How to pay for your bootcamp experience
When considering a programming bootcamp, or any form of education, for that matter, one of the most important factors is usually the cost. If you're anything like me, you are wondering to yourself “Where am I going to get the cash to pay for this bootcamp?”. While the price range for camps varies from under $5k to $36k+, there are different methods of payment that might help you out, depending on how much (or little) you have available to spend on your bootcamp, and how you feel about debt.
In terms of financing, a number of options exist. I have met people who have done all of the following: credit cards, pay-in-full, peer-to-peer lending/borrowing (P2PL) and investor backing.
Needless to say, there are a lot more risks involved with credit cards and it is probably a good idea to avoid them unless you are really good with handling your finances, or you could end up in a world of debt. If you do decided to use credit cards (you might need multiple cards depending on how much your bootcamp costs), consider getting one that has a 0% introductory rate. That way, you'll be able to save enough dev cash to pay off your debt before the normal APR kicks in.
Peer-to-peer lending is a relatively new concept, having started in the mid 2000's. It is what it sounds like – borrowing from random people instead of a bank. The advantage over a credit card is that you usually pay a rate lower than half the APR, perhaps 6-10%, which will lessen the financial burden significantly. Investor backing is also new, and similar to P2PL. The only difference is that people lend you money based on your experience, sort of like getting a loan based on your resume.
If you're not in the development world, then you are probably skeptical about whether it is true that someone can get a job after a 10 week programming bootcamp. I mean, who wouldn't be? I can attest to the insanity of the job market right now: every company is always hiring, and of the 5,000 or so people graduating from programming bootcamps a year, most are being hired in less than three months. But don't take my word for it...you can hedge your bets. To hedge your bet is “to leave a means of retreat open.” In horse racing, hedging your bet happens when you bet on multiple race outcomes (horses) so as to avoid losing everything in the event that a horse performs poorly. You don't want to risk everything on a horse you're not sure will win.
That's where one type of programming bootcamp makes it easy for you. Many programming bootcamps are so confident that you will find a job upon graduation that they offer job guarantees. One camp states that “the default job-offer guarantee level is $60k+/yr, and top applicants are guaranteed at the $100k+/yr level”, and another states that their “graduates are guaranteed an IT job offer within 90 days of graduation or money back”. Thus, a person might join a bootcamp that holds to the “no job, no pay” philosophy.
Next on the scale would be joining a bootcamp that offers some sort of kickback upon hiring. Essentially, the bootcamp makes money off of you, the student, by acting as their own recruitment agency. Thus, like a recruiting agency, the bootcamp will be paid a referral fee for every graduate that is hired, and usually some sort of fee for giving employers access to their students, with the potential of finding a good hire. FullStack Academy, in NYC, has a number of hiring partners who, if a student is hired through them, will reimburse the student for a part of his or her tuition. The amount that a student gets back can vary based on the starting salary. What is actually happening is that the employer is first paying the bootcamp their referral fee, often more than 20% of the new employee's salary, and the bootcamp in turn pays a portion of that referral fee, perhaps 35% or so, to the student. Thus, a new hire with a $70,000 salary would receive 35% of $14,000 (20% of their salary), or $4,900. The referral fees vary depending on a lot of factors such as location, average salary, and business model, but the one that was just described is a fairly common scheme.
The final type of bootcamp is your straight-up, pay as you go bootcamp. These bootcamps are actually something of a rarity, the reason being that employers are constantly on the hunt for their next developer hire, and subsequently seek to create partnerships with the programming bootcamps that logistically make sense (usually a combination of what they teach and distance). While these camps are tougher on the student, in that they require the student to shoulder the entire financial burden, there are advantages.
For one thing, the student is less likely to feel constricted geographically to a place near their programming bootcamp. A student who graduates from a bootcamp on the East coast might normally look for jobs on the East coast, and perhaps within 100 miles or less from where he or she graduated. Such geographical constraints can be lessened if the student feels less obliged to look for a job in any particular region. For another thing, the student might be more careful in his or her job selection, instead of jumping on the first offer that comes along. If the student has the opportunity to receive a signing bonus and a decent salary by signing on with a hiring partner, instead of focusing on finding jobs out of all the companies that might be a better fit, it might blind the student as to whether the company is actually a good match. Although these are scenarios that might not apply to most situations, it's worth considering schools where you have to pay your tuition in full.
More important than anything is finding a school that fits you. When applying to bootcamps, I interviewed with five, three of which I didn't want to pursue further, and one that I eliminated from my list after a visit. The first three were sort of “sketchy”. They seemed disorganized, and when I discovered that I would be their first cohort, I withdrew.
Programming bootcamps are constantly being shaped and their curriculum is a combination of experiment and requests from employers. And while it might be impossible to avoid being part an early cohort, since programming bootcamps only emerged in late 2011, and while there is no single way to teach a program, a lot of the kinks of a bootcamp are worked out after the first few cohorts. If you're a risk-taker and don't mind being the guinea pig, go for it. If you're highly skeptical and cautious, consider applying to a program that has been around for a little while. General Assembly and Dev Bootcamp might be the largest, most established camps, and were formed in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
However, I think that the size of the organization can be off-putting to some people. While I applied to one of the larger bootcamps, I decided not to attend it because it felt a little too impersonal. Instead, I chose to attend a bootcamp with a single location, because I knew that they had a few cohorts under their belt by the time I started and so had worked out some of the kinks, and that they were more invested in the students. Furthermore, they were highly adaptive, with the ability to tailor the learning process to our cohort at a moment’s notice. Adaptation was very easy with a class of 30, but might be more difficult for a program that has a number of locations and an established system in place.
You also want to consider who started the camp. A lot of programming bootcamps have been started by people trying to “jump on the bandwagon”, in an educational movement that is only just starting. For that reason, I think it is important for a programmer to look for a bootcamp that is very passionate about the process of education, and has an excellent staff of not just elite programmers, but educators as well.
Whether the bootcamp you choose is large or small, has a money-back or partial-refund through hiring partners, finding a bootcamp that suits you is an important question, one that you will be able to answer as you speak with and visit the bootcamps that interest you and make sense to attend. If you aren't certain, it is ok to be skeptical. Just don't wait too long.