How a Bootcamp Can Boost Your Career

Coding - Illustration
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Want a high-paying job with security and potential for growth, as well as a chance to use your creativity and problem-solving skills every day? The tech industry could be a good fit for you.

Of course, if you’re already entrenched in another, decidedly untechnical career, you might think that you’re out of luck. (Or at least, looking at years of schooling and hefty loans before you can make a change.)

But this isn’t necessarily the case. In the past few years, coding bootcamps have popped up all over the world. Their promise––to take non-tech types and transform them into tomorrow’s developers and engineers, often in as little as a few months or weeks.

Buyer beware, however: these programs aren’t cheap, and they’re not created equal. While less expensive than most two- and four-year degrees, bootcamp programs will often run you thousands of dollars. Plus, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a job afterward.

To get the most out of a coding bootcamp, it’s important to know what these programs offer, how to choose a program that’s right for you, and how to maximize your chances of getting hired once you graduate. Here’s what you need to know.

Career Benefits of Bootcamps

Before you even consider a bootcamp, the most important information to acquire is a bit of self-knowledge. What, exactly, are you hoping to get out of the program––a better job, an entirely new career, new opportunities?

This is all the more important if you’ve never held a technical role before. Many skilled programmers are self-taught; others have degrees in their field. But what they all have in common is passion for their job. If you’re not sure whether you’ll love being a developer, engineer, data scientist, etc., it may be better to start off by taking one class, to get your feet wet, before jumping into a bigger commitment.

Remember: finding the right career isn’t just about occupational outlook and pay. Fit is the most important part.

If you’ve done your soul-searching and determined that a tech career is right for you, a bootcamp might be the perfect way to break into your chosen field. Depending on your career goals, bootcamps can help you:

Train for a New Career

This is obviously the major selling point of most bootcamps, and the primary reason why job seekers attend. There are a lot of Cinderella stories out there, such as the 2015 New York Times profile of the $20,000-a-year waiter who transformed himself into a $100,000-a-year data scientist after a three-month course. Your mileage may vary, depending on the bootcamp, the coursework, and your own background. (The waiter in that piece already had a math degree.)

Does that mean that you can’t make the leap from, say, former English major or retail worker to web developer? Not at all. But it does mean paying careful attention to some practical aspects of bootcamps before making your decision. More on that in a moment.

Evolve Into a New Role

Tech companies don’t run on technical staff alone. If you’re already working at a tech employer, but need some help jumping from administrative or other creative work to a more technical role, a bootcamp––or even just a few classes––might be a way in.

If this is your situation, your best bet is to use the connections you have right now to determine the most expedient way to get to where you want to go. Some of the most valuable networking you can do is at work. You might be surprised at how willing people are to tell you about their career journey and share tips on how to forge a similar path.

Expand and Develop Your Network

One benefit of bootcamps is the chance to make a lot of connections in a short period of time. The teachers, previous alumni, even your fellow students are all potential members of your network. How valuable that network is depends on how much support the program provides post-graduation (e.g., do they offer job placement assistance and/or an alumni network?) as well as your own initiative.

What to Look for in a Bootcamp

Job Placement Rates

A reputable program will be willing to share job placement rates with you, as well as specifics on what kinds of jobs graduates tend to land after participating. That last bit is important, because you’re presumably not shelling out $10,000 or more to get a job that pays the same or less than your current gig.

Several bootcamps have joined together to create the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting, which verifies graduate outcomes like employment rate, frequent job titles, median annual salary, and pre-bootcamp job title. (Again, important if you’re coming in from an unrelated field, because you need to know whether you’ll be able to transition to that high-paying tech job of your dreams.)

Other programs participate in an evaluation model from Entangled Solutions, a consulting firm, or post their own stats. Again, buyer beware.

Career Services

If you’re going to pay top dollar for a career-changing program, you better make sure it provides you with an on-ramp to employment post-graduation. Some bootcamps offer alumni networks, mentoring programs, even job guarantees.

Just be sure to read the fine print. The last feature often comes in the form of partial tuition reimbursement if you don’t get a job in the field. That’s better than being out the full price, of course, but it won’t buy back your time.

Salary Potential vs. Bootcamp Cost

Finally, before you make your decision, it’s worth looking at those graduation outcome stats one last time to calculate your likely ROI. Will you earn enough to pay off your investment? Be sure the numbers add up before you take the plunge.