Venturing into the tech field by way of education and training in computer science, software engineering, cybersecurity or coding is a reliable way to jumpstart a new career and increase your future earning potential. Computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow by 11% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than other occupations and industries. With the right qualifications, you’ll have plenty of employment opportunities to choose from.
If you want to work in the broad field of tech, whether you’re just getting started after college or are looking to change careers, you need to gain the necessary skills and experience to excel in this rapidly-evolving area. There are several ways to get the education and training you need to start an interesting and higher-paying career, and a coding bootcamp is one of them. So, is a coding bootcamp worth it if you’re looking to make a career change? It depends on your background and prerequisites, your goals, and the type of work you’re looking for.
This article will explain what coding bootcamps and certifications are, when they’re worth it, and when a bachelor’s or master’s in computer science degree may be a better choice for you.
A coding bootcamp is a short, intensive program through which working professionals can upskill or reskill, learning specific coding (or programming) languages like Java or C+ to move into a web development role. Through a fast-paced, focused curriculum, students pick up the practical skills needed to become proficient in front- and back-end technologies. Bootcamps also help those with an elementary knowledge of computer programming enhance or refresh their skills regardless of their professional experience or educational background.
These bootcamps can be offered by a range of organizations, from accredited, top-ranked universities, to local community colleges and for-profit, VC-backed start-ups. Because so many organizations offer bootcamps, choosing one that will give you the best return on investment can be difficult. The benefits and costs of coding bootcamps vary based on the type of program and the institution offering the program:
- Smaller community college programs often charge lower tuition costs, allowing for greater student access, but students should ensure these programs are rigorous enough to prepare them for workplace demands.
- For-profit bootcamp programs like Flatiron School, Hack Reactor, and Thinkful can cost as much as $17,000 and, while they often provide a relevant curriculum and career services, they’re not accredited, lacking regulatory oversight and accountability.
- A top-ranked, accredited university will offer the educational quality and trust students deserve, with the well-rounded curriculum and faculty interaction that solidifies true learning. Some may also offer career search support to students who successfully complete programs. To offset costs, some will offer financial aid opportunities and scholarships.
How Long Are Coding Bootcamps?
On average coding bootcamps last approximately four months, but some in-depth programs may take six months or longer to complete (if taken part-time while working). The programs allow even those with no formal background in computer programming or web development to gain the practical skills needed to enter or stay relevant in the field. Since they’re relatively short and designed with working professionals in mind, they’re a great way for those looking to make a career switch to learn practical new skills.
What’s the Difference Between a Coding Bootcamp vs. a Certification?
Coding bootcamps sprung up to fill a widening tech talent gap, upskilling and reskilling workers for the digitalization and automation disrupting every industry. Bootcamps are short-term intensive programs that give students projects and exercises designed to develop specific skills (like programming languages) and build their portfolios for job interviews. Some bootcamp students seek the foundational knowledge and skills needed to enter a more rigorous computer science or data science master’s program, which opens up opportunities in advanced product innovation and R&D (research and development work) at leading companies.
Certifications more closely mimic a traditional classroom-style or online learning environment. In a more relaxed format conducive to part-time study, students attend lectures, complete assignments, and fulfill the requirements of the course without as much hands-on, project-based practice. These courses may also take longer to complete and can range in length from a few months to a full academic year.
When choosing between a bootcamp and a certification program, you need to consider your current position and existing skills, your goals and aspirations, and your ability to make the program a commitment while balancing professional and personal responsibilities. If you want to switch into a tech or web development role with limited prior tech or coding skills, a bootcamp can be an efficient way to realize your goals. However, if you already have some foundational tech knowledge and programming skills and want to stay current (“upskill”) on a certain coding language, process or methodology, program, tool or other niche, a certification may be a better choice. A certification may also be an eventual pathway to a graduate degree and/or is better for those who either cannot or prefer not to learn in a fast-paced, team environment.
Careers in computer science-related professions are expected to grow by as much as 15% from 2019 to 2029, making this area one of the fastest-growing job markets in the United States. Many students ask, “What’s the best way to break in?” ”Is enrolling in a coding bootcamp worth it for me, or would I be better off pursuing a bachelor’s or master of computer science degree?” To answer that question, you need to understand the benefits of both “tiers” of programs.
What Are the Benefits of a Coding Bootcamp?
Enrolling in a coding bootcamp is a great way to upskill or reskill quickly, enabling you to secure a job as a web developer or programmer. You’ll rapidly gain hands-on experience and work with a team to solve the real-world problems employers care about. The intensive nature of the program combined with the focus on helping working professionals learn new skills means that you won’t have to commit to long and time-consuming educational paths to make a career switch.
Coding bootcamps have become a popular entry path to increase one’s salary due to the shorter program length, making it faster to land a tech role and feel the salary impact:
- Hack Reactor Software Engineering Immersive: $80,000 median salary with 27% making over $100k
- Thinkful Online Engineering: $60,000 median salary with 10% of graduates making over $90k
Actual job placement will vary depending on the types of positions and sectors graduates pursue. Keep in mind that completing a bootcamp is never a guarantee that you’ll get a job in the field. It simply increases your market relevance and emphasis on the practical skills employers need today. Remember that some bootcamps are regarded as “diploma mills,” graduating high numbers of students who compete for the same jobs, whereas others have a stronger reputation for graduating career-ready students and are, therefore, more trusted among hiring leaders.
Whereas bootcamps are designed to give students the in-demand skills needed for one specific area of computer science (for example, coding or web development), a computer science bachelor’s or master’s degree creates digital innovation “generalists” with the breadth and depth of CS knowledge that opens up more long-term career opportunities in advanced tech.
Coding Bootcamps vs College Degree Programs
|Coding Bootcamps||College Degree Programs|
|Approach||Provide short, intensive learning that allows students to complete programs quickly and enter the workforce fast.||Provide breadth and depth of education through high-quality programs led by industry-leading experts and experienced instructors.|
|Curriculum Focus||Allow students to develop focused skills through hands-on experience. Students learn how to work in teams and to learn new skills quickly.||Gives students the “macro view” of computer science, creating highly-versatile graduates whose knowledge has no expiration date.|
|Duration||Programs are short, with many taking just a few months.||Degree programs take time, allowing students to figure out which parts of the field are of the most interest to them, while building lifelong connections with committed classmates and instructors.|
|Cost & Aid||Bootcamps typically cost less than traditional degree programs, although some cost up to $17,000.||Can be expensive, but financial aid or scholarships are often available to qualified students for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.|
After completing a bootcamp, students often go on to work as computer programmers, web developers, UX designers or software engineers. These positions are typically entry- or mid-level openings that allow graduates to put the skills they learned from their bootcamp into practice. However, to earn the median salary of $110,140 as a software developer, top companies still expect competitive applicants to have at least a bachelor of computer science degree.
After graduating from a university’s computer science program (bachelor’s or master’s level), students will find more advanced job opportunities and elevated positions available to them. Graduates with a bachelor of computer science degree will find ample opportunities in digital product management, digital transformation, cybersecurity and advanced software engineering occupations (for ex: machine learning engineers). As the degree title suggests, a master of computer science degree signals mastery, so these graduates are heavily recruited, differentiated in a cluttered marketplace, and often land innovative tech and product positions with highly-influential companies like Google and Amazon. Senior software engineers earn an average of $119,580 per year and have the opportunity for higher pay as they gain more experience.
When the Career Expo came up in the fall, I had only been in the MCS program one month. At the time, I was shocked by the number of companies who wanted to talk to CS students – even those with only a month of classes – about careers and internships. Schlumberger offered me an internship, and then Microsoft offered me a full-time role, and that gave me confidence in myself as a software engineer. That is when I began thinking it might be my future career.
– Liuliu Zheng, MCS Alumni at Airbnb. Read more about Liuliu’s MCS@Rice experience.
For those with a CS or STEM bachelor’s degree who wish to advance their careers in the tech field, pursuing a master of computer science degree may be a better choice, since a degree program can help you upskill for the specific requirements in this highly-competitive industry. Coding bootcamps are better suited for non-STEM individuals with little to no computer science knowledge, vs. working professionals who want to advance their career, qualify for more senior-level jobs, or increase their salary.
The MCS@Rice program allows students to build a strong foundation in general computer science which can then be applied to any field and any industry. MCS@Rice graduates are better prepared to go beyond developer/programmer roles and pursue leadership positions where they can drive real change.
The [online] program is excellent. It combines asynchronous and live sessions, which to me is better than face-to-face because you can absorb the material at your own pace.
– Eric Schumacker, MCS@Rice Graduate, Sr. Product Manager at Amazon. Read more about Eric’s MCS@Rice experience.