Comparing Bootcamps: What actually matters

We initially didn’t set out to write a chapter on coding bootcamp metrics, but after seeing so many confusing and often times absolutely useless metrics thrown around by some random marketing teams, we changed our mind.

It may be tempting to boil complicated decisions down to a few simple metrics to make a fast decision on which coding bootcamp to choose. This may work and look good in theory. However, in practice, boiling things down to a few “marketing” metrics isn’t really helpful to make a good decision.

Rather than accepting metrics that you find on any coding bootcamps website, you should focus what really matters - achieving your personal coding goal.

Now that we said it, forget the metrics and focus on what really matters when choosing a coding bootcamp.

Here we go...

Forget Bad Metrics - Understand What Really Matters

Opportunity Costs

The opportunity costs for participating in an in-person coding bootcamp can add up really quickly. Let’s first look at the actual costs: You have to pay the tuition of $10,000 or more. Then you have to pay for your move to another city and, potentially, pay rent twice: at your home base and also for your temporary place in the city where the bootcamp is located. Those costs can easily add up to well over $15,000.

Now let’s look at the opportunity costs: You need to quit your job to participate in an in-person bootcamp, which means at least 3 months without any salary. Making the safe assumption, that it will take you another 2 months to land a new job and get paid, you’re looking at a total of 5 months without a salary. If you’ve made $45,000 per year beforehand your opportunity cost is $18,750 - ($45,000/12months) x 5 months.

Adding up the real and opportunity costs, you’re looking at a very steep price tag of $33,750 -yikes, that’s a big number - to join an in-person coding bootcamp and allow for 2 months for a job search.

Building real-world web applications

The perfect coding bootcamp curriculum carefully balances the need for learning about a lot of different technologies with the need to go deep into several key technologies. Building 10 different web applications (note: web applications and websites are not the same. Websites can be built in the fraction of the time) that all contain only a single feature that’s useful (like user registration, upvoting, automated emails, geolocation, etc.) to an actual user don’t really count here. What you are looking for is a web application that actually solves a real problem and can be used by real people (like your friends) without any trouble. If you’re not sure what that really means, share some of the demonstration apps (get links from the coding bootcamp) with your friends and ask them for feedback on the application. If your friends come back confused and don’t know what the app does, or how to use it, you’re looking at a web application that doesn’t really solve a real problem. If your friends are confused, you’re looking at a little “play-around” learning application and not a real world web application.

Make sure that your coding bootcamp of choice focuses its energy on teaching you how to build and launch real-world web applications.

Working on Group Projects to Build Real-world Web Applications

Working collaboratively on a coding project as part of a technical team is fundamental to your success as a professional web developer or a technical entrepreneur. For the professional web developer, you need those “collaborative coding” skills to be an effective team player in any company from day one. Most coding bootcamps won’t give you this group project experience, even though hiring managers are looking for those skills, knowing that you can work effectively within their team from day one.

Student to Instructor Ratio

This is an obvious metric that only very few coding bootcamps share directly on their websites. The bigger your coding class in an in-person coding bootcamp, the more competition for personal instructor time there is. If you’re instructor to student ratio is higher than 7 students for every instructor (ratio of 7:1), you’re probably going to have a hard time getting the necessary attention from the instructor.

Most online coding bootcamps offer you a dedicated mentor who teaches you in a 1-on-1 setting, making this "classroom" style metric not applicable for mentor driven online coding bootcamps.

Consistent Curriculum Updates

Unfortunately, many coding bootcamps hire out the curriculum development process and neglect updating their curriculum on a consistent basis. That’s far from ideal, since even the best curriculum designer can’t anticipate which curriculum sections will cause the most confusion among students. Without updating the curriculum frequently, confusing sections continue to slow down the learning process of every new student working on that particular section. In addition, the technologies used in many coding bootcamps are cutting edge and open source. This means that those technologies change very frequently and any curriculum that’s not updated frequently will not be usable and of poor quality.

At the minimum, every coding bootcamp should review their curriculum after every cohort (in-person bootcamp) or several times per month (online coding bootcamp) and take the feedback from students into consideration to make specific improvements. Anything less and you probably are looking at a coding bootcamp who neglects the quality of their core asset: your learning experience.

Metrics That Are Useless

Job Placement Rate

This is an important rate for job-seekers and career changers. Can the coding bootcamp find me a new job at an exciting place, is what this rate should tell you. However, a 90 percent job placement rate means nothing if the majority of those graduates are now holding un-paid internships or low paying part-time coding gigs.

Also, when is that 90 percent of job placement rate achieved, within a few weeks, while still in the program or after 3 months? One can imagine that after paying $10,000+ and looking for a new job for 3 months and not receiving a single decent offer letter, anyone is ready to just accept whatever to make sure the bills get paid. But, does that “you trained for a web developer job at a startup, and you’re now maintaining the printer software at a 2,000 employee company” situation (which, unfortunately is happening way too often) count into those 90 percent job placement rate? You bet it does - Yikes!

Total Number of Hours Spent Learning

There is obviously a difference in the skills somebody has who spent 100 hours on learning something new vs. somebody who only spent 1 hour learning the same skill. So the hours that you dedicate to learning and honing your coding skills matter. But - and this is really important - not all dedicated coding time is created equal. If one coding bootcamp gives you a really bad (not updated at least once per week) curriculum, you will have a hard time and spent 3 times as long learning the same skills as a student who is learning with the coding bootcamp who takes student feedback seriously and makes consistent improvements to their curriculum. The same “inefficient learning” happens if you’re left stuck with an error message that you can’t fix yourself until your next coding mentor session or your instructor answered all other students questions.

With this in mind, spending 70+ hours per week, most likely means our curriculum and support system is so bad that you really need this long to go through a poor quality curriculum.

A much better metric - if you really care - is how many features will you understand, code and launch per week?

Cost Per Hour

Since we already figured out that having a high number of hours is a pointless metric, the cost per hour metric becomes even more irrelevant. Any coding bootcamp which shows you this "cost per hour" metric, should immediately be flagged as "less trustworthy".

After we have a much better understanding what really matters when it comes to coding bootcamps, we are ready for the next step. In Chapter 7 we will systematically ask tough and specific questions to the coding bootcamps to see what they’re really made of.

You should understand what really matters:

  • The total and opportunity cost of the coding bootcamp
  • Building real-world web applications
  • Team projects and a focus on collaborative coding
  • Frequent updates to the curriculum

And you should also know why you can safely ignore the following metrics:

  • Job placement rate
  • Total number of hours spent learning
  • Cost per hour
Chapter 6Alec Babala