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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

Learn to Code Now: How to Pick the Right Dev Boot Camp for You

You’ve decided that you’re ready to learn to code, and you can already see your career options swelling. But wait—how will you decide which coding school is right for you?

There are more than 65 coding “boot camps” in the U.S. alone, each boasting different tuition models, language specialties, and teaching styles. So, before you ceremoniously quit your job to be the next Zuck, ask yourself these six questions to guide your research.

1. Which Language Do I Want to Learn?

Coding boot camps usually employ one “teaching language” when introducing students to the world of programming. If you want to work mainly on the web (versus mobile), your most popular options will be Rails or Python, with a few ASP.NET and strictly JavaScript schools.

The majority of coding schools teach Rails—Dev Bootcamp and General Assembly are two of the largest and most established. Other schools, like RocketU and Hackbright Academy (a school exclusive to women), specialize in Python, citing that the language is more complex and has roots in computer science fundamentals. Any neutral party will likely tell you that language shouldn't drive your decision—many students graduate from a Python program and can easily learn Rails on their own (and vice versa)—but if you do have a preference, it's something to consider.

If mobile is your scene, then iOS and Android are your main choices. iOS schools like Mobile Makers in Chicago and The Flatiron School in New York will emphasize Objective C (and MGWU teaches you how to make games!). The Delta Program in Austin is dedicated to Android development.

2. What is My Learning Style?

If you are highly motivated and can teach yourself tough subjects using books and tutorials, then a free online program like Codecademy or Udacity may be enough to get you proficient. Those seeking a bit more guidance may look into Bloc or Thinkful, which offer online classes and a personal mentor for each student. If you already have a coding foundation and don't need lectures, but you know that you’ll want to be working around other students to get through an intense curriculum, then Hacker School, a free, full-time school in New York, could be a great fit (although it is not for complete beginners).

Looking for hands-on, instructor-led training but can’t quit your job just yet? Part-time schools like Anyone Can Learn To Code allow you to keep your current position and learn on nights and weekends. If you choose this route, be sure to decide if you’ll be able to stay motivated between work and the intense course.

Of course, if you can afford to quit your job and pay the tuition, then the popular three-month immersive courses like the Web Development Immersive at General Assembly will be the best bang for your buck. Bonus: Many schools like this guarantee job placement.

3. What are My Professional Goals?

Establishing your motivations for learning to code can seriously narrow down your field of options. Do you want a job at a startup or a large company? Do you want to start your own business or be a technical cofounder?

Consider the revenue models of some coding boot camps—not only are they charging tuition, but they also may charge a recruiting fee to the companies that hire their graduates. In these cases, schools may be less excited about a student who wants to launch a startup immediately after learning to code. Other schools, like Starter School, based in Chicago, help you ship your own product and are designed to help you become a technical co-founder or start your own business. Be sure to read schools’ FAQs to see exactly what they’re looking for in applicants.

Also check out the companies that graduates have gone on to work for, and ask if the boot camp partners with any companies to place graduates. Are these mainly large companies or startups? RocketU is set (literally) in the middle of the RocketSpace accelerator, so you’re in a sea of over 100 eligible startups that are all looking for technical talent.

4. How Much Can I Afford to Spend on Tuition?

A full-time program will typically cost $5,000-$15,000, but there are a few tuition models to consider. If you can’t afford to pay tuition upfront, but need more guidance than a free, online program can offer, then look into App Academy, which doesn’t require any tuition payment until you find a job that you’re happy with (seriously). It also offers a live-work space in its San Francisco office (and is looking to add one in New York), so you don’t have to pay for housing during the program. Nashville Software School offers another creative tuition model—if you are from or have strong ties to Nashville, you only pay $1,000 upfront, then your hiring company pays the school back after it’s hired you.

Of course, if you can afford a higher-tuition school, then your options are far wider, and there are plenty of great camps to choose from. Take Hack Reactor in San Francisco, which charges nearly $18K for tuition, or gSchool in Denver, which rings in at $20K for the six-month course.

5. Where Should I Attend a Coding Boot Camp?

Think about your own needs, family situation, and the city’s livability when deciding where you want to attend boot camp. Sure, New York and San Francisco are going to have expansive hiring networks, but can you stand to be away from friends and family for up to six months? Shereef Abushadi, an instructor at Dev Bootcamp, says “about 50% of our students who attend San Francisco are native to the SF area, so they benefit from both sides of this equation and are also in a convenient place during the interview process.” However, he sees advantages to finding a local boot camp “assuming the quality of education is the same” and “if you have family or other obligations to balance.”

6. What is My Own Coding Background?

As the number of coding boot camps has expanded, some schools have narrowed their admissions requirements, so think about your current skill level. Have you completed a free, self-guided online course like Treehouse? (If not, get started on one now.) Do you have experience hacking on open-source projects or working on some technical projects at your current job? Some schools claim that “anyone can learn to code” and accept complete beginners. Others, like Hack Reactor, require some background in coding (“this is not a "0-60" course, this is a "20-120" course,” the website states). Be honest with schools about your background, and find the school that can best work with your current skill level to transform you into a rock star programmer.

Once you’ve narrowed your options down to boot camps that best fit your plans, be sure to research application tips, deadlines, course descriptions, and interviews at Course Report.

Photo of code courtesy of Shutterstock.