Are Tech Bootcamps Worth It?

I graduated with my undergraduate in mathematics last August. I had done some programming and school and I loved it, but I wasn’t competitive with computer science or engineering students. I wanted to take the next step and program as a career, but I needed to do it quickly before my student loans kicked in. I started looking into bootcamps to jump-start my career. Tech bootcamps are everywhere. They’re in every major city and they’re for all different roles in the technology sector. Most of them are for front-end web development, but I chose to pursue data science. In April, I graduated from Metis after 12 weeks of intensive data science training. I had to put in a significant chunk of cash, as well as a lot of hard work, but I got a lot back in return.

What can a bootcamp do for you?

Right now, most bootcamps are for front-end web development, but there are a variety of different types. The open-floor office space that Metis’ Chicago campus operates in is shared with Dev Bootcamp. I got to learn the ins and outs of more than one kind of bootcamp while at Metis. For the sake of this article, I’m going to speak strictly about my personal experience, but many bootcamps share common themes or structure because the people who run them look at other, successful bootcamps for examples.

The point of bootcamps is to get you a job. This does not mean that you are going to become a master at your craft in 12 weeks. In fact, when you graduate is when the real learning begins. During the bootcamp you will find out exactly how much you don’t know and from there you can start the long journey of continuing to learn, skill up, and practice. Bootcamps exist to get you up to speed quickly, give you as much hands-on, practical experience as they can cram in, and help you land that job afterwards.

A day in bootcamp

So what exactly does Metis’ data science bootcamp look like? For starters, it’s 12 weeks long, 5 days a week, 9 hours per day. That doesn’t include the time you work outside of class. Bootcamps will use the word immersive — this is exactly what they mean. During the 12 weeks, I built 5 machine learning projects that used real-world data, I also created a blog to showcase some of them, and made sure my GitHub was up to snuff. On top of that, I practiced coding, problem solving, and presentation skills with my classmates every single day. Bootcamps revolve around the idea of lecturing on a topic and then immediately putting it to action. There is so much to learn and so little time, you need to get your hands dirty in order for things to stick.

Outside of the classroom, I attended at least one event every week. These could be guest speakers, networking events, or just socializing. Many data scientists came to talk strictly with my class, tell us about their work, and answers questions. Other people came for bigger events that were open to the public — Irmak Sirer even gave a talk on using Generative Adversarial Networks to create images of his face! All the events were a great opportunity to network and also to unwind after class.

I received some form of career training every week. This came in the form of one-on-one meetings with my career adviser, different workshops, or new resources shared with us to use in preparation for our career search. Not to mention the professional head-shots (just look at my LinkedIn), business cards, and serious resume makeovers. We also spent a lot of time doing mock interviews (technical and otherwise) which proved to be invaluable. At the end, we hosted a career night event that was slammed with recruiters and I had a chance to present a passion project I had spent three weeks working on.

Post-Graduation

Once you finish a bootcamp, you enter a community of alumni. For Metis (and Dev Bootcamp), this meant a private alumni Slack channel. At least once a day there is a new job posting. Usually it’s by someone one the careers staff, but more senior alumni often post that their company is looking to hire — talk about a great network! People also post all kinds of great articles and resources. It’s a great way to network and meet up with people if you’re attending something like PyCon or another conference. The best part is that you’re a member for life. Looking down the road, you’ll have a network of hundreds of data scientists (developers etc.) with various amounts of experience. You’ll have direct access to opportunities that will help advance your career, as well as the chance to hire smart, driven people who just graduated.

My graduating cohort :]
My graduating cohort :]

Additionally, Metis and Dev Bootcamp graduates are granted access to their private hiring platform Employ. Employ is kind of like LinkedIn, but only for Metis and Dev Bootcamp graduates (both camps are owned by the same parent company in case you’re wondering) and for their hiring partners. This means recruiters or data scientists can view your profile and highlighted projects. Likewise, you can reach out to someone at a prospective company directly and get a response!

To top it off, you’re granted continued access to the office space if you want to come in and work. This means you’ll get more face-time with your career adviser — who will always be your career adviser — and you can continue attending the weekly events.

My experience

It’s time for the details you’ve all been waiting for! I’ll keep this to the need-to-know. If there are any questions you’d like answered just leave a comment on the story and I’ll get back to you. Before Metis, I was interviewing for positions in the $50–62k range. After graduation, I am competitive in a range of $85–105k. The bootcamp cost $15,500. I studied pure mathematics in college and did some programming. As much as I love abstract mathematics, I really love machine learning. I could not be more excited about my career, my newfound passion, and the future.

I interviewed with several companies leading up to graduation and in the weeks that followed. Ultimately, I accepted a paid internship with the possibility of FTE afterwards at HERE Technologies. I chose HERE for a few reasons:

  • The principal research engineer who made me the offer was an outstanding person. I was more than happy to work under him.
  • I am working with experts in computer vision and deep learning. I knew this position would set me up to continue learning.
  • The job was in Boulder, CO. I was happy for the change of pace and to hit the slopes!
  • I’m part of the Highly Automated Driving team. Our platform and models are going to impact the world in a very real way, very soon.
The Flatirons
A view of the Flatirons.

For me, this summed up to a dream job. There was no way I could have gone from a bachelors in Mathematics to such a niche and competitive position without the additional training I received at Metis.

What Did I Forget to Mention…?

The people. When you’re thinking about signing up for a bootcamp, it’s a really big decision and a personal one. It’s all about you, your career, your money, and your life. Almost all bootcamps have an application process and they end up turning away a lot of applicants. What this means is that you will be surrounded by other students who all made the same big decision and all deserve to be there. Your fellow students will be amazing and you will always share your time in bootcamp together! I had no idea that those relationships would end up being the most valuable part of the bootcamp experience.

Likewise, the instructors are phenomenal. They come from different backgrounds, but are all experts with a lot of experience. I learned so much from them in 12 weeks and a lot of it was knowledge that wasn’t on the curriculum. I learned career tips, more niche machine learning techniques, and much more. I count my instructors among my friends and some of my best contacts in my network.

Disclaimer

Obviously this is my personal experience, yours may not be the same. Be sure to do your homework, be selective, and most of all be ready to work. Attending a bootcamp does not entitle you to a job. If you attend one, you will inevitably hear a horror story about someone who didn’t complete it. Just remember what bootcamps exist for — to get you up to speed quickly, give you as much hands-on, practical experience as they can cram in, and help you land that job afterwards. The rest is up to you.