Why do you want to learn to code? Whether it’s for fun, to improve your résumé, or because your boss has told you to, it seems everyone wants to understand the basics of programming to survive and thrive in today’s technology-obsessed society.
Why? Well, the prevalent tech skills gap has resulted in high demand and high pay rates in the technology sector. Whether you’re a coding newbie or an established developer eager for a career advancement, you just need the right skillset to tap into the buoyant technology sector.
The good news is that you do not need a computer science degree to land your first job as a software developer. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and coding bootcamps are two increasingly popular options for code-hungry learners to improve their development skills and find work within a relatively short amount of time. While these two are excellent alternative educational resources, the two options still have very distinct differences.
A MOOC is an online option where learners can choose their own learning pace and direction. This course of study is usually available without charge to a very large number of people.
A coding bootcamp, on the other hand, is an intensive course, usually eight to twelve weeks in duration, which costs thousands of dollars and offers hands-on training, career guidance, and community support.
Each has its own pros and cons. Here are six factors to take into account in the MOOC versus coding bootcamp debate.
Current figures estimate a computer science degree from one of the top US universities costs at least $30,000 per year — so both MOOCs and coding bootcamps are cheaper options compared to a full three to four year degree.
MOOCs are usually free, although some providers may charge for exams and course completion certificates.
A MOOC is a much cheaper option than a coding bootcamp, which usually costs anywhere between a few thousand to $17,000 (or even higher). Though some coding bootcamps offer scholarships and flexible payment options, free (or as inexpensive as possible) is always a more affordable option to the broader population given the current tech skills gap.
While MOOCs seem to be the most cost effective route, will you be able to get a job at the end of an online course? Or is it better to invest in a coding bootcamp?
Very few MOOCs lead to a recognizable qualification. But given 80% of MOOC learners already have a college degree, such e-learners are usually not looking for their first job: they are looking to expand their skillset to address the needs of the job market.
More than half of students take MOOCs “just for fun,” while two-fifths take such courses to help them do their current job better, according to the study. It could be that the choice between a MOOC and a bootcamp comes down to your level of programming experience.
Some coding bootcamps, however, guarantee to find you a job within a certain amount of time, or they will reimburse your tuition fees. Some schools will even offer you a partial tuition reimbursement if you get a job with one of their partner companies.
As with any job hunt, it is a gamble. Hackbright found placements for 90% of attendees within three months, but can you afford to be the 1 in 10 attendees who failed to find a job after invested thousands in a bootcamp?
A coding bootcamp usually requires a time commitment of at least two months. This may mean, for example, that you will need to leave work or take a sabbatical to cover this period. This could be something of a gamble if you are unsure if you want to, or have what it takes to, pursue a career as a developer. If, on the other hand, you are intent on changing careers, then a bootcamp is a solid option.
Some coding bootcamps do offer part-time options, but you will still need to sacrifice a chunk of your time on a weekly basis and study at big city destinations. There are also online bootcamp options, which allow you to study at home, but you still have to meet deadlines and other time constraints.
On the other hand, a MOOC is by its very nature a much more flexible option than a full-time, part-time, or online bootcamp. A MOOC can allow you to learn around your current job and at a pace of your choosing. This does have its disadvantages, because completion rates can be as low as 13% for e-learning. So, if you struggle to focus then a MOOC may not be for you.
Let’s flip this last point on its head and consider the structured learning environment that coding bootcamps offer. There is no opportunity to get distracted and go off topic. A coding bootcamp has a clear timetable that will give you tangible technical skills which you can demonstrate to any potential employers.
A MOOC allows you to dip in and out of different courses. It may, therefore, be a good option if you are unsure which coding languages and practices you want to study. You could think of a MOOC as a “try before you buy” option, before you stump up the cash for a coding bootcamp that locks you into a static curriculum.
Developers need to know a variety of languages and coding practices to meet the needs of the changing technology landscape. MOOCs provide this opportunity, whereas some bootcamps tend to focus on one language and one way of working.
MOOCs may, therefore, be a solid option for experienced programmers who want to brush up their skills or dabble with a new coding language. A coding bootcamp, on the other hand, will give new coders the support and tools necessary to understand the basics of coding and to succeed in their studies.
MOOCs can be taken anywhere — all an attendee needs is a computer and a reliable internet connection. Coding bootcamps, on the other hand, are usually located in large cities and offer limited flexibility on location, which could be inconvenient for many potential attendees.
You should also factor in the extra time and money spent travelling to a bootcamp. Will you need an overnight stay? What about travel expenses? Do you need to relocate to another city so you can attend a bootcamp?
MOOC or bootcamp?
Whether you decide to stump up the cash for the structured experience of a coding bootcamp or decide to set your own pace and direction with a MOOC, it is important to choose a professional provider that’s aligned with your personal requirements and availability.
MOOCs do seem to have the edge over bootcamps — they offer a low-cost and flexible option. But because MOOCs provide more flexibility, there’s also the risk that students will fail to complete a course. To remedy this, having someone to guide you can be a great source of motivation. It may be a good idea to take a MOOC together with a friend and be each other’s study buddy. Or find an expert, or someone more experienced, as your go-to person whenever you feel stuck and need coding help.
Having a hands-on mentor or someone to support you through your learning could be the missing piece of the puzzle, whether you want to learn to code for fun, professional growth, or a desired career change. After all, what is there to lose?
Gemma Church is a Content Contributor for Codementor.io, a platform for live 1:1 coding help, training, and more.