When you boil it down to its very essence, computer science is just a hot mess of dichotomy and choice – is the state a 1, or is it a 0? On, or off? Up, or down? This is binary code 101, opposite ends of a spectrum that has no middle.
Just like the systems they’re working on, a programmer generally exists in one of two states – I am a god, or I have no idea what the hell I’m supposed to be doing. There is no middle ground. As they say, “fake it till you make it.”
The big question is, which route prepares you to spend more time being a coding god, and less time pretending like you know what you’re meant to be doing – but fooling no one. There is a case to be made for going the traditional route and studying computer science at a university or college. But there is also much to be said about the benefits of coding bootcamps.
There is a lot of myth and preconceived prejudice mixed in amongst slivers of truth. Which method of learning best prepares you for the industry, and does either route affect your employment opportunities?
Today we will separate fact from fiction and give you an honest and unbiased run down of the whole stressful situation.
COMPUTER SCIENCE DEGREE:
We can probably all agree that college or university is high on the priority list for a lot of aspiring programmers. After all, it’s been drilled into you from a young age that to have any kind of successful career at all, you need to get that college education. That slip of paper with a shiny gold sticker on it that assures your future employer that you can do everything you say you can do on your resume – endorsed by “The Dean of Wherever”. Just make sure to thank those student loans, they helped you get through college – the least you can do is repay their kindness. Welcome to real life, crippling debt at a young age.
The traditional path into a career in software engineering is go to college, get a computer science degree, junior level role, competent programmer, senior or lead role, staff role, retire, profit. It’s climbing the corporate ladder, spending time proving yourself in a role before being promoted to something with better pay, more responsibility, and requiring more expertise to do it, and do it well.
But this pattern is as old as the hills. Do you really need to spend years of your life, racking up debt, in order to get a good job in computer science?
ATTENDING A CODING BOOTCAMP:
Web developer bootcamp style crash courses have become more and more common in the tech industry. In the same way that military bootcamps turn pudgy, regular citizens into soldiers made of iron and ready to prove themselves on the field of battle; Dev bootcamps aim to take the hobbyist or entry level programmer and turn them into a well-rounded and knowledgeable code writer, ready to be propelled into an exciting new career in software engineering. And often, this transformation can take weeks – not months, or years.
But is this whole concept some farfetched pipedream designed to separate underachievers at school and college dropouts from their hard-earned coin, made by delivering pizzas, bagging groceries, or waiting tables on minimum wage?
Truth is stranger than fiction on this one, as the stats tell an interesting story. Overall, tech firms ranging from start-up size all the way up to the FAANG companies, have been hiring more and more dev bootcamp graduates each year. The meteoric rise of the dev bootcamp industry has, to some degree, been adopted and endorsed by the industry in general.
This seems crazy, as a brief bootcamp lasting anywhere from 6 to 28 weeks can’t possibly compare to a 4-year bachelor’s degree – or can it?
THE TALE OF THE TAPE:
So how do our choices measure up against each other, in terms of what you get out of them post completion.
College is meant to turn an interested schoolkid into a computer scientist or engineer. There is a reason it takes 4 years, you start from the ground up and get a deep understanding of how computers and code work, by literally learning everything. Programming, discrete structures, data structures, analysis of algorithms, web development, databases, software engineering, architecture and assembly, operating systems, networks, usability engineering, mobile and cloud applications – the list of topics you’ll study is exhaustive to say the least.
You end up with a huge number of weapons in your arsenal, an extremely well rounded “jack of all trades” in software engineering who can slot into any number of entry level, but specialist roles and build a career there.
You go in a blank canvas, and you come out a Rembrandt that can write in Java, Python and C++ and is a mathematical machine.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS:
There isn’t a dev bootcamp on the market right now that will cover the sheer scope of topics that a bachelor’s degree will. The attention to detail is staggering, and there is no rock left unturned – you’ll learn everything there is to learn pretty much. It’s heavier on algorithms, problem solving and the underlying principles of programming.
A big plus that college has going for it, is that all the good little boys and girls have the chance to apply for and obtain a scholarship. The steep cost of tuition doesn’t seem that bad when it’s notably absent, leaving you to enjoy your studies that much more.
There is no substitute really for having bachelor’s degree laid out after your name. The razzle dazzle of a college education is generally enough to wow a future employer to some degree, and most will take a university educated applicant over someone who has completed an online bootcamp any day of the week.
ALL ABOUT THOSE LIFE SKILLS:
Moving out of home and not having your mother washing your dirty socks and making your dinner will teach you valuable life skills. There is a certain maturity that is gained during college that you just can’t really get when you’re still living in the same room you had as a child.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY:
Depending on where you get your degree, a semester can cost anywhere from $5-25k and have you working 2 jobs while studying full time just to keep your head above water. That is, unless your benevolent grandmother decides to pay and give you a free ride because you’re her favorite grandchild.
Do you have the staying power to sustain you over years of college education? There is a huge time commitment attached to enrolling to complete a bachelor’s degree, which delays the start of earning a proper adult wage. Something to consider.
PRIM AND PROPER:
The college curriculum is written by tenured Professors who are unlikely to have worked for a company writing code for at least a decade, if ever. What you learn is rigid, and although all encompassing, lacks the ability to adapt and change to include advancements in a fast-changing industry.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT:
Those crippling student loans we joke about? Yeah, they’re actually no laughing matter. It can take anywhere from 5 to 10 years to pay them off, and for those unfortunate enough to not find work in the industry, significantly longer. The sad fact is that for a few of those who struggled during University, all they’ll end up with is a useless, but very expensive, piece of paper.
Yeah, the dev bootcamp is a little different. There is way less emphasis on theory, and a whole heap more emphasis on practical skillsets. You begin writing code almost immediately, with a heavy focus on working in a team and in an environment that is meant to simulate how you’ll work in the industry.
Think of this like an apprenticeship, like on the job training where you learn real world applications of knowledge in lieu of exploring that knowledge just for learning’s sake.
It’s trimmed of all the fat and filler, and all about building, about using application programming interfaces to allow front and back ends to communicate with each other effectively. This is career coaching, and how to actually do the work, instead of learning how the work… well… works.
In contrast, a dev bootcamp will often cost the same as a single semester of college – only you’ll come out of it with the same real-world skillset. Plus, you get to work and start earning money MUCH sooner.
You’ll likely pay off a dev bootcamp in the first year or two of employment, so there isn’t this dark cloud of debt hanging over your head.
GET WITH THE TIMES:
Being an online course designed to fast track your career, a dev bootcamp curriculum is likely to be ever changing, with parts taken out or new content added in to make sure that the course itself is relevant in the current industry climate. The skills you learn are designed to make you as marketable as possible and give you the best chance at gaining employment.
Dev bootcamps are perfect for someone who has already been to college but wants to change career paths. Or for a seasoned veteran to brush up their skills by learning modern programming after years stagnating in the same job.
Unlike college, there isn’t a terrible abundance of financial aid or places to borrow a loan to pay for a dev bootcamp. Sadly, lenders will happily fork out the dough to fund a college degree, less so for a short online course.
Being such an intensive program, you’ll end up with significant gaps in your fundamental knowledge. It’s an inevitability, as only so many subjects can be squeezed into such a brief, accelerated learning curve.
Not all dev bootcamps are equal! While colleges and universities are held up to a high standard and are under constant scrutiny, literally anyone with a business name can start selling online courses and flaunt their success. Deceitful marketing is rife in this sector, so it pays to do a ton of research.
So, what’s right for you, and what will get you that dream job?
It’s not that simple. Larger companies are more traditional, and would almost certainly have a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science as a pre-requisite for applying. Dedicating years of your life to a singular goal shows a degree of focus and intestinal fortitude – desirable traits in an employee.
On the other hand, a dev bootcamp demonstrates to start-ups and medium sized companies that you have had experience working in a team, and that although your knowledge may be lacking, you have the skills and know how to get the job done.
Overall, 72% of employers concede that they think bootcampers are equally as prepared as computer science graduates and are likely to do just as well in the same role. So, there is some food for thought.
EARNINGS VS. COST
A shiny new college degree will earn you an average salary of $86,550 per year, where a bootcampers will only get $66,964. These are only averages, and a starting salary can be more, or it can be less.
The interesting part is that one form of education costs A LOT more than the other to complete, and that both entry level roles arguably have equivalent opportunity for advancement. Something to consider.
We hope this blog helped you better understand the differences and pros & cons of both a traditional degree and the bootcamp education routes! If you enjoyed this blog you may also enjoy our other blogs like, Data Engineer Vs Data Analyst Vs Data Scientist or Do You Need to Know Data Structures And Algorithms.
Kofi Group is proud to be a source of knowledge and insight into the startup software engineering world and offers a multitude of resources to help you learn more, improve your career, and help startups hire the best talent. If you are interested in learning more about what we do and how we can help you then get in touch or watch our Youtube videos for additional information.