28 November 2022

Bootcamp or University? How to Get into IT

Programming is a lucrative career that attracts more and more people every day, including fresh university graduates. The key question most of these people ask themselves is, how and where can they acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to launch a career in IT? Which is better? Traditional university or a programming bootcamp? Which would be faster? Both options have many advantages and this comparison will unpack the main points so you can decide for yourself.

Bootcamp or University? How to Get into IT

Before we get to the pros and cons of studying, it wouldn’t hurt to review what a programming bootcamp actually is. Bootcamps are a relatively new trend in education. They are highly intensive courses that last several months. Boring theory is largely replaced by practice and students often learn on real projects. This means they not only gain the necessary knowledge and job-ready skills, but also a concrete idea of how things work in their new field. You can read more about what exactly a bootcamp is here. 

This modern teaching approach is already very popular overseas. In 2011, the first coding bootcamp opened in the USA; by 2017, a total of 95 bootcamps were in full swing across the country. However, course lengths vary considerably, ranging from 8 to 36 weeks. Most bootcamps offer intensive study for 10 or 12 weeks. This approach is increasingly gaining ground in Western Europe and some trailblazing schools have already adopted this model in the Czech Republic. By contrast, traditional universities place more emphasis on theory and less on actual practice. To be fair, both institutions have a lot to offer.

Bootcamp mentor Lukáš Kotrbatý, who is also a master's student at Czech Technical University’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering (CTU FEE), shares some important insights. "Even though many people claim that all information can be found somewhere, some of the things you’ll hear in lectures, or receive in comprehensive bootcamp study materials, can’t be found in any books, nor on the Internet.” Here we have one of the main pros for studying programming at a university or at a bootcamp like Green Fox Academy. When contemplating which study format is best tailored for your needs, you’ll have to consider and compare what you actually expect to gain from your studies and what your priorities are. Many other things will depend on these factors.

Months vs years

The first and most decisive factor is probably time. If you want to prolong your carefree youth and study for a few more years after high school, then university is the right place for you. That is, assuming that the Czech style of higher education agrees with you. If, however, you want to stand on your own two feet as soon as possible, then come sign up for bootcamp. In just 4 months, you’ll be a real programmer, and the door to a lucrative career will open wide. By the time your friends finish university and have their diplomas in hand, you'll already be a senior programmer. Not only will you have a big head start in practice, but also in salary.

By the time your friends finish university and have their diplomas in hand, you'll already be a senior programmer. Not only will you have a big head start in practice, but also in salary.

One set price vs a student’s cost of living 

Many will say that bootcamp courses are expensive. Understandably, a figure of 139,000 CZK (before VAT) could be very discouraging at first. However, when compared to costs from abroad, bootcamps in the Czech Republic are still very cheap. This year alone, the average price of bootcamp in the USA has climbed to 13,600 USD (285,600 CZK). In Western Europe, the price ranges from 6,500 to 10,000 EUR (165,100 to 254,000 CZK). On the other hand, one advantage of all bootcamps is that you know upfront exactly how much you’ll pay. Comparing the price with university studies is easiest in the USA, where an average programming university education costs 144,680 USD, which is more than 10-times what it costs here in the Czech Republic. In Europe, where a system of free public university tuition prevails, the most one can compare is living expenses. However, when you add up all the pocket money, accommodation, teaching aids, textbooks, etc. for 3 to 5 years, you’re probably looking at 500,000 CZK.

Depth vs breadth of knowledge

Another point worthy of consideration is the kind of knowledge you’ll acquire. Pavel Beránek, a Green Fox Academy programming mentor, who also works as a lecturer in the Informatics Department at Jan Evangelista Purkyně University, helps us compare the two. "University is primarily for students who either want a general overview of the field, or to pursue an academic career. If the student's motivation is to succeed in the labor market, or if they’re only interested in one specific activity (e.g. programming or network administration), then it’s better to enroll in a bootcamp," he advises. 

Amy Hriadelová, Green Fox Academy mentor and master's student at CTU FEE, sees it in much the same way. "At university, you’ll have lectures in mathematics, physics and statistics. You’ll learn algorithms, how to develop web, mobile and desktop applications, and even AI; a lot will depend on your specialization and field of study,” she says. "As a college graduate, you’ll gain a great overview and sufficient knowledge for any sector of informatics and computer science.”

However, the Pareto Principle applies here: you’ll probably only use 20% of what you learn − the other 80% of your efforts will likely be wasted. Our mentor Lukáš shares a similar opinion. "It’s a question of how much you’ll actually use all the subjects you’ve studied,” he says. “As a university graduate, you get to decide for yourself which area you want to pursue. A bootcamp will make that decision for you by only educating you in a highly specific area, and without the need to study excessive theory. To become a junior programmer, 4 months of intensive training is really all you need."

If you’re already sure that you want to be a programmer, then a good programming bootcamp is probably the right choice for you. Of course, both educational options require patience and commitment. "Learning to code is not a skill that you master in a few days,” Amy points out. “It takes hundreds of hours of work and study before you grasp the material. After that, you’ll have to practice everything on tasks or projects.”

"To become a junior programmer, 4 months of intensive training is really all you need."

  Comparison of two IT training institutions: programming bootcamp and university 

Motivation vs. disinterest

Whether or not you achieve your goal is entirely on you. You must be highly motivated, because no one else can turn you into an IT expert. If you compromise on determination, it might lead to trouble. The atmosphere and level of motivation are also very different in both educational environments, and our mentor Lukáš knows firsthand how low motivation can be at university. "When I started my first year at CTU in 2015, there were 1300 of us in the class. About 500 students attended lectures and tutorials,” he recalls. “When you start studying at university, you’re basically just a figure in the statistics.” Unfortunately, such statistics also point to high dropout rates. At bootcamp, on the other hand, there’s an almost equal match between those who pass the demanding admissions process and enroll in the course, and those who actually graduate. Only a minimum of students fail their final exams. In fact, the bootcamp admissions procedure is specifically designed to ensure that only those most likely to succeed in the course will be accepted in the first place. Therefore, no time is wasted.

Individual attention vs. massive lecture halls

Here we have another key difference in the approaches used by both institutions. Pavel sheds some light on the university approach. "During the first few years of university, when students often enter a field that’s completely new to them, there are roughly 100 or more students in the lecture hall, and no opportunity to properly discuss the material,” he explains. “The university instructor holds the patent on reason and imparts their knowledge in a unilateral manner. I think this model might be understandable if the internet didn't exist," he says, his tone critical. 

"Students often don't attend the optional lectures,” he goes on. “They only attend the practicals, where they practice what was discussed in the lectures that they missed and yet, somehow, they manage the material. These exercises are two hours a week at most, so it’s not a very intensive skills training. It’s worth considering whether this lecture model is essential and whether it might be more appropriate to leave the theoretical study component for home." 

Which, as Amy explains, happens to be exactly how our bootcamp works. "We give our students the materials to study beforehand. They have to go through the articles or videos and try to grasp as much information as possible. Only then do we go through the materials together and show them concrete examples,” she says. She goes on to describe how students learn theory in bootcamp. “We explain everything and answer all their questions. This ensures that the student is prepared for the lesson. We go through it all as a group and then move on to workshops where we practice the topic with specific examples,” she says. “The difficulty of these exercises will increase as we go along so that students are able to master the basics, as well as handle more challenging problems." 

The number of group participants also differs. University practicals generally take place in groups of about 20, but bootcamp is divided into small teams of 5 to 7 people. "During workshops, I can provide individual attention to each student and help them solve problems,” says Amy. “I can guide them toward the solution and they can produce the result on their own, which means the instruction is much more effective and students progress faster. It's all about making sure they understand the problem.”

Mentors vs professors

It’s not just the institutions that use different approaches, but also the staff. Lukáš is emphatic about the comparison to be made here. "This is where the biggest difference lies!” he says. “At university, you’re on your own for most things. Although lecturers give you the opportunity to consult, at the end of the day, it's mostly about self-study. On the other hand, a bootcamp mentor is always there to nudge you in the right direction. Of course, bootcamp also includes self-study, but in a more accessible and more encouraging environment,” he says. “The student knows there’s always someone to turn to. At university, mentors are often replaced by classmates who are more capable than you in a given subject, but sometimes you just can’t find that student mentor."

Pavel is similarly skeptical about the approach his university colleagues take toward students. "University staff are part educator, part academic researcher. In my experience, a significant number of instructors don't even enjoy teaching and consider it to be a necessary evil that detracts from their research activities," he reflects sadly, but also notes a few exceptions. "Staff at Education Faculties have at least undergone training in didactics, pedagogy and psychology, and have a better understanding of students’ needs and the learning process." Pavel’s disillusionment with the more traditional teaching approach is actually what led him to join our bootcamp as a mentor. "The staff here are downright passionate about teaching, helping, and moving students forward in their careers and lives,” he shares, “and that’s very close to my heart.”

Job security vs job uncertainty

The last, but arguably the most important thing to keep in mind, is employment within the industry. There's a constant growing demand for IT professionals, so you’ll almost always be able to land a job. However, you may be unpleasantly surprised to find that the things you've learned have long since become obsolete and technology has already advanced. This is especially true when it comes to a university education. 

Pavel provides some clarity from his unique perspective. "The biggest weakness of a university education is that academics are generally only motivated to improve their qualifications through the publication of scientific papers. This means they have to be highly specialized experts in their field. A university instructor expands their knowledge primarily through new findings in scientific journals, rather than the technological needs of the market,” he continues. "If someone wants to invent something the whole world can use (e.g., a new type of neural network), university experts will provide them with the necessary materials and teach them scientific research methods. But in terms of current trends and innovation, this is a completely different world from that which the labor market needs."

This creates paradoxes at universities, which Pavel explains further. "They compete to be the first to come up with something innovative for the labor market, but they don’t need to use these innovations themselves for their own operation," he says. “Many technologies should be standard at universities, especially in IT. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case because educators aren’t motivated to utilize them."

Bootcamp, on the other hand, works very closely with companies. Amy highlights some details. "Our graduates will already have acquired real experience working on corporate projects,” she says. “In one part of the course, the work is simulated. Students then gain further experience directly with the company that will employ them after they’ve successfully graduated from bootcamp." In the case of Green Fox Academy, graduates are guaranteed job placements and positions in their new field. By contrast, university graduates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree are on their own when it comes to finding work. If you’re still not sure which path is best for you, below is a helpful summary of the pros and cons of studying at bootcamp vs university.

The main plusses and minuses of both institutions are:

1) Bootcamp 

✅ Gives you a personal guide and advisor in the form of a mentor during your studies

✅ If difficulties arise, you’ll receive guidance that will help you find the solution on your own, which means you’ll retain the material better 

✅ Collaborates closely with many companies

✅ Follows the current trends and uses the latest technologies

✅ Reacts flexibly to labor market needs

✅ Great motivation for all students

➖ Trains you in one specialization only, i.e. programming (frontend, backend or full stack)

➖ Only teaches you the basics

2) University

✅ Some of your classmates may serve as future professional contacts in various fields 

✅ Offers a collegiate social life 

✅ Offers many specializations in various IT-related fields

➖ Offers very limited guidance (you may have to rely on classmates)

➖ Solutions must be presented to lecturers

➖ Lags behind current trends and uses outdated technology

➖ Ignores current labor market demands

➖ Low student motivation and a high dropout rate 


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