A few years ago, I was at a crossroads in my career, trying to teach myself how to code and eagerly searching for the fastest, most affordable path to becoming a software developer. Like many others in my situation, I asked myself: should I continue teaching myself how to code online or attend a coding bootcamp? After 10 months of deliberation, I signed up for Coding Dojo, a programming school in the Bay Area.
These days, I’m seeing more and more people in the same position as I was: stuck between these two options. As someone who’s used bootcamps and self-taught courses to learn to program, I wanted to share some of the insights from my journey. Hopefully, this will help you, or people you may know, navigate your journeys as well. Here’s my breakdown on the top differences between coding bootcamps and online courses.
Fits your schedule
One of the biggest benefits of self-taught courses is that you pick your own schedule. Online courses make it easy to balance school or keep your day job. You can maintain your lifestyle, coding in the evenings and on the weekends.
Unfortunately, this also comes with all the distractions that work and school bring. Very quickly, online courses can become the easiest thing to cut from your schedule, especially as finals approach or work gets busy!
Affordable, Low Barrier for Entry
Luckily, the internet makes learning resources readily accessible and you can get started right away. There’s a huge spectrum of courses, from free material to paid courses of every price range. Even the most expensive online courses can be affordable.
Focusing on free online resources may sound attractive, but to a certain extent, you get what you pay for. The quality and consistency of the material can vary quite a bit, and typically it’s only enough to get you started.
Pay for what you need
Self-teaching enables you to pick and choose the material you need to know, a more à la carte style where you can focus on particular technologies instead of buying into large packages. This makes it a low investment for beginners and lets experienced developers zero in on what they need.
This comes at a price, however. A beginner will have a hard time knowing where to start or which technologies to work with. Without a solid foundation, you wouldn’t know the right courses to pick.
Faster Learning in Groups
One thing that struck me when I was first placed in a bootcamp environment was how much collaboration accelerated my learning. Talking about concepts, helping others understand them, and communicating about code was a powerful learning tool. Being able to pair with somebody at my level and learn with a fellow student was huge.
This created a more social learning environment; I don’t know if I would have been as successful if I didn’t work with other students going through what I was going through. Learning solo would have made these concepts harder to pick up, and it would have taken much longer.
Cohesive Curriculum and Mentorship = Fast Progress
In a bootcamp, there is more structure to your learning. These are carefully planned out programs that can take months to complete, building up your skills one level of mastery at a time with the mentorship of knowledgeable instructors. This learning style gives you a big picture view and keeps you progressing forward, at a speed difficult to replicate by yourself.
However, the more rigid material can make it more difficult to learn if you don’t keep pace. Move too slowly, you’re going to be spending late nights and long weekends catching up! Move too quickly, and you can be waiting for the rest of the class to catch up.
Full Immersion, No Distractions, Tons of Content
A bootcamp is called a bootcamp for a reason. You eat, drink, sleep, walk, talk, and breathe code for months at a time. You surround yourself in a learning environment, packed with curriculum, push all other distractions off your schedule. With this intensive focus, you get a lot more done in less time and learn new technologies at a rate you wouldn’t think possible.
The flip side is, you’ll have limited time for a social life. Give your friends and loved ones a heads-up, and make arrangements for your pets ahead of time, because these courses are loaded with things to learn. You’ll have very little time for anything else!
When you join a bootcamp, you’re surrounded by people with the same goal as you: learn how to code. You immediately set foot into a network of developers-in-training with a similar skill set. This is important making a career switch, as you’ll organically create a professional network to leverage for more job opportunities. We’ve seen countless alumni find jobs through referrals from former alumni.
Of course, you can’t stop at the bootcamp. Networking requires constant maintenance, and to give yourself the most opportunities you’ll have to extend your network outside of the bootcamp. Local meetups, hackathons, and online communities are great ways to meet more people who are passionate about tech.
Guidance through the Job Search
Some of the most crucial services bootcamps provide are career guidance. Tech is a new industry for a lot of people and the ground rules for the job search change. What could pass as common wisdom in any other industry might not work when looking for a tech job! Bootcamps help you clear that job search clutter, find your top job prospects, and provide you with the tools to nail the interview.
Keep in mind, as a veteran developer there’s only so much job seeking advice you can get. Sometimes these services might be unnecessary for your skill set. You may be better off tapping into your network for job offers.
Which is the right choice?
When it comes to career switching, it’s hard to beat the immersive and collaborative environments you can get at a coding bootcamp, especially for people who don’t have a background in code. In just three months, the bootcamp life was able to impart more technical knowledge in me than ten months of self-study.
But that doesn’t mean online courses don’t have their merits. They’re flexible, cheap, and easy to access, and there’s actually a large population of developers in the tech industry who are self-taught. Furthermore, even as a bootcamp grad, I still use online courses and hunt out free material. Self-teaching is convenient and affordable, works around my schedule, and now I have the skills to know what courses I want to learn. Even when I first started out, I was able to get a taste of the coding world while working a full-time job.
Whether you’re planning your first steps into the programming world, or are a returning veteran brushing up on old skills, it’s important to find a course that works best for you. Research all your options and ask yourself what it is that you want and need.