Whether it’s in-person somewhere exotic or from a comfy spot on the basement couch, if you want to learn how to choose the best coding bootcamp for you, there are loads to choose from. We asked Kim Desmond of CodingNomads how to get started sifting through the options.
Scraping together rent by serving smoothies at the local backpacker hostel does the trick when you’re young and don’t mind sharing a dorm room with 7 other wanderers. But eventually you might want a nice dinner, or hey, maybe even a private room (outrageous, I know). 10 years ago when Ryan, my partner and co-founder, got started coding, he wanted to learn technical skills to work remotely and travel the world. And this is why we started CodingNomads international coding bootcamps – to help other travelers like us learn software engineering skills fast and secure work from anywhere.
A remote career in high demand
Software engineers (aka software developers, developers, programmers, coders) are in high demand, and command high salaries. Average entry level salaries start around $60,000. That jumps to ~$100K with just a few years’ experience. Companies worldwide need software engineers, and because developers only need a laptop and wifi, many can work remotely while living (or traveling) wherever they choose.
So, what’s a coding bootcamp anyway?
Hiring managers around the world can’t fill software engineering jobs fast enough. That’s why employers prioritize a job candidate’s skills and motivation over a university degree. As a result, accelerated software development courses – or coding bootcamps – have sprung up to address the software engineering talent gap. They are designed to help students learn to code and join this lucrative industry – fast. Obviously, the typical bootcamp grad doesn’t land a 6-figure job upon graduation. Learning a brand new skill from scratch is not a get-rich-quick scheme in any industry. That said, a motivated grad can set her sights on 6 figures within just a few years’ time.
While a university degree requires years of general education and theoretical classes, most coding bootcamps last less than 3 months and focus solely on the practical coding skills to get you started in your new career. Money-wise, the sky’s the limit for a 4-year college degree, but the average bootcamp costs $12,800.
CodingNomads’ goal is to make the coding bootcamp experience even more awesome and accessible, for aspiring developers that don’t have $13K at their disposal. We host coding bootcamps in locations, like Bali, Indonesia and Thailand, that have more affordable office space and cost of living than the US. This helps us lower costs, so we can share these life-changing skills and experiences – travel and tech – with as many people as possible.
What does it take to learn to code?
Anyone with a strong work ethic and persistence can learn to code – you don’t have to have the brain of Bill Gates. Just like learning to write well or public speaking, with the right amount of persistence, anyone can practice and improve their coding skills to boost their careers. Most bootcamps require no previous experience, but an aptitude for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and basic algebra skills will work to your advantage.
Since 2012 more than 500 coding bootcamps have sprung up around the world. Each bootcamp varies in terms of cost, programming languages taught, class size, location and more. In considering a bootcamp, it’s important to understand your goals as an aspiring developer, and the elements that constitute the right bootcamp for you.
Is coding the right career move for you?
Before jumping into any new career, it’s important to consider whether the day-to-day tasks and work environment align with your skills and interests.
Software development, at its core, is problem solving. Solving computer problems requires an acute attention to detail and oftentimes, a tedious process for finding solutions. If solving problems gets your wheels turning in the right direction, a coding bootcamp and software development career could be perfect for you. If you’re not sure whether you’d enjoy coding, try taking a few free online classes to help you determine if investing in a bootcamp is the right move for you. More on this below.
Learn, Learn, Learn
Software engineers must also have the intrinsic determination to learn, learn, learn. The industry is constantly changing with new technologies, languages and platforms introduced or improved upon at lightning speed. A bootcamp will teach you how to learn – what to research, where to look, how to arrive at the solution for the task at hand. Whether it’s after a bootcamp or a CS degree, engineers have to keep learning to make sure their skills stay relevant in the rapidly changing market.
People skills matter
Finally, the stigma about software engineers sitting in a basement without ever interacting with anyone other than their AI girlfriends should be put to rest. Developers interact with clients, managers, and fellow developers daily. Successful developers have to be able to communicate their thought processes, needs and blockers to keep a project moving forward. The best coding bootcamps create teams out of peers to work on projects together. That teamwork prepares you for the daily interactions required of a successful engineer.
What is the best programming language for you?
When deciding which language to learn, think about how you want to use your skills. Do you see yourself as a trendy mobile app developer? A website developer with lots of clients? Or are you more of a server side engineer who’s keen to build infrastructure? Would a small-shop startup be the best fit? Or do you prefer the structure and stability of an enterprise firm? Hundreds of programming languages exist for countless applications, so it’s important to consider the type of work you want to do. You can also think about the type of company you want to work for, and research which technologies they use.
What programming languages are in the highest demand?
How can I stand out?
That may be a good fit if those languages fit with your goals, but for prospective students that want to gain a competitive edge, we believe learning a core compiled programming language like Java or C will help you stand out.
We train our students with a combination of:
- Server-side Java (the core programming language)
- SQL (the databases) and…
- Amazon Web Services (the server infrastructure).
From our years in the field (and based on the graph above), we feel this is a well-rounded trifecta of skills in high demand that differentiates our students from the pack. 
No matter what language a student chooses, a coding bootcamp will provide a solid foundation to more easily learn new languages in the future. The key is having an effective teacher. We chose to teach Java + SQL + AWS because it’s what we have the most experience coding and training in.
If a coding bootcamp offers tons of language options, make sure to speak with the teacher about their professional experience both working in the field and teaching the language. It’s got to be both. A software engineering savant may not be an effective teacher, and an academic may lack the real-world skills that you’ll need for the workforce. Read on for questions to ask your prospective bootcamp.
What’s your ideal learning environment – In-person vs. online?
Are you the type of person that enjoys learning with a team? Or are you a headphones-on, lock-in-and-go type of learner? Are you a motivated self-starter with the focus of a yoga guru? Or do you need a little more discipline to stay on track? Your personal learning style can help you decide whether to pursue an online or in-person bootcamp.
In-person learning environments
In-person environments provide the structure of a classroom setting and face-to-face communication with your teacher and peers. For some, this helps minimize distractions to fully dedicate yourself to learning. In-person bootcamp classes typically run Monday-Friday. Part of that time is spent in a lecture format, but the majority is practical work. That means doing labs, homework and projects. Most in-person bootcamps are located in major cities worldwide with the highest concentration in the US. If you need to relocate for the bootcamp, make sure you consider the cost of living and available short-term apartment rentals in the host city to ensure it’s a viable option.
Break with your routine to buckle down
While CodingNomads was inspired by our love for travel, we host bootcamps in awesome locations that are also affordable to lower costs for students. Our bootcamps completely remove students from their daily routines to focus on learning fast (and having fun doing it). We partner with coworking spaces to provide a private dedicated classroom setting, as well as a community of new friends during the bootcamp.
Everyone recoups differently after an intensive week of coding. We’ve found it’s best to let students decide how to spend their downtime whether that’s hanging out together, relaxing solo, studying some more, or out on the tourist trail. More often than not, we find fun things to do as a group, with everyone excited to explore together.
To give you a picture of what it’s like, as I write this article, we’re at our coding bootcamp in Bali. We just got home from dinner at our friend’s house that we met at the coworking space. It was a mix of locals and expats, with English as the common language. On our scooter ride home we ran into some more coworking buddies in the street–for the second time this week. Yesterday I took a free yoga class, tomorrow is trivia night. Any day of the week I can cool off in the pool during our lunch break. Our next bootcamp in Thailand includes a variety of delicious food catered every day for breakfast and lunch and the coworking space is minutes from the beach.
Even though we’re heads down most of the day, being on location somewhere amazing seeps into the experience in surprising ways.
Students form a special bond on the road that fellow travelers know and understand. The common threads of coding and traveling knit us together immediately. That makes the technical support group strong and the play time extra fun. Sure, we run into language barriers, cultural differences, and sometimes miss the fluffy comfort of home. But for the most part the people you need to interact with speak some English, and mishaps generally become the funniest stories and our favorite memories.
Doing the work
All that said… our students are working their asses off. They are learning technical information at warp speed, with hours of homework every night. We typically do something fun on Saturday to decompress, then get back to finishing homework and projects on Sunday. Most reputable bootcamps advertise 60-100 hour work weeks. All prospective bootcamp students should be prepared for late nights and weekend hack sessions. But, trust us, we’re not trying to burn you out before you even get started. After all, you are studying to become an engineer in just a few months. The more you put in, the more you get out.
Online learning environments
If you aren’t ready to quit your day job or relocate for an onsite bootcamp, there are endless opportunities to learn online. In fact, there are dozens of free online resources that could be a great first step in learning to code. Codecademy and Udemy are great places to start.
Coding bootcamps typically start from square one. Still, taking a few free online courses wouldn’t hurt to test your problem solving chops. Just remember that you get what you pay (or don’t pay) for. Taking an online course might save money, but there are trade offs. You most likely won’t get the same level of personalized mentorship, fast-track curriculum design and team motivation/support as an onsite course.
What is the bootcamp’s track record?
Coding bootcamps have risen to popularity over just the last few years. But many have also come under fire for the lack of qualified teachers. Poor instructor-student ratios, and unethical job placement advertising tactics can also be an issue. While more than 80% of surveyed bootcamp grads said they were satisfied with their bootcamp education, the last thing you’d want is to spend a ton of money on a bootcamp that over-promises and under-delivers. 
How can you make sure you get the most mileage out of your investment?
Start by setting up a phone call with the bootcamp – preferably with your actual instructor, so you can get a feel for his/her communication style, experience, etc. The best coding bootcamps will take the time to speak with you – be wary of one that won’t.
Here are a few things you should ask:
- What is your experience in the field? What is your experience as a teacher?
As mentioned before, make sure your bootcamp instructor has experience working as a professional software engineer. A simple Google or LinkedIn search can go a long way. Sometimes bootcamps hire their own graduates to become instructors. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure that your instructors have real-world experience to impart on the class.
- What is the instructor-to-student ratio?
This is to understand how much personalized time and mentorship you’ll receive. Make sure there are no more than 10-12 students per instructor. Otherwise, you may not get the quality attention you need to succeed both during, and after the course.
- What does the typical day/week look like during the course?
This is for you to gauge whether their work style fits your learning style.
- How will this program prepare me for my job search, and my job?
For example, CodingNomads forms teams out of the cohort to work on projects together. Teams use the same collaboration and technological tools professional software engineers use daily. The projects worked on in class become the students’ portfolio projects. They can be demonstrated (through super sexy source code) upon request.
We also help students update their resumes and social media profiles. And we have guest lectures from professionals who conduct real-world job interviews to teach students how to prepare. We even conduct multiple mock interviews, provide a wealth of resources for finding work, and offer ongoing mentorship after the course.
A note of caution: Be wary of super duper job placement rates advertised by bootcamps. As mentioned, many bootcamps hire their own graduates which can boost job placement statistics. Some bootcamps boast placement rates of up to 95%. However, more rigorous third-party screening found that 68% of bootcamp grads were actually employed in their field by 6 months after graduation. 
Ready to change your life?
Becoming a software engineer has the ability to improve your life through greater job security, career opportunities, earning potential, geographic flexibility, and even location independence. Coding bootcamps offer aspiring software engineers the chance to get up and running without spending years at a university. They can spare you hours spent after work every night trying to learn on your own.
Learning to code won’t be easy. As a bootcamp graduate, don’t expect a wave of recruiters to knock down your door. Landing your first job will take significant determination on your part, and like any job search, can take months. We encourage our bootcamp grads to pick up project work as soon as possible, even for free. It’s a great way to continue building their portfolios and demonstrating the motivation and initiative employers like to see.
You may need to start with an internship or gigs that are over your head and under your desired income until you’ve got the experience to land a full-time job. Creating a profile on AngelList or offering services up on LinkedIn and other job boards will get you started. Don’t forget that on top of the software fundamentals taught in bootcamps, these intensive courses also prepare you to be persistent, approach challenges head-on, and hack your way to success – invaluable skills in your job search and career thereafter.