Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It? [What the Numbers Say]

Are you considering a career change? You’re not alone: according to a recent survey from the Conference Board, a little less than half of all American employees describe themselves as dissatisfied with their current job.

Life is too short to spend half of your waking life doing something you don’t find meaning in. With a little bit of bravery and planning, it’s easier to make a smooth career transition than you think — and many are taking that bold step right into the high-potential tech industry.

So, if you’re considering the career switch, you might wonder: Are coding bootcamps worth it? Are coding bootcamps legit?

Poll after poll shows that software developers occupy some of the most coveted positions in the Western world. High degrees of autonomy, pay, flexibility, and job satisfaction are inherent to the profession. Stack Overflow’s 2020 Developers survey notes that a full 62 percent of developers are either somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the employment of software developers is on track to grow 20 percent between 2018 and 2028. 

Without a doubt, software development is one of the hottest careers on the market today — if, that is, you can break into the field.

The most conventional path into the coding sector comes via a relevant four-year degree program. According to Stack Overflow, about 75 percent of developers worldwide have completed at least the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree or higher.

However, most undergraduate degrees require four years of full-time study. It’s not a commitment to scoff at, especially if you have to balance preexisting professional or personal responsibilities. Plus, college requires financial investment, and just isn’t doable for every aspiring programmer — and that’s okay. Coding bootcamps are there to fill the gap. 

But is a coding bootcamp worth it for you? Read on to find out. 

What Are Coding Bootcamps?

Before we start delving into the specifics, let’s cover the basics. What are coding bootcamps, exactly?

Bootcamps are short-term, high-impact training courses that equip learners with the most in-demand technical skills on the market. Upon completion, participants are trained and ready to apply for entry-level developer jobs. Learners can choose to specialize in digital skills like data science, digital marketing, UX/UI, cybersecurity, technical sales, and full stack development. Selecting the right bootcamp ultimately depends on your personal preference.

Coding bootcamps take, on average, three to six months to complete. Typical part-time courses allow enrollees to balance their education with a full-time job. In contrast, full-time courses present a challenging but effective schedule that upskills developers in just four short months. 

During a bootcamp, an aspiring developer has access to one-on-one mentorship, collaborates with a network of peers, and receives graded assignments. Some bootcamps even give learners current industry problems offloaded by partnering companies, thereby allowing participants to pepper their resumes with real-world project experiences. 

Most bootcamps also provide in-office career networking services for participants once they’ve completed the course. Reputable courses are interested in bolstering their success rate and do everything possible to connect successful learners with development positions.

In recent years, coding bootcamps have witnessed an explosion in popularity. According to Verified Market Research, the global coding bootcamp market was valued at $399.91 million in 2018 and is projected to reach $889.37 million by 2026, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.70 percent from 2019 to 2026 alone. 

Ten percent of software professionals surveyed this year stated that they learned to code purely through bootcamps, and this number is even higher within younger populations. Nearly one in six Gen Z developers said that they had used bootcamps to learn new skills.

Bootcamps launched 33,959 successful learners into the field in 2019, and as of the summer of 2019, coding bootcamp courses were available in 71 US cities and 38 states, with 14 of them offered online. Given the social distancing restrictions required by the current global pandemic, it seems reasonable to assume that a significantly greater proportion of bootcamps have and will continue to be offered remotely in years to come. 

You may be wondering: Are coding bootcamps legit? Can a four- to six-month bootcamp really prepare you for a career in software development? 

Let’s look into what these courses teach.

What Coding Bootcamps Will Teach You

When it comes to finding a bootcamp, no two curricula are the same. Just like a conventional undergraduate degree program, each bootcamp has its own focus and coursework. With so many emerging technologies and framework changes, course materials can frequently shift even within the same bootcamps.

All that said, there are a few trends you should keep in mind. First, JavaScript is currently the main teaching language for bootcamps, with 44 percent of developers using it as their primary coding technology. However, programming bootcamps have also been known to teach Ruby on Rails, full stack JavaScript, .NET/C#, Java, Python, or PHP.

Also, according to Course Report’s research for 2019, 94 percent of coding bootcamp participants learn full stack web development.

Still, bootcamps aren’t limited to full stack development alone. These courses generally come in the following varieties: 

Front End Development

Front end development is the practice of programming all the features that end-users (i.e., page visitors, app users) can see and interact with. Professionals in this discipline typically write HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for web applications.

As the tools and techniques change, it falls on front end developers to keep web platforms up to date and compatible. These developers also need to plan carefully to make the most usable, compelling platform possible. Thus, these positions are especially suited to those with an eye for design and user experience.

Besides covering the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript trifecta, front end bootcamps typically teach modern frameworks such as React, Angular, or Vue. Technical topics like jQuery, server-side management, DOM manipulation, TypeScript, and Bootstrap are also common. Some may also dive into the principles of good UX (user experience) design.

The coursework will likely focus on developing front end designs that support back end platforms, as well as converting web pages into mobile-optimized sites.

Back End Development

The back end refers to everything that the end-user can’t see or directly interact with. Typically, the back end encompasses an application’s server, database, and behind-the-scenes business logic.

When a client types in a URL for a website, they make a request to the site’s server. The server receives the request, handles it, and sends back the requested web page to the client. If a client submits information through a form — say, by accessing a login portal — that data is then sent back to the server and likely stored in a database.

All of this occurs without the client’s knowledge. The back end developer is responsible for making these unseen operations occur smoothly, efficiently, and reliably. Generally, these developers focus on optimizing a site’s speed and responsiveness since back end processes act as the bottleneck for an application. If the back end is slow, the site will be slow — and clients will leave. 

Coding bootcamps may cover database management systems like MongoDB, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle. They often cover server-side technologies like Node.js, JavaScript, Express.js, and HTML in brief. Coursework may also touch on APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), which allow your project to communicate with other sites’ databases and servers from behind the scenes.

Full Stack Development

Think of a full stack application like a restaurant: the front end is where the client gets served a meal, while the database is like the pantry — it stores ingredients, changes them when necessary, and uses its stores for creating meals. The server is like the kitchen, where different ingredients are only assembled upon request by the client.

To stretch this metaphor a bit further, full stack would refer to the entire restaurant’s operations, from the back warehouses all the way to the plated dishes on the tables.

Full stack developers have the expertise to manage and develop entire websites and applications; however, they typically specialize in one or two languages. They are the very much needed “jacks of all trades” of the software world.

Full stack developers are also responsible for noticing issues that arise in the communication between the back end and front end. Since they are familiar with the full tech stack a company uses, they can spot these issues better than more specialized developers.

Full stack bootcamps tend to cover topics such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Node.js, MongoDB, dynamic HTML templating, RESTful routing, and APIs. However, the specific “stack” of skills may differ significantly between distinct bootcamps.

Can Coding Bootcamps Really Get You Hired?

With hard work, yes. There is every indication that coding bootcamp learners are well-positioned to launch into fulfilling software development careers.

According to HackerRank, nearly one in three hiring managers (32 percent) have hired a bootcamp participant. Moreover, 72 percent of those who have hired a bootcamp learner say that those professionals are “equally or better equipped for the job than other hires.” 

HackerRank’s researchers further noted that individuals who have completed a bootcamp tended to have more desirable skills, including the ability to learn new technologies and languages quickly, and strong practical experience. 

Satisfaction with bootcamp hires is high, too. Researchers for Indeed found that 99.8 percent of surveyed hiring managers who have hired bootcamp participants would do so again.

There’s really no question that strong coding bootcamps can set learners up for significant career opportunities. But what about the costs? Compared to other forms of education, are coding bootcamps worth it? 

Let’s consider. 

The Earning Potential for Software Developers

It’s no secret that software developers often make good money. According to Payscale, software professionals can make anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 per year, and the average lies around $71,600.

That said, industry salaries vary significantly depending on the geographic region of a given developer. HackerRank’s 2020 Developer survey notes that while the average developer in San Francisco makes $147,989 per year, the same professional might make just $79,583 in Miami. Consider a few select regional salaries for comparison purposes:

  • Seattle: $134,539
  • Boston: $116,804
  • New York: $115,792
  • Austin: $109,562
  • Salt Lake City: $106,293
  • Denver: $101,095
  • Phoenix: $88,437

Salaries are also highly contingent on experience, negotiation, and other extenuating circumstances. Course Report notes that bootcamp participants generally see their salary grow from around $60,000 to $80,000 over their first three jobs.

With all that said, it’s become clear that if you put in the hard work to land a job with an average developer salary, your professional income can make your investment well worth the cost within a year or two.

What If You Don’t Have a Degree?

Perhaps you’re convinced of the value but still find yourself wondering: Are coding bootcamps worth it if you don’t have a degree? 

While it can sometimes seem like a four-year degree is the end-all-be-all in educational discourse, programming is one of the few disciplines where training can truly come from anywhere.

At heart, employers are most interested in confirming that you know what you’re doing rather than checking for a formal degree or certification. In the interview room, two candidates that ace the technical portion are — regardless of their educational format — essentially equal.

You don’t need a college degree to thrive in programming anymore. Sure, it’s helpful to have the comprehensive theoretical and practical background that a college experience provides, and the networking opportunities are fantastic, but a formal degree is by no means a requirement for success.

Tech giants like Google, Apple, and IBM have all made headlines in the last several years by revoking their requirements for four-year degrees. They aren’t alone in their choice, either; according to HackerRank, nearly a third (31.9 percent) of developers at small companies do not have a bachelor’s degree.

Plus, according to StackOverflow’s 2020 Developers Survey, only 9.7 percent of professional developers view formal education as “critically important.”

While college degrees are still common among job candidates, they serve more as a reassurance for employers that you have the requisite knowledge to do the job. Thankfully, bootcamps can check those boxes, too.

A growing need for talent in software development has required employers to look beyond traditional college-to-career talent pipelines. Recent reporting from Ncube indicates that by 2021, there will be a shortage of 1.4 million software developers and only 400,000 college graduates to fill them.

The need for fresh talent can far outweigh the necessity of a formal four-year university degree in the interview room. Time and again, bootcamp learners are smashing industry-wide barriers and expectations.

Are coding bootcamps worth it if you don’t have a degree? Yes.

Final Thoughts

Are you considering a career change to software development? If so, start researching reputable courses and narrow down your coding bootcamp options to the ones that interest you most in terms of curriculum, timeline, credibility, and investment. Soon, you’ll be charting your way through an exciting new career path. 

The benefits of a good coding bootcamp are almost too numerous to name. In a matter of months, you can completely flip your career prospects and start applying for entry-level tech roles. Programming bootcamps equip you with the industry-grade skills you need to feel confident pursuing a software development career. 


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