Before you spend thousands of dollars and several months of your life on a coding bootcamp, spend 30 minutes reading this handbook.

Who is this handbook for?

  • Anyone considering attending a bootcamp
  • Any developer considering founding a bootcamp or teaching at one
  • Any journalist writing about bootcamps

For the people who think they're too busy to read this handbook...

My advice to you boils down to this: Do your research.

Apply for lots of developer jobs first. Go through some job interviews. You may be able to get a developer job without needing to attend a bootcamp.

Don't blindly trust bootcamps' testimonials or employment statistics. Use LinkedIn to reach out to their alumni directly.

Prepare yourself. Make sure you have enough money. If you're ready to enroll, make sure you have enough cash to pay tuition. And make sure you have enough cash to survive during the bootcamp, and for 6 months after while you apply for jobs.

Bootcamps aren't magic. Bootcamps can only help prepare you. You have to learn everything. You have to go through the developer job interview process. You have to put in the work.

A note on objectivity

I've designed this handbook to be as objective as possible. To this end, I do not mention any bootcamps or their founders by name. I do not link to any of their websites.

I didn't write this handbook to help bootcamps. I wrote this handbook to help you.

As the teacher who founded freeCodeCamp, I am in a unique position to write about bootcamps for three reasons:

  1. A lot of  bootcamps use freeCodeCamp for their curriculum and course prepwork. I've helped coach a lot of bootcamp founders on how to prepare people for developer careers.
  2. I learned to code in San Francisco in the early 2010's, when bootcamps first came onto the scene. I didn't attend a bootcamp, but I hung out with many bootcamp founders and attended student "demo days."
  3. Over the past 3 years, I've conducted significant primary research. I've published several datasets containing responses from thousands of bootcamp alumni.

freeCodeCamp's mission is to help as many people learn to code as possible. Bootcamps help a lot of people accomplish this. So they are helping freeCodeCamp in our mission.

This said, freeCodeCamp has never received any compensation from bootcamps. Several of the big bootcamp chains have approached us about sponsorship. We have always refused.

Why did I write this handbook?

When you Google "coding bootcamp" or "coding bootcamps in [city name]", you find a lot of bootcamp review websites. But there are fundamental problems with these review sites.

First, these review sites are sponsored by the bootcamps themselves. Bootcamps pay for advertisements. They pay to rank higher in the search results. They pay for "paid placement" blog articles, op-eds, and other publicity.

This is a conflict of interest.

Second, many of the reviews on these sites were coerced. I've heard stories from graduates of several bootcamps who were pressured to leave positive reviews. In some cases, bootcamps made students write reviews as a mandatory in-class activity.

There are also a lot of fake reviews written by marketing departments.

It's impossible to know which bootcamps are playing by the rules and which are cheating. So all that these review sites accomplish is to help cheaters drown out the more ethical bootcamps.

Instead of relying on websites full of dubious reviews, you should think for yourself. There are no shortcuts to making a decision this important.

"The #1 marker of quality of a bootcamp is how hard it is to get in. Online reviews are completely and 100% gamed. Job placement statistics are also ruthlessly gamed. The only thing that's ungameable by a bootcamp is how hard it is to get in." - one of the former bootcamp managers I talked to while researching this handbook

This handbook will give you a framework you can use to understand how bootcamps work. It will help you research your options and plan the path to your first developer job.

What exactly is a bootcamp?

Coding together

Bootcamps are schools where you learn to code full-time - usually in person.

Most bootcamps are around 12 weeks long, though some are as long as a year.

Most bootcamps cost between US $10,000 and $20,000.

Some bootcamps offer loans - either directly or through a financing company.

Some bootcamps offer "Income Share Agreements" where instead of paying up front, you pay a percentage of your pre-tax income (usually 17%) for several years (usually 2 years). This is not "free money" - and I'll explain it in detail below.

The goal of a bootcamp is to take a classroom full of people who have never worked in tech before and help them get their first developer job.

That's a tall order. And there's a lot of money on the line. Which leads us to the next question.

Do bootcamps actually work?

In many cases, yes. Every year, thousands of bootcamp grads get their first developer jobs.

"The best bootcamps take people with raw ability and turn them into (lightly) experienced programmers. Most of what they do in some ways is selection, and then put people into pressure cookers of learning." - a former bootcamp manager I talked to

But there are also bootcamp grads who fail to get a developer job and end up going back to their past careers.

Success comes down to a few factors:

  • How selective the bootcamp is
  • How capable the teachers are
  • And whether the people running the bootcamp care about their employment statistics or are just in it for short term financial gains.

Most bootcamps don't publicly share their numbers. And the bootcamps who do may use non-standard metrics. This makes it difficult for you to make apples-to-apples comparisons.

But there's a growing transparency movement within bootcamps. They are pressuring one another to be more accountable.

Some bootcamps want to self-regulate the industry before the government is forced to step in and regulate it for them.

Bootcamps have only existed as a form of post-high school education for a few years. They aren't yet regulated like colleges and universities. That is, through accreditation.

Are bootcamps accredited?

The short answer is no, they aren't accredited.

But first, what does it meant to  be accredited? And why's that so important for colleges and universities?

In the US, most universities are regionally accredited. And some academic programs are nationally accredited, such as English preparation schools.

There are two major reasons for this:

  • accredited schools can help students get a US visa
  • accredited schools can help students get federal grants or federal student loans

In order to get accredited, schools have to undergo an audit by independent educators. These auditors dig through files and make sure the school is following all the laws. They also make sure students are getting jobs after they graduate.

If graduates from the school aren't able to get jobs in their field of study, that's a red flag. The school may lose its accreditation.

You may have heard the term "diploma mill". These are colleges and universities that have lost their accreditation (or never got accredited in the first place). They sell worthless courses and worthless diplomas.

In the US, public universities are run by the government. These are accredited. And most private universities are run by nonprofits - often by religious organizations. These are usually accredited, too.

But there's a third category of university: private for-profit universities. And this is where things get a little sketchy. Some of these universities are accredited, but some of them aren't.

These private for-profit universities advertise heavily on late-night TV and buy lots of Facebook ads. They trick unsophisticated students into enrolling.

"A foole and his money is soone parted." - Dr. John Bridges, way back in 1587

In some cases, these schools qualify for federal student loans, the GI Bill, and other forms of government assistance.

Plainly put, most of these private for-profit universities are a scam. The US government is slowly shutting them down. But many people still fall for their marketing and end up thousands of dollars in debt with a worthless degree.

Even so, word of these scams spreads slowly. And even when a school sounds too good to be true, people still want to believe.

This brings us back to coding bootcamps.

Without some form of accreditation, a few bootcamps who are focused on short term financial gains - rather than the long-term health of the bootcamp model - can ride a wave of bootcamp popularity. They can get rich while serving up sub-par results for students.

A bootcamp accreditation system could help prevent this.

As I mentioned, most bootcamps don't have the resources to get accredited. Or they haven't existed long enough to qualify. This is where self-regulation comes into play.

The Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) is a joint effort by bootcamps to publicly share the employment statistics of their graduates in a way everyone can understand.

This is a standardized CIRR outcomes report for a bootcamp.

Many prominent bootcamps are a part of this initiative. But some prominent bootcamps aren't participating or have stopped sharing their data.

A bootcamp's membership in the CIRR isn't the same thing as getting accredited, but it's a good start.

What kind of salaries do bootcamp graduates get?

Based on public data, bootcamp graduates earn the same starting salary as other entry-level developers. This includes computer science majors and other university graduates who learned to code on their own.

The biggest factor in how much money you get paid as an entry-level developer is the cost of living of the city. A junior developer in San Francisco can make twice as much as a junior developer in the middle of America.

If a bootcamp says their graduates get higher starting salaries than the graduates of other bootcamps, that means most of their graduates get jobs in more expensive cities like San Francisco.

How long does it take bootcamp graduates to get a job?

This depends on the bootcamp. Some bootcamps have extensive career coaching. Others have close ties to local industry and can help you line up job interviews. Both of these can significantly shorten the number of months you spend applying for jobs afterward.

The post-bootcamp job search takes about 6 months on average.

What is the completion rate for bootcamps?

A majority of people who start bootcamps go on to finish them.

Most good bootcamps are selective. If they don't think you'll be able to get a developer job after the program, they won't accept you.

Bootcamps have a short-term incentive to accept you so they can get your tuition dollars. But they also have a long-term incentive not to accept you if they think you could hurt their employment statistics.

This said, not all bootcamps care about their employment statistics. Some may focus on short term cash, due to financial desperation. (A lot of high-profile bootcamps have shut down in recent years.)

In some cases, bootcamps may kick out students half way through their program.

If the bootcamp is a "cash up front" bootcamp, they've already reaped the short-term benefit of enrolling you. Even if you're under-performing, it may make sense to try to salvage you rather than give you a refund.

These bootcamps do still want the long-term benefit of you boosting their employment statistics. But this benefit is more abstract than the cold hard cash you've handed them.

On the other hand, wage-garnishing bootcamps (remember those Income Sharing Agreements) have a bigger incentive to kick you out if you're under-performing. This is because they only benefit over the longer term (17% of your salary over the next 2 years).

Also, some bootcamp students decide to drop out for a variety of reasons. These may have nothing to do with the bootcamp itself, such as major life events.

How often do people graduate from bootcamps but fail to transition into tech?

Usually by the time people enroll in more selective bootcamps, they've already spent a lot of time coding, and are close to being able to get a developer job. So it's less common for these bootcamp graduates to fail to find a job.

But regardless of your skills, finding a developer job is inherently difficult. Bootcamps can aid you in this process, and many of them have career counselors to help.

It is not uncommon for graduates of even selective bootcamps to have to apply to hundreds of developer jobs (and interview at dozens of companies) before getting a satisfactory job offer.

"Sometimes people put in all the work, and are talented, but just don’t get lucky for a long time. Other times, many people spam click job applications job boards. This rarely works.

The best thing (by far) to do is make industry connections and meet real people. And then ask other developers for help on preparing, on seeking jobs, and on referrals. Internal referrals are generally the best bet." - another former bootcamp manager I talked to while researching this handbook

So in many cases, when people fail to transition into tech, it's not really the bootcamp's fault. Some people just underestimate how arduous the job search process can be and give up before they find success.

What types of bootcamps are there?

An afternoon at a café coworking.

Some bootcamps focus on particular stacks, like Ruby on Rails, Python / Django, or Java / Android. Some even focus on specific technical careers, like User Experience Design.

But it's more helpful to think of bootcamps in terms of their ownership structure. What are their incentives?

Privately-Owned Local Bootcamps

These are often founded by one or more local developers. The founders may teach some of the classes themselves. (This is usually a good thing.)

Most bootcamps start out as locally-owned, single-campus schools like these.

Privately-Owned Bootcamp Chains

As locally-owned bootcamps grow, their founders may open additional campuses in other cities.

By operating more than one campus, owners get the advantages of economies of scale and economies of scope. They can spread the burden of fixed costs (like marketing and curriculum) across several schools.

This said, it's hard to offer consistent quality across multiple schools.

My advice to prospective students is to treat each city campus as its own school. Don't rely on the overall reputation of a bootcamp chain. Instead, do your research. Seek out alumni from that specific campus and interview them.

University-based bootcamps

Most university-based bootcamps aren't run by the university itself. They are run by for-profit education companies.

Universities contract with these private companies to run the bootcamps. These bootcamps pay the university a hefty fee to use their classroom space and - more importantly - their prestigious name. It's a controversial practice.

When you look at a university-based bootcamp, don't rely on the reputation of the university itself. Instead, do your own research.

Free Nonprofit Bootcamps

Nonprofit bootcamps are similar to their locally-run for-profit counterparts. The main difference is these have no profit incentive.

With traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofits, there is no ownership. Nobody owns stock. Instead, they're owned by the public.

This is how The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and freeCodeCamp are all incorporated.

And some bootcamps use this structure as well.

Some nonprofit bootcamps are completely free. They are donor-supported, or supported through grants from the government.

There are several of these programs aimed at retraining military veterans and refugees.

Free For-Profit Bootcamps

Surprisingly, there are a few bootcamps that are for-profit but still free. And these programs don't use Income Sharing Agreements to garnish your wages, either.

These programs are selective. They may require applicants to have a Ph.D. or other advanced degree.

These programs make 100% of their money from employers. The program charges employers a recruitment fee when they place you at their company. These recruitment fees can be as high as 33% of your first year's salary.

But you as a student don't pay anything. Your future employer covers the expense of the bootcamp for you.

Online bootcamps

I mention these last because they are new and experimental.

It's one thing to take a student who is new to coding and prepare them for their first job in a matter of months. It's another thing to do this completely online.

"Learn to code" style websites can teach you online because they are designed for long-term use. If you practice coding online several times each week for a year or two, your skills will steadily improve.

But online bootcamps expect you to do all this intensively, over a much shorter period of time.

Much of the value of a bootcamp comes from sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with other learners. You help one another get past errors and failing tests. You build projects together. You form interpersonal relationships.

All this is much harder to accomplish online, and in such a short period of time.

The main reason companies offer online bootcamps is simple: they're dramatically more profitable.

  • The company doesn't need to rent office space to serve as a campus.
  • They don't have to worry about housing.
  • They can hire instructors from all around the world. This is much cheaper than hiring instructors in, say, San Francisco.
  • They can dump students into a big chat room together and let them figure things out with minimal supervision.

Voilà - a coding bootcamp for 1/10th the cost. And a lot of these online bootcamps still charge as much as in-person bootcamps.

So before you enroll in an online bootcamp, you should do extra diligence. See whether there is a comparable in-person option in your city.

What kind of people generally go to bootcamps?

All kinds of people attend bootcamps.

But the most common demographics are:

  • Recent university graduates who haven't entered the workforce yet and can afford to wait another 6 months to do so.
  • Wealthy working professionals who want to switch industries and can afford to not work for the next 6 months.

Less common, but still notable, are:

  • Military veterans retraining for civilian careers
  • People who are unemployed and using loans to finance the bootcamp (or are signing "Income Share Agreements")
  • High school and college students learning to code over summer break (and not planning to enter the workforce immediately afterward)

The average age of a bootcamp student is 28, but it's common for people much older than that to enroll in bootcamps.

A visualization of age data from freeCodeCamp New Coder Survey respondents who have attended coding bootcamps.

Most of them have at least 1 parent who graduated from university.

Most of them had learned to code on their own for more than 6 months before starting the bootcamp.

Most bootcamp students already have a university degree - though not usually in computer science.

Is a bootcamp right for me?

This comes down to several factors:

  1. How much time you have
  2. How much money you have
  3. Whether you are currently working
  4. And how much experience you have with coding

Let's talk about all of these factors, starting with money.

Can I afford a bootcamp?

Given infinite time and infinite money, my advice to 100% of people would be: yes - do a bootcamp.

But since time and money are scarce, we should discuss this in more detail.

How much is bootcamp tuition?

As we discussed, some bootcamps are completely free, but these are not representative of the field.

Most bootcamps cost between US $10,000 and $20,000. The longer the program is, the more it usually costs.

Some bootcamps don't require you to pay tuition up-front. Instead, they garnish your future wages through something called an "Income Sharing Agreement."

What are Income Sharing Agreements (ISAs)?

Basically, you sign a contract with these bootcamps. These bootcamps then work closely with the US Internal Revenue Service. They figure out exactly how much money you make, then garnish a percentage of your pre-tax income (usually 17%) for a number of years (usually 2 years).

If your first job out of a bootcamp pays $50,000 per year, that means you would pay:

($50,000 * 17% = $8,500) * 2 years = $17,000 total

If you get paid $80,000 per year:

($80,000 * 17% = $13,600) * 2 years = $27,400 total

If you get paid $100,000 per year:

($100,000 * 17% = $17,000) * 2 years = $34,000 total

Most of these ISAs won't kick in until you make at least US $50,000 per year. And if you earn less than $50,000 per year for five years, these ISAs will go away and you won't owe anything anymore. And some ISAs have a "cap" - a maximum amount you have to pay back.

But the important thing to note with ISAs is they are a new form of debt. Unlike other forms of consumer debt - like student loans - ISAs exist in a legal gray area.

ISAs are a new form of "financial engineering". They seem to be legal, but none of this has been tested in a court of law.

It's also unclear what happens if you take out an ISA, and then the bootcamp goes bankrupt. (This happens often - even to big bootcamp chains). You would have no control over who gains ownership over your debt. It's unclear how aggressively they could pursue you to pay them back.

So again, do your research.

How much are living expenses during a bootcamp?

Your living expenses will depend on which city the bootcamp is in, and that city's cost of living.

Living at home with your parents in the midwest? Your costs will be much lower than if you are moving to San Francisco and renting an apartment.

You should save enough money to last you through the bootcamp, plus 6 months. This way, you have enough time to find the right job and to cash your first paycheck.

What is "opportunity cost"?

Opportunity Cost is a concept from economics that roughly means "foregone earnings."

To get the true cost of attending a coding bootcamp, you should factor in opportunity cost as well.

Example: You currently earn $3,000 per month. You're moving to San Francisco, where it can cost $2,000 per month just to rent a bedroom. You'll attend a 12-week bootcamp that costs $15,000.

Here is your true cost, assuming an additional 6 months until you get a job and cash your first pay check:

Bootcamp Tuition: $15,000

Cost of Living: (9 months * $2,000) = $18,000

Opportunity Cost of Foregone Wages: (9 months * $3,000) = $27,000

True Economic Cost: ($15,000 + $18,000 + $27,000) = $60,000

As you can see, in this case, the coding bootcamp tuition was only 1/4th of the true cost.

So a $20,000 bootcamp that helps you get a job in 4 months can be cheaper than a $15,000 bootcamp that helps you get a job in 6 months. That is, once you factor in cost of living and opportunity costs.

The lesson is simple: don't get too hung up on the cost of coding bootcamp tuition itself. It is only part of the true cost.

Are my coding skills good enough for a bootcamp?

Check out our post on leadership + culture: https://blog.hackcapital.com/our-three-ps-people-695a0b971851 

We’re also hiring for many roles: http://hc.ai/jobs

A naive answer would be "just apply and see if you can get in."

But instead, let's think in terms of the bootcamp's incentives.

There's a Goldilocks Zone for coding bootcamps: not too beginner, not too advanced - just right.

Scenario #1: Your skills are too advanced for you to learn much from a bootcamp

If you're a strong candidate, the bootcamp is confident you will get a job afterward. Their only rational decision is to accept you. Even if they don't think you'd learn much from their program.

Why?

  • The bootcamp will get your tuition money.
  • They won't have to teach you much.
  • And then when you get a job afterward, you'll boost their employment statistics.

From their perspective, they should admit you.

Scenario #2: You are too new to coding to get much out of the  bootcamp

If you're a weak candidate, then it comes down to the decision maker at the bootcamp. Are they focused on the long term or the short term? How much do they care about their employment statistics?

If the bootcamp is focused on the long term, they should reject you. Or assign you additional pre-coursework, then ask you to come interview again in a few months.

But bootcamps who are struggling financially don't have the luxury of worrying about their employment statistics. They may not be around for the long term. Their rational decision might be to just accept you anyway - regardless of your preparedness.

"In the long run we are all dead." - John Maynard Keynes in 1923

Maybe you rise to the occasion and succeed against the odds. Maybe you don't. Either way, the bootcamp gets their tuition money and is able to stay solvent a few months longer.

Scenario #3: You are "just right"

The bootcamp should accept you in this situation, and it will be a win for both parties.

But again, you don't know which scenario this is. Is this Scenario #3 where you're "just right"? Or is the bootcamp just saying it is? Are you actually in Scenario #1 or Scenario #2?

So bootcamps have a strong incentive to accept you even when you're not good fit.

This is why I said the approach of "just apply and see if you can get in" is naive.

Here's what I recommend you do instead.

Step #1: Spend a few months learning to code on your own.

Try earning the freeCodeCamp Responsive Web Design certification. Then earn the Algorithms and Data Structures certification.

These will ensure you understand the fundamentals. And a lot of coding bootcamps require these as part of their pre-coursework anyway.

Step #2: Apply for developer jobs.

How do you handle employers' resume screens and phone screens? Can you advance to their on-site coding interviews? If so, you may just want to keep applying for jobs. You may not need a coding bootcamp.

Step #3: Apply for coding bootcamps.

If you've made it to Step #3, you now know with confidence that you have some basic skills. And you know that you're not yet ready for a developer job.

You can now apply to coding bootcamps with confidence. You won't be too advanced. If they accept you, you can be confident that you're not too beginner, either.

If they don't accept you, you can just continue your self study and apply to the bootcamp again later.

How do I choose a bootcamp?

The first consideration should be: are there any coding bootcamps in your city? If so, I encourage you to visit them and learn as much as you can about them.

By staying in your current city, you can reduce your cost of living. You can also reduce your stress. You don't have to spend your time shopping for an apartment or learning a new neighborhood. You can spend that time coding.

Do I need to move to San Francisco for my bootcamp?

You might think: "But shouldn't I move to San Francisco, where all the developers are?"

It's true that the San Francisco Bay Area - which includes Silicon Valley - is the tech mecca of the western hemisphere.

San Francisco is home to several excellent bootcamps. It also has tons of employers. And a huge ecosystem of evening tech events, hackathons, startup communities, and recruiters.

But San Francisco is an expensive, stressful place to live. I worked there as a developer for 4 years, and I don't plan on moving back any time soon.

The important thing to remember is: software is still software - regardless of where you are in the world.

You can learn a lot from most experienced developers who have worked in tech for 5 or 10 years. Almost as much as you could learn from an elite developer at a San Francisco tech company.

(And the most elite developers can earn millions of dollars a year. You probably won't find them teaching at bootcamps anyway.)

What tools should bootcamps be teaching?

Para todo hay solucion

This may sound counter-intuitive, but I'm going to come right out and say it. The tools don't matter.

Some bootcamps teach Ruby and Rails or Sinatra. Despite their declining popularity, these are still good tools for new developers.

Some bootcamps teach Full Stack JavaScript with Node.js. This is the most widely used toolchain for new projects. But it may be a bit harder to learn.

Some bootcamps teach Python and Flask or Django. Some teach the .NET ecosystem. Some may go straight into mobile development with Android and Java or Kotlin. Some go close to the metal with C.

Again, the tools don't matter. What matters is that you learn one set of tools really well.

Learn one set of tools and understand how everything fits together at a conceptual level. Then you can easily learn new sets of tools.

You can sum up most of what you'll learn in a coding bootcamp as:

  • Computer Science fundamentals
  • Programming itself (lots of practice coding)
  • Other skills you'll need as a developer. Like software development methodologies, debugging techniques, testing, reading documentation.
  • Understanding the job application process itself.

So don't dismiss a bootcamp because "they teach Rails and I want to learn Node" or "I want to be a mobile developer" or "I don't want to learn front end development."

You'll learn the same basic things regardless of which tools the bootcamp teaches.

How important is a bootcamp's track record?

If a bootcamp that has been around for a few years, you should pay close attention to their track record.

Older bootcamps

First, find out whether the bootcamp is part of the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting. If they aren't, ask them why not.

You should ask for their employment statistics. If they're reluctant to show you these - or can't share numbers from the past year - that's a red flag.

Either way, you should find their graduates on LinkedIn. Reach out to them to ask them about their experience there.

Newly-opened bootcamps

If the coding bootcamp is new, there will be much less information available. You will have to rely much more on your intuition.

Ask for the names of the bootcamp's teachers. Pull them up on LinkedIn.

Do they have any past cohorts? Find their graduates on LinkedIn and ask them about their experience there.

Being one of the first students at a coding bootcamp is an exercise in high risk / high reward.

Like all kinds of small business, bootcamps may shut down quickly if they don't get traction. If this happens, you will find yourself explaining the school to future employers in the past tense. Awkward.

But at the same time, new coding bootcamps have something to prove. Their teachers and staff will work like crazy to ensure the school succeeds. They'll try their hardest to train you. They'll help you get a good job so they can get a win under their belt and onto their testimonials page.

In the face of sparse data, you need to decide for yourself. Do the people running this bootcamp seem like they know what they're doing? Are they passionate about this?

Should I visit the campus before I enroll?

Yes. You are about to make a decision that - when you factor in cost of living and opportunity cost - is tens of thousands of dollars and months of your time.

By all means, book a flight. Even if you're only flying in for a day trip. Talk to the teachers and the staff. Scope out the school. Observe the students.

This is an important decision. And in the grand scheme of things, this trip is a small investment of your time and money.

Should I reach out to past alumni?

The answer is always yes. Don't skip this step.

Find them on LinkedIn. If they don't respond to your LinkedIn message after a few days, find their email or message them on Twitter. See if you can get them on a phone call.

Ask them to be as candid as possible. Assure them that everything they share with you will be in confidence.

Tell them your circumstances. Tell them how important this decision is for you.

I recommend reaching out to several alumni like this.

This is the most difficult part of the bootcamp research process. You may be thinking "I'm an introvert." Or "I don't want to bother these busy people."

But these people are where you will be a year from now. They are the best window into what you can expect from this bootcamp.

If you end up going to the bootcamp, these people will be your fellow alumni. This is an opportunity to also make them your mentors.

Are there free bootcamp alternatives?

There are a lot of ways you can learn to code without paying anything. Some of these have been around for decades, like the computer section of your local library.

Others free resources can help a motivated novice ramp up their skills and get hired as a developer.

Most developers consider themselves at least partially self-taught. They have used a variety of these learning resources.

A chart from Stack Overflow's annual developer survey.

What are learn-to-code websites?

There are websites where you can learn to code right in your browser. Some of them - like freeCodeCamp - are completely free.

Some of these learn-to-code websites cost money. But you may be able to use them for free through your local library.

These websites cover many of the same concepts and tools as coding bootcamps.

Bootcamps are focused on high-touch in-person instruction. They operate a campus with classrooms and instructors.

By contrast, learn-to-code websites use instructional design to teach people inexpensively at scale.

These learn-to-code websites have forums and may even have local study groups.

Still, many people prefer the traditional classroom environment that bootcamps provide.

What are "Massive Open Online Courses"?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free courses usually taught by university professors. These tend to be lecture-based, and may have homework assignments or exams.

MOOCs gained popularity in 2012, and remain an excellent way to learn concepts. There are hundreds of MOOCs on programming and computer science - many of which are self-paced.

Some of these MOOCs also offer certifications, though you may have to pay for them.

The important thing to note here is that you can learn almost any topic - straight from world-class professors - at your convenience.

Always keep this fact in mind when you're considering paid learning resources. They have a high bar to clear to justify their cost.

Are there free coding textbooks?

There are thousands of free programming and computer science textbooks. Many of these are Creative Commons licensed or even public domain.

Developers have also sold books that they've since decided to make freely available.

Also, some developers release digital versions of their books for free, and sell physical copies of them.

What are some paid bootcamp alternatives?

Of course, if you have the money, you can put it to use. There are a wide range of career training options to consider.

Should I go back to university?

If you already have a university degree, you probably shouldn't go back to university.

Yes, there are Masters in Computer Science programs. But these are designed for already-working developers to further expand their skills.

I don't recommend enrolling in an undergraduate computer science program to do a second bachelor's degree. This would take years of extra study. And most undergraduate computer science programs focus more on math and conceptual knowledge than they do on hands-on coding.

Coding bootcamps are a much faster way to get coding practice. They can help you establish the conceptual baseline you need to work as a developer.

Can night school courses help me learn to code?

You may be able to find a program in your community that helps adults learn computer skills at night.

Check your local community colleges, libraries, and adult education programs. See whether they teach software development courses.

Be aware that many of these programs focus on more rudimentary computer skills. You may not need a course on operating systems, spreadsheets, or touch typing.

Before you enroll in any courses, ask them about past alumni who are now working as developers. If they can't provide any, the program may be too basic for you.

Can I hire a tutor to help me?

Some developers will tutor on the side. You can find them on online classified ad listings.

There are also websites that specialize in pairing students with online tutors.

This can be quite expensive. But if you're able to learn to code on your own, this may be a good option for you. You get the benefit of weekly tutoring session for the fraction of the cost of a bootcamp.

What is the future for bootcamps?

The first coding bootcamps were founded less than a decade ago. This is still a young industry.

This said, the industry is consolidating. Several bootcamp chains have been acquired by traditional for-profit education companies. Textbook companies, for-profit university systems - and even a coworking space startup.

And some coding bootcamp chains have gone out of business.

But it's not like these failures represent a fundamental flaw in the coding bootcamp model. There are hundreds of bootcamps out there still going strong. And developers are opening new bootcamps all the time.

But there's less money in running bootcamps than there is in financing student debt. And that is where we're seeing the most innovation - in the area of "financial engineering."

"The study of money, above all other fields in economics, is one in which complexity is used to disguise truth or to evade truth, not to reveal it." - John Kenneth Galbraith, Harvard professor, in 1975

It's hard to predict what will happen with bootcamps. Here are a few possible directions - with some of them less positive for students than others.

Will going to a bootcamp become as common as going to a university?

In their current form, bootcamps are not a substitute for a university education. They are a supplement to it.

Most bootcamp students have already graduated from university. They are mid-career and enrolling in a bootcamp to learn new skills.

Universities cover a lot of things outside the scope of bootcamps. Everything from English composition to history to mathematics.

Coding bootcamps cover - well - coding. They also touch on some computer science concepts and workplace soft skills.

If you see a bootcamp marketing itself as an alternative for college, that's a huge red flag.

We have centuries of data on universities. We know how effective they are at increasing your lifetime earnings. A bachelor's degree with the right major can double or triple your earning power.

Coding bootcamps are new. There isn't much data. And there's even less data about bootcamp graduates who didn't finish university.

Instead of looking at coding bootcamps as an alternative to university, look at them as an alternative to vocational college.

If you weren't going to go to college anyway, a bootcamp is better than nothing. And the skills you'll learn may be more relevant than traditional trade schools.

In the future, coding bootcamps may indeed become a place more people go to straight out of high school.

But we need a lot more efficacy data first. I wouldn't send my kids to a bootcamp instead of a university, and I urge similar caution to you.

By the way, if you're in high school and reading this, here's my advice to you: go to the best university you can afford without student loans.

Before you take out student loans, look into community colleges. There are also accredited ultra-low-cost university programs. You can do many of these online while working. As always, don't trust their marketing and do your own research.

Will bootcamps eventually qualify for federal student loans?

Bootcamps are expensive. There aren't many people who can afford to attend them.

Bootcamps may try to remedy this is the same way universities did. By lobbying the federal government.

Bootcamps may succeed in opening the government's coffers. This could be in the form of subsidized student loans. Bootcamps may also target the GI bill and other programs designed to help people graduate from college.

Americans hold $1.5 trillion in student loan debt. That's a million million dollars. That's $16,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. Student loan debt is the main reason young Americans can't afford to buy houses anymore.

Should we let bootcamps create even more of this student debt?

It would be a disaster for consumers.

But that doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

Look who's running the US Department of Education right now. Anything is possible, no matter how damaging it may be over the long term.

There's an alternative to financial complexity. Bootcamps can find new ways to make it more affordable to people paying cash.

Will bootcamps conglomerate into a few big chains?

This has already happened to an extent.

Bootcamps can save money by spreading their fixed costs across multiple campuses. They get economies of scale and economies of scope.

But there are diminishing returns to these benefits. Some of these chains have gone out of business. Others - no longer able to operate on their own - got acquired by education conglomerates.

There is a right size to any operation. It's unclear what the right size for a coding bootcamp chain is.

Some of the best bootcamps only have one location. Others are able to keep quality high across multiple campuses. A lot of their success comes down to the quality of their leadership.

Will the bootcamp model spread into non-coding fields like law and accounting?

Software development is a unique profession. It is unencumbered by regulatory bodies.

Other fields have bureaucracies in place to shut people out. For example, in the US:

  • To become a lawyer, you have to go through 4 years of college, 3 years of a law school, then get certified by the American Bar Association through your state's bar exam.
  • To become an accountant, you have to go through 4 years of college, attend a bunch of graduate-level courses, get certified by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants through a long series of exams, then work as a low-wage apprentice for a year.
  • To be a doctor, you have to go through 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, then work as a low-wage "resident" for 3 to 7 years, then get certified by the American Medical Association by passing your state's board certification exam.

Without major changes, bootcamps won't work for heavily regulated fields like these.

Will bootcamps merge with traditional university programs to create a new kind of school?

There are already programs that take inspiration from both universities and bootcamps.

This said, most big-name universities are hundreds of years old. Shifting to a much shorter learning period will be difficult for them to do. Stranger things have happened, though.

Here's a more likely scenario: bootcamps (and their for-profit education conglomerate parent companies) buy accredited colleges and rebrand them. This way they can skip the long process of becoming accredited themselves.

For the record, I'm against the mixing of university programs with coding bootcamps. These are two different education modalities designed for two different sets of learners.

Instead, we need new types of educational institutions. Preferably low cost with a stronger emphasis on life-long education and on-the-job training.

Imagine a school with nonstop internships, where you work in your desired field. You have enough money to live on without needing to go into debt.

There are already programs like this in Europe. And over here in the US - well, we can dream, can't we?

What are your final words of advice?

Your developer job search will come down to 3 things:

  1. Your skills
  2. Your reputation
  3. Your network

Don't make the mistake of focusing on only one or two of these. Think about ways you can build all three at the same time.

Going to a bootcamp can be the best decision you ever made. Or it can be an awkward financial setback.

Do your research. Save up your money. Learn coding fundamentals first.

Bootcamps aren't magic. They aren't going to do the work for you.

In the end, the experience is what you make of it. So make the most of it.