The Economics of Dev Bootcamp (And Other Code Schools)

One of the biggest concerns I hear from people who are interested in learning to code and doing a program like Dev Bootcamp is how costly it is. For reference, Dev Bootcamp currently costs $12,200. Is this a lot of money? Of course! But think of what you’re getting for the price.

In only 9 weeks, you will learn enough to become a full-time Software Developer, earning somewhere between $75,000 and $95,000. As you get full-time experience, that salary will only keep going up, way up! Computers are not going away (although they’re transforming into being more portable), and even successful physical business need websites.

Currently, to get a very similar job, you’d have to go to school for four years, spending as much as $200,000 in addition to the opportunity cost of spending 4 years not earning upwards of $400,000 in income. In the grand scheme of things, $12,200 is pocket change compared to how much earning potential you’ll have in the long run!

Now, is it possible to get a job just by learning on your own on the side for a few months? Yes, of course it is! But it’s likely going to be much harder to do and you’ll have to spend more time learning and getting to the point where you can get a full-time job with your new skill. And, since you’ll be learning on your own, you’ll have a harder time understanding best practices and how professional programmers work. Before Dev Bootcamp, I was perfectly capable of making my own Rails applications, but most of the time, I was just guessing and putting band-aids on my code. Dev Bootcamp helped me understand why things are the way they are, and what practices I need to use to have cleaner and optimized code from the onset.

I know $12,200 might seem like a lot right now, and you might not have it, but figure out how to get it in addition to some extra funds for living expenses. Borrow it from your friends and family if you have to or get someone to lend it to you on a site like Lending Club. Then, sit down and start learning.

I recommend doing months of preparation before spending the money and going to Dev Bootcamp or any other Code School (use these months so keep accumulating your savings!). The more prepared you are beforehand, the better chance you have of standing out and getting the job right after the program – a job that will help you pay back your Dev Bootcamp debt in likely less than a year.

And, as a Dev Bootcamp graduate, I can tell you that the experience was really priceless for me. I was able to fill in my gaps in knowledge, and really take my programming skills to the next level. I would have never learned that much on my own. In fact, I loved it so much, I’m going to do a similar program to learn iOS, but more on that later…

If you’d like to learn more about how to make the most out of a bootcamp experience, read more in my book:  How To… Learn To Code. Get Your Dream Job. Change Your Life.

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  • Sam

    What’s your experience/observations about how quickly DBC grads get jobs after the program? I’m trying to figure out how many months I should/need to budget moving to SF for.

    • If you really prepare yourself before DBC, including writing a blog / tweeting / posting projects on Github to build your personal brand, it shouldn’t be long.

      I’d recommend preparing for 3 months in case of emergency, but most students get jobs within a few weeks (as fast as 1-2 weeks!). The worst time to do it seems to be around holiday season, when it ends in December, since many employers are on vacation.

      • Sam

        Thanks! It’s great to hear from someone who went through the program, great article!

  • While I’m a huge, huge fan of self-learning and also of not racking up mounds of debt from a college degree, I’ve had quite a struggle grasping the full value of the code schools that have become so common over the past few years.

    Iirc, DBC was one of the first code schools to be very thorough and honest about the details of the program. However, I feel the general idea of the code schools need to be communicated better to all parties involved. It is completely unrealistic that after 12 weeks’ time, the average student comes out of these code schools and is of value to the companies hiring them–if they are hired on as full developers(vs. junior or interns). Now, if the code schools are coordinating efforts(I will admit bias, I believe the Hacker School/Etsy partnership is almost ideal) with hiring companies to hire these freshies as paid internships, it is a much more honest idea of how much those developers will be contributing. And most code schools these days are not fans of super new programmers, I believe partly for this reason.

    Furthermore, the numbers used for the Economics of Dev Bootcamp are wild. Is the average price of a 4-year CS degree really $200,000? I don’t have a CS degree, but most of my friends who trudged through that were also working at least at part-time jobs so they could eat something other than ramen–and you were building experience if you were fortunate enough to work within the department.

    Also, Dev Bootcamp does set a high standard(this is great!), but it is becoming more and more competitive. If someone isn’t able to get into DBC or have to wait quite a while, are they going to end up at one of these other schools that is charging far more and demanding payment upfront?(I can give you a list of these schools, I think I might be projecting my frustration with these schools onto DBC).

    A four year degree is not something I recommend for a number of reasons. But I fear that those who are successful out of the code schools off the bat are the exception and not the rule.

    • Hi Tracy,

      I do NOT recommend for anyone to go to code school without at least a few months worth of self learning. However, they’re great as the last stop in getting a job as a Software Engineer – my friend wrote about this earlier: http://natashatherobot.com/code-school-journey/.

      Also, as DBC becomes more and more competitive, they will be able to produce higher and higher quality talent (because they’ll accept people who do have more experience). The great thing about DBC over a CS degree is that they teach you PRACTICAL skills. So you do provide value to your workplace from day one! (I pushed code on day one at my first job out of DBC).

      In contrast, CS programs focus more on the philosophical concepts and algorithms, which could be useful, but are not used most of the time. CS majors have to have as much, if not more training on the job as DBC graduates.

  • Awesome article, reassuring to those of us who are dropping/investing everything for this venture. How would you recommend distinguishing ourselves from all the other graduates since we’ll have similar portfolios by the end of the program?

    • Greg, I recommend starting to build your portfolio way before you even apply to a Hacker School. Blog and tweet about your learning, and post all your code on Github. Start going to Meetups and networking with developers in your area. The more of this you do before code school, the better chance you have of standing out.

  • Great article, Natasha! One aspect of the program’s value that I think is a little underplayed here is the immediate network you are buying into. When you join Dev Bootcamp, you are introduced to ~90 other motivated programming self-starters in addition to a rapidly growing active alumni base, dozens of mentors, multiple guest speakers, and a score of companies on hiring day. As someone who moved to SF, I cannot understate the importance of this. No matter how ambitious of a self-teacher one is, it is incredibly difficult to cultivate the number and depth of these relationships online or at meetups. Had I had learned nothing at Dev Bootcamp (which was far from the case!), it would still have been a valuable opportunity for me to gain the connections necessary to efficiently continue my learning and job search.

  • Hi Natasha, I’ve been lurking for a while and I just wanted to thank you for your blog. As a self-starter myself, it’s been invaluable to me to follow, and I’m now in the process of trying to decide if code school is my next step. Thanks again!

  • Shane McKissick

    Hi Natasha. I’m interviewing for Dev Bootcamp next week, and I’ve been trying to look really hard at the actual costs/benefits of the program. I’m relatively new to coding, but I would have plenty of time for self study before the next cohort. I know that Dev Bootcamp would be very beneficial for my coding ability.

    But, I am trying to figure out how much I would need to have saved up for living expenses during the program/during the interview process. Also, it seems that the cost of living in the Bay Area is so high that a starting software engineering salary doesn’t go terribly far. So, I am wondering if you could shed some light on your living expenses during the program, and whether you feel the salary out of the program will allow you to save money in the short-medium term. Finally, do you feel positive about your earning potential going up in the next few years? I know this is personal information, so perhaps you could contact me directly with as much as you feel comfortable sharing?

    Thank you so much for all the help! I really appreciate any advice you care to share!

    • Hi Shane,

      Sorry, somehow missed this. Do you still need the information? Feel free to email me at natasha at natashatherobot.com, and I’ll happily answer your questions!

  • Johnny

    Hi Natash,

    I have been followed your blog for quite a while, and I am happy to see how you got so far. Your journey to become a software developer has inspired a lot of people, including myself. I have been thinking of attending one of those coding schools in SF. Have you heard of hack reactor? What do you think about that school comparing to dev bootcamp?

    • Hi Johnny,

      Step 1 is getting in. Both programmers are pretty competitive and have a waiting list, so apply right away. That said, I would recommend Hack Reactor more if you can get in and afford it, mostly because they teach the newest JavaScript stuff. JavaScript is the future of the web (and possibly mobile), and since it’s more front-end based, there is more demand for it than for a Ruby on Rails developer, and the demand will only continue growing.

      Best of luck!
      Natasha

  • macedo

    Hi, very inspiring. I will be attending DBC and your posts have help me through my decisions. Best,
    ARM