Programming Boot Camp: A Viable Alternative to University?

Thousands of IT jobs go unfilled due to a lack of qualified professionals, even though the industry is growing faster than ever. This is mostly because people interested in programming don't have the time or money to attend a four-year university to earn a CS degree.

If you find yourself in this position, there may be a viable alternative for you. Hundreds of programming boot camps or "hacker schools" have been popping up all over the U.S. recently, offering crash courses on a wide range of programming languages, including .NET and Javascript.

How much does it cost?
This is probably the most important question for most since finances tend to be what keeps many people out of university. Prices for these hacker schools can range from being completely free all the way up to $20,000. Most of the courses last less than 6 months, and many of them offer grants and scholarships to their students to help with tuition costs and living expenses. 

The only free institution is Hacker School in New York City. There, you don't sit in a classroom and listen to lectures. Instead, they let students work on their own open source projects and share them with peers, and mentors offer help and guidance if it is requested. It's much less structured than other schools, but they make money by recruiting students for huge companies such as Tumblr. They must be doing something right.

How does programming boot camp work?
For the most part, each school has their own curriculum and their own way of doing things. This is due to a lack of government regulation, which some people have used to discredit the institutions. However, some schools, such as the Iron Yard in Atlanta, are so confident in their ability to train exceptional programmers that they promise to refund a student's tuition if they don't find a job within a certain time period.

Typically, a school will have a particular focus. They will train their students to become fluent enough in such programming languages as Python and Ruby on Rails that they could be as valuable to a company as a candidate with a CS degree.

Will it get you a job?
If you attend one of these schools, the probability that you'll get hired seems fairly high. While some employers have reservations about hiring programmers without college educations, others are excited to work with the enthusiastic, self-motivated people that tend to come out of hacker schools.

A CS degree may imply that a candidate has received a well-rounded education, but it is believed that programming boot camps teach students how to be more effective at problem solving and thinking on their feet, making them a more valuable asset to the workplace.

Photo credit: ruiwen via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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