Beyond Programming Language

How to choose the best coding bootcamp.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steven Harms

credit-devbootcampEvery year, more students are turning to coding bootcamps to learn the skills that will fast-track them into one of the lucrative technology jobs awaiting qualified applicants. Around half of the jobs with salaries in the top income quartile ($57,000 or more per year) require some coding skills – and people are taking notice. In fact, according to a recent Course Report study, nearly 18,000 students will graduate from a coding bootcamp in 2016 – a substantial increase over the 10,333 who graduated in 2015.

It’s important to find a bootcamp that not only offers a rigorous technical curriculum, but creates an accessible, inclusive, and supportive environment.

With shorter graduation timelines and a curriculum structure focused on practical application, bootcamps are changing both the delivery model of programming education and the time commitment required to learn coding. With these changes come questions, particularly from prospective students, about choosing the right bootcamp to meet career objectives. Given the investment of both time and money and the number of bootcamps on the market, it’s important for students to choose wisely. Here are three criteria to consider for those who are thinking of attending a bootcamp.

Consistency in Curriculum

Just like most industries, technology is subject to changing trends, but that doesn’t mean a bootcamp should regularly shift its core curriculum. Often, prospective students – particularly those with little or no prior coding experience – choose a bootcamp based on whether it teaches the programming languages listed in an aspirational job description. It’s entirely reasonable to scour job postings and extract the most frequently used frameworks or techniques, such as JavaScript, OOP, React, Angular, or Angular 2 and choose a bootcamp based on its support for these terms. However, students must look beyond that, for a program that has a firm grounding in fundamentals and teaches them to be nimble and adapt in a new work environment.

Hiring managers care less that a new developer has mastered a specific language and more about an applicant’s ability to reason using programming principles, to understand and communicate the theory of programming languages, and to work outside of a pattern. A bootcamp can help prepare students for coding careers by staying abreast of trends, and it should be nimble in its ability to dial up the focus on a particular language or framework based on the current market need, but its guiding mission should be rooted in those foundational skills because, in the end, great engineers – schooled in the fundamentals – will always produce great products.

The Right Career Support System

If a prospective student is going to put the time and financial investment into a bootcamp, it’s important to know that the bootcamp is also planning to invest in his or her long-term career success. To take advantage of all that a bootcamp has to offer, prospects should choose one that provides reliable post-graduation career support even after graduates land their first jobs, one that directly connects graduates with a network of companies with the capacity to hire developers and one that nurtures a community of alumni who are working as programmers in diverse industries. While none of these benefits may guarantee landing that dream job, they do set graduates up for the best possible chance of success and a solid return on their investment.

A Judgment-Free Environment

Whether a prospective student has no prior work experience or is looking to make a career shift, the transition into a developer role isn’t easy. The first day at a coding bootcamp can be intimidating for those with little or no background in web development, so it’s important to find a bootcamp that not only offers a rigorous technical curriculum, but creates an accessible, inclusive, and supportive environment. The right bootcamp culture challenges and pushes students, but acknowledges that there is a lot to learn and that confusion is inevitable.

In fact, it will empower students to embrace the confusion for the sake of learning. The program should be a supportive place for those new to programming, and it should value the diversity of perspectives that they bring to technology. It should facilitate open communication, self-awareness, and collaborative learning to help students build self-confidence and develop an appreciation and desire to work with others, particularly those from underrepresented communities in tech. 

Bootcamps are an excellent way to accelerate the education process and get a jumpstart on a new career but, as with any major decision, prospective students should approach the information gathering process with a critical eye. By exercising due diligence and asking the right questions, students can choose the right school to meet their career objectives and set themselves up for the best possible chance of post-graduate success.

Steven Harms is Director of Curriculum at Dev Bootcamp. Write to: hello@devbootcamp.com

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