If you’re looking to break out of a dead-end job and into a flexible tech career, there’s some good news right off the bat: You won’t have to spend years going back to a traditional college for a new degree. Coding skills can be picked up a number of ways, most of which take months to complete instead of years.
Among these quick routes to tech are immersive, in-person coding schools called developer bootcamps. These are traditionally eight to 12-week on-site programs (with some programs going as long as six months to two years) where students take on an intensive learn-to-code regimen, after which they apply for entry-level developer jobs.
Still, quitting your current job, possibly moving, and coming up with the cash to pay for tuition and other expenses is no small thing. Before making a commitment to going the bootcamp route, Skillcrush alum, bootcamp alum, and software engineer Sarah Ransohoff suggests there are four main questions you should ask yourself:
1. What Learning Style Works Best for You?
“Bootcamps” have that name for a reason—they’re intensive programs designed to take over your life for the weeks you’re enrolled.
Ransohoff, who attended a five-month program at the Flatiron School in New York, says that if you’re considering enrolling in a bootcamp it’s critical to keep in mind that it’ll be what you do (and likely the only thing you’ll do) for the duration of your program. This means that your ability to succeed depends on whether you’re someone who is comfortable focusing all your attention on one task, all day long, six to seven days a week.
And so, she says, before you set your sights on a program you need to step back and ask yourself how you learn best.
In Ransohoff’s case, she says she learns things best by getting hands-on experience and doing whatever it is she’s trying to learn, so the format worked perfectly for her. Of course, this learning style doesn’t work for everyone—for some people it might be too overwhelming, and a self-paced, online format might work better.
Ransohoff says it’s a good idea to test the waters. Try an online course, a coding workshop, or see if you can arrange a visit to the school you’re considering for a day.
2. Can You Afford a Coding Bootcamp?
Bootcamps aren’t cheap. According to Course Report, full-time tuition in the US runs an average of $11,451, and can range between $9,000 to $21,000.
That’s a huge investment (though, based on tech pay ranges, one with a considerable return down the road), so you need to seriously consider your finances and decide whether or not you’re able and willing to sink that kind of cash.
The good news is, scholarship and grant opportunities do exist—for instance, Etsy offers “hacker grants” to attend the Recurse Center in New York, Flatiron School offers fellowship programs for underrepresented groups and a Women Take Tech scholarship for female applicants, and Ada Developers Academy is tuition free for female and gender diverse applicants.
However—even if you’re able to cover tuition with a scholarship—Ransohoff says there’s another component of bootcamp costs to keep in mind. While Ransohoff was fortunate enough to have her own tuition paid by Flatiron’s fellowship program, she was still on the hook for five months of living costs without the ability to work and generate income during that time (due to the rigorous schedule). Ransohoff stresses that it’s crucial to factor these additional hidden expenses into your plans.
If those kind of savings are out of reach, you may want to consider an online coding school as an alternative to the ultimately more costly (and less flexible) on-site solution.
3. Have You Already Spent Some Time With Tech Basics?
Because the bootcamp format hits the ground running and never lets up, there isn’t much space for an adjustment period. With this in mind, it’s probably not the best idea to use a bootcamp program as your very first exposure to basic coding concepts and terminology.
Ransohoff says that before attending Flatiron she started dabbling in basic HTML, CSS, and JQuery skills while studying design (her original career goal). She says that—looking back—it was a good idea to go for a tech test drive and see if coding was something that actually appealed to her before making a big investment.
So, consider establishing a very basic foundation before going all-in. Doing some leg work with online tutorials to get a sense of what languages and tools you’ll be working with will make it easier to take advantage of your immersion if you decide to go the bootcamp route.
4. What Do You Want to Get Out of a Bootcamp?
While you don’t need to have your entire career trajectory plotted out before enrolling in a bootcamp, it’s still helpful to temper your decision with a general idea of what you’re trying to accomplish—it’s too intense an investment to take on just because it sounds good in the moment.
Ransohoff says that her long-term goal when she enrolled at Flatiron was to become a user experience (UX) designer, but she kept an open mind during her experience.
Today, she’s a software engineer, so even though she’d started to learn programming as a way to improve her UX design skills, those skills still became the foundation for everything she does professionally.
Overall, Ransohoff says that being able to answer each of these questions positively meant that the bootcamp format was a natural fit for her. While it wasn’t always easy—“It felt like I was breaking my brain in order to rebuild it in a new way,” she says—she came out of the experience with a firm handle on coding skills, which led to a successful career in tech.
This article was originally published on Skillcrush. It has been republished here with permission.