Computer science vs Coding bootcamp

Before putting down a deposit to attend a bootcamp, the first thing you’ll google is probably “computer science vs coding bootcamp”. Is there an answer to this pervasive question?

tldr: it depends.

Think about where you are in life and what your goals are. There are a lot of considerations for each decision.

Employability

Myriad articles on the internet stress the superiority of a CS grad over a bootcamp grad, and there are many companies which refuse to hire from the latter. No matter how hard you drill CS fundamentals after graduating from a bootcamp, employers will always prefer the degree.

A computer science graduate usually has very good job prospects after college – they’ve done several internships at amazing companies and recruiters are fighting for the ones who have spent a summer at Google or Facebook. Competent students receive a full-time offer at the end of their last summer and enjoy their senior year of college relaxing.

Getting a job after a bootcamp is a grind. Many graduates spend more time sending resumes after graduation than they spent learning the bootcamp curriculum. Even if you graduate at the top of your class, you will spend hundreds of hours sending resumes, completing coding challenges, fielding questions from recruiters, and whiteboarding for employers.

Time Commitment

Attending a coding bootcamp is a difficult decision if you’re at the crossroads where you’re considering a 4-year computer science degree. A computer science degree requires four years of study. This includes dozens of classes completely unrelated to the field meant to broaden your horizons. Although there are many awesome scholarships available at the top schools, the opportunity cost of 4+ years is very real.

On the other hand, even if we consider the time spent job searching after graduating from a bootcamp, the time from start to employment is often less than six months. That means before the computer science student has taken a single course related to their major, a bootcamp grad is beginning to receive real-world experience. Maybe instead of asking “Bootcamp vs CS”, we should ask “Bootcamp + 3 years vs. CS”?

Earnings Potential

Coding bootcamps have not been around long enough to compare the long-term earnings potential against degree holders. Many universities publish statistics for new graduate salaries, and I have to say – several bootcamps boast comparable average salaries.

In defense of CS degrees, university statistics usually involve the entire population (low performers included). In comparison, bootcamp statistics need to be taken with a grain of salt, since they massage the data using restrictions on who is counted in the ‘average starting salary’ pool. This isn’t to say the earnings potential isn’t there – the graduates I’ve seen have destroyed the bootcamp’s “average salary” guidance.

I would argue that as long as you make a conscious effort to stay hungry and supplement your practical developer skills with CS fundamentals, coding bootcamp graduates can have the same earnings potential as a degree holder.

TTL (Time-To-Live)

MIT & Stanford Computer Science graduates will leave their alma mater with deep knowledge about how computers work and how to solve problems using the fewest processor cycles. They go to companies like Google and Microsoft that have extensive new-hire training programs in order to get acquainted with the software and dev environment. Six months later, these graduates are ready to commit to the production servers.

There are tens of thousands of companies that don’t have the resources to incubate new hires until they can be productive. Startups want employees who can quickly digest the codebase, create a solution, and move on to the next task. Bootcamps focus heavily on practical skills – the objective is to create a team member who can be productive on day 1.

Filling the Gaps

During my interview process, I’ve done hours of research looking for exactly which areas bootcamp graduates are lacking in an attempt to fill those gaps in knowledge.

I’ve seen a lot of people mention “analyzing code efficiency” and “computer science theory”, but in my experience more and more bootcamps have begun incorporating these topics into the curriculum. If you’re considering a bootcamp, ask the interviewers about their respective program’s coverage on data structures and algorithms.

Worst case, you’ll be stuck learning these concepts yourself. Check out the next article for an in-depth guide on how to fill those gaps.

How to get the missing CS skills as a bootcamp grad

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