Chapter 1

What the Heck is a Coding Bootcamp?

The rise of programming bootcamps

Until recently, if you wanted to learn to program you only had two options: go through a 4-year computer science program, or teach yourself. The cost and time commitment of a 4-year university program isn’t something that most people can swing, and self-teaching can be incredibly difficult and requires a tremendous amount of motivation. For most learners, neither option is a good fit. Enter: The Programming Bootcamp—a third option that sets learners up for real-world success in a relatively short period of time. Think of a bootcamp as traditional education’s cooler twin brother.  Named after the intensive physical and mental training undertaken by those serving in the armed forces, bootcamps can be an extremely rewarding way to learn a new skill set.

The idea for the first developer bootcamp was conceived in early 2012… on a bet. Shereef Bishay, a Bay Area developer, bet his cousin he could teach him how to code in 12 weeks.  Shortly after the bet, Bishay devised an unscripted curriculum for a small group and spent the next 12 weeks getting down to business. When it was all over, the whole group got jobs as software developers. With such an incredible success story, it wasn’t long before other bootcamps followed in Bishay’s footsteps. One year later, over 15 other bootcamps had popped up across the country including Launch Academy, Flatiron, Hack Reactor, and App Academy.

Driven by the extreme market demand for web developers, worldwide growth of bootcamps has been mind-boggling. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020 there will be 1 million more jobs than computer science students. This gap has created a major demand for more job-ready developers. The market has spoken, and bootcamps have heard it loud and clear.

Want more history on bootcamps where you live? This infographic is pretty handy:

How are bootcamps different from a Computer Science degree?

Traditional Computer Science (CS) degrees take four years, and while these are still powerful programs to educate programmers for the exploding job market, they only work for a very specific type of learner. If you’re not able to drop everything for four years while you study, or if you’re not too keen on spending tens of thousands of dollars to learn to program, a Computer Science degree probably isn’t for you. That’s where bootcamps come in. In the same time it would take to complete a single semester of a CS degree, you could learn all of the real-world programming skills required to start programming professionally at a bootcamp.

But that’s not to say a traditional CS degree isn’t valuable. They spend a lot more time teaching the underlying theory of computer science, and since they are earned as part of a traditional higher education model, you’ll take a wide variety of classes and work toward a degree that is very well-rounded. Many employers, especially traditional ones, prefer or require a college degree. You may not be coding all the time if you follow the CS track, but you will have a strong computer science base from which to build upon.

Programming bootcamps take a different approach by providing a laser focus on the practical side of coding. At a bootcamp, you won’t be writing a paper on the building blocks of computer science or learning how to program in assembly. Instead, you’ll actually build practical web applications and creating professional-quality work. Being surrounded by learners who are just as highly motivated to learn to code and impact the world through software as you are means you’ll be completely immersed in the learning process.

It is important to note that bootcamps don’t offer a formal certification like a traditional degree program. However, they boast high placement rates, especially with startups and companies willing to think differently about the hiring process.

The buzz around bootcamps

You’ve heard of the New York Times, yes? And probably CNN too. Everyone who’s anyone, (including tech-focused outlets like TechCrunch and Lifehacker) have been covering the latest on programming bootcamps.

So, what’s the buzz? NPR called the bootcamp model an  “elegant” solution to the problem of supply and demand for knowledgeable programmers. The Wall Street Journal details the story of a young man who changed his life trajectory from indebted student to software developer by way of bootcamp. According to the New York Times, bootcamps challenge the assumptions of higher education and are fast and nimble at preparing their students. It’s not like bootcamps are asking for this kind of attention—their actions are demanding it. The bootcamp model has shown itself to be a revolutionary approach to a continually growing problem, and people are taking notice.