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So, are coding bootcamps worth it?

If you work in finance and you don't know how to code, you can be forgiven for feeling the angst. Goldman Sachs seems to have doubled its demand for technology graduates in the past two years and J.P. Morgan is putting hundreds of its new analysts through coding lessons. If you don't know how to code, you risk being left behind. So why not spend a month (or so) attending an intensive coding bootcamp? - Particularly if you're on gardening leave or out of the market?

One senior fixed income trader who did just that says coding bootcamps are absolutely worthwhile. He attended the popular Le Wagon nine-week coding bootcamp in London last year and says it was, "excellent and worthwhile," with a workload that was "tough and heavy." Although he doesn't use his coding knowledge in his day job, he says the bootcamp has given him the ability to build a minimum viable product on his own or as part of a team, and to play around with ideas he already had.

Scratch the surface though, and not everyone is super-stoked about their bootcamp experience - particularly if they're in a place saturated with camp graduates. In the U.S. coding bootcamps have gone wild and are now a $260m industry churning out 23,000+ developers a year.  Some of those graduates are annoyed at having spent thousands of dollars to transform their careers, without much success.

"I completed a coding bootcamp called Actualize two years ago," says one aspiring programmer based in San Francisco. "It taught me valuable web-development skills, but it didn't cover enough of the important algorithmic skills required to land me a job. Many of my friends have completed similar bootcamps and I'd say 90% of them have had the same experience," he complains. Actualize didn't respond to a request to comment on its employment record, but the company does now include algorithm analysis and optimization in its 12-week course, and says it's placed people everywhere from Amazon, to Salesforce, and Bank of America.

A former private equity associate who's just started a bootcamp (also Le Wagon) says it's wrong to approach bootcamps as a guaranteed route into a shiny new technology job. "Everyone knows the results are up to you as an individual," he says. "This is no golden ticket and it is certainly not marketed as such."

The London coding bootcamp Makers Academy does guarantee a job to its graduates, but if you've worked in finance previously the ticket might seem more nickel than gold. Adele Barlow, head of partnerships at Makers Academy, says the average starting salary for its graduates tends to be around £32k. With first-year juniors in investment banking divisions (IBD) earning £72k ($101k) and first-year technology analysts in banks earning £50k+, Makers' promise would simply seem to underscore the discrepancy between pay in finance and pay everywhere else.

Bootcamps are clearly more appealing if you haven't worked in finance previously and weren't already earning a big salary before embarking upon one. In this case, it might be argued that £32k in the first year is a good return on a 12-week course and an £8k investment in fees.  "I was working an admin job that I hated, went on the Makers Academy coding boot camp, and four weeks after the end of the course I’m working as a junior developer earning double what I was before," one of its graduates tells us. "It's definitely made a difference to me."

Meanwhile, the credit trader who completed the Le Wagon bootcamp, says that for him it's been less about immediately monetizing the skills he learned and more about improving his technical knowledge and building a foundation upon which to pick up other programming languages.  For anyone with free time who fantasizes about leaving finance to work on a start-up, or who simply wants an ability to converse meaningfully about product development with trading floor technologists (a skill banks deem increasingly worthwhile), this sounds like a good thing. Just don't expect a big pay rise as a result.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • TJ
    TJ Kinion
    31 October 2018

    Well laid out article Sarah and I like that you spoke to people with both good and bad experiences.

    As a Program Manager at a bootcamp and someone responsible for helping our graduates find jobs it is extremely important that people understand what they are getting into before investing in something like this. Any program that is offering a "job guarantee" should be looked at hesitantly. Another issue with many programs is the salary and future employer promises that they make. Yes it's awesome that past graduates have been hired by Big 5 tech companies, but it students should be led to believe that everyone will land one of those roles.

    Just like there are many strong programs out there (we've also respected Le Wagon for a while), there are just as many fly-by-night bootcamps. Before deciding on a program people should visit the program, speak with current and past students, and see how long the bootcamp has been in business.

    When approached properly bootcamps can be a great investment. Make sure you are ready for it and then find the program that is not only convenient for your situation but also willing to provide you support until the day you sign that offer letter.

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