Think about the last time you purchased something of relatively significant amount of money for you. Marketers and academics say you went through a linear process called buying behavior, where you:
- Identified you had a need (e.g. I need something to listen to music in public)
- Researched what could satisfy your need (e.g. I could get headphones or earbuds)
- Evaluate your consideration set (e.g. I prefer wireless bluetooth ear buds over the big headphones)
- Make the purchase (e.g. Apple Store trip anyone? Nah…let’s click for it online).
- Post buying behavior (e.g. am I happy with these? I’ll tell my friends about it or write a review)
I’d argue you go through some variation of this for everything you buy. This includes education- i.e. your bootcamp. Let’s talk about the phase you’re likely in right now if you’re reading this: how to evaluate your choices.
In the universe of education vehicles, bootcamps are the new and shiny thing. As such, you don’t have the decades, sometimes centuries, worth of outcomes you have for universities that provide signals for quality. Further, there is no universally accepted ranking source such as U.S. News and World Report’s yearly list. Making it even harder, bootcamps are popping up (and shutting down) left and right. So where do you start? Same as those earbuds….
Step 1: Decide what features are right for you
Let’s keep the headphones analogy going. Just as those have many features (wired vs wireless, noise cancellations vs not, etc), bootcamps also have features. Beyond the content that you’re interested in learning, think about the things that are important to you. Some features include:
- Guarantees: does you bootcamp offer some sort of guarantee that if you put in the work, you’ll be able to get a job? And if not, they’ll return your money? Some do. It’s a vote of confidence in not only you as a student (and the quality of student they’ll admit), but in their process as well.
- Income Share Agreements: this can be considered a variant of a guarantee. Essentially some bootcamps will offer to admit and educate you you for $0 upfront cost, in exchange for a percentage of your future income, plus a fee. This is a great option for students that are low on cash.
- Online Options: If you live in a small city that lacks a burgeoning tech scene, this might be the only option for you if you don’t want to relocate. Some bootcamps are on-campus only. Others offer the choice of online options.
- Self-paced Options: the typical 3–4 month bootcamp is notorious for being intense and fast-paced. I have both a BS and masters degree from top universities in my chosen field of study. In my experience, the academic intensity of a bootcamp surpasses both. That level of commitment is not a viable option for everyone. Some bootcamps offer the ability to take the material typically consumed in three months over a year, or even longer.
- Student:Teacher Ratios: this is one of the least spoken about, but most important attributes for a bootcamp, as well as any educational institution. I’ve seen the amount of teachers per student vary from 7 to 50 at some bootcamps. Do you really want to compete with 50 other people whenever you have a question (and there will be many!) about one of your projects? I’ve seen this make or break a bootcamp experience.
- Acceptance Criteria: this is another attribute I’ve seen vary widely. I’ve seen bootcamps require students to already be able to create a basic website. I’ve also seen bootcamps require nothing more than money in their pockets. Consider how easy the bootcamp is to get into as a signal of the quality of students they graduate, the rigor of their program, and the level of students you’ll be interacting with. Think about it. Would you rather go on a learning journey with people that have proven they’re passionate about the topic by learning some of the basics already? Or with those that may not know what they want, and were just able to write a check to figure it out? It’s always better to have people around you that can elevate your competitiveness. Not dilute it.
- Education Delivery: we all have preferred ways of learning. Maybe you prefer to research and try things on your own with some on-demand guidance. Others might prefer systemic and consistent lectures. Others might be more visual, and prefer the guidance of videos with what they’re learning and trying to build. Whatever your preferred style of learning, it could be helpful to understand if the education philosophy of the bootcamp you’re considering matches it. If not, it could be a frustrating experience for you.
- Career Services: some bootcamps teach you to code, and release you in the wild. Others take it a step further by providing guidance on the basics to prepare you for your job search, such as resume help, and interview guidance. If you’ve never prepared a professional resume, or gone through a professional job search, this should be a big decision criteria for you.
- Price: Obvious, but important. Total out-of-pocket costs can vary by as much as 200%. This can help filter your options considerably.
Step 2: Research Reviews
Continuing with our perfect headphone search, you’d probably go to amazon.com, or at least google some brand and model names, and read what people are saying about the headphones you’re interested in.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one single massive agreed-upon source of bootcamp reviews like amazon is for any given widget. But there are many sources of student reviews of bootcamps. After you’ve filtered the universe of bootcamps based on required features for you (e.g. guarantees, student:teacher ratio, and price), google the name of the bootcamp with “reviews” or other similar terms. If you see mainly negative stories, consider it a red flag.
Step 3: Research Outcomes
How do you know a trial attorney is any good? Maybe stats such as conviction ratio or win percentage? How about a pro athlete? You’d look up his or her stats too. Do the same for the bootcamp you’re considering. Some stats you should be aware of include the average starting salaries of graduates and how long it typically takes graduates to find a job. If a bootcamp takes the step of having their outcomes independently audited, consider that a good sign.
But another, more nuanced way of getting at outcomes is asking the fundamental question: where are previous graduates of these bootcamps working today? This is harder to get at, but still doable. I suggest going on LinkedIn, searching for the bootcamp you’re interested, and looking at the companies the former students are working at today. If you see familiar names, that’s a good sign. This can also function as a valuable networking resource.
Selecting the right bootcamp for you should be an iterative and filtering process. It’s important to think about what will be important for you, and what institution will give you the tools to succeed in your new career.