Joining a leading coding bootcamp will change your life. Period. Choosing one of the all-too-common, mediocre coding bootcamps will send you in an out-of-control downward spiral. Experienced developers and technical founders of coding bootcamps know that there is very little keeping an unqualified person from starting a coding bootcamp.
Unfortunately, this happens much too often and reading yet another marketing article written by someone with no technical experience whatsoever makes technical bootcamp founders facepalm at the misinformation those coding bootcamps are publishing.
Most technical hiring managers, VPs of engineering and senior software developers who have interviewed a coding bootcamp graduate know:
90% of coding bootcamps have a poorly designed curriculum, focus on things that don’t matter and set students up for failure.
For you to make a smart decision, you need to know the two categories of coding bootcamps:
The Coding Bootcamp Stars:
Schools who focus on long-term student success and do whatever it takes to help their students succeed.
These bootcamps do so by building a real community, teaching advanced topics (think: algorithms, Test Driven Development, data structures) and giving all of their students a real-world coding experience through extensive work on a complex group project.
The Coding Bootcamp Suckers:
Schools who put together a poor and outdated curriculum, hire mediocre instructors/mentors (think: previous graduates) and don’t focus on teaching what really matters.
These coding bootcamps will make any trade-off that improves their bottom line, hire inexperienced mentors, and be happy that only a quarter of their students are unhappy and want their money back.
Luckily, finding the stars and avoiding the suckers is not difficult if you focus on what actually matters.
Finding the best coding bootcamp means you need to focus 100% on things that actually matter.
The only things that matter when selecting a coding bootcamp
Classic Computer Science Topics (Algorithms & Data Structures) are Important
Maybe you haven’t heard what we’ve been screaming about! The fundamentals matter to getting a job as a web developer.
Take it from a typical technical interview experience:
“Most of the lead developers will have computer science degrees and connecting with them certainly helps your job prospects. I had two technical interviews and I received questions about programming in both. In the first, I was asked to explain binary trees and dynamic programming. In the second, I was asked to go to a white board and write out a class (it was a dragon class with methods for flying and breathing fire). Furthermore, during the interview, the lead developer seemed to smile and engage more when I mentioned some of the algorithms I’d learned.”
Instructor / Mentor Quality is Key
Your instructor and/or mentor will be your guide through your coding experience. Having an experienced mentor matters. A lot. So look for a mentor who has at least 3 years of professional experience and don’t be swayed by averages of the team – it’s only your own mentor that matters.
Having an inexperienced developer as a mentor is like crossing a raging river in a boat full of holes – you’re guaranteed to sink, you just don’t know when.
Make sure you’re being taught by the best and that the coding bootcamp you choose has a rock-solid mentor selection process in place. If you come across someone who is inexperienced, having just recently graduated a coding bootcamp themselves, and lacking actual industry experience, you know you’re sitting in a sinking boat.
Quality of the Curriculum Matters
Teaching coding can be hard for a lot of experienced developers. Most developers have been using complicated terminology to define complex topics and can easily interweave things that are even more complicated. In short, they have experience and know how to put things into perspective and context.
A high-quality coding curriculum is a piece of art that needs constant improvement through student feedback. Stale and infrequently updated curricula will leave you feeling more confused than when you started.
Working Together on a Group Matters
There’s a reason that working on a group is the most critical step to getting hired as a web developer. Hiring managers want to work with developers who are able to work productively on their team.
The best software is built by amazing teams – know how to be part of that team.
In the real world, there’s a specific protocol that technical teams use as their development workflow: it’s called Agile or SCRUM. To make an impact on any technical team, you need to have experience working on a team that follows the industry standard development workflow. If your coding bootcamp doesn’t give you that experience, you won’t have any relevant team experience or be interesting to the vast majority of technical hiring managers.
Judge the Core Program Based On Its Introduction Course
Star coding bootcamps will have an introductory course that is mandatory to successfully complete before you can be officially accepted into the full program and pay your tuition. They do so not only to prepare and teach their potential students important technical skills before they start, but also to make sure that only people who are really interested in programming are part of their community.
A few weeks of introduction also ensures that students start the program with relatively equal footing, and are not wasting limited time in the full program learning beginning topics that could easily have been picked up ahead of time.
The quality of those intro courses and the amount of technical help you receive (Q&A forum for error messages and code reviews) will give you a good feel for what to expect in the full course. The more you learn during the intro course, the deeper the curriculum in the full program will be.
Think About High Level Outcomes
This means, you should avoid worrying about 100% of the things that don’t matter. And the only thing that matters after completing the program is if you’re ready to achieve your goal. Period. End of story.
It doesn’t matter if you build 1 web application, or 100 web applications. The cost-per-hour doesn’t matter either. Bang for your buck is unimportant, too. It is very straightforward: after the experience, will you be prepared to conquer the coding world – yes or no?
The coding bootcamp suckers use low-level thinking with irrelevant topics, and focus on winning at the micro-level, rather than helping you reach your goals.
Things That Don’t Matter
Job Placement Networks
Many programs try to sell students the idea that job placement networks are built to get their students jobs. They’re not. Job placement networks are a way for coding bootcamps to monetize students who would be able to get jobs on their own.
For all other students, job placement networks or recruiters are simple contact points that won’t lead to anything but wasted time and focus on conversations with the wrong people.
Since the coding bootcamp suckers are honestly just bad (and make no mistake, they include the brand names out there as well), they go as far as calling up employers outside their job placement network who have hired their alumni (a student who found the position on their own), and demanding they pay them thousands of dollars as a “recruiting fee” — even though they weren’t involved in the hiring process at all.
That’s just nuts and stands in clear conflict of helping you reach your goal and get a job.
Testimonials on Bootcamp Websites
It can be tempting to read the reviews on a particular bootcamp’s website and simply trust it. The company has done the work to get reviews of their product, and they’re sharing them with you. It may seem generous, but it’s actually self-serving.
The reviews that are listed on a coding bootcamp’s website are the best reviews they’ve received and the ones that get students fired up about joining their program. What we’re going to look for are the outlier reviews. The ones at the most positive and negative ends of the spectrum.
That said, most students will be motivated to leave positive reviews, because it will allow them to be perceived as a more competent individual. If you think about it, publicly stating: “my entire coding experience has been through [Bootcamp X], and I got nothing out of it,” you’re basically saying you have very little coding experience and are not hirable. That’s not a very good position to be in, so why would you do that to yourself? On the other hand, if you find a review that negative, mark it down as a big red flag for that particular coding bootcamp.
You need to scour the internet and seek out these negative reviews. Be skeptical of any reviews on sites that support anonymous reviews not connected to a social account – these are about as trustworthy as testimonials that are bought for a few dollars on sites like Fiverr.
Solution: Read Student Reviews
After finding a handful of coding bootcamp reviews and doing some initial research on Quora, you will need to dig a bit deeper and find some thorough student reviews of the actual coding bootcamp. By reading student reviews, you want to quickly get a sense for what other students say about the coding bootcamp and notice if there are any big red flags.
You should look for reviews and detailed student blog posts that chronicle a student’s entire experience of going through the coding bootcamp.
Common Coding Bootcamp Myths
By coding 80+ hours a week, you’ll learn at an accelerated rate.
Spending more than 40 hours a week programming is generally a bad idea. Even senior developers have a hard time staying productive in marathon coding sessions. At the end of the day, it’s usually a good idea to go home early, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges, rather than struggle with an ever-decreasing productivity curve and end the day frustrated from making little progress in the last hours of the day.
This 80+ hours coding thing is a remnant of how the first coding bootcamps were run, and the practice was mindlessly copied by other schools that opened up. It promotes mindless practice, rather than effective practice.
In-person coding bootcamps don’t use videos to teach.
Most people expect 100% of the instruction they receive at an in-person coding bootcamp to be done through live instruction. This means many people choose in-person coding bootcamps because they “don’t learn well from videos” and want live instructions.
However, this isn’t how many in-person bootcamps (again, we’re talking brand names here) operate. One would expect to get live instruction where one teacher gives a talk to a class of 30 students. But in actuality, you will watch recorded videos of a previous cohort running you through the day’s lesson.
In-person coding bootcamps help you with technical problems right away.
Some of the worst coding bootcamps only have a single, part-time instructor. If paying thousands of dollars to be put into a group of clueless students with 10 hours a week of actual guidance seems crazy to you, you’re not alone. However, that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of coding bootcamp suckers have no student help built into their profitable business models.
You can believe the job placement rates coding bootcamps advertise.
They say there are Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. Most of the statistics you read about job placement rates are grossly inflated by clever math that doesn’t add up.
Many times, the metrics you see advertised on a company’s site read like they apply across all graduates. It’s not uncommon for a statement to be cleverly worded to imply that a certain percent of all graduates find jobs after graduation, when in fact it’s a small filtered pool of the best graduates. In statistics, this practice is called selection bias – don’t fall for it.
The people doing the calculating have the ability to give highly misleading statistics. With the right selection bias, anything is possible. Here’s an example of how meaningless those job placement numbers are.
Say the first small cohort of a coding bootcamp has a job placement rate of 90%. The second and larger cohort (which you would be a part of) has a placement rate of 40%. One would assume that the advertised job placement rate would be for all the graduated students. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, since it would be bad for business. Instead, selection bias is applied and the 90% stays on the homepage, even after multiple cohorts have graduated with even lower placement rates.
Another creative way the selection bias is applied is by only “endorsing” a very small pool of all graduates, say 10% of all students. Out of this very small pool of “endorsed” students, 90% find jobs after graduating. That’s the number that is advertised and nobody ever hears about what job prospects the “non-endorsed” students had.
Be smart and don’t fall for the artificially inflated statistics of the coding bootcamp suckers.
Read on: How the Firehose Project Busts Down the Door of Real Coding Education
This post is part of a 4-part series. Click here to read the previous post, and click here to start from the beginning.