Do You Still Need a Computer Science Degree to Be a Software Developer?

By: Emily Rose Prats

The United States Department of Labor projects that job prospects for software developers will grow by 21% over the next 10 years. With information technology (IT) job opportunities on an upward trajectory, there has never been a better time to equip yourself with computer science skills. But what’s the best way to build those skills?

Since the inception of programming as a mainstream skill, the only skill-building option has been to invest time and money in a computer science (CS) degree program, but in the last eight years, technical certifications via independent code schools—also known as coding bootcamps—have offered would-be programmers a more affordable and efficient path forward.

Knowing your options, you may be asking yourself, “What can I do with a computer science degree?” or “What can I do with a bootcamp certification?” and “Is there a difference in career options for the two paths?” It’s important to know that you can do a lot with either background. But to help you answer your questions in detail, this article will cover the following:

Should I get a CS degree or attend a coding bootcamp?

Computer Science Careers

Whether you have aspirations to work with a small startup on a new product or to work in the IT department at a financial services firm, here are some potential careers and their accompanying median salaries gathered from the United States Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Web Developer: $69,430

Web developers program applications for end-users to interact with. They may use front-end programming languages like CSS3, HTML5, and JavaScript, or back-end languages like Node.js, PHP, Python, and Ruby. If they are proficient in both front-end and back-end development, they are considered fullstack web development professionals. 

Computer Systems Analyst: $88,740

Computer systems analysts, also referred to as system architects, analyze and optimize an organization’s computer systems and IT procedures to maximize ROI. 

Information Security Analyst: $98,350

Security analysts are responsible for protecting an organization’s computer networks and systems. Their tasks include maintaining antivirus software and firewalls, installing encryption programs, configuring network permissions and authorization protocols, conducting risk assessments, and establishing data breach recovery procedures.

Software Developer: $105,590

These developers build the actual operating systems and networks that user-facing applications need to function. Rather than considering the needs of the end user directly, systems developers instead consider what the software applications need to run effectively. 

Database Administrator: $90,070

Database administrators design, organize, and maintain databases that send, receive, and store information. They use their knowledge of data science to define data so it can be queried to establish access control protocols, to troubleshoot, and to recover compromised data.

Network and Systems Administrator: $82,050

Systems administrators are highly trained general IT support staff. They see to it that an organization’s internal computer systems operate effectively by maintaining the proper hardware and software, monitoring network user permissions and behavior, optimizing for security, and troubleshooting when issues arise.

Coding bootcamps vs. degree programs

Degree Programs vs. Coding Bootcamp Certificates

Computer science degree programs are typically two to four years long and teach everything from information systems theories to computer programming languages. In bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, you can expect to learn about the history of computer science and the contributions of early innovators like Alan Turing and Grace Hopper.

Degree programs can be a good investment, but it depends on your end goals. Traditional two- or four-year degree programs can cost anywhere from $40,000 to $140,000, so it’s important to understand the return on your investment.

If your primary goal is to become a web developer, systems developer, or database administrator, you can learn all the skills you need in 12 to 18 weeks at the cost of no more (and sometimes less) than one semester of a degree program. 

Don’t get the wrong impression: Coding bootcamps aren’t bare-bones, just-the-basics educational institutions. They provide an intensive curriculum of practical computer science skills and training in high-demand programming languages such as JavaScript, Python, PHP, or Ruby on Rails. It’s just that the bootcamp experience is designed to give students precisely what they need to succeed in the IT job market and actually get hired.

The other major difference between the two educational models—besides cost and curriculum—is the career services element of coding bootcamps. Most bootcamps are outcomes-oriented, which means they’re focused on how quickly their grads get hired—and at which companies (whereas degree programs are more focused on making sure students complete the program and less focused on their next steps).

These bootcamps, therefore, offer dedicated career success staff who will review your résumé and LinkedIn profile, conduct mock interviews, introduce you to recruiters, share best practices for networking and navigating the interview process, and keep you motivated once you’ve graduated and are finally on the job market. Some bootcamps can even help you negotiate your first offer(s), ensuring a nice return on your investment in software development training. This kind of personal attention is not usually feasible for large-scale colleges and universities with graduating class sizes of 500 or more.

benefits of coding bootcamps

The Benefits of Coding Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are a relatively new technical training option but are increasingly popular with those looking to increase their job-readiness in the computer science domain. Web development bootcamps are an appealing option for several reasons:

  • You are often able to select from both local, in-person bootcamps and online or virtual bootcamp programs
  • You can take only the courses necessary for your particular area of interest in programming and pay for only those courses
  • Bootcamps provide not only intensive training in programming skills but also job search savvy and hands-on experience building projects for your portfolio
  • You can finish your training in weeks instead of years
  • Many bootcamps have hiring partnerships with local businesses and IT firms and are able to submit your résumé directly to IT companies with appropriate openings
  • Bootcamp graduates report an average salary increase of 51% from their pre-bootcamp salaries

Bootcamps are able to offer such cutting-edge curricula because they’re designed to be flexible. Colleges and universities have to buy into expensive learning management systems to coordinate curricula across so many students, but that makes it difficult to change any of that curricula or how it’s all delivered. Add to that the bureaucracy of state and federal accreditation that degree programs are beholden to, the volume of academic material required to make updates for hundreds of students across different courses, and the difficulty of retraining tenured professors, and it becomes prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for degree programs to regularly update their curricula.

Coding bootcamps, on the other hand, run lean. They offer small class sizes and shorter programs, which gives instructional staff the time to get feedback, update coursework accordingly, participate in training, and iterate. And though many bootcamps are overseen by state agencies to ensure consumer protections, most aren’t accredited, which means their curriculum updates can be dictated by industry trends and requirements, not by bureaucrats who may or may not be up on the latest tech advances.

For degree and non-degree students alike, bootcamps teach the latest skills and provide a leg up for grads entering the job market.

If you are looking to jump-start your career as a software engineer, check out this list of coding bootcamps supplied by Course Report. Many camps offer both full-time and part-time programs, as well as online programs. Whether you are in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco—or even if you live nowhere near a tech hub—you have plenty of learning opportunities.

A number of bootcamps also offer tutoring, supplementary seminars, and additional free courses. Inquire with your chosen code school to see what’s offered.

In the New York area? Check out these free learning opportunities!

how to decide which program is for you

How to Decide Which Option Is Best for You

Both the intensive programming training offered by bootcamps and more traditional degree programs are viable paths to a rewarding career in computer science. When making this important decision, here are some key considerations:

  • Do you have a specific IT job in mind or are you still exploring and think you might benefit from a broader technical education first as you explore your interests? 
  • What are your time and money constraints? Will you have access to financial aid or financing options? 
  • What are the IT job prospects in your region and are the training options tailored to prepare students for those opportunities? 

Your answers to the questions above will guide you toward the right education for you. A computer science degree might not be a must-have for those seeking to start a career as a computer developer anymore—especially for anyone who is cost-conscious or looking to get hired immediately. But as an aspiring IT professional, it’s up to you to choose the most strategic route to realizing your unique career goals.

Want to learn more about what software engineers do? Check out this post on software engineer job types, training, and salary.


 
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