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Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It? A Cost-Benefit Analysis

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It’s one of the most asked questions: Are coding bootcamps worth it? We know they’re a great way to learn valuable programming skills, build a community within the tech industry, and ultimately synthesize your technical prowess and professional savvy to land a high-paying tech job. So why is there even a question here? Simply put: because coding bootcamps are a major investment—and not just from a financial perspective, though tuition is of course a big factor.

While attending almost any coding bootcamp is going to cost you less than getting a masters or a four-year degree, it will still cost you, and prospective students want to know they’ll be getting what they’ve been promised for their money. Other costs, like the opportunity cost of spending several months out of the workforce during your studies, are less obvious, but can ultimately scare bootcamp hopefuls away—so it’s important to consider everything up front.

All potential bootcamp students should look at the total costs and benefits of a bootcamp experience and decide if it’s worth the chance to change careers and pursue a career in tech. So we’ve spoken with applicants, students, and grads to understand both what drew them to bootcamp and what made them think twice, and we’ve compiled all the information here to help you make the choice that’s right for you.

The Benefits of Coding Bootcamps

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In-Demand Skills In Way Less Time

The next big question after “Are coding bootcamps worth it?” is always “Can’t I just teach myself?” And the answer is, of course, yes! There are plenty of resources for self-study, and to many would-be developers, this seems like an amazing opportunity. What they aren’t considering, though, is the cost—not the financial cost, as most online resources are free or low-cost, but rather the time, the energy, and the opportunity costs associated with self-study.

The best coding bootcamps provide a high-quality curriculum tailor-made by software engineers with input from companies that are actively hiring, and then help you navigate the industry and support you as your build your portfolio, network, and make your way through the hiring process.

All of that support means that you’re not only guaranteed to learn only the most relevant concepts—cutting out the time and energy you might waste on your own trying to figure out which concepts are most relevant or studying those that aren’t—but you’re going to learn those concepts faster with a team of instructors, TAs, and fellow bootcamp students than you would on your own.

That in turn means you can move into the workforce faster and start making more money sooner. The longer it takes you to learn on your own and get a higher-paying job, the more money you’re missing out on—and that’s what’s known as an opportunity cost. So the question becomes: Once you factor in all the money you’re missing out on by taking longer to teach yourself, are you really saving money in the long run by choosing low-cost study over a coding bootcamp experience?

Developer and career changer Andy Coravos says she tried a number of self-study courses, but none of them stuck. It takes an inordinate amount of time and self-discipline to learn by yourself—and while many people may think they can do it, it gets discouraging fast, and it winds up taking a surprising amount of effort to stay motivated.

Having that network of teachers, experienced developers, and peers that coding bootcamps give you access to can help you get over hurdles faster than you could alone. “You can save hours of your life by working near someone who can skim your work and let you know that the problem in the code you’ve been working on for the past five hours is a missing semicolon,” Coravos says.

BigTalker founder Dave Sloan says he found the in-person bootcamp experience invaluable. Sloan doesn’t believe he ever would have learned as much studying on his own. Face-to-face tutoring was by far the best way to start his journey to becoming a developer, he says.

Coding bootcamps are also incredibly intensive, with many requiring students to commit 40-plus hours a week to their software engineering program. The intensity of the course will help drill the material into your head, says Topcoder—just one more way coding bootcamps are focused on helping students learn and retain the most relevant skills.

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A Ready-Made Professional Network

When you’re just starting out in a new industry, it can be really daunting to build relationships, and it usually takes years to develop a network organically. And even as you make connections, most will be superficial—someone you met at a meetup once or sat next to at a conference. It’s really hard to make the deep, long-lasting personal and professional connections that will enable you to build a career.

When you attend a bootcamp, though, you surround yourself with like-minded, motivated people who can help you both during bootcamp and for years to come—and whom you will be able to support as well. That’s exactly what happened for bootcamp grad Charlotte Davies: Her cohort of bootcamp students became her new professional network once they all ventured into a new industry. “Those are the people that I will go to conferences with, recommend for jobs and even ask for help when it’s too scary to ask my colleagues!” she writes. “We are all learning to be new developers together.”

Copywriter Raghav Haran agrees that one of the best things about coding bootcamps is the communities they build. All the bootcamp students in a given program are in the same boat—all totally overwhelmed, but also all driven to succeed and ready to lift others up to ensure success for everyone. (Note: If the cultures of the coding bootcamps you’re considering don’t look like this, we encourage you to reconsider. Coding bootcamps can and should be both academically rigorous and supportive.) Haran writes that this shared experience results in a strong support network that allows students to progress more quickly and overcome those moments of doubt and imposter syndrome.

Fullstack Academy alum Stella Chung writes that the community she found at the Grace Hopper Program, Fullstack’s all-women’s program, was essential to her learning and success. Her earlier attempts to study on her own had been academically rewarding, but incredibly lonely. The Grace Hopper Program, on the other hand, “was kind of like an extreme version of nerd-camp,” which for Chung and many other programmers, is an ideal learning environment.

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Career Counseling and Job Search Help

Simple Programmer founder John Sonmez describes the placement rate of bootcamps as an “insanely valuable advantage”—placement rates being a measure of how many of a coding bootcamp’s grads get jobs in software engineering following their bootcamp experience. If you’re wondering how to benchmark those numbers—What’s a good placement rate? What’s mediocre?—Sonmez encourages you to start by comparing them with college placement rates.

You’ll find that coding bootcamp rates can be significantly higher because most colleges leave you to job hunt on your own and don’t spend a ton of time preparing you for the job search process. Colleges aren’t vocational schools, after all; they’re institutions of higher learning and focus on expanding students’ minds. Coding bootcamps, by contrast, are laser-focused on one area of expertise and on teaching students only exactly what they need to know to get hired ASAP. And it pays off: Sonmez says everyone he knows who has completed a bootcamp has been able to find a job.

That’s due in part to the strong relationships coding bootcamps build with recruiters and employers, and in part to the experienced career counselors bootcamps employ to help students craft industry-standard resumes, optimize their LinkedIn profiles, build good networking habits, navigate the hiring process, and more.

This is one of the biggest advantages of joining a bootcamp, writes front-end developer Jam Creencia. Looking for a job in tech is different than pursuing a job in another industry, and a good bootcamp will help you navigate that process. For example, Fullstack Academy hosts an in-house job fair exclusively for Fullstack and Grace Hopper Program grads-to-be.

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All students speed-interview with a number of different recruiters and learn about the companies they represent. The goal of the event is to kickstart students’ job searches by helping them practice their interview skills and make connections with recruiters. Plenty of bootcamp grads make valuable connections there—and some even actually receive offers from those interviews.

Coursera Chief Product Officer Shravan Goli specifically recommends choosing a bootcamp with existing industry relations to increase your chances of finding a job you’re passionate about.

The Costs of Attending a Bootcamp

Now that you know all the value coding bootcamps can provide, let’s take a look at the associated costs.

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The first cost most bootcamp hopefuls ask about is tuition. Costs vary across coding bootcamps, but most run between $10,000 and $20,000 for anywhere between 12 and 20 weeks. That kind of money is nothing to sneeze at, but will still usually cost you less than a CS degree or master’s program—for a more practical skill set and career services to go with it.

Course Report founder Liz Eggleston writes that the average cost of a four-year computer science degree is $163,140. And while CS graduates, on average, earn salaries in the $60,000 range, according to Eggleston’s data, bootcamp grads earn just over $70,000. This means that for almost $150,000 less in education costs, bootcamp grads can end up earning the same as or more than CS grads.

Of course, as we discussed earlier, you don’t have to pay a thing to learn to code if you don’t want to. As Lifehacker’s Melanie Pinola points out, there are plenty of successful self-taught programmers. But she notes, just as we did, that you need to be incredibly disciplined to learn on your own, and one of the hardest things for self-taught programmers to do is identify the gaps in their own knowledge. You may also find it hard to land a job unless you build up a solid portfolio of work like you would at a coding bootcamp—something few MOOCs or other free courses are going to focus on.

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Living Expenses

Because bootcamps are immersive, students must also be able to cover the costs of living during bootcamp. That might seem obvious, but it can be easy to overlook when you’re concentrating on paying tuition. Living expenses can include rent, health insurance, transportation, meals, and more, depending on your situation and the type of bootcamp you plan to attend. For most, covering these expenses is a significant financial consideration that can amount to almost as much or even more than the cost of actual tuition, developer Winter LaMon writes. Student loan companies have been slow to adapt their lending policies to coding bootcamps, which means it can be difficult to get cost-of-living loans.

One lender that does specialize in lending to coding bootcamp students is Skills Fund. They offer both tuition and cost-of-living loans, and because the coding bootcamps that partner with them assume some of the risk of those loans, Skills Fund’s interest rates can be lower than those of traditional banks. Check with the coding bootcamps you’re considering to see whether they partner with a lender like Skills Fund.

Keep in mind that while a coding bootcamp may only be between 12 and 17 weeks long, you’re still going to be out of work during the subsequent job search. While most bootcamp grads at top coding bootcamps get work within six months of graduating, that can still amount to nine months out of work, and University of Washington Ph.D. student Kyle Thayer advises that the actual time it takes to change careers can be a year or more, so bootcamp hopefuls should aim for a year’s worth of savings. This can be a major undertaking for some people, especially those with a family to support, student loans in repayment, debt from medical expenses, or any other previously existing financial burdens.

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Opportunity Costs

This idea that we touched on earlier—of the opportunity costs involved when you try to save money on your education but end up missing out on getting a higher-paying job sooner—also applies in the other direction: It’s going to take you around three months to complete bootcamp, and then another several to find a job, so the opportunity cost is the amount of money you’ll miss out on making while you’re a coding bootcamp student and then afterward, as you look for work.

And it isn’t only financial—you’ll miss out on the experience in the workforce that you would have gotten were you to continue on your current path. That’s actually a big concern for many bootcamp hopefuls: You’re leaving a field you already have experience in for one that’s totally new to you. While most folks want to leave their current field—that’s the whole reason they’re considering coding bootcamps—it can still be scary to think about missing out on nearly a year of additional professional growth in your current field in order to essentially start over in a new field.

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Social Costs

The social costs of attending a coding bootcamp are the most easily overlooked, says full-stack developer Joanna Gaudyn. Attending a bootcamp can mean putting your life on hold for several months to a year, which is going to be more difficult to manage if you have a spouse or kids. That’s not to say it’s impossible: Gaudyn notes that she met husbands, moms, and even newlyweds at bootcamp.

And while social costs might seem like small potatoes compared to financial concerns, relationships are the things that make up our lives, and you want the people closest to you to be a network of support during what will be one of the most stressful times in your life. If those relationships wind up being strained by your new pursuit, staying focused on your career transition is going to be much harder.

So before you apply to a bootcamp, talk it over with those who are closest to you. You should of course put your personal and professional needs first, and the people in your life should want you to do what’s right for you, but including them in the conversation can help set expectations up front and help others know how to manage what will likely be a change in their lifestyle as well. Being clear with your social network can avoid misunderstandings and emotional labor that will only make your bootcamp experience more difficult.

Summing It Up

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So coding bootcamps are the fastest way to skill up for a job in software engineering and build a strong network of connections—plus they include career counseling that’s invaluable to anyone entering a new industry. But all of that doesn’t come cheap. Tuition alone can cost a good amount—and that’s before factoring in cost-of-living expenses and the social toll an intense bootcamp experience can take.

If you’re serious about becoming a software developer and want to make that change ASAP, coding bootcamps are by far your best path to an informed, supported career transition. Given the salary bump most developers see between their former jobs and their first jobs after bootcamp, you’ll be able to recoup your coding bootcamp investment in a relatively short time—but, of course, you’ll need to be able to afford that investment in the first place. If you can’t, check for deferred tuition options at the top coding bootcamps on your list.

Most of all, make sure you’re ready to make a commitment to your education and this new career. These exciting outcomes are only possible if you take the work seriously and pursue the job search rigorously after graduation. You’ll get out of the program what you put into it, so give it your all, and your coding bootcamp experience will turn out to be one of the most rewarding of your life.

If you’re on the fence about coding bootcamps and need someone to answer your questions, book a call with us today or send us a quick email. We’ll help you make the decision that’s best for you.

Images by: Priscilla Du Preez, Fabian Blank, Helena Lopes