Sept. 12, 2022

Top 5 Things To Look For In A Quality Coding Bootcamp

MANY coding bootcamps continue to squeeze out as much profit as possible. We've seen that get exponentially worse during the pandemic as their pool of students opened up with everything being remote.

I appreciate those who try and help out self-taught developers, but the hard truth is that most WILL give up before they've had a chance to break into the industry. Coding bootcamps CONTINUE to be the best route for most aspiring developers to significantly increase their chances at finally landing their first developer job, without the average student being on the tail end of up to $100,000 in debt from college loans.

So what's that mean? We continue to try and teach people how to choose the right coding bootcamp for them, and call out some of the BS in the industry.

In this podcast episode, I wanted to address the information overload people face when trying to choose a coding bootcamp. I went back through some of the fundamental aspects of high-quality coding bootcamps that I noticed before many of them tried to scale.

What are the top 5 things you look for in a coding bootcamp?


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Don Hansen:

In this podcast episode, I'm going to answer the question, what coding boot camps can do to increase their hiring rates, or maybe something a little bit more. Relevant to you is what to look for in a quality coding boot camp. So I've reviewed dozens of coding, boot camps. Um, I've been doing this for a while. Uh, definitely interacted with a lot of different students. Who've also shared anonymous stories and I've talked with several staff and leaders in the coding bootcamp industry. I feel like I have a pretty good feel for what needs to be improve. What are signs of a good quality coding bootcamp? Um, so I'm actually just gonna do this off to cuff and, um, cuz I think it's gonna be the most honest way I can do this to start with coding, bootcamps need to have a rigorous technical assessment. I've heard of coding, boot camps, giving out a multiple choice quiz. I've heard of coding, boot camps, just doing a behavioral interview. And the problem with weak assessments like this is, they don't really assess how well someone learns, how quickly they learn, what their thought process is. And, and what happens when they hit a roadblock. How do they tackle that challenge? Right? Do they give. Do they try to push forward? Do they just try to push forward without communicating to the interviewer? Do they, or do they actually ask the right questions? To communicate their current blockers, just in case the interviewer can provide a tip here or there so that they can use that tip to continue moving forward. Do they have this collaborative communication process when they have that opportunity to do so? And you usually do when you have someone with you at that technical assessment, but I've even heard of coding boot camps. They will do. Um, they'll just do an application and if you give them money, you're. that technical assessment, a rigorous technical assessment is crucial for making sure that students start on the same page. Right? So when we are trying to become developers, I've seen some coding boot. Well, so first of all, when we're trying to become developers, we all start kind of at different points. And well, at least once we get into the bootcamp world, we start considering it. A lot of us are at different skill levels, right? There is no benefit. And I think this is a misconception. Because there is no benefit to claiming that your coding bootcamp is accessible and then just accepting anyone in no matter what their skill level is. If you want a coding bootcamp to be accessible, you also need to ensure the success of that student that is going to be investing a lot of money into you. Right. So what you can do is provide. A solid set of pre-work or instructions to like free your cheap courses to prepare for the coding boot camp, where you can set up, you know, a prep course and charge a little bit for it. Right. But you need to have some sort of prep work to give students a chance to then have kind of an equal opportunity for assessment. but you can't just let them in. You have to give them that opportunity and they have a choice to either take that material seriously, invest the hours seriously into it, because there are two things that you really wanna make sure that a student has when coming in is making sure, sure. That they're on the same skill level as other students, because if they're. teachers are either going to slow the classroom down for the students that need to catch up, or they're gonna lead those students behind. Those are the two things I see happening when there's not a rigorous technical assessment. the second thing is you get to give your, give a potential student work to assess whether they're actually prepared to do the work, put the hours in, whether they're mentally prepared for cuz that pre-work should also challenge them mentally. Um, and talk with them about it. Like how did that pre-work go, right? I'm not talking about like once you're accepted, then you do prework. No like prework as well to then pass the technic technical assessment. And then usually you have prework again. To get into the program. You should not turn your head, uh, away from a program that actually takes the time to plan out a lot of pre-work. I know a lot of people get overwhelmed by it. That's actually a really good thing. They wanna make sure that you're prepared for the program. A lot of coding, Bo boot camps. Don't do this. I'm telling you this is a mistake. So. That technical assessment. It needs to be rigorous. That's what you should be looking for with the coding bootcamp. Unfortunately, a lot of coding bootcamps. They don't take that seriously. A lot of issues. A lot of quality issues with coding bootcamps is because he's coding. Bootcamps, keep trying to scale, not a single coding bootcamp has figured out the scaling problem just yet while maintaining quality. Right. And so during the pandemic, they let a lot more people in remote work. Right. You could just do it. Remotely, you could sit at your computer, you didn't have to fly in, right? So that creates more potential students that can now actually afford to take these programs that are in other cities than they live, which is awesome. You know, access to education is always awesome, but I saw a lot of coding boot camps that would make their, uh, they're technical interview process, which used to be rigorous. They would make that less challenging. And they would make a hell of a lot more profit by bringing in that many more students. And then again, we had that problem with a lot of students coming in with different skill levels, different men, mental, um, preparedness for the program. And the quality was all over the place, right. It like a coding bootcamp and good instructors can only do so much when you have a huge variety of skill levels in mental. Within students. So first thing, rigorous technical interview process. Look for that. It's important. Second thing is when you dive into it, um, some of the things that Cody bootcamps can really ensure student success with is, um, for let's start with the instructors instructors, they need to have professional experience and they're probably so. I see happening is good quality coding. Boot camps are taking professional developers that also have a knack for teaching and helping other developers and offering them money to come teach at their coding boot camp. Right? Sometimes it's part-time, but for the full-time instructors, it's really hard to do. And some of these coding boot camps, when they're trying to scale, they're not paying instructors enough, which is unfortunate. Cause these instructors. I met some really, really amazing instructors that aren't paid enough, but it helps to have that extra context. From the software engineering world, there are a lot of questions. And a lot of questions I asked when I was in a coding bootcamp where that extra contest context helped even just asking questions about conventions and like, you know, some instructors will just say, do a convention because this is what everyone does, but they don't really understand why that convention exists and they just say, do it right. And that's what the curriculum says. So bringing in a professional developer and then teaching that developer, how to teach. to me is one of the best ways to hire a quality instructor. And there are gonna be other soft skills and stuff that you look from that, uh, look into with that developer. But it's, it's crucial that that instructor has professional experience. Another problem is the ratios. I find that a one or 10 students to one instructor is a really good ratio with one teaching assistant. It's not the perfect ratio. Obviously people would always wanna have like one to one. Right. But I mean, that's gonna up the price of your education by quite a bit. So I find that one to 10 is a pretty good balance. Most coding, boot camps don't have that ratio. It's one to 15, it's one to 20 it's, one to 30, and they're lacking on teaching assistants. And that's the tricky thing. A lot of teaching assistants are, you know, once they get a job, they move on. Right. And so that cohort might lose a teaching assistant. And so a lot of coding, boot camps are starving to bring in more teaching assistants that might not be quite ready to teach students. And, um, they haven't really. Trained whatsoever to help other students, especially a problem with teaching assistants. You can't put a lot of. Wait into a program that has a bunch, it doesn't mean it's a quality program because very often these teaching assistants, they graduate the program. Then the coding bootcamp scoop these teaching assistants up for very low pay. And they're basically doing it because, you know, they kind of like the coding bootcamp, but also it's a little money. Right, right after a very expensive coding bootcamp. And it's a chance to reinforce what they've just learned. So teaching assistants are essentially using that as an opportunity to reinforce what they just learned. So they don't really understand the content one off, they don't have professional experience to be able to like fix that ratio. So that ratio is really important. One instructor to 10 students. That's what coding bootcamps need to start doing. Pair programming is kind of overrated. I find that a lot of people that really just choose a coding bootcamp for pair programming, have this expectation that they're gonna be pair programming all the time. And that's something that they're paying for. They want someone else's perspective, right? a lot of times people are going into coding, boot camps. You're gonna get people that know what they're doing, and they're gonna drive that pair programming session, or you're gonna know what you're doing. You're gonna drive that pair programming session. Having pair programming in a coding boot camp is a good thing. Having pair programming all the time. Isn't right. So pair programming allows you to teach and it gives you another way to. Um, kind of constrict us model this abstract concept and like, think about it and really reinforce it in your memory when you're teaching someone else that's powerful, but you can also get some assistance in a different perspective with someone else when you're stuck. But I find that a lot of para programming sessions, there are many people that lean on, depend on that pair, programming that other perspective and. There is a huge benefit from going solo from trying to figure something out on your own for a good chunk of time. And even just getting a little tip pair programming, it's like constant back and forth, and you're, you're sharing perspectives and sharing your ideas. And that's good. If you keep that to a minimum, I find that most growth comes from people struggling on their own with a tiny bit of assistance. over time when they're truly, truly stuck, which is why self-taught developers. I'm telling you, you guys underestimate yourselves way too often, figuring this stuff out on your own is helping you grow so fast. A lot of people underestimate the speed of their growth as a self-taught developer. I wouldn't prioritize pair programming, but I would prioritize some sort of collaboration. A good coding bootcamp should focus on collaboration in some aspect. And if they're gonna focus on it in any area, it should be group, project work. It should be okay. We have this idea. We wanna build it. How do we do this without stepping on each other's toes, you bring that agile process in. You bring that scrum process in and you can get exposure to that as soon as possible. That's actually powerful. That's really powerful group projects. When you bring in scrum, when you bring in the agile process, that is experience that a lot of frankly, self-taught developers don't get, this is worth your money. Getting involved in a group project, like this is worth your. GitHub's weird. Get is weird. Dealing with merge. Conflicts is weird. You're not gonna be dealing with like rebate stuff or anything like that. You probably shouldn't in the coding bootcamp, but just dealing with merge conflicts alone. That's huge. Usually as a solo developer, you're not gonna be dealing with that. Right. You're just gonna be working on your branch, et cetera. And like, you're not gonna be expecting unad any unexpected changes, right. You're just gonna. Continue working on that branch and probably merge it into main launch your app when it's finally done, or, you know, there's probably a process in place for your coding bootcamp, but I'm telling you those group projects, it's not about the projects that you come out of the coding bootcamp with it's about the actual process of working with other developers. On some of the same features without stepping on each other's toes and figuring out a process to make that work. That's huge. That's valuable experience. A lot of coding, boot camps, they don't have these group projects. Unfortunately they don't come out with this process. Or, and usually what ends up happening is, um, you'll kind of get stuck into a coding boot camp that promises that, but then, you know, some people are behind or you get group with people that just like their skill level is too far behind, or they don't wanna put the effort. Because coding boot camps, didn't really screen that personality out. Um, cuz coding, boot camps also have to figure out your life situation if you're even capable of it at this time. Right? Sometimes people have stuff going on now, you know, sometimes like stuff will randomly happen. Emergencies will happen during the coding bootcamp that can shift that. And the coding bootcamp, it it's hard to deal with stuff like that. So, but more importantly. The number of times I've heard graduates share that like they promised us group projects, but like I was the only one doing stuff. Unfortunately it's ridiculous. It actually, or that people just didn't wanna do a group project. The KU bootcamp gave them a choice to do solo or group that's a mistake group projects are huge. Interacting with other developers are huge coding, boot camps should ensure that. And the last. Cherry on top of this, and this is actually, this isn't even a bonus. This is actu I would say this is required. Coding boot camps. When they do these projects, they need to give feedback. Even just pop in for a code review once in a while, make sure everything's going okay. Questioning that student that implemented something in a certain way. Why did they implement it in that way? Go ahead and explain it to me. Right? Sometimes coding, bootcamps, drop the ball on that and they just sit back and they say, If you need our help come to us. No, you get your fucking ass up because these students are paying thousands of dollars and you just walk around, you take a look at what they're doing, right? You question them, you question their implementation. It's not to try to be super critical just for the sake of being super critical. It's because a lot of students. They there's so much information. There's so much information it's overwhelming. They're barely getting by. They think they understood react the previous day, but they really didn't understand react. And when you get to the group project stuff, a lot of this knowledge is just floating around, but they really don't understand it with any depth. And so that's what you challenge. You challenge them to explain why they implement something in a certain way to, to reinforce it, but also make sure that they didn't fall behind. I'm telling you if instructors staff are watching this, I bet you way more students, no less than you think. That they know, and it is your job to figure out which students are holding back. Instructors, staff need to be on top of students in a way where they clearly know what level that student currently is at, where their knowledge is at, right where their weaknesses are. If they're weaker on the back end, but stronger on the front end. And your curriculum is really focused on the back end. Why is that? That's kind of weird, right? That's a coding bootcamp's responsibility to assess that. And I find that many coding, boot camps kind of just they'll give them technical assessments, maybe like once every six weeks or eight weeks or once every month, et cetera. And you pass the technical assessment. Ah, you're good. Right. Do you know how many technical assessments I passed in full stack academy and I wasn't good. I was horrible with data structures and algorithms, and I can tell students how they can cheat their way past that. Your technical assessments are bullshit. Coding bootcamps. You need to do a better job with that. And that comes from hands on observation from staff, which is expensive, right? Because you can't have your ratios small enough to do that because you wanna keep scaling and scaling and scaling. So what else? Career services. Should be doing a lot more than what they're doing in most coding boot camps. They should be helping you with your resume and not just some templated resume. They should be focused on a front end, resume a back end resume. If it's, if it's a full stack program, you're gonna have a focused resume depending on the position that you're applying to front end resumes are gonna look different than backend resumes. You're gonna focus on different things in the, the projects and. I often see just a templated resume, but coding bootcamp should also teach you how to write a proper cover letter. And in order to do that, how to do proper company research, a lot of coding bootcamps should say, yeah, write a cover letter. Well, there's a reason why barely anyone wants to write a cover letter cuz they don't see the effectiveness of it cuz they haven't learned how to write a great one and to write a great one, you need to do a little company research. They should be focused on how to present your LinkedIn profile and just not even LinkedIn profile, social media. Do you know how many companies look at your social media and how you present yourself? So even like the topics, the dirty topics of how do you, should you even talk about controversial topics? The answer is sometimes. Depending on the types of companies that you wanna get into. And that's something that coding boot camps will kind of give some templated response, like don't touch on controversy, which is like true for most people, but why, right. How do you present yourself on social media? That's gonna be looked up by employers at times. Um, . How do you engage with other developers on social media? How do you build connections? Where do you build connections and what platforms is it most beneficial to build connections? How do you, once you put in your resume to company, how do you actually reach out to a developer to get them, to put your application to the top? You can do that. You can build those connections. I'm telling you like networking is king in a lot of different fields, but especially this field, it doesn't mean you have to know everyone right now, but how do you build those connections? I think there's a lot of generic advice given, like go to meetups, go to networking meetups, what the hell does that mean? What do I say? Who do I connect with? Right. Like what, what's the point of this? I think a lot of coding, boot camps give generic advice. People will follow it for a little while and realize it's not super effective, cuz they don't know what the hell like they're trying to get out of it. And even just the value that you're trying to contribute to it in order to build those connections and network. um, what do, should you go to hackathon? Should you not, should you contribute to open source? Should you not? Um, what can you do to stand out career services often just gives you a template resume. Maybe look over, it gives you a little bit of a template, job search strategy. It, it doesn't go very deep, unfortunately, and very often coding bootcamp's focus on. Applying to as many jobs as you can. And then they give you that template, but a coding bootcamp needs to continue going further with it even more than what I just said. They should have mentorship sessions, even if it's like, I would recommend like look for a coding bootcamp that has weekly mentorship sessions, where you could talk about the job search process, how it's going, if you want, it doesn't have to be required. It should be required at a certain. Right. Um, cuz a lot of students will just drop off and they'll lose faith in the career services. Cause they're not making progress like, but you know, you don't have to do it every week. Sometimes a student is just a full week. I'll talk to you next week. I'm putting in a bunch of applications doing what you said. All right, great. Talk to me next week. But that mentorship needs to be there. You need to be able to get a hold of someone when things start getting rough and they are going to get rough. It's going to take a while to get that job for most students. very often that mentorship dies out. That mentorship should be life long. A coding bootcamp. You are paying a lot of money. There should be a positive constructive network that is established with the coding bootcamp. You should be able to engage with alumni. What happens when you get laid off, et C. a quality coding bootcamp will have your back throughout your career. There are a lot of coding bootcamps. That'll cut it off at six months, et cetera. If your program is that strong, you should be behind your students all the way. That's just the reality of it. And a lot of coding, boot camps don't wanna pay. , but also there's a benefit of like really building a strong network of alumni that cares about each other because, you know, in reality, like you could already have some of those connections established with alumni. And like, if a first of all, this is a double edged sword. If a coding bootcamp has, um, or if a company has hired people from your coding bootcamp and had a bad experience. Your resume's probably going to the bottom, right? They're not gonna take it as seriously, but if they've had a good experience with alumni and that alumni is still there, they can kind of vouch for it, cuz they kind of know the education that that program left you with. And so having an alumni network can be very helpful in that sense. So even just getting some exposure or asking questions about an alumni network and even like how many students have gotten pulled in to a job because, uh, there was a lot, like, it would be interesting to have statistics of like, um, how many. Students got jobs at companies where there was at least one alumni that could have pulled them in, could have given a good recommendation. That's a pretty useful statistic to know. Um, but yeah, a lot of cutting bootcamps drop the ball on career services as well. I think a lot of coding boot camps can really increase the hiring rates on all of those aspects that we just talked about. and that's it. I think if you just focus on technical assessment, you focus on quality instructors with good education with ratios, you focus on group work that allows a collaborative process, but also allows a collaborative process. With siloed work. And how do you engage with your source code and how do you contribute and deal with merge conflicts, et cetera. So like really prioritizing group projects and then a career services that goes above and beyond much more than many are doing right now. That's going to increase the hiring rates. It's tough, but those are the things that I would focus. you can look at reviews, keep in mind, like a lot of reviews that you're gonna see on sites, like course report and other websites, queer karma. Um, any others that you have come across, it's often inflated with positive reviews. It doesn't mean that those courses are suppressing negative reviews, but there are many ways that negative reviews aren't even submitted to those websites. And we can get into some like really messy things that coding boot camps are doing in a, you know, pretty sneaky way to suppress negative reviews, but take those reviews with a grain of salt and try to seek out reviews that list both positive and negative reviews. Uh, or both positive and negative, uh, pros and cons to their experience, right? Because there's no perfect experience. And sometimes you gotta let people get outta there. You know, they graduated coding bootcamp. If it had a good culture, they're kind of still in love with it. Right. And they, you gotta give them some time to decompress, go through the job search process, see where the holes are because all coding, boot camps are gonna have holes in their program. All of them. . And so maybe look at some of the reviews that, uh, have mentioned that they've been through the job process for a few months, or it took them six months, et cetera. And so they weren't just posting it right after they got out of the program. But, you know, look at reviews, talk to people, DM graduates on LinkedIn, that list, that coding bootcamp in their profile, that's really important. A lot of students are willing to share their experience with you. Um, but yeah, those are, I would say the four main aspects I would look at. You'd be surprised at how many coding boot camps will let the quality in one of those four areas, slide to try to scale, look at coding boot camps that are trying to bring in additional income, additional funds. Um, and the thing is, you know, a lot of investors from investors specifically, and a lot of investors have their own motives. They're, I mean, they invest to make more money, right? And that's often where coding boot camps get in trouble where coding boot, boot camps will partner with, uh, universities, which have a lot of funding and they'll bring their program into a university. The quality often goes down when they expand past that, it's the expansion, it's the scaling that continues to bring these high quality. Uh, coding bootcamp reputations further and further and further down. And it has happened to every single coding bootcamp that it's tried to scale, especially with investor money. That's it? Those are my thoughts on it. Um, let me know what you think. Do you feel like coding bootcamps should prioritize other things? Deprioritize? What I mentioned, what do you think makes a strong coding bootcamp? What do you think makes a coding bootcamp? You know, 10, 15, $20,000. Um, let me know. I'm very curious. I actually want this to be an open discussion and you know, my live Q and a on YouTube, we can definitely dive into this. I, I love talking about this kind of stuff, so, but yeah, these are my thoughts. Um, hope this helps. And I will see you in the next episode. Everything.