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Another millennial fad or a substitute for a computer science degree?

Another millennial fad or a substitute for a computer science degree?

Diosa TaylorThe coding bootcamp: another millennial fad or a substitute for a computer science degree?

Written by Diosa Taylor – November 14, 2017

I’ve always loved maths and the rigorous problem solving that comes with it but after my degree, I knew I didn’t want to spend my life in academia or be, well… an auditor. And I’d also studied art so the creative in me demanded a seat at the table. It turned out that programming, and web development specifically,  was the professional sweet-spot I’d been looking for. Last year I was lucky enough to wedge my foot firmly in the door of the tech industry with a position as a budding young trainee developer. But once the sparkle of HTML tags and for-loops from online tutorials was gone, we were faced with the question of how to kick my learning into overdrive to get me to the status of fully-fledged developer ASAP. We finally decided on a coding bootcamp where I would embark on a nine-week journey resembling all of those online courses but on steroids. I came out of it with the word ‘junior’ severed from my job title and a vastly better understanding of the bigger picture of web development and programming in general. But during my time there I discovered that not everyone’s choice had been as straightforward as mine. In the quest to coding, most people are faced with two distinct options. Here, I discuss the differences, the stigma and the stereotypes. 

The coding bootcamp vs the comp-sci degree. In some circles, a topic as polarising as Mac vs PC, Marvel vs DC or white and gold vs black and blue. It’s the answer to the question of how to learn to code, should you be so inclined. To CS grads, the recent emergence of the coding bootcamp has birthed an insufferable breed of entrepreneurial hipster programmer. The cold-brew-coffee-drinking coder who does his git commits in the downward-facing dog pose and is in the midst of launching a startup to save the ocean with the power of mindfulness. Confronted with accusations of academic shortcomings, the aforementioned bootcamper will put down his pipe and tell the bearded, unkempt CS grad to stop being bitter just because he’s found a shortcut into IT that doesn’t involve writing code with a pencil and paper for four years. He insists you don’t need a degree to be a programmer.

Breaking down the differences

In some ways this is true. Two thirds of today’s developers are self-taught so clearly it can be done. So how do you decide which route to take? What are the main differences? Well, time and money are the big ones. Obviously coding bootcamps and CS degrees vary between organisations and universities, as well as from country to country but a bootcamp will last a few months and a degree the standard three or four years. And while a bootcamp will set you back a few thousand euros, it’s still considerably cheaper than a degree, especially when you add in the cost of living for that amount of time. Bootcamps are also designed for people with absolutely no coding experience but like any undergraduate course, a CS degree will likely require previous study of a related subject like IT, maths or science.



Working out what your end goal is

Bootcamps focus on the practical skills you need to take you from a beginner to a bonafide developer in a short period of time so you’re looking at a programming language, a framework, basic use of the terminal and version control and a lot of practice actually building stuff. It’s fast and furious but at the end of it you’ll have the basics down and be in a position to apply for an entry-level role as a web developer, front-end developer or even something a little heavier. You’ll be able to make an MVP for the latest Airbnb of xyz, which is a wonderful feeling but you might not actually know in much detail how a computer works.

At the end of a CS degree on the other hand, you’ll know all about how computers work. In excruciating detail. You’ll know the mathematics behind algorithms, you’ll be familiar with data structures and programming will actually be one small part of what you learn. Plus you’ll have had time to digest all that information and make sure you know your stuff. As well as that shiny bit of paper you can wave around.

It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does

So it’s fair to say that it really depends on what you want out of the experience and how you learn best. Whether you enjoy the nitty-gritty theory or prefer practical exercises. Whether you aspire to become a computer systems engineer or a front-end developer instead. There is no simple answer. The choice between a bootcamp and a CS degree is very much up to you. I know successful developers that have done both and some that have done neither. But all of these people have a few things in common. And it’s more than just a good eye for patterns and numbers. It’s a healthy dose of curiosity and a lot of perseverance. This is an industry where the next technology or trick is right around the corner so you can never afford to get too comfortable. And that’s the thing. A bootcamp, a degree, a book, an overzealous cousin in tech, it doesn’t matter how you learn. It’s the work you put in afterwards that matters most.