The debate surrounding the best way to prepare for a programming job — or getting a better job — frequently involves some mention of coding camps. These programs aim to teach coding skills to those willing to commit the time and money to learning in an intense, condensed format.
The argument for these camps generally revolves around lower cost and and time investment than going to a university for a computer science degree - a CS degree experience without any fluff or freshman comp requirement. The argument against includes doubts as to whether a student could be ready for a full time development job after a few weeks of training. One point that's not up for dispute, though, is there aren't enough developers to meet the market's demand.
Not all code camps are alike, and they're not what Code Fellows' Will Little called a "magic pill" for securing a high-paying job in development. Effectiveness depends on a number of variables.
"Just like a CS degree is not the same from every university, just because you attended a coding camp, there's no automatic assumption that you actually know good coding skills," said Dice president Shravan Goli.
Along those line, Little said: "It takes a lot of work to become a professional in most fields, but software development in particular. It requires a lot of experience and a lot of time working out your ability to write software effectively."
Whether you're out to learn the basics or add a new skill, here are 10 things you need to know about coding camps.
1. Some are free, most are not
Course Report, a directory for coding bootcamps, conducted a survey of 43 coding camps in the US in 2014, and found that the average cost of tuition was $9,900. It is possible to find free camps but Goli said to really consider, "What is it really getting you? Is the quality of the teaching as good?" It takes further vetting to determine if the camp really meets with your professional goals.
2. Different schools, different funding models
Part of the reason why the tuition prices can range from free to more than $10,000 is because the funding models can vary. A camp might be free because it has strong donors or sponsors, Goli said. Check out who those people are and what their motivations might be, Goli said. On the flip side, he doesn't think students should really be paying a lot of money for these camps. "There are a lot of places where you can get high quality camps these days that don't charge a lot. I would look for those.," he said.
3. Find a camp with industry relationships
Goli advised to look out for a camp with existing relationships with employers. Going a step further, Goli said some camps are facilitated in a way that allows for students to work on projects for real companies. "One thing is adding this ability and knowledge to your resume, but one thing you want to think about as you're attending these coding camps is which one of these has the opportunity to work on real world projects?" Goli said. Look first at the camps that can create a bridge between you and a potential employer.
4. They last from 9 to 12 weeks
Consider the length of time you're willing and able to make to a coding camp, as well as what you might need based on your current skill level. Course Report found that average length of a coding camp is between 9 and 12 weeks.
5. Ruby is the hottest topic
6. Some camps offer job placement rebates
Depending on the coding camp you pick, you might be able to get some money back if you find a job quickly, or don't find a job quickly. Dev Bootcamp will give students $5,000 back if they find jobs through the program. Code Fellows, on the other hand, will give students a full refund if they can't land a gig within 9 months of completing one of their 8-week development accelerators - a more intense version of the camp for people with prior experience, according to their website. In San Fransisco, App Academy charges 18% of your first year salary if you find a job.
7. Prior experience helps
If you have zero background in coding, that doesn't mean you should be intimidated of enrolling in a coding camp. It just means you should check your expectations of getting a six-figure job after a few months training. Code Fellow's Will Little recommends taking advantage of the tools that exist online as getting yourself as far as you can on your own.
"What we've heard time and time again from our alumni and hiring partners that are hiring our students is that going through these programs are cutting off somewhere between one and two years of learning on your own time," Little said.
Start building, start sharing code. That way, it's easier to take on an "apprentice mindset," he said, and get more out of the experience of having an in-person mentor when you've hit the point where you need one.
8. You're going to work, a lot
Part of the idea behind coding camps - sometimes referred to as boot camps, is that there's no wasted time. Camps can divide up the required time in and out of class. The Mobile Makers Academy in Chicago lists there being 10 hours per week spent in class, with an additional 20-30 spent outside of class. As Fullstack Academy's Nimit Maru pointed out, coding camps tend to favor hands-on projects versus the theoretical.
"It's so much of a squeezed timeframe," Goli said, "They don't have time to goof around. They're very much focused on what is the most valuable set of coding skills that you would have to develop related to a particular language or a particular technology space."
9. There's no industry regulation
To this point, coding camps aren't regulated. In part what that means is that there's no standardization for curriculum, and the statistical information available is largely self-reported. Before you settle on a camp, dig around and look at the types of jobs students are getting, average salaries, and how long it's taking them to get those jobs, Little said.
"Those statistics really tell the story in terms of what you can expect," he said.
10. Just because you sign up doesn't mean you get in
Many coding camps require applications and interviews to fill a limited number of spots in their programs. Hacker School, for example, conducts two rounds of Skype interviews with applicants.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.