So you're interested in becoming a software developer. You've watched the myriad of programming 101 videos on YouTube. And now you're perusing the seemingly endless bootcamp options out there. Coding bootcamps can be a terrific jumpstart to achieving your career goals. But take it from me, the hunt for the right program can be daunting.
I spent years considering different bootcamps before finding an opportunity that was the right fit for me. I was fortunate that my managers at The Zebra not only accommodated my learning but encouraged me to grow my technical skills.
Are you in a similar situation — ready to take a serious step into software development? Here’s an exercise that helped me when I was getting started.
Below are five questions to ask yourself before choosing a bootcamp. I encourage you to write down your answers and compare potential programs side by side. My hope is that this exercise — as it did for me — will guide you through the sea of bootcamp possibilities, landing you in the one best suited for your needs.
1. What is your learning style?
There isn’t one correct way to learn; different people absorb and retain information best through different formats. It’s important to know how you learn and find a teaching style that pairs well with that. Below are some things to think about as you hone in on your learning style.
- Does collaborating and working on problems with others help you solidify concepts? Look for bootcamps that offer ample amounts of pair or peer programming.
- Do you need time in between lectures to review and solidify information? Consider a part-time course that will give you the flexibility to do so.
- Do you do best with more one-on-one instruction? A bootcamp with a strong mentorship program or with regular office hours may be better suited for you.
2. What are your expectations for career placement?
In a perfect world, you would graduate from your bootcamp with a Software Engineering position and a start date. Realistically, you will spend three to six months searching for your first role. What resources would you like to have available for you in that transitionary period? Here are a few questions to ask before joining a bootcamp.
- What type of networks and companies do they partner with?
- How do they share positions from their partnership?
- Where do their alums work?
- What do their statistics say about their post-graduation placement?
- What type of support do they offer after graduating from their bootcamp, and for how long?
3. What do you want your time outside of class to look like?
When you’re not in class, what is the workload and expectation around studying? Ask a variety of sources — teachers, alumni, mentors, admissions, etc. — this same question if you can. Are they giving similar answers? Talk to the admissions staff and ask to be connected with alums and lecturers.
This was not a question I initially asked, but after speaking to my classmates, we realized we all had different expectations for how much studying was recommended. Before joining, I expected that anytime I was not at work or in class, I would be studying and reviewing concepts I had learned, which is what I ended up doing.
4. What can you afford?
How a program fits in your budget is never as fun to think through, but it’s essential. Especially as you may have noticed that bootcamps are pricey. Some seek to receive a percent of your salary for a certain number of years following your graduation. Others charge a lump sum upfront. Many offer payment plans of some sort. As you’re researching, make sure to not only get the cost of each program but what the payment schedule looks like.
Often bootcamps will have scholarships available. If you are seeking scholarships, here are a few questions to ask.
- How often are scholarships granted?
- How many are granted?
- What percentage of tuition do they cover?
- If they are interview-based, how can you best prepare for the given interview?
If scholarships aren’t an option, are your skills transferable at your current employer? And if so, does your current employer offer any education assistance?
You may also want to consider part-time courses that will allow you to keep your day job. I personally attended a part-time course because I wanted the flexibility and security my paycheck afforded me.
5. Is there a particular type of programming you enjoy?
While not necessary, I highly encourage you to experiment and figure out what types of programming you find enjoyable. Switching between languages and expertise is always an option and highly likely in software engineering. That said, starting with background knowledge in a programming language you enjoy can help motivate and push you through the most challenging months of a bootcamp.
Starting a bootcamp can be daunting, especially when your classmates are joining with a mix of knowledge and experience levels. Learning some fundamentals beforehand can be a huge help as you get acclimated.
Some bootcamps will have entrance exams and interviews that test for basic coding concepts. Learning these beforehand in a language you enjoy are invaluable and can help you start a bootcamp with more ease. Having an understanding of syntax in one language is helpful when learning others as you'll recognize patterns that apply to both.
Are you wondering if I would ever do a bootcamp again? The answer is 100% yes. It not only allowed me to gain a lot of knowledge quickly, but ultimately helped me move into my Software Engineering role at The Zebra. If you have any questions about my experience or about open positions at The Zebra, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or via my work email.