Code schools promise to help train you into a new six-figure-career as a web developer or engineer in as little as a few months. But are they worth it?
Becoming a web developer or a software engineer sounds like a great career. Who wouldn’t want to work in a fun office, get awesome benefits, work with new technology, and most importantly—earn a ton of cash? After all, the average salary for a web developers ranges between $77,849 and $116,529 per year.
I know what you’re thinking. Sign me up, please! But wait, I don’t know the first thing about coding. You’re not alone. The past decade has seen rise to a new phenomenon—code school—promising to get you up to speed so you can take advantage of these opportunities. But are they really worth it? I decided to find out.
What is a coding school?
Code schools are special in-person or online classes designed to teach you one thing: how to become a professional coder. They’re specifically designed for people who are changing careers and don’t want to go back to college for a traditional four-year Computer Science degree. In other words, they’re basically private, for-profit vocational schools.
“Our programs provide students with unique advantages that are not accessible at traditional universities,” says Michael Blenner from the popular coding school General Assembly. “Our curriculum focuses strictly on the economy’s most in-demand skills, providing practical instruction that can help students get hired.”
These code schools can be super intense, promising to train you in as little as a few months. That’s why they’re often also called coding bootcamps.
Coding school pros: Quick turnaround into a high-paying field
Luckily, when it comes to hard numbers, many coding schools offer better reporting than most colleges and universities.
Let’s dig in.
Looking at a broad overview, a 2016 report from Course Report shows that on average, most code school graduates get a $26,000 pay bump after changing careers.
Specific schools offer even more granular detail. It’s a data nerd’s paradise! For example, in 2017, the code school Epicodus reported that 38% of Portland graduates found a full-time coding job within 90 days of graduating. Their mean starting salary? $50,000.
General Assembly, on the other hand, reports that 88% of all graduates between 2014-2015 found a coding job within 90 days (although they don’t specify what kind of coding jobs they were). They don’t advertise their graduate’s mean starting salaries, however.
On the whole, though, it looks like code schools are just as effective—if not more so—at training people into a new career as compared to traditional colleges and universities.
Coding school cons: High cost, and job placement difficulties
Code schools can be great resources, but they come at a high cost: $11,400 for a 14-week program, on average, according to a 2017 Course Reports study.
To complicate things even further, these schools aren’t eligible for federal financial aid. This means you can’t take out federal student loans to go to a coding bootcamp like you can if you go to college.
This generally leaves you with two options: either save up and foot the entire bill yourself, or take out private student loans. Most code schools offer to help you with financing, but remember—private student loans are less flexible than federal student loans.
Another thing to consider is that some companies will automatically weed out your resume if you don’t have a traditional Computer Science degree, even if you’ve been to a code school. It’s the familiar old conundrum of being qualified for a job, but not being able to check the right boxes.
In addition, just getting your first job is the biggest hurdle. “Once I got my first developer job, I was in. Now I can transfer over to another company very easily,” says Sam Ringleman, a coding bootcamp grad who now works as an engineer.
Thomas Noe, a self-taught engineer, agrees. “If you’re driven, you can get around it. But it’s not the same playing field, in terms of getting your foot in the door. I think that once you’re in it’s easier, but [not having a Computer Science degree] will always hold me back. There’ll always be more of a chance of just being overlooked.”
Is a code school right for you?
Before you jump on the bandwagon and sign yourself up for another pile of debt, consider this: do you even really need a coding bootcamp?
“It probably takes about 1,000 hours to learn to code proficiently enough to get a job, regardless of the setting,” says Michael Kaiser-Nyman from Epicodus. “If you can get through that on your own, save a few bucks! If not (and most of us can’t), go to a coding school.”
Noe, the self-taught coder, agrees. “It probably took me a few months to feel comfortable doing very basic things. And then to do anything useful, probably a year or two after that. Unless you’re super self-driven, motivated, and have that kind of time, I think going to a boot camp—if you can afford it—is not a bad idea.”
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