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Mastering Coding: Bootcamp vs Online Courses

Coding is, without a doubt, one of the most in-demand skills today. Most companies rely highly on information technology, so employing someone who knows how to design and troubleshoot software is a huge advantage. Because of this, your coding skills could very well be your ticket to a solid and well-paying career.

The most obvious means to learn to code is to study it in a formal school. There is an entire range of coding courses available, with varying focus and outcomes. But what if you already have a job and don’t have four years to spare? Or what if you’re looking to get a coding-related job in the next couple of months? While you may have a number of options for such cases, two probably stand out: coding bootcamp and online self-study.

Coding Bootcamps

These are extremely short courses that equip you with the skills needed for a coding job. A full course can last three months up to a year. The process is half theoretical and half hands-on. If the process were to be compared with learning to survive in the wild, it would be like getting a lecture on basic survival, being given a fully provisioned knapsack, and being left in the wilderness where you learn by doing.

There are several reasons you’d like a bootcamp over a four-year coding degree. First, it is relatively cheap. While it’s not always cheap, it only costs a fraction of a bachelor’s degree. Second, it is extremely focused. It does away with the extra units and electives that are common in university courses. Instead, you learn the languages and skills that companies look for in applicants. Bootcamps can be very demanding, too, with some requiring you to spend up to 40 hours every week. They place a premium on experience as, over the course of your study, you almost do nothing but code.

Online Self-study

There are a number of websites offering coding courses. These sites vary in size and scope. Some offer a limited number of courses, while larger ones cover almost all learnable languages and skills. The choice is their biggest advantage over both bootcamps and four-year degrees. Self-study usually means you have full control over what you learn and how long you study.

While certain websites may impose specific course duration, you generally study at your own pace. You decide how many hours you dedicate to your lessons every day. If they are allowed, you can pause and resume as you please, or ask for extensions as needed. You can choose to study after work, making this option ideal if you are already committed to a career.

Self-study also means being able to choose which languages or skills to learn. Both bootcamps and degree courses follow a particular curriculum, which may include skills and topics you won’t need or would rather not study. In terms of cost, self-study is the cheapest of the three. In fact, some online courses are free.

Which one is for you?

Both bootcamps and online self-study have their share of pros and cons. But if you want to discover which one suits you best, the following questions may prove useful:

Do you have previous coding knowledge?

Bootcamps are like extremely focused and condensed versions of four-year degrees. You get the entire school experience but sans the frills and extras. For this reason, they are ideal if you are an absolute beginner. The learning curve may be steeper than that of an actual degree, but the course teaches you everything from rudimentary skills down to more advanced topics.

Online self-study does cover beginner skills, but bootcamps have the benefit of having actual instructors. More often than not, online courses can only do so much once you commit an error you’ve never seen before. If you are confident in your ability to learn completely new skills, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if there is any chance you’d need human help real-time, bootcamps should be your pick.

If you have a job, are you willing to quit?

As mentioned above, bootcamps can be as demanding as a full-time job. Because of this, you might have to set your job aside for a while to focus on your studies. Online self-study boasts convenience, as you can do your studies during your free time. Most online courses are accessible through a mobile device, which means you can learn where and when you’re most comfortable.

Do you value a fixed curriculum?

Being able to select which skills to learn is well and good. This is especially true if you are learning to code with a specific goal in mind. However, a fixed curriculum does have its share of advantages. One, the course is usually patterned after the current demands of the job market. As such, it can make you more employable. Two, technology tends to advance very quickly. After a while, mere tips and how-to’s may not be as up-to-date as you need them to be.

Do you want proof of your new qualifications?

Bootcamps usually grant you a certificate proving your completion of the course and the skills you learned. You may also use your coding work at school as part of your portfolio. When employers seek out proof of your credentials, you can easily present these. While most online courses provide completion and skill certificates, not all of them enable you to create a portfolio. If your goal is to find a job and not just to learn to code as a hobby, be sure to confirm that the website you’re learning from provides projects you can add to your portfolio.

How much is your budget?

Both self-study and bootcamps cost less than a four-year degree. Bootcamps are more expensive than online courses though. The courses don’t just actually cost more, leaving your job for your studies will also amp up your expenses. On the other hand, online courses are not just cheaper, some of them are downright free.

Both coding bootcamps and online self-study are solid ways to learn how to code. They both have their share of advantages and disadvantages, too. If you want to see which suits you best, you should first look at your needs and existing resources. Remember that at the end of the day, education is an investment. Nothing should stop you from picking the option you think is best, as long as it gives you the results you need.


Text by RJY
Image by Glenn Carstens Peters