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7 Phases of Changing Careers through a Coding Bootcamp

How many great decisions did you make when you were 18? I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and say five. Finally free from the tyranny of your high school algebra teacher, maybe you chose to go to a university to flex your intellectual muscles and chart a path toward societal revolution. Or maybe you wandered a bit too far from campus and got a little more familiar with the local bar scene than you’d care to admit. Either way, we’re expecting folks who can’t even legally rent a car to make life-altering decisions about what to study, where to live, or how much student loan debt to take on. The lucky few get it right, totally nailing their major and landing a dream job out of college. For the rest of us, we take what we can get, hope for the best, and work from there. As people gain a bit more career and life experience, some realize what they started in their early 20s isn’t always what they’d like to continue doing forever. Enter coding bootcamps.

There’s certainly no shortage of options these days as potential career changers can choose between in-person and online, part-time and full-time, web development and data science... you get the idea. With a seemingly endless array of offerings claiming to be able to unlock higher salaries and career fulfillment, it’s understandable why some may be hesitant to dive in. In this twp part series, I’ll walk you through the 7 phases of the bootcamp journey, from considering the idea of a career change all the way through navigating the job search once you’ve finished your program. Let’s dig in.

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Phase 1: Inspiration

For some, the desire to pivot toward a career in tech stems from a conversation with a friend. Others see digital nomads working from exotic locations around the world. Many people are simply unhappy with their current job and want to start fresh in a new field. The common theme among most looking for a change of pace is having at least a few years of real-life work experience. You may have decided to go into a particular field for one reason or another and come to the conclusion that it’s not what you hoped it would be. So, now what?

What Type of Education is Right for Me?

You might think about going back to college, but that typically involves at least a year or two of classes, maybe more if you’re trying to hold down a job while pursuing that degree. College is also notoriously money- and time-intensive, two resources that may not be at your disposal. Going through an accredited program certainly has its benefits but carries a significant cost. If you’ve got the financial flexibility and the space in your schedule, getting a degree through a college or university is worth a serious look. If you don’t, coding bootcamps have become another option.

Rather than devoting a few years to a degree, many coding bootcamps offer programs that take about three months, some even less. The time spent in your program is a major commitment and may leave your head spinning if you indeed make it through to the end, but many bootcamp grads have gone on to find success in the field while enjoying higher salaries and greater job satisfaction. Coding bootcamps are also a bit more affordable for most with the average price tag coming in at $12,643. Still not cheap, but typically more reasonable than many degree programs.

Most bootcamps also have a tendency to design curriculum around preparing students with job-ready skills. You’re probably not going to learn how to program a replacement for Chrome (prove me wrong!), but with the right bootcamp and enough effort, you’ll likely have the foundation for a junior-level coding position, which earns an average of $60-70k depending on location. From there, developers have lots of room for growth in terms of career trajectory and salary. There are paths to go from junior to mid to senior level developer, opportunities to lead teams, and different branches within the industry like DevOps and product management depending on your interests and skill set. As of 2017, software developers earned a median salary of $101,790 which demonstrates the possibility for financial growth in the field. Between the current lack of fulfillment in your current job and your aspirations for a brighter future, it’s time to start exploring your choices.

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Phase 2: Research

If you’re looking for options, worry not, you’ve got plenty. As of 2018, there were 108 full-time coding bootcamps in the United States. Of those, 13 programs had an online program allowing students to study from anywhere. Many other schools offer part-time programs which can be helpful if you need to continue working a full-time job while learning to code. With those things in mind, there are a couple of key decisions you’ll need to make before deciding on a program.

What do I want to learn?

The first step is figuring out what you want to learn. Do you like the idea of designing websites, making them interactive, and managing their data in efficient ways to create an experience that a user enjoys? You might want to look into web development programs that teach some version of JavaScript along with HTML and CSS. You’ll start seeing terms like full-stack, front-end, and back-end, so if you don’t know what those mean let me try to offer a simple explanation. Front-end web development involves creating the stuff you see when you’re on a website. You’ll get to think through the layout, design, and interactivity that users experience. Back-end development typically deals with what happens behind the curtain. You’ll learn how to structure and manage data, improve performance, and design the foundational logic of a site or app. Full-stack web development is simply the combination of front-end and back-end, meaning that you’ll deal with a bit of both.

If data is more your speed, many bootcamps offer data analytics or data science programs. Sisense breaks down the difference between the two disciplines nicely, noting that while data science is driven by the desire to develop large scale insights, data analytics is used to answer specific questions based on available data. Essentially, data science is a discipline that looks at large data sets and helps to formulate questions on potential areas of study. On the other hand, data analytics takes existing information like the day-to-day statistics of a major league baseball team, take the Cubs, and tries to figure out why, despite having the second highest payroll in the league, they collapsed in the second half and let the Brewers and Cardinals move on to the playoffs. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Which bootcamp will help me reach my goals?

There are lots of tools out there to help you pick out a program. Course Report and SwitchUp each offer a matching system that will consider factors like program type, location, and time commitment to give you a list of schools that might be a good fit. A quick Google search of something like “best coding bootcamps” will give you several lists with descriptions you can cross-reference. Most programs also have an outreach team which can help answer questions or put you in touch with alumni to get some perspective. You’ll want to make sure that the program has a good reputation and sets you up to be successful, so be confident in asking questions about things like how instructors support students of all ability levels or how job search support works. You can also check to see if your program reports its results with CIRR, an organization that provides data on student outcomes.

How Will I Fund My Program?

Another big consideration before deciding on a program is figuring out how you’ll pay for it. Since coding bootcamps fall outside of the traditional higher education space, federal student loans aren’t an option. If you’re unable to pay for a program out of pocket or borrow from family/friends, you’ve still got a variety of ways to finance your education. One way students have paid bootcamp tuition has been to put it on a credit card. It’s important to be especially thorough when taking this approach. Paying close attention to the card’s interest rate is key as well as any terms around interest-free periods, if applicable. Some programs have started to offer income share agreements, or ISAs, to pay for school. Essentially, you pay nothing up front while you go through your program and then once you find your first job you pay a certain percentage of your salary back to the school for a set amount of time. Terms will vary by school, so be sure you know exactly what you’ll be paying once you get a job. Many coding bootcamps also offer loans with financing companies like ours, Skills Fund. With fixed interest rates, you’ll go in knowing exactly how much your monthly payments will be so you can make an informed decision about whether or not you can afford your bootcamp.

Making a commitment to a bootcamp is a big step. You’re potentially starting a brand new career and entering an exciting world of possibility. It’s important to be as thorough as possible in your research. At the end of the day, the gigantic investment you’re making is in yourself. You’ve got it in you, so now it’s time to start getting ready for your program.

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Phase 3: Prep

I’ve always been fascinated with Latin American culture. Between the art, music, and beautiful landscapes there seems to be something for everyone. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to visit Costa Rica and was blown away by how diverse the country is and how friendly the people are. Having not taken a Spanish class since high school however, I was a bit nervous about getting around. I knew I wasn’t going to master the language in the few short weeks before the trip but I wanted to be sure to refamiliarize myself with some of the basics. That way, I was ready to bumble my way through a conversation about finding the best place to catch a few waves nearby.

How Should I Prepare for My Coursework?

This mindset can easily be applied to the world of bootcamps. You don’t need to memorize the entire list of HTML elements or all of the different ways you can trigger a click event with JavaScript, but you’ll do yourself a tremendous favor by getting some practice before you start your program. Some schools even build this in as a requirement before starting. There are tons of free resources like Udacity, Codecademy, freeCodeCamp, and The Odin Project that will help you get a solid foundation before starting your program. In my case, I knew my program was focused on full-stack development. Looking through the course syllabus, I saw that we’d be learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript over the first few weeks of the program. I worked through freeCodeCamp’s Responsive Web Design certification and a bit of their JavaScript certification because I saw that they covered those three topics. I didn’t understand everything while I was working through it, but I was thankful that I took the time to get some early exposure as it helped me hit the ground running once the actual bootcamp started.

Am I Ready for the Time Commitment?

It’s also important to think of the non-academic side of life, especially if you’re enrolling in a full-time bootcamp. Some programs require time commitments of 70-80 hours per week and if you’re not on top of your personal life it can make things even more challenging. Try to establish strong habits at least 3-4 weeks before your program starts. Think about things like exercising, eating healthy snacks throughout the day, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. Building these routines before you start your program will make them much easier to maintain and will allow you to learn best.

Something else to consider is your social and/or family life. You’ll want to check in with your inner circle to let them know that you’ll be committing a tremendous amount of time and energy toward your program for the next few months. A good support network can be helpful to keep you focused, upbeat, and confident in your ability to press on when you feel like giving up. Plus, it’s always nice to have a good crew to celebrate with once you finish up.

Exhausted yet? Even getting to this point can be a challenge but it’s good to be thorough before you commit to a bootcamp. I’ll give you a break for now but be sure to come back for the second part of this post where I’ll give you some tips for surviving and thriving in your program and ways to get that first job after graduation. In the meantime, check out some of our partner schools to see what kinds of programs you might be interested in. Until next time!