The demand for developers is at its all-time high, meaning that fast-track training programs (aka development bootcamps) are also in vogue. However, choosing a good one is crucial to optimize your learning experiences and avoid headaches.
As IT-based products become commonplace in our day-to-day activities, there has been an uptick in requests for better and faster products and more efficient development services. As a result, the app and software development market has grown to the point where the profession is becoming one of the most sought out worldwide. This growth is obviously a good thing, but it also means that to meet that increase in demand, the industry needs schools with reliable education programs that give the world a constant supply of professional developers. Luckily, this has already started happening, and the global number of app and software developers keeps growing. In fact, there are around 27 million developers worldwide, 4.3 million developers in the US alone, and over 6 million in Europe! Also, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a demand growth of 22% for app and software developers by 2029. These figures reflect the boom our industry is currently undergoing and represent an opportunity for schools to keep investing in their development training programs. Still, since the demand for development professionals is still high, there are non-college, not accredited programs, known as development bootcamps, that are popping up everywhere and seem to be aimed at bridging the supply-demand gap of professionals in our industry. Unfortunately, not all bootcamps represent good highways to becoming a developer, and many scam artists and unethical parties have taken advantage of the growing demand to build deceitful, fraudulent bootcamps.
But what exactly are these bootcamps? Are they formal schooling programs? Are they good? Bad? Who teaches them? The questions are manifold, and we’re here to try and answer most of them, so if you’re looking into entering one, you can make an informed decision and hopefully avoid wasting your money, choosing the wrong one, or worse, getting scammed. So let’s dig into it.
What are development bootcamps?
A development bootcamp is an education program designed to provide mobile and software development training in a shorter time frame than it would take getting a four-year college degree. Actually, you might say they offer the complete opposite of a bachelor’s degree since they pledge to provide the same results via a condensed, time-intensive, cost-effective, immersive program that promises to train the developers-to-be in a matter of months, weeks, or even days in some cases. And here’s where part of their popularity stems from; their cost and time-effectiveness. On average, a degree in computer science from a traditional college can cost anywhere between $60,000 and $80,000 or more. In comparison, a bootcamp course ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 and promises to deliver the same results. So what’s not to love?
Most development bootcamps, at least the good ones, leverage industry-standard frameworks and technologies to provide unparalleled learning opportunities that combine teacher-led sessions with independent and group projects and assignments. As a result, students have the chance to educate themselves in a high-impact, time-efficient way while developing robust theoretical foundations just like they would in a four-year college. In addition, most of these self-paced college-grade learning programs let students choose between part-time and full-time learning schedules. They also focus on practical learning and real-life projects that blend traditional and fundamental web development theory with current industry skills. As a result, when appropriately managed, they offer a complete, well-rounded learning experience that produces qualified app and software developers without needing a full-blown college career. So, in a nutshell, you get the equivalent of a college degree in half the time for a fraction of the price. This sounds great in theory, but what’s the truth behind these heaven-sent solutions to becoming a developer?
As with any fad, there are conflicting sides, and developer bootcamps are not the exception. For one, most development bootcamps are often taught by independent providers and not accredited higher education institutions. Yes, there are some universities and traditional schools that have started to offer computer science bootcamps, both of which are usually available online, in person, or a mix of both. Still, the vast majority of these programs are independent, non-accredited, and not regulated. As a result, some say they’re useless, that you can find the same content online for free, and that you’re better off splurging on a proper four-year degree from an official college. Others say they’re a great time-efficient, low-cost alternative to a college degree that will take you to the same place: the knowledge to land you a job as a professional developer. Either way, development bootcamps have become a polarizing subject mainly because, with their rise in popularity, there has also been a rise in scams and unethical providers who take advantage of the market’s needs. But are all development bootcamps a scam?
Are development bootcamps a scam?
The short answer is no. Of course, not all development bootcamps are a scam. But it’s important to acknowledge that some deceitful parties have set up bootcamps with the sole purpose of scamming students. No, they won’t rob you at gunpoint or clone your credit card, but they will charge you, sometimes large sums, for a course with no actual educational worth or purpose. And since these courses have become so popular and widespread, it’s becoming increasingly hard to single out the good ones among the sea of offerings.
Sadly, more students are getting scammed into paying large sums of money for vapid courses lacking real educational value. In fact, we have witnessed some of these places charging ridiculous figures for courses consisting of videos that you could otherwise find online for free. They also make unsuspecting students sign contracts with fraudulent clauses, which basically tie them to absurd payments for mediocre curriculums. Some even scout the most inexperienced students via social media ads and have pages with thousands of likes and live staged videos where students falsely talk them up, conveying a sense of trust that can fool anyone. Even worse, they present themselves as official education institutions when in fact, they’re not.
Unfortunately, the fraudulent bootcamp problem is compounded by the fact that these independent providers aren’t regulated, and most aren’t even accredited by an official college, government regulatory body, or standards entity. As a result, they have non-existent entry barriers, charge whatever figure they see fit, operate freely, and can even publish fraudulent ads with fake statistics and data with no one overseeing this should-be-illegal activity. Actually, on this phenomenon, reports have proven that most of these bootcamps use fake statistics that blow up their graduates’ success rates and salaries, claiming that after taking the course, they’ve found instant success and unparalleled riches. They openly give out this unfiltered and sometimes fake information in an attempt to draw unsuspecting students into their claws. In fact, in some cases, they proudly advertise 99% job placement rates or $100,000 salaries for their graduates without any clear information regarding how they calculate these numbers or a clear indication of what they mean.
Furthermore, they promise full refunds when students aren’t pleased with the program, and some even boast teacher qualifications when in fact, most of their instructors have no previous teaching experience. Even worse, others don’t even have teachers, making the courses entirely self-taught, which, let’s face it, isn’t worth $15,000. On this, a student from one of these courses told us:
“It was nothing more than a cloud-based course where you had to learn everything on your own. In the beginning, for the first month, they were super attentive and dedicated in order to scam you into staying. After that, you were alone. There were no teachers or instructors present, ever! No one to guide you or answer your questions. If you needed help, you had to turn to other students. I felt on my own. “
It’s important to note that we’re not saying that all independent bootcamps are scams. We can’t confidently cast such a generalization. However, the concern that these bootcamps keep popping up freely and offering deceitful programs without any control is genuine and observable. Whereas colleges have real, accredited, and regulated computer science courses and bachelor programs, these bootcamps offer mediocre curriculums. They also promise prospective developers the chance of a lifetime for a “small” investment. But in the end, they deliver nothing more than basic training that doesn’t amount to more than rudimentary skills and an empty bank account, both of which are worthless for becoming a proper developer.
Still, if you want to become a developer and can’t–or don’t want to–invest $60,000 on a college computer science degree, there are a few trustworthy bootcamps that can teach you the skills and give you the knowledge you need to become a pro developer. First, however, you need to understand how to identify the fraudulent bootcamps and learn how to differentiate them from the good ones so you can make the right call regarding your education. It’s not easy; even the most corrupt development bootcamps have successful graduates. The fundamental thing here is learning how to discern whether a program is worthy or problematic.
But how can you tell them apart? These are our tips and questions to ask yourself to help you recognize a fraudulent bootcamp and sort out the good ones from the scams.
How do they advertise?
We know that social media has become a legitimate medium for businesses to advertise and attract customers, and in most cases, these Facebook or Instagram ads are legitimate. Actually, nowadays, a considerable chunk of customer traffic for modern businesses comes from social media ads. However, we’ve observed that some fraudulent bootcamps use social media ads plastered with misleading information to recruit innocent prospects. These ads contain statistics and testimonies with no apparent source or integrity but are enticing enough to attract anyone to their page or site. Once there, their modus operandi basically consists of seducing potential students with promises of becoming expert developers in months for a small price, with the help of qualified teachers and Silicon Valley standards. They also advertise that they help students find high-paying jobs after graduating when in fact, all they do is simulate job interviews between students, with no involvement whatsoever of trainers or teachers.
Furthermore, most of them offer free online webinars, send aggressive email blasts, and provide considerable but suspicious discounts in an attempt to convince undecided students to enroll. And, if that weren’t enough, they also boast Facebook pages with staged live videos where newbie students babble about how amazing the bootcamp is and how lucky they are to be a member.
So, ask yourself, does a legitimate business (yes, these bootcamps are for-profit businesses) need to advertise falsely, trick students into believing those ads, and then sweet talk them into enrolling under false pretenses? Granted, social media ads and marketing campaigns are a legitimate way of gaining visibility and attracting target audiences. But you don’t see official colleges blowing up their ads with fake figures and suspicious testimonies or offering big discounts on their computer sciences degree. So, when hunting for a legitimate bootcamp, please pay close attention to where and how you found them, how they’re contacting you, and how they’re advertising.
Are their numbers genuine?
It is ubiquitous for not-so-honest bootcamps to gloat about how many students graduate from their program, the great jobs they land upon graduating, and the heaps of cash they earn. These figures are a prominent part of their modus operandi and make up most, if not all, of their marketing material. However, the problem here isn’t the figures; after all, as long as you have it flaunt it. The problem is that, since they’re unregulated, all development bootcamps self-report their data and can use it freely without any audits from a third party or government entity. So what’s stopping them from lying? Nothing. In fact, many of these providers boast 99% successful placement rates when in reality, the actual numbers aren’t even close. On this matter, a 2015 study proved that, on average, only 75% of US bootcamp students landed employment after graduation. What’s more, a year later, that number dropped to 66%. So, what are they hiding? Why lie? Because they are not official education entities, they are for-profit businesses. As such, most of them (at least the fraudulent ones) don’t shy away from marketing ploys to recruit as many students as possible, whatever it takes. Of course, countless graduates actually complete these courses and secure great jobs. But when the figures seem too good to be true, they usually are.
So, when bootcamp hunting, if you stumble upon one of those “99% placement” ads, make sure you always do some research and dig a little deeper. You can ask them to provide further information about where that data comes from and gauge their reaction to identify if they have something to hide. Additionally, pay close attention to any assurances of graduates earning ridiculously high salaries, which is typically not true. Instead, reach out to them and ask them exactly how many graduates are working in the development field and how many others have dropped out so you can have an accurate idea of the actual percentage of the program’s placement success rates. If they refuse to give you said information or beat around the bush, that’s your red flag.
Be wary of suspicious contracts
Some of these bootcamps make their students sign ambiguous contracts before enrolling. These contracts often leverage the figure of an Income Share Agreement (ISA), which is a legitimate way of paying tuition for people who don’t want to compromise on a student loan. However, these bootcamps use it to trick students into inadvertently signing off a chunk of their future paychecks for a fixed timeframe. For example, we’ve heard of a particular Bootcamp that charges students 17% of their monthly salary for 42 months for a program consisting of free videos and self-taught courses void of any educational value.
So, say you land a job that pays $3,000 a month. In that case, you’ll be stuck paying $510 for 42 months. That’s a whopping $21,420 for a few month-long online-only learning experience! Furthermore, these contracts usually have a fine print with deceitful terms that tie students to unfair payment schemes and overcharging, leading students to experience unnecessary financial strain and basically throw their money down the drain.
On the contrary, an honest Bootcamp will never design deceitful contracts for its students. They usually use standard student loans to establish payment agreements and are often very upfront about how they will charge you, for what, when, and how much. So, it’s crucial you always read the fine print when entering a payment agreement with any development Bootcamp. Don’t sign ISAs or anything that you don’t understand or makes you uncomfortable, and, if possible, consult with a lawyer or someone that can help you ensure you’re not being bamboozled.
Research real student experiences and reviews
If you were to purchase, say, a pair of headphones, you’d probably do some research first. You’d look up reviews and user experiences to make an informed decision and avoid wasting your money. Well, choosing a development bootcamp shouldn’t be any different. One of the best ways to learn the truth, whether good or bad, about a development bootcamp is to go to the source: real experiences and alums reviews. For this, you can go to legitimate bootcamp rating sites such as Course Report or SwitchUp and see if you can find genuine, relevant reviews and real-life info about your provider. You can also ask the bootcamp directly to give you a list of some of their previous graduates (with their consent). Then, you can try to contact them and inquire about their experience, current salaries, job title, and other relevant information they’re willing to give. Again, if the bootcamp refuses to help, that’s a big red flag. Or, you can simply perform a LinkedIn search to find graduates or previous students and ask them about their experience with the program.
Whichever way you go, it’s always wise to seek real-life experiences. Talk to current and previous students and graduates to gauge if the course actually provided value to their professions. Also, look for reviews and ratings online, as this is one of the most foolproof ways of ensuring you’re choosing a top development bootcamp and not a scam.
Beware of too-good-to-be-true offerings
Any development bootcamp that promises you a valid diploma, six-figure salaries, jobs at Apple or Google, Silicon Valley standards, or that you will become a professional developer after a nine-month program is not only overselling the bootcamp learning experience but is also being openly deceitful. First of all, since these providers aren’t accredited, they can’t hand out diplomas, and even when they do, those diplomas have no legal value. Second, no development bootcamp has officially been given the seal of having Silicon Valley standards. Third, even if a bootcamp is really intensive, they can’t promise you will master every technology and every programming language after the course, especially when it’s an online, self-taught program that lasts a few months. Not even Computer Science graduates master everything related to software development, so what makes these bootcamps think their graduates will? And lastly, if a bootcamp promises to land you a six-figure job at Apple, be confident that they’re a scam. Sure, some graduates may land dream jobs with outstanding salaries, but those cases are sporadic. The truth is that the chances are very high that you’re not getting immediately hired by Google and becoming instantly rich.
But how do these promises of a fancy, movie-star-like life come to fruition? Typically, the first person to contact you is some sort of recruiter whose primary job is to get as many people as possible to sign up. These people are paid on commission, meaning they have quotas to hit, so they have to be very persuasive, hence the attractive, hard-to-refuse promises. These to-good-to-be-true promises have one goal: to pressure you to sign up for classes that always “start soon” or “are almost full” so “you don’t want to miss out.” If you feel this pressure to join, or if the recruiter is too pushy, be careful; you’re likely going to become a metric.
On the contrary, an honest development bootcamp or even an accredited institution will never try to get you to enroll under false pretenses. They will not act as salespeople and will not promise you the world in an attempt to get your money.
Remember, no matter what career you choose or where you study, finding a job is highly dependent on your skills and your knowledge of the field you studied. It is not a result of you enrolling in a certain bootcamp or finishing a specific program. Furthermore, no one can honestly guarantee you’ll earn a certain amount of money or land a particular job after completing an educational program; not even Harvard or other Ivy League schools dare make such promises. On the contrary, there’s a possibility some companies, depending on their policies, won’t even look at your resume because you graduated from a development bootcamp.
So, always evaluate the offerings of the bootcamp you’re considering. Be objective and assess if their promises are a smoke screen for mediocre courses. Be wary of providers who promise six-figure jobs at Apple or Google, instant placement after graduation, and Silicon Valley standards. And always remember that the only failsafe that can make you a real professional and prepare you for the development job market is to study and practice coding and building, no matter where you graduate. The job you land and the salary you earn are only guaranteed by your experience, knowledge, and perseverance, nothing else.
So, what are some trustworthy development bootcamps?
Despite what you may be thinking after getting this far into this article, there are good development bootcamps out there. They’re hard to find, but these are some of the most prominent ones:
None of the bootcamps listed above make false claims regarding their graduates’ job placements, don’t lie about salaries, and offer honest, straightforward payment plans. Some even have in-person classes with qualified instructors and teacher-to-student ratios of no more than 1:10.
Additionally, we suggest you look into online courses from official academic institutions or Ivy League schools which are obviously not bootcamps but offer cost-friendly, or even free, programs in subjects such as secure coding, programming languages, custom software development, computer science, and more. Here are some of the best ones:
- Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python from Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Principles of Secure Coding from the University of California
- Internet History, Technology, and Security from the University of Michigan
- CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science from Harvard University
Similarly, you can check the App Store or Google Play and look for apps that offer free coding courses, such as Codecademy Go or CodeGym. They may not be as hour-intensive as a bootcamp course, but they are free or low cost and give you a good starting point to help you determine if you need, or want, to enroll in a more intensive program. Also, there’s YouTube, where you have access to a sea of free content that can come in handy and is often created by experienced developers that are good at teaching and often even have their own free mini-courses.
Just by checking out all those resources we’ve listed above and enrolling in a few of those courses, you already have more than enough valuable content to start your journey as a developer. Yes, none of them will land you a diploma or make you a professional developer, but neither will a fraudulent bootcamp, and let’s be honest, you’re better off spending $10, or nothing, on short but educationally relevant videos and courses than $20,000 or more on a ruse.
By now, you’re probably thinking that finding a suitable development bootcamp feels like finding a needle in a haystack. And honestly, it can be. But we’re not saying they don’t exist. And we certainly don’t want to scare you into thinking you’re bound to get scammed or that fraudulent bootcamp owners are lurking around the corner waiting to rob you blind. What we want is for you to do your research before applying to any bootcamp. Look for reviews, talk to alums, and go online and look for experiences, complaints, or anything that can be a red flag. Like any service in a competitive industry, there is bound to be a deluge of options and a considerable dispersion in both the quality and reliability between programs. The key here is to be critical and learn how to navigate the sea of scams to find the hidden jewels.
Hopefully, we’ve managed to help guide you in your quest for choosing a promising development bootcamp. We strive to keep our industry honest and brimming with wholesome academic programs that produce exemplary developers so we can keep delivering the durable, innovative products the world loves. Still, if you feel on the fence about a program or have any further questions we failed to answer in this article, don’t hesitate to contact us!