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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

Every Question You've Ever Had About Attending a Coding Bootcamp, Answered

So you know you want to learn to code, you’ve quelled some fears that were standing in your way, and you’re pretty sure an immersive developer bootcamp is the best choice for you. Time to get going and get to class, right?

Not quite. Once you’ve decided to go down the bootcamp route, a lot of logistical questions come up: How will I pay for it? Will I have to quit my job? Will I have to move to a new city? How long will I be unemployed? How do I even show I’m an incredible applicant to get in?

Well, we’ve got answers. After talking to current and past students as well as bootcamp leaders, here’s a guide to how others have made it work—and how you can, too.

The Cost

The cost of immersive bootcamp programs is often the biggest hurdle for students, and understandably so: Most intensive programs cost somewhere between $5,000 and $15,000. On top of that, you’ll have to consider living expenses for the duration of the program—remembering that many of them are held in large cities with higher costs of living.

That said, many students find the ROI worth it given the ability to accelerate the transition into a new career path. (Oh, and the relatively high salaries of most software developers don’t hurt either.) “Instead of focusing on the immediate concerns of not having a job or an income stream, I kept envisioning what my life and career would be one year out,” shared John Boese, who attended a three-month coding intensive before starting GoFindFriends. “And now that I’m a few months out of the program, I can honestly say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Of course, hope for the future can’t get you fed and housed. Instead, start by thoroughly researching different programs, their costs, and the financing options or scholarships they offer. Every program handles payment structures differently; some offer payment plans or deferred payment, others don’t make you pay up front but take a percentage of your starting salary when you land your first engineering job. Scholarships are often competitive but possible: Dev Bootcamp, for example, offers $500 scholarships for all veterans, women, and minorities.

Write out a list of all the programs that excite you, what the cost looks like, and if there are any built-in options to help you out. Then, estimate a cost of living for the duration of the program, thinking about your daily expenses and researching housing options and costs if you’d have to move. Make sure to check out any programs in your current city as well—not having to relocate will make logistics that much easier.

Once you have a baseline estimate of how much you’d have to pay for the program—and how much you could reasonably pay now—start looking for creative ways to fill the gap. Many past students recommend starting to plan for your bootcamp long before you actually attend one, just as you would for any continuing education, so you can start putting money away and reduce the amount you need to borrow.

Loans are also an option, though often not your traditional types. Few independent banks offer student loans, and since bootcamps aren’t accredited schools, they don’t qualify for federal student loan financing either. Instead, many people find luck with new and nontraditional loan options, like Upstart, Pave, or WeFinance.

Amanda Thurman, a developer for TechnologyAdvice, found another creative way to finance her bootcamp: her current company. When she decided she wanted to move into software engineering, she approached her company’s CEO. “We had just opened up a front-end developer position that sparked my interest, so I came into the meeting with a set plan of how I would get to where I needed to be. In this conversation with my CEO, I was told about a long list of job skills and requirements that were completely over my head. I thought my chance with a new career was lost, but [he] had heard about Nashville Software School through their recruitment efforts. Fortunately, he saw me as an opportunity to grow someone within the company to the position he needed.” So, the company paid for her course and allowed her to keep working part-time on the side for the duration of the program.

Look into whether your company has professional development or continuing education programs that could help you, or simply approach your boss with your growth goals. Even if your employer can’t pay the whole cost, it may be able to subsidize or find other ways to support you.

The Commitment

Even once the finances are figured out, you need to make sure you’re ready for the commitment. You’ll likely have to quit your job and be out of work for at least three months (potentially more for the time to find a job after). You may even have to relocate for a period of time. It’s a lot to take in.

Quitting my job was really difficult. My life was very comfortable and I had a good job and great co-workers,” shares Boese. “After giving my two weeks notice, I woke up every morning questioning if I had made the right decision. I had to keep reminding myself of why I was doing this and that everything would work out in the long run.” Now, as quoted above, he couldn’t be happier about that decision.

So how do you know if the commitment is one you’re ready to make?

First, you want to make sure that you feel absolutely confident that a move into programming feels right for you. “If you’re unsure whether coding is for you, try dabbling a little with a self-directed course offered somewhere like Codecademy,” says Hilary Wells, a representative of Dev Bootcamp.

Beyond this, talk to people who work in software development. Have informational interviews with people who are in roles that interest you. Find out what their day to day is really like, and how they got into it. See if it’s what you imagined and what you want for yourself. Look out for events hosted by a bootcamp provider where you can hear from people who transitioned into software development from a different career.

Once you feel comfortable with this, you want to make sure an immersive bootcamp is the right way for you to get there, or whether self-directed online learning, a part-time or evening program, or some other route would fit your life better. This depends a lot on your learning style.

“The biggest barrier for me was deciding if a bootcamp was necessary or if I could just learn to code on my own,” agrees Boese. “I eventually decided to attend a bootcamp because I felt that a structured program would help keep my learning on track and ensure that I learned the material. After the first two weeks, I knew I made the right choice. I realized it would have been significantly more difficult to learn everything on my own and I would have wasted a lot of time sitting around my house confused and endlessly searching Google for answers.”

The Application

Of course, deciding you want to enroll in a bootcamp isn’t the end—you generally have to apply to the programs, and they have to decide they want you, too! “The biggest logistical concern that I faced while applying to Dev Bootcamp was whether or not I would be a strong enough applicant,” shares Hannah Sison, a recent graduate of the program. “Without a background in computer science, I feared that I wouldn’t be accepted.”

Programs will require you to have different levels of coding knowledge, and some will test you on your current abilities during the interview process, so you should look into the specifics of the programs you’re aiming for and do a little self-directed teaching ahead of time if need be. But you needn’t be too nervous—most programs geared towards beginners simply want to see that you have the capacity to learn to code. “What I really liked about [the application process for my program] was the coding challenge—I had to watch some tutorials on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, then use what I learned to make a single-page, ‘about me’ website,” shares Cameron Jacoby, who transitioned from marketing to being a software engineer at Rocksbox after attending a coding intensive.

Even for programs that don’t require prior coding experience for acceptance, this extra prep can help you get much more out of the program. Maneesh Anad, a graduate of New York Code + Design Academy and developer at Everplans, says, “There’s a lot of material covered so start to study a lot on your own time. You’ll grasp concepts much easier in-class and spend less time trying to understand basics and more time applying your knowledge.” Some programs even build this prep work into the curriculum—such as Dev Bootcamp’s nine-week remote but instructor-guided phase—to help give you some practice and master the fundamentals before you arrive.

Beyond your programming knowledge (or ability to learn on the fly), getting accepted is often about showing your passion and drive for learning to code. “Be able to articulate why you want to go to a bootcamp and what you hope to achieve afterward; show that you’ve done your homework and have some rationale for why you are applying to a particular bootcamp (they are not all the same); and demonstrate sound problem-solving skills, along with the ability to collaborate with others,” Wells recommends.

As with many things in life, it seems the motto here is: If you want it badly enough, you can find a way to make it work. Do your research, be willing to get creative with solutions, and keep your eyes toward the future of living your dream life as a software engineer.

Photo of students working courtesy of Shutterstock.