MBA vs. PROGRAMMING BOOTCAMP

Comparing the most popular masters degree to an emerging classroom

This section will focus on comparing an MBA with a programming bootcamp, because in terms of educational career paths, one of the most common decisions people make is to attain the illustrious “MBA”, with the idea that it will add prestige to the resume and dollars to the bank account.

Of the 12% of people who get their masters, a major portion is MBAs. Also, the concept of an MBA is probably the closest concept to a programming bootcamp in terms of attendee expectations. For example, of those who received MBAs in 2012, 64% used the degree to switch careers. The same could be said of the vast majority of those attending programming bootcamps.


A recent article titled “Grad School: Still Worth the Money?” focuses on the economics of attending grad school, especially the return on investment. The article points out that the cost of the MBA is not just the roughly 100k average price tag of attending the University, but also the 45k a year (average salary of someone who just completed undergrad) over two years, bringing the average MBA cost to a whopping $190k, plus the yearly interest.

While an MBA, at least from one of the top 50 schools, will pay off dividends over a lifetime, bringing the initial tuition to only a small percentage of the total earned, a $200k debt is an incredible burden to have, and one that will take years to pay off. Thus, despite its paying dividends over a lifetime, an MBA’s immediate benefits are difficult to experience. For many it is a frightening sum, one too great to risk. Another article shows that the average starting salary of someone with an MBA “with less than one year of experience was $46,630 “. Of course, it often depends on the school, with an Ivy League or other top school graduate having a substantially higher salary than a graduate from a lesser known school; for example, “graduates of the 57 top MBA programs will earn approximately $2.4 million in base pay and bonuses over a 20-year career”, and graduates from Stanford, Harvard or Wharton average around $3.5 million over 20 years in base pay.

The effect of education on earning potential is huge. Lost time accounts for approximately half of the cost, which is one of the upsides of a programming bootcamp. The cost is usually around $12,000 for a 12 week course. That's half the weekly cost of the average MBA (200k over two years = 2k per week), and will land the average person a salary that is $20,000 higher in the first year. Furthermore, when you compare the employment statistics to those of programming bootcamps, you find a nearly identical hiring rate. For example, 91% of MBA graduates from Yale were offered jobs within 3 months, a rate that is the same and often higher for programming bootcamps, such as Launch Academy (96%) and App Academy (95%).

One study by the US government showing the lifetime earning potential by degree, ranks engineering and architecture highest, with $3.4 million per year earning potential, followed by computer and math at $3.2 million. Fourth on the list are business and finance with an average of $2.7 million per year earning potential. That said, combining two majors, such as management and engineering or business and engineering resulted in very high lifetime income of $4.1 and $3.5 million, respectively. The Hamilton Project's chart of median lifetime earnings by college major also lists computer engineering as the fourth and computer science as the tenth highest earnings by college major.

An MBA can be an excellent investment, depending on where you go and/or what you do with it. Graduating from a programming bootcamp, by comparison, is also an excellent investment and will get someone an almost equally well-paying job in the same amount of time or sooner, and at a fraction of the financial and time risk. Neither an MBA nor programming bootcamp can be “better”, because the question is ultimately “What are your goals?” and “How long are you willing to wait to achieve those goals?”

If your goal is to create a business, in the past you might have focused on an MBA. Yet as the sands have changed in the tech industry, the tools of business creation have become incredibly easy and cheap, such that anyone can create a business in relatively short amount of time. This has lead to a proliferation of technical founders and co-founders, who are often equally if not more valuable to the creation of a successful company. The network of an MBA is notoriously valuable, but so is the network of a computer programmer, who will usually meet both business and technical types at the various meetups and watering holes of the tech world. And as startups get funded, there has been a spread in the knowledge of the business side of technology, to contradict the cliché of a techie with no people skills who knows nothing of the business process. Of course, MBAs have a huge amount of depth to their knowledge, which is why they make large salaries. Yet, for certain avenues, such as startups, an MBA graduate is not necessarily better suited than a technical person.

Therefore, there are pros and cons of MBAs and programming bootcamps, in terms of cost, goals and outcomes. Yet there need not be any dividing line. An MBA graduate can attend a programming bootcamp, or a programmer can get an MBA, and both would benefit from the educational experience. Yet there is no comparison between the time it takes to get an MBA and the time it takes to attend a programming bootcamp. The bootcamp gets you there faster. Someone who is considering both avenues should take into account the long-term as well as short term benefits to each avenue, and more importantly consider what they enjoy. This well rounded approach will certainly pay dividends in the future and lead to a more fulfilling career.