Coding Bootcamp vs. Self-Directed Online Courses: What's the Best Path to a Web Developer Job?

By: Fullstack Staff

Given how highly in demand software developers are at the moment, it’s no surprise that an entire industry has developed around teaching people to code.

Massive online open courses (MOOCs) like Codecademy—where coders learn at their own pace—and more intense, instructor-led coding bootcamps like Fullstack Academy are particularly popular choices for both career switchers and those who have always been interested in programming.

But when both can teach you how to code, how can aspiring developers choose the right type of education?

Self-Paced Study Is Important, But It Only Takes You So Far

Software developers never stop learning. The world of software development and JavaScript, in particular, changes so rapidly that any developer who doesn’t stay current on the latest languages, frameworks, and best practices will quickly get left behind.

This is true whether you completed a Computer Science degree, taught yourself, or graduated from a bootcamp.

Bootcamp graduate Mark Wilbur believes that anyone who thinks learning ends with graduation or course completion “is going to be in for a world of pain.” The best developers are the ones who continue studying throughout their careers, and it’s to this end that Wilbur spent hundreds of hours completing MOOCs to stay sharp even after graduating from bootcamp.

There are many free resources for self-paced study—books, YouTube, online courses, and more—and because they are so readily available, these resources are natural starting points for anyone wanting to transition to a career in code.

That’s how career changers like Moses Skoda and Haseeb Qureshi, for example, started their programming journeys. Skoda taught himself how to code in 10 months and secured a development job using only online courses. But it’s important to to realize he’s the exception and not the rule, and that most aspiring developers do what Qureshi did—start with online courses, then build upon that knowledge with formal training.

Why? Because most of us can only go so far on our own.


Woman coding on a laptop, on the best path to a web developer job

You Need Guidance and Structure to Learn Quickly and Effectively

Experts Can Tell You Where to Focus Your Energy

The world of software development is massive. There are more than 200 programming languages, for instance. That means there’s a lot to learn, but it also means there’s an awful lot that beginning coders don’t realize they don’t know.

Which is the right language—or languages—to focus on? What skills are actually necessary for a career in programming? These questions are huge hurdles to overcome for someone who knows very little about the industry.

This is exactly how coding career-changer Laurence Bradford felt. The sheer number of online courses, books, and other free-ish material out there doesn’t help (and is even a little overwhelming) when you have no idea what you should be learning—let alone how to break into a new industry.

If you want to make sure you are focusing your time and energy on the right things, you need expert guidance.

A bootcamp led by experienced teachers and staff with a history of helping graduates secure jobs with top companies offers exactly that guidance. And bootcamps do far more than just point you in the right direction: Their immersive environments empower students to commit the time necessary to become proficient at coding.

Immersive Environments Make You Commit Fully

That’s the only way semi-beginners can truly become professional developers in just a few months. Imagine tackling all of that learning on your own. It would take exceptional levels of discipline and consistency—levels that even the brightest and most dedicated students typically can’t muster without help, and challenging yourself to do the near-impossible is a recipe for failure.

On the other hand, Triplebyte’s Ammon Bartram believes that the challenging nature of bootcamps is one of the main reasons their graduates are able to match—and often exceed—the practical programming ability of CS graduates. Bootcamp students are ready to rise to the challenge--and they have the support they need to do so successfully.

Bottom Line: Bootcamps Get You There Faster

An established curriculum, expert help, and immersive environment all add up to one big benefit: You’ll learn a lot faster in bootcamp than you would on your own. For Fullstack alum Shawn Wang, this made the investment in a bootcamp education worth it. Before committing to Fullstack Academy, Wang tried several free courses that taught him the basics of programming, but it was slow going. Wang says if he had continued his self-paced studies, it would have taken him at least a year to learn what Fullstack taught him in three months.

Bootcamps Provide Community and a Way to Build a Network

Being part of a community only bolsters the bootcamp benefits we’ve already covered.

The more experienced people you have around you, the more quickly you’ll be able to power through roadblocks. As bootcamp grad Andy Coravos points out, “You can save hours of your life by working near someone who can skim your work and let you know that the problem in the code you’ve been working on for the past 5-hours is: a missing semicolon.”

And because software development is often collaborative within the workplace, it’s important to learn how to code in a team environment. The idea that developers prefer to work in isolation is a myth, says bootcamp grad Andreia Domingues. Bootcamps offer something that books and online courses can’t: the opportunity to create a project together as a team—just as you would in a real work environment.

Being part of a community is also a great way to kickstart your network. The people you meet during bootcamp—classmates, instructors, hiring managers, folks at seminars and hackathons—will be the foundation of your tech network. This can be incredibly valuable once you’ve graduated and are making your way in the industry.

Senior web developer Kevin O'Shaughnessy believes a strong network of industry contacts is key if you want to build a reputation and keep growing as a developer. With a strong network, you’ll learn more about the industry, find out about meetups, and get the inside scoop on exciting products and companies.

You’ll also open yourself up to job opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Because it is such a tight-knit community, developers will often recommend friends or colleagues for roles and vouch for their expertise. It’s not uncommon, for example, for graduates from Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper Program to return to campus for Hiring Day, a curated job fair for new grads, to recruit for their employers..

Two Women collaborating on laptops: on the best path to best path to a web developer job

Bootcamps Demonstrate Your Commitment and Help You Find a Job

Graduating from a bootcamp demonstrates to prospective employers your commitment to learning and drive to succeed. They all know that bootcamps are tough. Proving that you can dedicate 60-80 hours a week to learn a new skill set says a lot about you. This is one of the reasons RankScience co-founder Dillon Forrest says bootcamp grads are among the top people he’d like to work with.

Bootcamps will also give you the opportunity to create a portfolio that will impress potential employers. As someone new to the industry, you won’t have work experience in web development for employers to evaluate, so you’ll need to demonstrate your skills another way. That’s where your portfolio will be invaluable. You’ll create several fully functional apps that you can use to get the attention of hiring managers and discuss during interviews. This, says bootcamp alum Doug Mill, is a “huge boost” when finding your first job.

Demonstrating your practical skills is key to finding a job. Ph.D. student Kyle Thayer even found that some employers, particularly smaller companies, prefer coding bootcamp graduates over CS graduates specifically because of the practical abilities bootcamp grads have, their experience solving problems with teams, and their more up-to-date skill sets.

Further, many bootcamps dedicate significant resources to helping graduates find their first coding jobs. Bootcamp grad Tam Dang, for instance, attributes her success in finding a job to the resources provided by her bootcamp.

Self-paced study is the starting point for many aspiring coders, and knowing how to learn by yourself will help you stay current in the future. But for individuals who are serious about building a career in code, there’s simply no substitute for the knowledge, resources, and opportunities that a coding bootcamp can offer.

Ready to take your self-study to the next level? Apply to Fullstack Academy today and learn all the things you didn’t know you didn’t know.

Images by: Annie Spratt, Mimi Thian

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