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Coding bootcamps provide an accessible, fast way to get the skills you need to apply for entry-level tech jobs. You can choose a bootcamp as an alternative to a degree or to supplement previous education and professional experience.
This page explores the real experience of one bootcamp student, Kate Crawford. Like so many people, Crawford reevaluated her life when the COVID-19 pandemic started.
She had a master's degree, worked in the legal field, and had assumed she would go to law school, but she realized she wanted something different.
"It was a really transformative time in my life, realizing that my perspective of academia had changed and that my perspective on how the world was had changed as well. It made me open to learning new things," Crawford said.
During the pandemic, she decided to enroll in a bootcamp.
Crawford completed an immersive online data science bootcamp through General Assembly in 2023.
Discover what to expect from a bootcamp as Crawford shares some of the lessons she learned and her strategies for success.
What You Can Expect to Learn in Bootcamp Classes
Bootcamp classes develop career-relevant computer science skills. Depending on the specialization, they may cover tech fundamentals, computer programming languages, and web development. Bootcamp participants may also get hands-on experience using industry tools.
Coding Bootcamp Types Have Advanced
Many bootcamps began as in-person classes, but the pandemic changed that. Prospective students may now choose a bootcamp from various types.
Providers offer completely online, in-person, and hybrid programs and part-time, full-time, and self-paced bootcamp classes.
Crawford attended a full-time, completely online data science bootcamp. She explained, "I wanted to be remote, and they [General Assembly] had been doing it long before the pandemic."
Traditional bootcamps focus on web development skills. Newer programs offer advanced specializations in digital marketing, financial technology (fintech), product management, and data science.
Digital Marketing Bootcamps
Digital marketing bootcamps cover search engine optimization (SEO), project management, and content strategy.
Fintech bootcamps may explore finance fundamentals, data analysis, programming, and machine learning. Students learn how to use technology to solve financial problems.
Product Management Bootcamps
Product management bootcamps develop expertise in overseeing a product's entire lifecycle. Students develop user experience (UX), communication, and data analysis skills.
Data Science Bootcamps
Data science bootcamps teach students to manage and use data to help solve problems and make decisions. Data science graduates can apply for entry-level positions in data science and roles like computer programmer or information security analyst.
Crawford chose a data science bootcamp after learning basic coding on her own: "They had data science. So, you're not just gonna learn React and web development. I was like, 'Oh, my God! I can actually do what I want to do here!'"
Bootcamp Curriculums Can Vary
Nontraditional coding bootcamps cover specialized areas of tech.
A typical fintech bootcamp curriculum, for example, covers both finance and tech issues.
Fintech bootcamps explore finance fundamentals, programming languages, machine learning, and data analysis. Fintech students learn problem-solving, communication, and financial analysis and modeling skills.
Crawford pointed out that many bootcamps, including her data science program, go far beyond coding. She said, "[People] are not always coding. Coding is probably not even most of the job. It's just a tool, almost like how, if you're a writer, you're gonna use a word processor or something [similar]."
A typical data science bootcamp explores data analytics, programming languages, and data visualization. Other topics include popular data science tools, modeling data, predictive analytics, and software development.
Crawford found the broad curriculum of her data science bootcamp challenging. "The [level of] difficulty was very high — higher than my expectations. I wasn't getting depth to build; I was putting down blocks and laying a foundation."
Bootcamp Skills Are Far-Ranging
Bootcamps can help participants develop many valuable skills. Some of these skills are academic, or theoretical skills learned in the classroom.
Others are more practical, preparing students to get a job, apply classroom learning, and succeed in the real world.
Computer Programming Languages
Crawford suggests that students learn coding basics before enrolling in a bootcamp. "Learn to code before you go, at least one language. I always recommend Python … because it's kind of like talking. Take a free code camp or something [similar]."
Data science and other tech bootcamps teach students how to analyze data. This may include cleaning, storing, retrieving, managing, visualizing, and interpreting data and information.
Computer Science Fundamentals
Students get a foundation in the basic theory of computing, computer architecture, and computer organization.
Bootcamp participants learn how to look up information, analyze it, and use it for projects.
Many coding bootcamps require group projects, which develop teamwork skills. Speaking about her cohort, Crawford said, "We all wanted to be good at what we were doing and we all made each other better because of it."
She reflected on the collaborative nature of tech work: "... I know that I would play the machine learning role, [and] that there are going to have to be hundreds of other people around me who know how to do mechanical engineering and all the other things."
Through hands-on projects, students learn to identify problems and find solutions. Crawford emphasized that in her bootcamp she learned that coding "is not just typing. It's like problem-solving and talking to other people."
Bootcamp participants quickly learn to manage their time or risk falling behind. Crawford described her full-time program: "Anywhere from five to seven hours of the day, you're actively coding. You're coding for follow-alongs*, when you end your day and go to office hours, or even while talking to someone."
*Videos where you code while you listen, as a learning tool.
Bootcamps help students learn how to weigh pros and cons to make decisions about projects.
Through teamwork with classmates and interactions with instructors, bootcamp participants develop valuable interpersonal skills.
Crawford emphasized the need to work with others to truly learn coding. She said, "I didn't know until I started pair programming that the people piece was missing in my problem-solving."
Surprise Learnings From Bootcamp Courses
Crawford encountered several unexpected lessons during her bootcamp experience.
What It Took To Succeed
The challenging curriculum and the time required to master it caught Crawford off guard. "The difficulty was higher than I expected," she said. "We covered something different every week, every day — two to three technologies."
Hard work, commitment, a willingness to learn, and the right attitude can be more important to success than any previous achievements.
Although she pushed through and found success, not everyone in her cohort finished. "There were people who left who, I thought, were high academic achievers, but who were not able to sit in that space. It's more about, can you dedicate yourself to something and find joy in that," she said.
The Diverse, Inclusive, and Supportive Environment
Crawford was surprised by how welcome the bootcamp made her feel, and by its diversity. "We had people where English was not their first language — and that was not just one person. There were three or four out of the 10 of us. All of my career coaches have been women, if not women of color.
We had people who were of different gender identities as well, … [and] it was great. It was the most inclusive space that I've ever been in, and I really loved it."
Crawford discussed how it felt to be in a learning environment where your ideas matter. "When you enter the space, you start to realize that everyone knows your contribution is important and everyone wants to hear your contribution because they can't move on or grow without multiple opinions or ideas or expertise."
She stipulated that bootcamps are not perfect. Some bootcamps may face a divide, where male instructors teach theory while the labor of coaching and supporting learners falls largely on female instructors.
"We're all human and the problems that exist within our society are definitely in that space," Crawford said. "There are inequalities and a lot of prejudices, especially in the tech field."
There Is No Final Destination
When you start a bootcamp, you might think that some people are the experts who know everything, and that one day you will too. But Crawford's experience taught her the reality is more complicated. She described her feelings about a "brilliant" bootcamp instructor who was excited to keep learning and exploring new tech skills:
"It made me feel so happy that I'm not the only one who doesn't know what I'm doing here, and also [made me] wonder will I ever know what I'm doing?...That was like a huge lesson… to know that he's been doing this for over a decade, I [realized] we're all learning and growing here and there is no final destination."
“Can you dedicate yourself to something and find joy in that?”
Kate Crawford's Key Takeaways
Expect challenging material
Crawford explained, "The [level of] difficulty was very high — higher than my expectations." Plan to work hard for long hours and manage your time well.
Get experience first
Learning the basics of coding before you start your bootcamp can set you up to succeed.
Success takes determination and collaboration
Your commitment to learning and willingness to engage with other people can be a huge factor in completing your bootcamp. Crawford, who may have been in a unique position with her level of experience, said, "From the moment I started [learning to code] to just a couple of days after I started my [bootcamp] program, it was a full year."
You don't need to know everything
Be willing to admit when you are lost. Never lose your curiosity, and ask questions. Crawford recommends that students, "Reach out, don't be afraid to talk to people." She went on to say, "The thing that I wish I knew [before going into the bootcamp] that I think other people should know is that you will not know everything, and to not feel like you need to know everything before you can move on."
Take time to reflect
"Archive" your experience and your reasons for doing this while in the bootcamp. Crawford commented, "Personally, I wish that I would have been reflecting a little bit more and writing more, because I think that I would have retained more of what I was learning."
Choose a high-quality, reputable bootcamp
Crawford cautioned, "There are so many bootcamps out there that are predatory, people who are predatory towards people who are just trying to learn." She appreciated that her program's instructors all had Ph.Ds and relevant professional backgrounds.
Learning in the tech field does not end when you graduate from a bootcamp. Crawford discovered that the people teaching her program were still learning.
You might not get the full context of the field
Crawford found that her bootcamp did not provide a realistic view of what it means to work in the data science field.
She said, "We learned so many things. But, there was never a moment [where it was explained] how all the pieces come together and that there is more than one person [responsible for a project]."
Why a Bootcamp May Work for You
Many bootcamp participants use their experience to land better-paying, in-demand jobs. Others enroll because of a passion for the subject.
Consider your personal interests, previous experience, and career goals to decide if a bootcamp is right for you.
No matter your professional or educational background, you may find value in a bootcamp. Whether or not you already have a degree, attending a bootcamp can help you land a promotion, find a different job in tech, or change fields.
Crawford already had a master's degree and work experience in the legal field when she decided to complete a bootcamp to pursue a different career. She values both experiences, even though some friends and family did not understand her decision at first.
She explained, "They had questions like, 'So are you sure you're not going into law? Are you sure you don't want to do that?' or 'Well, I thought you were going into law so you could help women and children.' And, I said, 'Hmm. I can do that in whatever I'm doing. It doesn't have to be your idea of what help should look like.'"
Crawford graduated from her data science bootcamp ready to job hunt and put her new skills into practice. "I'm really interested in product design and mechanical engineering, and understanding how we can incorporate machine learning into those. And I want to steer towards companies that are creating an impact through physical products," she said.
Additional Resources for Future Bootcamp Students
FAQ About Learning at a Coding Bootcamp
Do I need to know coding to get into a coding bootcamp?
No, you often do not need to know coding to get into a coding bootcamp. Most general coding bootcamps welcome beginners and do not require prior experience. Some bootcamps, however, require participants without prior experience to complete basic introductory pre-work before starting the program.
Even if a bootcamp does not require previous coding knowledge, learning the basics before starting a bootcamp can help students get the most out of the experience.
What is a typical coding bootcamp curriculum?
Can I go to a coding bootcamp to learn data science?
Yes. Besides general coding bootcamps, various other bootcamp types focus on specific areas of tech. Many bootcamp providers offer data science programs.
Should I go to college or a coding bootcamp?
The answer to this question depends on your career goals, budget, free time, and personal preferences. Students seeking to learn career-relevant skills quickly may prefer bootcamp classes. A college degree takes longer to complete but provides a broader and deeper education and may open the door to the best-paying jobs.
Meet the Author
Kate Crawford, MPA
I am a writer with a technical and critical lens. During my time at DePaul University, I submitted pieces on the intersection of social justice and project-based learning to college department newsletters. I went on to earn an MA in public policy, after studying as a dual major in international relations and diaspora studies. Currently, I am completing the data science immersive program at General Assembly to learn the latest tools for real-world problem-solving.
Crawford is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance Student Network.
Page last reviewed on March 30, 2023
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