Throughout last year, we amassed thousands of alumni reviews and data points to bring you our list of recommendations. We’ve analyzed price, location, job support, alumni reviews, instructor quality, and several other important indicators of quality, and narrowed the list to provide you with a starting point of well-reviewed, fully-vetted bootcamps. see our top bootcamps by location or learn more about the factors to consider when choosing a bootcamp.
January 18, 2018
What is a Coding Bootcamp?
Coding bootcamps are immersive training programs that help students from all backgrounds transition into a tech career. Since they started in 2012, these private education courses have been training software engineers with very positive job placement and salary outcomes.
A Brief History of Coding Bootcamps
A coding bootcamp is a form of vocational training popularized in late 2011 and early 2012. In simple terms, they offer an accelerated, immersive education that turns students into working developers.
Among the first successful programs was Dev Bootcamp, founded when a friend challenged Shereef Bishay to train him as a software engineer in just nine weeks. Bishay accepted the challenge, recruiting his first Dev Bootcamp cohort through a post on Hacker News. Over 90% of the bootcamp's first two graduating classes reportedly landed a full-time job, paying more than $80,000 per year on average.
This early success gave rise to competitors and spin offs, with some alumni going on to found schools of their own. As the educational model spread — and as the media took notice — the notion of an immersive programming education gradually begun to enter the mainstream.
So what does this "immersive" model of education mean, exactly? Starting from day one, students are thrown into the deep end to start swimming in the river of code. For ten hours a day or more, students learn to code, and do this for two to three months until they're deemed proficient for an entry-level developer role. Some bootcamps further supplement hands-on learning with relevant activities such as guest lectures on building real-world technologies and career-building workshops.
Think of graduating from a coding boot camp not as the end, but the beginning of your journey. Learning is lifelong.
The intensity of programming immersion allows students to move up the learning curve at a rate far greater than self-paced leaning, weekly classes, or even a university curriculum would typically allow. Though many schools and universities offer computer science classes, their focus often falls heavily on theory, forgoing real-world practices and industry technologies used on a day-to-day basis. Said one student of his education: "I'm graduating with a computer science degree, but I don't feel like I know how to program."
Traditional classrooms also commonly fail to provide substantial individual attention and mentorship to students. Just last year, Harvard University's introductory computer science course was attended by a record 818 undergraduates, overtaking economics to become the school's most popular course.
The growth of the bootcamp industry has been immense. Currently, there are well over 100 schools of all shapes and sizes around the world, graduating close to an estimated 10,000 students this year. At the beginning of 2015, bootcamps that offered a full-time program charged a tuition of $9,900 and lasted 10.4 weeks on average.
Since coding boot camps have gained popularity, major criticism has been directed toward the industry. Critics say that the accelerated model produces lower-quality programmers, that instructors are often inexperienced, and that many of these programs are primarily concerned with maximizing profits. While many of these concerns are valid, it's unlikely that bootcamps which have not made an effort to improve their pedagogy will find success beyond their first cohorts in the long run. Programs which have been able to prove their effectiveness through a rigorous curriculum, a strong teaching staff, and high-performing graduates will achieve longevity far more easily. Additionally, a growing number of third-party coding bootcamp reviews and emerging forms of regulation and accreditation can only help to lend transparency to this new industry.
While interested applicants should always do proper research and beware of unethical marketing tactics, the quality of education in the industry remains healthy overall. We have begun to see bootcamps like gSchool announce higher education offerings and traditional schools such as Concordia University begin to develop shorter, career-focused programs. A competitive educational marketplace has begun to yield a diverse spectrum of options that can cater to a wider range of needs, backgrounds, and skill levels.
As former bootcamp students and instructors, we can attest to the effectiveness of a good bootcamp. If you ask us, learning always happens best in an immersive environment, where you can minimize distraction and maximize learning. It's much like immersive education for a foreign language — except here, the language might be Ruby or Python and the study abroad location is your text editor. But, oh, the places you can go with that foundation of knowledge. Think of graduating from a bootcamp not as the end, but the beginning of your journey. Learning is lifelong.
That said, it's important to note that there are BIG differences between bootcamps. Some, unsurprisingly, are much better than others. It's important that you avoid the scams and choose one that is a good fit. Keep reading to find out how.
What to Research When Choosing A Coding Bootcamp
Here on SwitchUp, we now list hundreds of bootcamps in a range of subjects including fullstack web development, front-end development, data science, UX/UI design, and cybersecurity.
Students have more options than ever, and it can be overwhelming to choose a highly-rated program that is a great fit for a student’s career goals. Bootcamps vary drastically by cost, time commitment, and career-growth options, and the decision can be daunting for many prospective students.
At SwitchUp, we’ve found that there are six major factors that can help you decide if a program is the best fit for you. In this section, we’ll dive into the factors that will help you evaluate a bootcamp, and offer tips on how to choose.
There are many differences between boot camps that you should carefully consider. In this section we will present the a few common questions and issues that students face when researching schools. We will give you some pointers on how to address these issues and what to pay attention to.
1. Programming Languages
One of the most common questions we hear from students is “which programming language should I learn?” The correct answer highly depends on each individual’s career goals and learning style.
To tackle this question, we suggest that students start by asking themselves the following:
- Where do I see myself after a bootcamp?
- What is the hiring landscape in my city or intended city?
There is lots of hype around different languages...Be careful of hype, technology changes fast.
Where do I see myself after a bootcamp?
To get the most out of a bootcamp, you’ll want to have a good understanding of your ideal career after the program.
In general, ignore conversations about which language is “best” and focus on your career goals and the type of company that you want to work for (e.g. web vs mobile, enterprise vs. consumer, startup vs. large corporation). Different types of companies tend to use a certain type of language. For example, academic researchers typically use Python for their simulations and data analysis, whereas an enterprise desktop software company might be using C++.
To start, know that different languages are used for different types of products:
- For iOS mobile applications, you will have to learn Objective-C or Swift.
- For Android applications, you will have to learn Java and the Android framework.
- For video games, many of today's popular console and PC titles require knowledge of C and C++ to build.
What is the hiring landscape in my intended city?
When many start to think about a career in tech, they generally picture themselves living and working in a big market like San Francisco, New York, or even Los Angeles. But make no mistake: there are many opportunities outside of what are traditionally considered “tech hubs”. The trick is understanding the demand in your city of choice and the type of developers that are getting hired.
At SwitchUp, we suggest that students conduct this research before even applying to a bootcamp. Use resources like Indeed and Monster to search for both job availability and which languages are most in-demand in your chosen area.
Check out this article for more on choosing a bootcamp location.
Either way, your goal at a bootcamp should be twofold:
- To gain complete mastery of one programming language and framework after going to a bootcamp. Focusing on one language first will allow you to gain deep expertise into that technology, and make it easier to pick up additional languages later down the line.
- To learn how to "think like a software engineer.” Long-term success in a developer career requires an understanding of software engineering fundamentals, not just the latest framework. Ideally, you want to come out of a bootcamp with basic computer science skills AND mastery of a language. This will ensure that you’re able to keep up with the fast-changing world of computer science.
2. Class Size and Instructor-to-Student Ratio
For many students, the single most important factor in choosing a bootcamp is class size and instructor ratio. That is what you’re paying for! In order to get through the tough software bugs and rugged learning curve, It’s invaluable to have one-to-one time with someone more experienced than you.
To decide the importance of class size in your decision, you’ll want to have a good understanding of your learning style. Smaller class sizes tend to be a better fit for students who prefer a lot of feedback or hands-on instruction. For learners who are very self-directed, a small class size is often less important.
In general, Instructor-student ratios range widely, from 1:4 to 1:25. Be careful when choosing a program with a very few instructors and a lot of students. You won't be getting the attention that you might need.
3. Alumni Feedback and Reviews
The most important step you can take toward discovering your perfect fit is talking to graduated students and reading reviews online.
When you reach out to alumni on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or email, here’s a few questions that you might want to ask:
• What type of job or experiences did you have before your bootcamp?
• Do you think your experience at a bootcamp was valuable?
• What did you like most about your experience, and what would you change?
• What adjectives would you use to describe the culture of your bootcamp?
• What's a typical day like at your bootcamp?
• What was your instructor like?
• What was your curriculum like?
• What is unique or distinguishing about your bootcamp?
• What kind of jobs did you and your classmates get after graduating?
What you’ll learn from an alumni face-to-face will often be more detailed than what you’ll read online. There’s nothing that replaces a coffee meeting or skype call to get the insights on the schools you’re applying to.
To supplement your alumni conversations, we've collected thousands of reviews here on SwitchUp to help inform your decision. Note that the industry is still young, so the ratings on switchup.org must be supplemented by a lot of research and consideration. However, this data will help you get started as you research quality programs.
One final note: Because very few alumni have ever attended more than one bootcamp, there is little baseline for comparison. It's hard for people to judge the quality of a bootcamp. A review can be 5 stars simply because students haven't ever experienced better. That's why it's always important to talk to these students over the phone or in person, so you can gauge their thoughts beyond what's on the page.
4. Your Instructors
One of the most important questions you need to ask any bootcamp is, "Who will the instructor be?" Good instructors make a big difference and they can make or break your experience. With the large turnover in the industry, teachers don’t usually stay at schools very long — since they're coders and prefer to be coding, probably! This can result in lots of new and inexperienced instructors.
Think of an interview with a bootcamp as a two-way street.
The quality of your instructor can make or break the experience. With large turnover in the industry, teachers don’t usually stay at schools very long — oftentimes they are experienced coders and prefer to be coding! This can result in a lot of new and inexperienced instructors.
Think of an interview with a bootcamp as a two-way street.
It’s crucial for you to assess whether your instructors have teaching experience. One of the biggest complaints in the industry, after all, is that teachers just don’t have the right experience. We've all heard of nightmares where the instructors at a bootcamp have never taught a class before. This is more common than you might think, even at "reputable" bootcamps.
It's definitely worth it to set up a call with your potential instructor before you commit. Think of an interview with a bootcamp as a two-way street: They're assessing whether you are a good fit, and you should not be afraid to assess them and ask for more information.
Look for passionate teachers and good communicators. Ask yourself:
- Do you feel comfortable speaking to them?
- Do they seem confident in what they're saying?
- Do past students think the teacher was able to explain programming concepts in a simple and clear manner?
Communication is paramount for a good teacher, and those skills can be rare in the coding industry. The best instructors are both established software engineers AND effective, passionate instructors.
5. Career Potential After A Bootcamp (Your Return on Investment)
Bootcamp quality varies widely. Fortunately the bootcamp industry is maturing, and more data than ever is available on curriculum quality, instructors, and - most importantly - job outcomes.
What it comes down to at the end of the day is your own financial situation, how much capital you have to invest in your education, your career goals, and the return on investment.
Once you have found a few options with excellent reviews, your next step is to research job outcomes. You’ll want to know:
- What percentage of alumni landed a job in their field after a bootcamp?
- What is the average starting salary of bootcamp grads?
- How long does it take the average alumnus to land a job?
Many bootcamps have started to publish third party outcomes reports as proof that their published statistics are legitimate, and not a marketing ploy.
As you compare schools, we highly suggest that you ask to see an outcomes report that has been published by a third party. This will give you peace of mind that all statistics are completely objective.
A great place to start is by looking for CIRR outcomes data on SwitchUp bootcamp profiles. The Council for Integrity in Results Reporting is a coalition of about 30 schools (and counting!) that aim to improve bootcamp transparency by setting a high, uniform standard for outcomes reporting.
Each report on SwitchUp will show you a complete breakdown of how many alumni are employed in-field, starting salaries, and stats by campus:
Learn more about CIRR and how it can help your bootcamp search.
6. Job Support
Of course, the dream of most bootcamp students is to land a satisfying, lucrative new job in their chosen career. For this reason, career services is an important piece of your bootcamp experience.
Be sure to ask about career services when you talk to alumni. You’ll want to know:
- How did the bootcamp help you prepare your resume and portfolio?
- Does the bootcamp include any interview prep (such as whiteboard coding interviews)?
- Has the bootcamp formed any hiring partnerships with local companies?
- Did the alumnus feel prepared when applying for jobs or going to interviews?
Pay attention to how reviewers on SwitchUp talk about job support in their reviews. SwitchUp allows students to rate a program overall, and by curriculum and job support. Be sure to pay attention to the star rating for each category.
Video Guide To Coding Bootcamps
This video guide covers reviews, job placement statistics, and tips for chosing the best coding schools for you!