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Programming Boot Camp vs. Community College: Which Will Help Me Become an Great Engineer?

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If you're thinking of becoming a software engineer, you have a couple of different academic paths from which to choose. Attending community college and completing a programming boot camp are both excellent options, but how can you tell which one is right for you?

Becoming a Software Engineer

If you're planning on becoming a software engineer, you're probably already aware that you're going to need a hefty amount of education to achieve your goals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers generally need at least a bachelor's degree in order to find employment, along with strong programming skills.

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The thought of earning a bachelor's degree can certainly be intimidating. You're looking at a minimum of four years of intense study, and the high price of college education only makes things more stressful. Fortunately, there are a few options out there that require a little less commitment.

Community colleges and programming boot camps offer a more compressed and less expensive means of getting your feet wet in the software engineering world. But choosing the right program depends on your current situation and long-term goals.

Community College

A more traditional learning method, community colleges have stayed current with the times and most now offer courses and programs related to software engineering. You can take standalone courses, earn a certificate, or pursue an associate's degree.

Depth

In terms of depth and breadth, associate's degree programs at community colleges hold the advantage over boot camps. These degrees usually take about two years to complete and can include anywhere from 15 to 20 courses (around 60 credits). While boot camps usually only contain at most a handful of courses, associate's degree programs really let you dig deep into essential coding skills.

The added depth also allows for a broader range of skills. Boot camps only have the time to focus on a single topic or skill; however, at a community college, you can pick up a wide range of important knowledge that will come in handy in the future.

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Transfer Credits

If you do plan on pursuing a bachelor's degree, community colleges offer a huge benefit in that they can offer you transfer credits that make a 4-year degree seem less daunting.

For most schools, especially in-state public ones, credits earned from an associate's degree can be used towards a bachelor's degree program. Be sure to check with the institutions you plan to attend to confirm their transfer policy before making any decisions, of course.

Committing to a $100,000 degree program for four years is understandably scary, but with transfer credits, you're looking at a program that's half the length and almost half the cost. With associate's degrees, you also have the option to drop out with minimal damage if you decide that the engineering field is not for you, as opposed to making a big initial commitment and then being forced to back out.

Boot Camp

For those unfamiliar with the term, programming boot camps are short, intensive programs that aspiring programmers can take. Admissions requirements vary from one program to next, but some programs, such as the data science certificate at UC Berkeley, require prior programming experience.

Crash Course

One of the bigger advantages of a boot camp is the concentrated nature of the program. Unlike degree programs, which can often require 'general education' requirements in areas like English or history, boot camps jump right in to the matter at hand and only focus on courses that directly relate to engineering.

Taking general interest courses can be a good way to improve your overall academic skills, but if you only want to learn about engineering and coding, a boot camp may be the way to go.

Community colleges also tend to offer standalone courses, but they're offered a la carte and typically don't have the same structure and organization that you find in a boot camp.

Time

Perhaps the strongest selling point for boot camps is the quick turnaround.

Most programs can be completed in a matter of weeks, to the extent that a camp from Bitmaker only takes 12 weeks and is considered 'part-time' despite being about half the length of a standard college semester.

Even more convenient is the fact that some programs, such as the one at Berkeley, can be completed online. If you work a busy schedule or if there are no attractive offerings near you, you can always pursue online instruction, which is something that community colleges have yet to offer on a widespread basis.

learning from home

If you're looking to make a fast transition and jump right into the coding world as soon as possible, boot camps are definitely the way to go.

Ultimately, there is no one 'right' decision; the best choice is going to be different for every student. If you feel like testing the waters and taking your time, community college may be the way to go. If you're ready to commit and want a quick way to build skills, boot camps are probably the better choice. Do your research, consider the variables, and take your time making the choice that works best for your engineering goals. Best of luck!

By Bill Sands
January 2018
college career preparation

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