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How Coding Bootcamp Complements a College Degree to Create Opportunities

By: The Fullstack Academy Team
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This post originally appeared on Fullstack Academy's blog.

People often think of a coding education as an alternative to a degree, but for most students that’s simply not the case. Bootcamp students tend to be recent college graduates or mid-career professionals looking for a change.

These are people looking for new skills to boost their career prospects. And those who graduate emerge as well-rounded professionals with unique, hireable skill sets.

If you’re looking for a better-paid, more engaging career, combining your college degree with a coding education can supercharge your prospects.

Your Undergraduate Degree Was Not a Waste of Time

One big reason programming enthusiasts don’t invest in a coding bootcamp education is that transitioning careers can often feel like starting over. And since for most people in their mid-twenties to early 30s, college has been their biggest expense to date, transitioning to a field that doesn’t line up with their degree can feel like throwing away all that money (or winding up in debt for nothing).

But that’s not the case. According to Jim Halpin, team lead at LaSalle Network's technology recruiting practice, hiring managers still see four-year college degrees as the gold standard. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean hiring managers are looking for you to have a degree in the exact field you want to work in; they are more looking to see that you had the wherewithal to complete a four-year program period.

And we can’t ignore the pedigree factor: Whatever you studied, if you did it somewhere prestigious, hiring managers will already be impressed. And then there’s the affinity effect, which gives you a leg up in the case that your interviewer has an emotional connection to your school (they attended the same institution; their sister went there; a friend from high school ended up there—did you know him?).

The life skills we learn in four years of college are not the same as the technical skills you’ll learn in 13-18 intense weeks of bootcamp. University of Washington's Kyle Thayer, summarizing research by Quinn Burke, Cinamon Bailey, Louise Ann Lyon, and Emily Green, found that employers talk about soft skills twice as much in job interviews—and that they put much more effort into evaluating a candidate’s soft skills once they have a feel for the candidate’s technical skills. So you need the technical skills you’ll learn at bootcamp to prove to your interviewer that you’re qualified—but once you’ve done that, your college experience can help you stand out as a person and potential team member.

Especially if your ultimate career goal is an executive position—CTO, for instance—your education (on top of your experience) is going to play a key role. David Hicks, founder of the Agile Alliance and trainer at Agil8, puts education first in his list of things it takes to become a CTO. The most common path to becoming a CTO, Hicks explains, is having a degree from a college with a great reputation (tech university or otherwise), as well as an MBA further down the line.

Attending a coding bootcamp after four years of undergraduate education in computer science doesn’t mean your degree wasn’t good enough. It means technology is advancing, and the most in-demand coders are the ones who continue to learn even after college and work to stay at the forefront of the industry.

Similarly, attending coding bootcamp after four years of undergraduate education in some field other than computer science doesn’t make your college experience any less valid, and you shouldn’t regret having earned whatever degree you have. You aren’t “giving up” on whatever you studied before; though you’ve chosen to focus on a new set of skills, everything you’ve learned till now has made you the person and the job candidate you are today.

You Don’t Need a CS Degree to Become a Developer

So let’s say you have earned a degree in something other than computer science—is it even worth it to go to bootcamp? Will hiring managers and recruiters even consider you (especially up against programmers who do have CS backgrounds)?

Experienced programmer Scott Schipp (who majored in both computer science and English) doesn’t think computer science degrees are necessary for a job in programming—at least if his own experience is anything to go by.

Over the course of his career, Schipp writes, he has worked with an array of talented programmers with degrees in everything from biology to philosophy.

Sherif Abushadi, a former bootcamp instructor, agrees. Someone with a humanities background can become a great developer because they have an intuitive sense of what it’s like to enjoy using an application. From his experience, the strongest students are the ones who have already flexed their learning muscles by earning a college degree—but not in any particular field.

The truth is that once you get into the real world of programming, you’ll find that there are so many skills required that no one could possibly master them all. Coder and blogger Itamar Turner-Trauring points out that if you don’t have a traditional computer science background, then you’ll probably have other skills that your colleagues lack. As a liberal arts graduate, for example, you might have more experience expressing your ideas and formulating arguments. Both of those skills, especially if they’re unique to you among your fellow team members, will serve you exceptionally well in the professional world.

The Reality Is a Degree on Its Own Isn’t Always Enough

Whatever your degree, a further coding education can be incredibly beneficial—and in some cases essential—to starting your career as a developer.

Code.org’s Hadi Partovi believes the best engineers have both the maturity that comes with a four-year education and the specific technical skill set you’ll develop at a coding bootcamp. A college education, particularly one in computer science, will teach broad concepts that you may not have a chance to learn elsewhere. But there is absolutely no substitute for hands-on learning.

And that is what a lot of college courses lack. Many graduates come out with little or no practical experience and barely a portfolio to show for it. That’s a problem.

Stack Overflow’s Nick Larsen believes that building a portfolio is essential when it comes to getting hired. Being able to show a series of projects and products you have contributed to is worth more than years of schooling.

Of course, you can learn to code and build a portfolio on your own, but as Fullstack alum Shawn Wang points out, time is more important than money. A bootcamp helps you build the portfolio you need, and it can help you do so far more quickly and successfully than you would on your own.

But it’s not just a case of building a portfolio. Most bootcamp grads—especially those coming from totally different industries or who don’t have a CS background—are going to need some career coaching to land their first jobs.

Many bootcamps weave career services into their curricula and will provide expert coaching on how to find jobs in the industry, how to build your resume, and how to interview successfully. Some programs even leverage their connections with companies to help you get your foot in the door.

Knowing How to Code Supercharges Your Prospects in Any Career

Whatever career you wish to pursue, learning how to code can give you a huge edge over fellow job seekers and your soon-to-be colleagues. That’s because the combination of a college degree and a coding education is still relatively scarce.

But that is also a profile in high demand.

Deloitte analyst Uday Singh discovered this when he was applying for business and finance jobs out of college. Programming knowledge was expected, or at least preferred, in almost every job he applied for. It wasn’t until he started to learn to code—and included that fact on his resume—that he started getting traction with employers. Often, his programming knowledge was the only thing they wanted to discuss.

The point is that by complementing a college degree with coding experience, you make yourself much more employable. There are so many companies that need people who can lead and execute big tech projects. Deloitte’s Paul Sallomi notes that a diverse set of tech trends—including cloud computing, pay-as-you-go business models, data analysis and API development—are poised to keep growing. People with those skills will remain attractive to employers for the foreseeable future.

Even if you don’t know where you want to specialize or what, exactly, you want to do, that’s OK. You’ll have a plethora of different opportunities available because the tech industry just keeps growing. In the first half of the year, nearly 50,000 IT jobs were added to the US economy, Macy Bayern reports at TechRepublic.

Whether you were born to be a developer, have your sights set on a particular career, or still don’t know what you want to do with your life, adding a coding education to your college degree can seriously upgrade your career opportunities.

Many of our alums first entered Fullstack Academy or Grace Hopper Program with an undergraduate degree in something other than coding. Head to our Alum Stories page to see how these diverse folks overcame their bootcamp anxiety, rose to the challenge of the program, and have gone on to land impressive jobs as professional developers.

Images by: Bruce Mars, Annie Spratt, rawpixel
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