What questions should I ask when evaluating technology bootcamps?

By Joel A. Kline, Ph.D.

The popularity of the bootcamp format has brought many new companies and offerings to the market. Some of these companies, including Allegro Learning Solutions, partner with traditional higher education partners to develop course offerings. Some companies build content and delivery without the involvement of traditional institutions. In this blog post, I will briefly describe several objective questions that you can ask when you evaluate boot camps for participation.

The first question to ask is “What outcome am I looking to achieve?” Before you sign-on to any program, you should first determine what you want to happen when you complete the program. For example, completing a technology bootcamp after you have completed a traditional bachelor’s degree, even if if the bachelors is not in a tech field, will often put you in a different category than someone without a college degree. According to an article on coding bootcamps by U.S. News and World Reports,

Many who enroll in online coding boot camps already have at least one degree, usually in an unrelated discipline, and don’t want to pursue another – at least for now, experts say. Unlike degree programs, boot camps focus on developing job-specific skills, rather than exploring tech disciplines in their entirety over a few years.

The result for a bootcamp should be a job or career that was not possible prior to the bootcamp. Although we occasionally train faculty and teachers in our bootcamps, the vast majority of our students are those looking to enter fields for which they do not have the technical education. Be sure you understand your outcomes and what employers are looking for when you complete the bootcamp.

Speaking of employers, a second question for evaluation is “…what will I have to show prospective employers that I can perform?” Students in Allegro Learning Solutions Blockchain bootcamp build a working smart contract with Ethereum as well as several mini projects and a Capstone project as the last module. These project provide the student with a portfolio to show employers their hand-on skills and capabilities. The U.S. News article also mentions project-based learning in coding and web developer bootcamps, stating,

Students often leave with a portfolio of projects. ‘Nothing says that you can do the job of a web developer more than a portfolio of projects you’ve built yourself,’ says Clint Schmidt, chief operating officer at Bloc.

It’s important to realize that earning a certificate is somewhat analogous to earning a college degree from an employer’s perspective. The employer sees the certificate as the baseline for entry to a new career, but they really want to know how the employee performs in an industry setting. Nothing demonstrates these skills better than a strong portfolio.

A third important evaluation question to ask is “what will it cost?” Bootcamps vary tremendously in price. Averages for bootcamps are $7,000 to $12,000 but some cost as much as $25,000. Online-only bootcamps typically have lower costs, however, these cost savings are only beneficial if you are a motivated learner who can work through difficult subjects without personal explanation and instruction. F2F or hybrid bootcamps offer hands-on or laboratory learning with an instructor for difficult or challenging topics. Some bootcamps offer a curriculum that can be completed while working full-time or part-time, while others expect that you will be able to devote yourself to the role of a full-time student. The U.S. News article on coding camps quotes a coding bootcamp operator,

In weighing degrees versus boot camps, Shawn Drost, co-founder of the coding boot camp Hack Reactor, suggests asking: “What am I going to learn? What are my odds of getting a job? What is it going to cost?”

A third question to evaluate bootcamps is to ask “what kinds of employers are at the end of a bootcamp’s pipeline?” In other words, what relationship does the bootcamp have with employers?

Finally, the last question you need to ask is “what happens when I get stuck or need help?” This is an important issue. As I noted in the “what’s the cost…” section above, this technical information can be intense and some delivery methods do not provide an instructor or lab assistant to turn to for questions.

Although Allegro Learning Solutions does not offer coding bootcamps, the U.S. News article on coding bootcamps offers some advice for all types of bootcamps,

Students in some of the most popular online coding boot camps have virtual access to instructors who guide them and answer questions. Experts say it’s particularly important for prospective self-paced students across time zones to check the hours that mentors are available, since this varies.

Allegro Learning Solutions likes the hybrid model because it lets students work at their own pace while providing an instructor to clarify, assess, and help with challenging topics.

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