Chapter 3: How to Choose the Right Bootcamp
Let’s talk about cheese for a moment (this will make sense, we promise). What kind of cheese is best? There’s no definite answer because at the end of the day, there isn’t a cheese out there that is perfect in every situation. But cheese is cheese. And cheese is awesome (Except Easy Cheese—that’s for monsters).
Bootcamps are like cheese: it’s impossible to to claim that one iteration is unilaterally better than all others. Like cheddar cheese that works well on a wide variety of food, some bootcamps offer a broad-based curriculum that covers many topics. Other bootcamps are like specialty cheese: instead of having many applications, they excel incredibly well in one or two.
The point here is that there’s no such thing as the “best bootcamp.” We know, that sounds like a pretty flim-flam answer, but the best bootcamp really is the one that is the best fit for the type of person you are, and the type of student you want to be. You could attend an exceptional program and not get as much out of it as you hoped simply because it wasn’t the right fit. So how do you decide between all the bootcamps out there? How do you know what your perfect match is? Let’s consider a few factors:
Location. Location. Location.
It’s a realtor’s cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. There’s no getting around it: Location is important. Aside from the obvious stuff like local culture and proximity to family and friends, location is important because most bootcamps maintain strong ties to hiring partners in their region. Ideally, you want to go to a bootcamp that’s in or near the city in which you’d like to live and work. Whatever city you choose, it’s important that the local tech industry is growing. A growing tech industry means you’ll have access to a robust job market and enthusiastic tech groups with regular networking events.
Let’s take a moment for some real talk: a lot of bootcamps out there advertise pupil-dilating starting salaries of $100k+. Easy cowboy/cowgirl: don’t forget that those salaries are only being paid in the insanely expensive San Francisco Bay Area, where housing prices are out of control. $100k in the Bay Area is equivalent to a $65k salary in Boston or $43k in Dallas. Don’t let the average starting salary sway you to choose one bootcamp over another, because the truth is that developers make roughly the same location-adjusted salary no matter where they live. When you’re considering location, just pick the city or region in which you’d most like to live.
It took 64 years for landline telephones to make their way into 40% of US households. Smartphones did it in 10 years (source). The pace of technological change and adoption has become mindblowingly fast, and it’s only going to get faster. Traditional education is great for learning skills that don’t change over time, but the curriculum in these institutions is subject to lumbering academic bureaucracies that can’t keep up with the pace of change outside the academic bubble.
Bootcamps, on the other hand, aren’t bound by glacial pace of change. They can adapt their curriculum quickly (often quarterly) to mirror the skills that are most needed in the real world. As you research individual bootcamps, be sure to find out how often they change what they teach. If they aren’t changing their curriculum often, then they aren’t teaching job-ready skills that you’ll need when you graduate.
The programming languages a bootcamp teaches should absolutely factor into your decision, but it might matter less than you think. Technology changes quickly, and a popular language now may not be as relevant in a few years. Plus, there are so many valuable languages to learn that it would be impossible to become fluent in all of them over a period of 10 weeks. Your goal shouldn’t be to become an expert in a specific language. Instead, you should strive to learn how to learn. It’s more important that you choose a high quality school with great instructors, a proven teaching approach with a consistently fresh curriculum, strong connections with hiring partners, and a student culture that fits your personality. Picking a bootcamp based solely on the language it teaches would be a bad move. Don’t make a bad move.
Once you have a handle on the logic and the fundamentals of programming, it will be worlds easier to learn other languages. It’s very common for bootcamp graduates to get hired in roles that don’t utilize the languages that they learned because the core fundamentals of programming are applicable across the board.