Coding bootcamps are beginning to catch up to traditional computer science programs, at least in number of graduates: Bootcamps in the US and Canada graduated nearly 23,000 students in 2017, according to Course Report, while the US produces about 50,000 computer science graduates per year.
Average salaries for these bootcamp graduates often lag behind those for candidates with four year degrees. But with the right school, location, and prior STEM experience, bootcamp graduates can sometimes find themselves exceeding the salaries of those with a CS degree alone.
For bootcamp graduates who obtained jobs in tech within 90 days of graduation, reported salaries ranged from $41,000 for graduates of Epicodus in Oregon to $106,500 for Hack Reactor in San Francisco, with lots of variance in between, according to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting.
The average starting salary for someone with a computer science bachelor's degree in 2017 was $65,540, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Programmer (Tech Pro Research)
In 2016, 73% of bootcamp graduates surveyed by Course Report said they were employed in a full-time job that required the skills learned at a bootcamp, with an average salary increase of 64% (or $26,021) over their employment pre-bootcamp.
"I've seen very few bootcamp grads working at top-tier companies doing development jobs," said Silicon Valley-based tech recruiter Mark Dinan. "Many more end up working at relatively menial positions which might pay 30% of what an engineer with a CS degree might be making."
Bootcamp benefits and deficits
The Department of Labor projects that there would be 1 million more computing jobs than computer science graduates by 2020.
"We're going to need all of the programs to work together—not just coding schools, but computer science degree programs, and self-education tools online," said Jay Patel, head of operation and finance at Coding Dojo. "Everything needs to work together to fill that skills gap."
A 2017 Indeed survey found that 80% of US tech hiring managers and recruiters said they have hired a coding bootcamp graduate for a tech role—and 99.8% said they would do so again. Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 72% said they consider bootcamp graduates to be just as prepared and likely to perform at a high level as computer science grads.
However, 41% of hiring managers said they would prefer to hire someone with a computer science degree, because they are more qualified and more likely to be a top performer, Indeed found.
"Hiring managers still place value on a 4-year degree in computer science and that's still the gold standard," said Jim Halpin, team lead of LaSalle Network's technology recruiting practice.
SEE: Hiring kit: Python developer (Tech Pro Research)
In a bootcamp, there is more emphasis on learning a specific language, while for a computer science degree, the focus is on building an understanding of the foundations that students can then use to pick up different languages without having to be taught how to code, Halpin said.
Bootcamps are most beneficial if they are supplementary to someone's degree or past job experience, Halpin said. In particular, a person with a STEM degree who goes through a bootcamp solidifies them as a strong candidate that companies are more likely to hire, he added. If someone comes from another field, companies will still prefer to hire the candidate with the strongest foundational skills.
"A lot of hiring managers are still hesitant on bootcamp graduates because when compared to a computer science graduates, they usually need a longer runway for ramp-up time," Halpin said. "Computer science grads are getting offers faster and those offers are more competitive than those coming out of a bootcamp." This is particularly the case if bootcamp grads don't have other experience to back up their coding work, he added.
Software development companies are particularly difficult for bootcamp graduates to break into, according to Dinan.
"Bootcamp grads tend to be dramatically underprepared to be software engineers compared to the competition," Dinan said. "While there are exceptions to the rule, why would a company hire a bootcamp grad instead of someone with a MSCS and BSCS from an accredited university?"
Again, the exception to the rule are those who go to a bootcamp after completing an engineering degree program in another field, such as civil engineering, Dinan added.
While bootcamps are often a great start, "the important things to know are that there is more to it than just completing the bootcamp," Halpin said.
Candidates must show potential employers their passion and interest in technology, Halpin said. A portfolio of personal projects, such as websites you've created or samples of code, is crucial. A collection of work relevant to what you want to do in a job, and an active presence on GitHub are also key, he added.
"Hiring managers want to see that a candidate is passionate about coding and about technology," Halpin said. "This is why they look for candidates that have some type of passion project."
An individual who graduates from a bootcamp with a portfolio and new skills can demonstrate to companies that they can learn new technologies and processes very quickly, Patel said.
"More companies are saying, 'We don't care what your education background is, we just care that you can do the work,'" Patel said. "A portfolio of projects is very valuable to a company, to show that the student has done this work before."
Bootcamp graduates should keep salary expectations realistic, Halpin said. "If you know you're competing against people that have more experience or better foundations, you may have to lower your salary expectations and be willing to start in an entry-level role that is more support in the beginning with a potential to grow," Halpin said.
There are also many jobs in the tech industry that do not require strong coding skills, and may be worth pursuing, Dinan said.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.