How to make the most of a tech bootcamp

Bootcamps provide quick access to sought-after skills, but it takes drive and ambition to transform a few months of hands-on instruction into a full-fledged career.

Sarah K. White Aug 06th 2018
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Bootcamps have emerged as a popular way to quickly gain marketable skills that organizations are looking for. And the ongoing IT talent shortage in certain disciplines has seen a rise in bootcamps aimed at skills such as coding and data science. But how well do bootcamps prepare you for employment? Are bootcamp graduates perceived as viable candidates to fill key IT roles?

According to data from Indeed, 72 percent of employers think “bootcamp grads are ‘just as prepared’ to be high performers as degree holders,” while 12 percent think they are “more prepared and more likely to be high performers.” The same survey found that 80 percent of respondents went on to hire a bootcamp graduate and 99.8 percent said they’d hire someone with bootcamp experience again. Indeed has also found that since 2010 the number of job seekers with bootcamp experience has doubled year-over-year on the site.

If you’re thinking of enrolling in a bootcamp, here’s what you need to know about the process — and how to transform your experience into a viable career.

Employees and employers can save time and money

Bootcamps are typically short, lasting anywhere from a week to a few months, depending on the structure of the course. This makes bootcamps not only affordable when compared with degree programs, but easier to fit into busy schedules for working professionals.

“The cost felt hefty up front, but it seemed much more reasonable than going back to a university for a master's or another bachelor's degree. Plus, knowing I'd only be away from a paying job for four months rather than four years felt much more comforting,” says Taylor Cox, a product manager who transitioned from a design position.

Cox had a bachelor’s degree in digital media production and landed a job working as a designer for a PR agency after college. But after a week with the company, a developer was let go and Cox was able to take over the ex-employee’s responsibilities thanks to her self-taught background in HTML and CSS. But after being tasked with building out an e-commerce website on WordPress, she soon realized she had some knowledge gaps, and after some consideration, decided to try out a free course at The Iron Yard, which is now known as Suncoast Academy. The free session sparked her interest and she found that the bootcamp process suited her needs — especially considering she had just recently graduated with a four-year degree.

Not everyone has the budget or time to go back for a four-year degree and some companies don’t have four years to wait for a candidate to graduate with the right skills. Bootcamps offer an alternative for workers and businesses — an employee can shift their career through a bootcamp and organizations can send employees to bootcamps to get qualified workers up to speed on new skills. 

Bootcamps enable mid- or late-career changes

Andrea Kim was 11 years into a pet-care business when she started growing concerned about navigating Chicago’s unpredictable weather patterns after a couple of injuries. She also felt like she wasn’t challenging herself enough in her career. But as a single-mom of two daughters, going back to school full-time wasn’t an option. She couldn’t take the time off — it would have left her without an income to support herself and her kids.

Related video: The 7 most in-demand tech jobs for 2018

“I sought a new opportunity which could provide me the income I needed to finally rid myself of debt and start saving for retirement. I had been a single mom of two daughters living dollar-to-dollar on a single income and somehow survived by the skin of my teeth. If I could manage that for 21 years, I felt, I could manage a bootcamp and learn to code,” says Kim.

And she was right — Kim is now an Android developer with an extensive resume that includes cybersecurity skills, data analytics, block chain, IoT, augmented reality, AI and DevOps. She continues to work in the industry, growing her skillset and staying on top of industry trends through continual learning.

You get out what you put into a bootcamp

Bootcamps aren’t structured like traditional degree programs, so how much you get out of one will depend on what you put in. Bootcamps enable you to network with professionals in your desired field, while completing hands-on projects that you can add to your portfolio.

“Think about what you want and what skills you need to gain. At the end of the day, bootcamps are not a golden ticket to a job — they take work, and you get what you put into them. What I can tell you is, really invest in them,” says Shelby Stewart, who transitioned to a product manager position in education tech.

“The homework and projects that are often required can be great resume boosters and are a great way to get a portfolio started, so make sure you spend time doing your project correctly and with thought and care,” Stewart adds. “You can learn a lot from these programs, because they provide you with a great network, skills, and frames of thought, but you really have to practice and invest in the program.”

Stewart worked closely with product managers in her marketing and content strategy roles, and she grew to find the position interesting. With a degree in psychology, she knew she would have to expand her educational background to land a role in product management. She completed a bootcamp at Product School and attended a one-off class at General Assembly after reaching out to others in the industry to hear their thoughts. After this, she was able to transition into a product management role, effectively pivoting her career.

Bootcamps offer extensive opportunities to network and to gain hands-on experience that will apply to real-world situations. But unlike a degree program, you won’t have the same structure or oversight as an undergraduate or graduate program. Your education will rely on your own engagement, efforts and dedication.

“I credit a lot of my ability to pick up these new technologies and concepts to being a bootcamp graduate. We didn't just learn how to code. We learned how to think like programmers and how to dissect problems into individual pieces that were easily solvable,” says Cox.

You’ll probably need to enroll in more than one program

Your education won’t end once you graduate and land a job after your bootcamp program. You’ll want to keep taking courses along the way, gaining new skills and building your resume — especially if you want to continue competing with candidates who have CS degrees.

“Not having a CS degree is a huge disadvantage — not in credentials as much as knowledge of concepts and software architecture. There is so much more to learn after a bootcamp. It is only the beginning,” says Kim.

She compares it to teaching a kid to ride a bike — the bootcamp is that initial push from a parent, but “what you do from there is your responsibility.”

“You'll fall but you have to get back on and keep trying. Eventually, you'll be decent, and after a long time, really good. You will always have to keep pedaling, though, you cannot ‘coast’ for long,” says Kim.

Depending on the job you go for, you will find that you need to stay competitive by maintaining your credentials over the years. The bootcamp is a great start, but you’ll want to ensure you’re up to speed on all the necessary hardware, software and tools for the job.

“While I was a student in the bootcamp, I would stick around after class for meetup events with local organizations that either hosted presentations about tech-related topics or workshops. Now that I've completed the bootcamp, I still continue to take courses to expand my knowledge,” says Cox.