The №1 Thing I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Coding Bootcamp

besides that a mid-career shift will be even harder in the midst of global pandemic

I’ll get right to the point here: I wish I knew that there were really two kinds of coding bootcamps: those primarily focussed on teaching, and those primarily focused on technology employee pipeline creation. They have two very different business models. And depending on what your goals are, your career could take drastically different paths. Below I’ll describes these two models, what you can expect from them, and why you might want one over the other.

Photo by Chris Ried on Unsplash

Academic Bootcamps

The business model of what I call “Academic Bootcamps” is that of a for-profit educational institution. It’s like a regular school, but it also has a mandate to earn money. Their primary function is to teach you how to code, typically as a full-stack web developer, profitably. And after that, you’re on your own. And if being on your own (e.g. being a freelance web developer) is your goal, this will likely be the ideal choice for you.

The big players in this segment are the General Assembly, Flatiron School, and Hack Reactor like companies. They’ll each have their own marketing positioning to differentiate themselves (e.g. Income Share Agreements, vs paying only after you get a job, etc), and will tout their alumni employment rates, and median starting salaries as a signal for quality. But as a business model they are all about the same: student wants to learn to code ===> student pays company to teach them code. The relationship is over after that.

If you’re an artist, for example, and want to generate extra income on the side building websites while you pursue your true passion, this could be an ideal route. Or if you’re a recent Computer Science graduate that recently received a traditional four-year degree, but realized you weren’t taught to code in a modern stack at university, and would like to work at startups, this too could work for you.

However, if your main goal is to be employed as a software engineer at a large firm quickly after graduation, this might not be the best route for you. That’s where what I call “pipeline bootcamps” fit in.

Employee Pipeline Bootcamps

Pipeline coding bootcamps will teach you to code, but in very different ways, and with a very different result. Their business model is more like a vertically integrated consultancy, where they train consultants from the ground up, and then hire them out to their clients for a fee.

Some examples of firms with this business model are FDM Group, Revature, and mthree. I hesitate to even calling these firms “coding bootcamps” because they’re really more like a hybrid of business process outsourcing, and consultancy. But because they also train you from the bottom up to be able to code, they tend to attract the same types of individuals with non-traditional backgrounds hoping to break into tech as software engineers.

These companies generally have the following model: if accepted, they train you in more enterprise driven technologies (e.g. Java, C++) for about three months. Afterwards, you’re bound to work for one of their clients, anywhere that might be in your home country, for somewhere between 24–36 months. If for whatever reason you fail to comply with the contract (e.g. you don’t want to move to the required city, or want to take a job elsewhere) you’re obliged to return a previously specified sum of money the company invested in you, typically tens of thousands of dollars.

So, on the one hand, you get trained for free, have almost guaranteed job immediately after graduation, but you must be very mobile, and willing to commit to any job, for two to three years. Oh, and you’re be earning 40%-70% less than market rate while working off your contracted time in order for the company to recoup their investment and make a profit.

Assuming you’re wanting to make a career of software engineering, as opposed to merely having it as a side-hustle while you pursue other projects, this could be a very viable option for some people. Yes, you’ll earn significantly less than some counterparts the first few years, but you also won’t have to go through the gauntlet of finding the first tech job after graduation, which can be quite difficult for many bootcamp grads. Thus, it might actually net out in the end. And after those 2–3 years, you’ll have very valuable experience, and can command a 100%+ raise immediately.

So if you’re considering a coding bootcamp, know that this other, lesser known model also exist. If you want to determine your own destiny in terms of where you live, where you work, and how much you earn in the immediate future, it won’t be for you. But if your main concern is getting experience in tech, I think it is a much better option than the better known bootcamps. In fact, academic bootcamps have been known to funnel their recent grads having difficulty finding jobs, to the pipeline bootcamps. I personally have known students to do an academic bootcamp, only to have to start over in a pipeline bootcamp because they couldn’t find jobs.

If in the summer of 2019 as I started researching coding bootcamps to transition my career from analytics, to software engineering, I knew what I know now in the spring of 2020 (and yes, that includes that an upcoming pandemic would ultimately grind the global economy to a halt), it’s very possible I would’ve taken a different path.

Always learning.