Learning Programming Intensively != Intensive Bootcamp
September 13, 2014 9:18 AM   Subscribe

How would you run the cost-benefit analysis of learning to program on one's own versus completing a programming bootcamp?

Here are some of the particulars that frame my question: I've been programming the last few months and really enjoy it! My interests are making web apps related to mental health, Javascript kind of across the board, OOP, some of the more scientific/research applications of Python, and dreaming up things for my Arduino. For the immediate future, I'd like to get a steady job of some kind, not necessarily in my interest/hobbyist areas. I've been accepted into a bootcamp in the region I currently live in (Boston) which starts in a couple of months.

But now that I'm deep in the process of learning and making things, I'm not entirely clear that I need a bootcamp experience. I'm not absurdly far along or anything, but I've made a simple card game in Ruby in the console, started to build my first Rails app, done a bunch of Project Euler problems, and read a couple of books on OOP and such. I feel like I have a good mental map of the next things to learn (solid git habits, working with RESTful APIs, actually completing a few portfolio-quality web apps) and while I'm not the most self-disciplined learner, I have actually been doing well setting aside time and holding mini hackathons for myself. I like this stuff, so intrinsic motivation is nice!

The other big thing is location. I feel like I can learn a ton in Boston, and I have a handful of connections. But I don't want to spend the next part of my life here, really. I've lived in the area for some of growing up and come back for the last 1.5 years, and I'm ready to try something new. I really don't love the culture, the cost, etc. I really want to try out Seattle or somewhere else in the Pacific Northwest -- or, possibly, somewhere like Denver. I'm okay with completing the program and even getting a first shorter-term position out here in Boston. That would work if I needed it to. But I would want to set myself up to make a move within the next year or so.

One vision I have would be to move to Seattle, find some kind of work (temping or otherwise), make connections with the coding community and find some collaborative work spaces/a mentor even?, and gradually learn and make enough to be hirable. Is this possible? Do you have any tips? I could use some of the money I set aside as a financial cushion, but it wouldn't be much (I could support myself for 2 or 3 months of unemployment).

posted by elephantsvanish to Work & Money (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
The people I've hired from bootcamps and other programs (Hackbright in particular) have all worked out very well.

I think boot camps and programs like that can provide the kind of insight that turns unknown-unknowns into known-unknowns, or better. Working around others will expose you to a lot of ideas you wouldn't have thought of yourself, and you'll make connections that will be useful no matter where you end up.

Also, trying to get the foot in the door with a small company, being able to say you completed the bootcamp will go a long way.
posted by colin_l at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

The other thing the bootcamp might do is force you to work with other people's code and learn coding conventions: both things that might not come up in books as much but are important to employers.
posted by clarinet at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I started attending a bootcamp a year ago. I am now a web developer. I recommend going to a bootcamp - it was a great decision for me.

A few dispersed thoughts -

You don't know what you don't know. Having a teacher / mentor will help you fill in all the things you aren't aware you don't know.

One crucial part of learning how to program is being able to sit with other people who are more experienced than you. Could you find quality mentors outside of a bootcamp? Maybe. Probably. But you would need and want more time than any one developer could reasonably give to you.

Bootcamps give you a whole new group of friends, which is really helpful if you're transitioning to a new city.

Bootcamps give you an instant network of engineers that you've worked with, and hopefully think that you're smart. A year down the road, you'll be able to reach out to your network and see who's hiring.

Bootcamps give you an opportunity to totally focus on transitioning to software engineering, which is super cool. Maintaining focus amidst another life is both draining and difficult. There's a chance you couldn't maintain it.

Once you have experience as an engineer, it will be much, much easier to transition locations. I wouldn't worry about being stuck in Boston.

Feel free to Me-Mail me if you have any follow up questions.
posted by justalisteningman at 11:09 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

My brother attended a bootcamp earlier this year - a different cohort of the one justalisteningman linked - and has a software position now doing web development.

I'm going to second everything he said - I heard about it second-hand but am an engineer myself as well. The bootcamp gave him instant connections and resources, as well as a web of alumni and companies-who-hired-and-liked-alumna that grant respectability and a known-quantity aspect.

One of the tremendously helpful things that came with the bootcamp was a job coach - my brother got professional help with his resume, portfolio, interviewing skills, and with strategizing about jobs and offers. With the percentage sharing payback of his bootcamp, they are really invested in getting their alumni the best placements possible.

It's doable but harder if you do it on your own - you can make a profile and learn your stuff.

There's something to be said about being surrounded by a culture and cadre of people totally immersed in software development.
posted by bookdragoness at 3:28 PM on September 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is all exactly what I needed to hear. It's a great opportunity and now I can anticipate how the parts will fit together much better. Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish at 7:37 PM on September 13, 2014

Good luck!
posted by colin_l at 9:38 AM on September 14, 2014

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