Don't Go To Bootcamp

CS Education    2017-06-05

"Hey, you're a programmer. My cousin is thinking about getting into coding. Which bootcamp would you recommend?"

None. Not one of them. Because that is not the place to start.

There's nothing wrong with dev bootcamps - they provide one kind of service for people looking to change new skills and even change careers, and for an industry that always needs fresh energy and personnel.

But they cost a lot, and most of them require a time commitment that would preclude holding down a regular job. So if you're starting from zero, don't start there.

Instead, take advantage of some of the cheaper and less time-intensive resources that may be less well-known to those outside the programming community. Find out if it's the career you really want, and get an idea of what direction you might want to go in.

  1. If you are disciplined enough to do self-guided work, there are a lot of self-paced online tutorials that can give you an introduction to a particular programming language:

    • CodeCademy - A selection of online courses covering a wide range of coding tools and languages, most with in-browser code editors to go along with the instruction and exercises. This is a great place to dip your toes in.
    • Khan Academy - Computer Programming - Another great beginner resource, Khan Academy classes incorporate detailed video lessons with written instruction and code exercises. Their class selection is not as broad, and focuses mainly on Javascript and HTML, but they do have a great section on computer science basics that would be useful for any beginner.
    • Learn Code the Hard Way - Learn the Hard Way has a few good beginner-appropriate courses for diving into what we would consider server side**, or 'back-end' languages.
    • A lot of languages have their own community-created tutorials for beginners. See: Python, Ruby, Javascript, and HTML.

    ** Where HTML and JavaScript code is executed largely in the browser, or client-side, programming languages like Python and Ruby are run on a server, the computer that hosts a web site and sends information to your browser. And yes, I realize that most of you reading this already understand that distinction, but when you send the link to this post to your cousin who's asking about dev bootcamps, they might be interested in knowing as well.

  2. Another option for affordable online learning is the MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course. Some are very structured, some are self-paced. Most are offered at low or no cost, and almost all operate in conjunction with computer science instructors from major universities.

    • EdX - Is a non-profit and open source. Their interface is not particularly good at allowing you to filter on courses for beginners, so you'll have to spend some time reading class descriptions. Their coursework is also free, but they will try to sell you on a "Verified Certificate" that will be largely meaningless out in the job-hunting world.
    • CourseRa - CourseRa offers a slightly broader range of free class options, but they are also not very good at indicating courses for beginners.
    • Udacity - Udacity does offer a few free courses, but their focus is on their 'nanodegree program', which is a little like an online bootcamp. The classes are self-paced, but there is a cost of a few hundred dollars per month (so the more time you can dedicate to working through the classes, the faster you go, the better the value).
    • Another option is to spend some time searching for universities who offer MOOC's through their own web sites.
  3. If you need a little more structure, or you want to try some hands-on coding with other people where you can get real-time help and advice, look into these groups. The good: introductory workshops at low or no cost. The bad: they don't operate in every city. (It's important to note that while the groups listed below are aimed at helping people who identify as women, tell your cousin that they do not explicitly exclude men.)

  4. Finally, take a look at meetup groups in your area. Many put on regular coding workshops - the best way to find them is just to read group descriptions and look at their calendars for upcoming classes: