programs incorporate hands-on projects and group work.
Programs may require full-time attendance or allow part-time participation. In addition to technical instruction, these types of programs also include career placement services. They may provide help assembling a professional portfolio and developing a tech-focused resume.
Fellowship programs typically offer advanced training or industry experience to students enrolled in a college degree program. The curriculum typically focuses on real-world problem-solving and projects.
As of 2017, data science/engineering represented the largest group of fellowships available, with almost 60% of fellowships belonging to this specialty. Computer science students also had multiple fellowship options to choose from.
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Bootcamp Learning Formats
Most coding bootcamps use an intensive instructional model to prepare students for their new career. You have options in how you receive that instruction, however. Primary differences in programs include where they are offered and the required time commitment per week.
Although only 15% of coding bootcamps offered online-only learning options in 2017, many bootcamps have now adapted their intensive programs to fit a remote learning format in 2020. Online programs may feature part-time, full-time, self-paced, or accelerated options.
Many coding bootcamps develop their own learning platforms. For example, independent provider Flatiron School runs its online bootcamps on the custom Learn.co platform. The platform provides real-time help through its "Ask a Question" feature.
Before the COVID-19 health crisis, 73% of coding bootcamps were held in person. Although more bootcamps have now moved online, taking an in-person bootcamp is still a popular choice when health and safety allow.
In-person programs offer face-to-face instruction and interaction with classmates. With this format, teams can easily collaborate on projects and instructors are available to answer questions in real time.
While most states offered at least one coding bootcamp, most providers offered instruction in the top 10 metropolitan areas. The New York City-Newark-Jersey City area, for example, was home to 12% of the intensive career preparation bootcamps in the U.S. This concentration of courses in certain areas may make accessing in-person training difficult for learners who don't live in a major city.
Hybrid bootcamps combine the flexibility of online learning with the interpersonal benefits of in-person instruction. Hybrid programs can also expand the accessibility of in-person learning for students balancing work and family obligations with their education.
The number of in-person sessions for this type of program varies by bootcamp. Some hold in-person sessions each week to review assignments and work on team projects, while others host intensive sessions a few times a year, sometimes over a weekend. As of 2017, 13% of programs offered a hybrid format, though the COVID-19 crisis may have changed the availability of these bootcamps.
Full-time coding bootcamps require a significant time commitment each week. Some full-time bootcamps estimate that students spend 40-60 hours per week dedicated to the bootcamp. This time estimate includes both instructional time and time spent working on assignments. Because of the time commitment, full-time programs may require leaving employment for the duration of the program.
Full-time enrollment represents the most popular option for both independent and university-affiliated bootcamps. Fellowships primarily consist of full-time programs.
Part-time coding bootcamps require longer to complete than a full-time option, but can provide students greater flexibility. These programs require 15-20 hours of instruction and study each week. Often, learners can continue their employment while participating in the bootcamp.
Both independent providers and university-affiliated bootcamps typically offer a mix of full-time and part-time bootcamps.
In a self-paced bootcamp, students progress as quickly or as slowly as they want while mastering their program's core concepts. Self-paced options are almost always conducted online, but students still interact with instructors or course mentors through things like virtual office hours.
This format supplies the most flexibility for learners, though they need good time management and organizational skills to stay on track. The student's pace determines the time commitment and length required for these programs, which can range from a few weeks to several months.
How Long Does it take to learn Coding?
Coding bootcamps offer career preparation in a relatively short amount of time compared to a traditional degree program, making them incredibly popular with people considering a career change. But the actual time required can vary dramatically across the coding bootcamp spectrum.
Full-time, comprehensive coding bootcamps required an average of 16.5 weeks in 2017 -- or about four months. Part-time programs averaged 24.3 weeks, or almost six months. Shorter, specific courses can vary from a few weeks to more than four months.
Prospective learners need to consider what skills they already possess when choosing a coding bootcamp. Longer programs may offer more foundational skills for students with no background or experience in computer coding. Alternatively, shorter programs often expect students to know the basics.
If you need to learn basic coding or brush up on just a few skills, consider taking free online courses or a short-term bootcamp course before investing months on an intensive career preparation bootcamp.
How Much Do Coding Bootcamps Cost?
Individuals seeking an alternative path to a computer science career may find coding bootcamps a shorter and more affordable option than a traditional degree. With the average undergraduate tuition at a four-year institution costing about $16,300 per year, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics for the 2018-19 academic year, tuition costs can total over $65,000 for four years of school. Although less expensive, with typical prices for an intensive bootcamp ranging between $10,000 and $15,000 in 2020, coding bootcamps still represent a significant investment of time and money.
In addition to tuition, prospective bootcamp students should consider other costs, like living expenses, books, and any technology they may need. Because these intensive programs require a significant amount of time each week, students may find it difficult to continue working full time while participating in the bootcamp.
The chart below provides the average costs of coding bootcamps based on data collected by BestColleges from over 620 bootcamp programs offered by about 130 bootcamp providers.
Ways to Pay for Coding Bootcamps
Coding bootcamps offer a variety of payment options, including paying upfront, financing the cost by taking out loans, or participating in an income share agreement. Below, learn about each of these options' pros and cons as you consider your repayment strategy.
Paying tuition upfront is usually the cheapest way to pay for your bootcamp as you avoid paying any interest that may accrue on a loan or deferred payment plan. Some bootcamps do provide interest-free financing options, however. Additionally, students may be able to receive a discounted tuition rate if they pay upfront.
Payment plans are available for most bootcamps. With a payment plan, students pay monthly installments throughout their time in the program. You may pay in equal installments or pay a higher amount at first with smaller monthly payments thereafter. Payment plans often do not require you to pay interest, but this should be confirmed with the bootcamp provider. If you need to stop working while enrolled in a bootcamp, it could be difficult to make these monthly payments, so check your budget carefully.
With a deferred tuition plan, students either pay a small deposit at the beginning of their bootcamp or they are not required to pay anything upfront. Once the student finds a job in the tech industry, they pay the remaining tuition amount in fixed installments. This could be an attractive option for students who do not have the available funds to pay for a bootcamp upfront or via a payment plan, although it is less commonly offered in the bootcamp industry.
Income Share Agreement
Income share agreements (ISAs) are similar to deferred tuition, allowing students to pay for their bootcamp with their future earnings. However, instead of paying a fixed tuition amount in installments, bootcamp graduates pay a percentage of their salary for a set amount of time.
Often, graduates must meet a certain income threshold before these agreements begin requiring payments. When considering an ISA, carefully compare the amount you would potentially pay throughout the duration of the agreement with the upfront cost of the program and the cost of a loan with interest. Some ISAs could cost far more over the long-term than other payment options.
Another payment method to explore are scholarship opportunities. Roughly one-quarter of bootcamp programs offered scholarship assistance in 2017, although the scholarship amounts available may not cover the entire cost of the bootcamp and some may be quite small. If you already work in a tech field, your employer may also provide some tuition reimbursement.
Federal financial aid options remain limited for coding bootcamps. Bootcamps do not qualify for Pell Grants or traditional student loans. However, some programs may qualify under the GI BillŪ for veterans education and career training.
Students can also seek personal loans to finance their training. These loans often come with a shorter repayment period and higher interest rates than a traditional student loan. Some lenders, like Climb Credit and Skills Fund, work directly with bootcamp providers to offer loans with rates in between those of traditional student loans and personal loans, and with more favorable repayment terms than the typical personal loan.
How to Choose a Coding Bootcamp
Choose your coding bootcamp carefully. Coding bootcamps lack accreditation and few states regulate how they report student outcomes, which means much of the information students find when comparing different bootcamps comes directly from the provider. Check to see whether a bootcamp you are interested in is a member of CIRR. If they are, you can find audited data on things like bootcamp graduation rates, employment outcomes, and starting salaries for bootcamp graduates.
You can also follow these tips when searching for a program:
- Talk to graduates of the bootcamp to learn about their experience and the job placement services they received while in the program and after they graduated.
- Look at the curriculum to make sure it matches your needs. If you already know several programming languages and software frameworks, you won't want to spend much time focused on those topics. Find a program that emphasizes the area you plan to specialize in.
- Ask for details about the course format. If a program provides online learning options, are there specific times when you will need to be online? How do students collaborate on projects? Do you receive regular feedback from the instructor, and are they available to answer questions?
- Do you meet the admission criteria? While many coding bootcamps offer open admission, some do require basic coding skills or other prerequisites. Some full-time programs may use competitive admission processes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is coding hard?
Computer coding requires certain skills and knowledge. With proper training, a strong work ethic, and a passion for the field, you can master the skills necessary to become a programmer. These include basic math skills, as well as strong problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.
Are there free coding bootcamps?
Coding bootcamp fellowships often do not charge fees, and some fellowships may even provide a stipend. These programs, however, cater to students completing a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in computer science.
It is possible to find free coding courses, which are usually shorter and more focused than an intensive bootcamp. These types of short courses are typically insufficient to prepare a beginner for a coding career, though taking a course like this can be a great way to gauge your level of interest in particular technical disciplines or programming languages.
Can I get university credit for bootcamps?
Most coding bootcamps, even those offered by universities, do not meet the standards required to issue college credit. There are a few exceptions, however, such as the University of Redlands web development bootcamp. Be sure to do your homework first if earning college credit is a priority for you.
Are bootcamps accredited?
Most coding bootcamps do not hold accreditation from an outside accrediting agency. Some providers say accreditation requirements could slow down their ability to adapt to the changing needs of the industry or new developments in technology. However, some bootcamps are members of the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting, which provides standards for reporting bootcamp outcomes and audits the outcome data received from members.
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Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian then went to his local community college, where he received his associate of science in computer information science. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed.
Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.