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Are Coding Bootcamps A Rip Off?

Tony Cimaglia
Former Restaurant Veteran turned Software Developer
Originally published at tonycimaglia.com ・5 min read

My Start In Software

Hey, I’m Tony. I'm a software engineer. And not long before I started writing code I was a bartender, finishing up a ten year stretch in the service industry. I worked my way up from my first job as a fry cook at a Five Guys to managing the bar at one of the best restaurants in the Southeast. I knew just about everything there was to know about my field, but ten years of long shifts full of lifting and bending was starting to take its toll on me physically. The combination of my aches and pains and an increasing feeling of boredom led me to the conclusion that it was time to find a new line of work. And, like many people who find themselves looking for the ever-elusive path to a new career, I found myself researching coding bootcamps.

The Bootcamp Model

Most of these “learn to code quick” programs boast the same basic structure: immersive learning for a small amount of time and a quick turnaround to a high-paying entry-level job. They promised that in just three months I could join the other grads (with a 97% hire rate!) who landed jobs at major companies. It sounded amazing. But what was the catch? Was it too good to be true? The answer was yes. But also, no. Allow me, a true bootcamp survivor, to share a few of the good, the bad, and the ugly truths about coding bootcamps.

Bootcamp Success

I decided on General Assembly, where I completed their Software Engineering Immersive course. Within a week of finishing I was starting my first job at a small start-up. Was it a hard three months? Absolutely. But on paper, it “worked” for me. I got a job. I was making money. I was writing code, when three months prior I was creating cocktail menus. I became another perfect success story for the bootcamps to advertise. But the truth of the matter is that a lot happened behind the scenes that contributed to my success, and not everyone in my class had the same outcome. When deciding if a bootcamp is right for you, it’s important to know what will make or break you.

The Grind

What these bootcamps don’t tell you is undoubtedly more important when deciding to attend than what they do tell you. Because what they don’t tell you is this: You will be teaching yourself most of the material. While there are teachers and TA’s to assist you, the structure of class is not designed for people who need a lot of instruction or extra assistance. Active instruction accounts for only 3-4 hours a day while the rest of the class time is devoted to solo practice. Many of the teachers are recent grads themselves. The material moves quickly. Very, very quickly. After all, the whole bootcamp model is based on making money from pushing a lot of students through in a short amount of time. If you fall through the cracks no one will catch you. If you’re not a fast and self-motivated learner, it’s easy to become one of the many students who drop out or drag themselves to the finish line just to end up unemployed because they never truly grasped the skills.

Finding Work After Graduation

They also don’t tell you that in order to find a job, you absolutely have to network. On your own. Yes, there are career coaches and presentation days all designed to steer you in the right direction and provide some opportunity for networking. But depending on your bootcamp, these resources might be minimal or even nonexistent. Even at GA, where job assistance is a point of focus, my resources were… flawed at best. My career counselor was working at GA on the side while she pursued her true passion for online matchmaking, which took up most of her time and energy. Emails went unanswered for days on end. Deadlines passed before she would notify us they existed. And while this might be a fluke, the hiring statistics are designed to hide a lot of unsuccessful students.

At GA, if you drop out you’re not counted in the statistics at all. If you do graduate but don’t participate in their career outcomes program (or miss even a single step) you’re automatically counted as a success, even if you’re never hired. “No problem, I’ll just participate in the career outcomes program, that sounds great!” You might be saying to yourself. Not so fast. The outcomes program requires you to spend a lot of time meeting application quotas and attending meetings. Most successful people I knew used that time to go out to networking events or sharpen their skills on their own, and the general consensus among my class was that outcomes was a waste of time. Could it work for you? Of course. But it’s not the 97% foolproof plan they advertise.

That Doesn't Sound So Bad...

At this point you may be thinking, “Great! I’m a self-motivated learner and I think I could handle networking. This could work for me!” And it could. But let me point out that all of the information in coding bootcamps is available online for free if you know where to look. freeCodeCamp.org is a great place to start if you're looking for a way to learn web development that doesn't cost 5 figures. If you’re truly comfortable teaching yourself and looking for your own job,
why not teach yourself how to code on your own time and save the cost of tuition? According to Course Report, coding bootcamps on average cost $13,584. While that's cheaper than a traditional associates or bachelor’s degree, it still isn't cheap.

So, Are Coding Bootcamps Worth the Money?

None of this is to say that coding bootcamps are inherently a rip off. I’m still writing code, I love working as a software engineer, and there’s no way I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t taken the leap. I won’t deny that I was successful by the bootcamp's standards. But they're not designed for everyone to succeed. The shadowy, unreported numbers represent the people who, by their standards, failed. Don't expect them to care much if you're one of them.

Have questions about bootcamps? You can tweet them at me @TonyCimaglia.

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