Let’s get really real about bootcamps

Guy at computer wearing spooky mask from the movie Scream I have not been paid by anyone mentioned. These opinions are my own, and I’m not above changing my mind if new information presents itself. I originally posted this on dev.to on Nov 16, 2020.

I want to preface with the fact that I am not a software engineer.

I’ve worn many hats in my 33 years; small business owner, live show promoter, cable technician, cell phone salesman… but nothing requiring deep technical knowledge. A little extra to-know about me, I have ADHD and I have not had success within the traditional higher-education ecosystem despite multiple attempts.

In comes aggressive marketing from a new educational medium- BOOTCAMPS. Intensively immerse yourself in web development technologies for 12 weeks to 5 months and you could make six figures!

I have a handful of software engineering friends, and each of them agree that ANYONE can learn how. These are people who are working those glamorous six-figure jobs, and a person or two with salaries still much higher than I’ve ever had.

Therefore, In 2017 when a friend turned me onto web development I knew three things:

So, I can too, right?

I have been trying unsuccessfully for THREE YEARS to understand how to #code. Countless tutorials, both free and paid. I even participated in a very large and popular bootcamp for awhile. Why can’t I get this stuff to sink in?

In my most recent #bootcamp search (happening as I type, btw), I decided this time to take the “do your own research” approach. Doing research requires you to ask important questions. A very important first question is, ‘Can I trust this resource?’

There are endless biased bootcamp funnels out there (SwitchUp, Course Report, Career Karma). Knowing that these websites profit off of the advice they give, I cannot fully trust their opinions or reviews. Their end goal is for you to signup for a bootcamp so they can make a commission. That is a huge conflict of interest.

So what’s important to me?

At a glance, there are hundreds of programs that meet these three requirements. A vast majority of the big guys have part-time options. Well over half of them offer an ISA at this point. #3 is a little more rare, but there are a few bootcamps out there (i.e. NuCamp, Treehouse Techdegree, FreeCodeCamp, etc).

I have applied to and researched maybe a few dozen programs, but I am going to use App Academy as an example of my decision process. So far, I have completed the “culture fit” interview, passed 2/3 of the assessments, and I have received an e-mail conditionally accepting me so long as I finish up that last assessment.

Let’s look at my short-list again.

While I’m not exactly excited about the lack of flexibility, I may be willing to sacrifice that desire for the results. So where are the results?

Again, I can’t trust them for this information.

They are a VC backed, for-profit company. So I hop on LinkedIn and other social media sites, and reach out to (and dig into the profiles of) App Academy alumni. I realize quickly: every single one of these people have a bachelors or masters degree, and MOST of those degrees are STEM related.

There’s no data from any of the bootcamp schools I’ve looked into regarding students or grads without a tech degree. In the info sessions they will ALWAYS tell you that it doesn’t matter. My amateur personal research is not showing this to be very common… maybe true, but disingenuous at best.

I spoke with a software engineer friend who is currently working in the field (hey Josh!), and he explained to me that in his experience App Academy grads have huge knowledge gaps and tend to struggle a lot on the job. This blew my mind, because the common consensus across the internet is that App Academy is among the BEST at churning out quality coders and getting them high-paying, in-demand jobs.

So what’s going on here?

I have come to some speculative opinions. Bootcamps may be disrupting higher #education, but NOT because they are changing much about the process.

Colleges are highly selective because they want to produce positive outcomes. Positive outcomes naturally sell that institution choice to students. Coding schools are also highly selective, because they want to give positive outcome reports. BUT, like #colleges, they don’t just profit off of their graduates. They profit off of everyone who makes an attempt. So, they strike a balance.

The prevailing model? Vet a student, make sure they are ‘smart enough’. Slam their brain with surface-level understandings, get them a job.

If we’re being honest, will this make someone a #software #engineer?

So what now?

I’ll tell you this. I don’t have any motivation to work on that third assessment. App Academy is not right for me. I may be able to get into App Academy, but it does not align with my needs. Given their model is copied by other coding bootcamps, most of them are ruled out too.

The upside?

I have found three bootcamps that have come up with solutions to these issues. They are disrupting the bootcamp industry! How ironic.

I conclude: do your research.

Ask important questions. Dive deeper. Don’t fall for marketing hype. You can’t have a deep understanding of ANYTHING in 12 weeks. Do you want a job, or do you want a meaningful career that you’ll excel at?

I want the latter.

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30-something, he/him, pnw. “Retired” show promoter and scene kid, a not-very-good gamer, depressed most of the time. I'm big into music, animation (old Nickelodeon), spooky things, self-care, and my family.