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Coding bootcamp or 4 year Computer Science degree?

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College Student2 years ago

Hi I wanted to ask how valuable a bootcamp can be and can I do that instead of a four year degree? The reason for this is because of how expensive college tuition is and I'm really worried about the return on investment. I feel like there's a lot of information that I'm learning right now that I feel like I won't really need and instead, I can use that time at a bootcamp to work on projects and learn valuable skills I can use in the work field. Would I be at a huge disadvantage by not completing my 4 year degree and are there valuable concepts that I would be really missing out on by not completing my four year degree?

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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    2 years ago

    I feel like there's a lot of information that I'm learning right now that I feel like I won't really need...

    This is very true. The tech industry moves so fast that it's hard for academia to keep up, and there's generally been a disconnect between what universities teach and what real jobs actually require. I would say ~75% of what I learned at UCLA I have just never used at work and forgotten.

    ...are there valuable concepts that I would be really missing out on by not completing my four year degree?

    For undergrad, I strongly believe there is no concept that you learn in school that can't be learned online and on your own. Check out this Q&A from a self-taught Meta engineer where I go through the value (or lack thereof) of the learning from a 4 year degree: "For self-taught developers - How to build my own knowledge system during work?"

    That being said, I strongly believe you should do the traditional 4-year degree if you can, which I'll cover more in my next point.

    Would I be at a huge disadvantage by not completing my 4 year degree...

    The answer is a resounding yes. From my ample experience both working with and hiring bootcampers/university grads, here's why:

    • Career fairs - Universities are much older, more much established institutions compared to bootcamps. Because of this, they have more clout and are able to have these much more stacked career fairs compared to bootcamps on average. Career fairs are one of the main reasons, if not the #1 reason, why I believe doing a 4-year degree is still the best way to go in a vacuum.
    • More networking opportunities overall - On top of career fairs, there's also clubs, hackathons, and a lot more. You're also in this environment that naturally has very high solidarity: People are mostly around the same age and studying the same thing, and if you're going to a school close-ish to you, will have similar geographic backgrounds too. College is literally one of the best environments in the world to build a deep network, and this is something I didn't capitalize on nearly enough.
    • Deeper software knowledge - This isn't because universities are inherently better than bootcamps; it's simply because they have an unfair advantage in being much longer. Bootcamps do a good job removing a lot of the inefficiencies of academia, but it's not enough to offset a 3+ year time gap. At university, you spend 4 years, while at bootcamps, you spend <1 year most of the time. You will simply have better fundamentals as you spent more much of your life in the former.
    • Companies still credential against degrees hard - This is something I really hate about companies (I went out of my way to find folks from non-traditional backgrounds as the Android lead hiring back at Course Hero), but this doesn't change the fact that this still happens. It's getting better, but companies still discriminate against people without a degree. Having a 4-year degree on your resume probably increases your resume's chances of not getting thrown out immediately by 2x to 5x.

    All that being said, I have a lot of respect for bootcamps: There's definitely some really good ones out there that have produced really high-quality engineers, many of whom are my friends or are in the Taro community! University isn't for everyone, so if you feel like that's the case for you, you can definitely still find a path to becoming a successful software engineer without a 4-year degree.

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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    7 months ago

    For the most part, once you land your first real SWE job, whether you graduated from a coding bootcamp vs a 4 year CS degree doesn't matter as much.

    • Coding bootcamps are better for learning the hot technology of the year.
    • CS degrees focus more on fundamentals (algorithms, theory) that don't change as frequently. Degrees are also longer so they can fit more content in.

    All else being equal, employers would prefer the person with the CS degree since it'll be more rigorous. Given the longevity of a college degree and the security it provides, it should be the default path.

    However, the shortest path to a job is likely to be a bootcamp. The outcomes will be more varied, but there are plenty of talented bootcamp grads and career switchers.

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