Lately, everyone from President Barack Obama to Shakira and Angela Bassett has been encouraging people to "learn to code," which begs the question: What kind of learning environment is right for you?
As the founder of San Francisco-based coding bootcamp Dev Bootcamp, figuring out the best option can be tricky. While online courses like Codecademy and Khan Academy provide a great starting point, it most likely will take an immersion program, such as a coding bootcamp, to elevate your skillset to the next level. While these programs can provide new employment opportunities, they aren't easy.
Students enrolled in bootcamps spend more than eight hours a day working on tough programming problems and often they cost upwards of $20,000. Students are surrounded by other like-minded people tackling similar issues, along with knowledgeable teachers and helpful mentors to provide guidance. By being in this group setting, people can reduce the number of hours they spend struggling on their own, while accelerating the learning process.
If you think you want to break into the world of coding, here are a few pieces of advice for finding the right school for you.
Speak with graduates of the program and if possible, visit the space. When you join a coding bootcamp you are entering into a life-changing experience, one that will teach you new technical skills and provide you with a community of current students, alumni and hiring partners who all share similar values and perspectives on learning.
The only way you'll succeed in one of these intense environments is if you feel welcome into the space, and it supports an open culture where students encountering setbacks can tackle them without being worried about others having a level of ego or hubris.
Plus, speaking to the graduates of a program can help you understand what the culture is like at the particular organization. They can also provide insight as to what the job market is like and what kind of employment opportunities you can expect three-to-six months after the program is complete.
Ask about your potential school's teaching philosophy. Since there is such a huge need for technical talent, a lot of bootcamps have been developed in the past few years to keep up with demand. But keep in mind, all programs aren't created equal. Be wary of schools that offer the "sage on the stage," or old-school lecture model. There's only so much talking people can handle before they zone out or get distracted by a thought. Some amount of presentation is important but once the point has been made, it's time to get to work. Solving practical, valuable problems is the single best way to cement the new learning.
The three ways we accelerate the learning process at Dev Bootcamp is hands-on projects, engaged passionate teachers and a peer-learning environment, where mentorship and coaching is happening constantly.
If this environment isn't for you, there is also more traditional schooling, or programs that focus less on peer learning and more on nightly readings and pass/fail exams to determine a student's progress.
Be sure to do your due diligence about each potential school's learning philosophy and evaluate which learning style is right for you.
Know what prep is required and whether or not you'll be left behind. There's a secret to successful bootcamps -- one that explains the miracle of learning to code in nine weeks. It is called the preparation period (the time before the actual in-person experience begins).
Some programs have self-guided prep, some have no prep and others have up to 12 weeks of structured curriculum, a period which will help lay the foundation for your success as a new student. Without adequate prep, you may fall behind in such a rapid learning environment.
So when looking into programs, make sure you ask what happens if you fall behind and whether you'll be able to make up coursework if lets say, some sort of personal emergency or extenuating circumstances happens.
Ask about the skills you'll learn outside of coding. Software engineering is not just about writing code. It's about communicating about the code, figuring out user requirements and empathizing with your teammates on the best way to solve a problem. If you want to become a successful software engineer, you're going to need to learn a lot more than syntax.
Because technology moves so fast, it's more valuable to adapt to this constantly changing environment than cram a current framework into your brain.
In the end, only you will know what bootcamp is the right fit for you. Just like in any relationship you want to subscribe to the culture, beliefs and philosophies before you dive into a one of the most transformative experiences of your life.
Shereef Bishay is the founder of coding program Dev Bootcamp and a seasoned Ruby on Rails developer and facilitator. At 21, he built Career Egypt and sold it to Microsoft two years later. He went on to work at Microsoft as a lead developer and afterwards built Better Means and Class Parrot.