Should you enroll in a Computer Science degree program or an intensive coding program like The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin? We caught up with instructor Eric Scott to find out the differences between college and a coding boot camp, the programming skills taught at The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin, and real-world jobs graduates can qualify for. Plus, Eric shares his 6 favorite free resources for those considering making a career change into tech!
How did you get started in software development?
I got into computers because I wanted to feel like a wizard, and honestly, I still do! I first started learning software development in junior high because I loved computers and I wanted to program as an excuse to be on the computer more. My dad worked for Intel, so computers were always around when I was growing up. The idea of being able to create something on my own with a computer was appealing to me! When I started, I wasn't very good at it, but I kept working on it. I would go through books like C For Dummies, but when I tried doing stuff on my own, I wasn't very good. In college, I received a computer science degree from Texas A&M where I learned to program a bit more. My college program covered the fundamentals of how computers work, but not much programming and how to actually make stuff. It wasn't until I started working in the field that I actually learned how to program and make things on my own.
What inspired you to start teaching programming?
Throughout my career, I was the person at a company who the junior developers would come to and ask questions, so it felt like a natural transition point for me to go into teaching. I had some friends that were going through coding boot camps and I would help them out sometimes. I had been looking at programs that taught high schoolers when The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin reached out to me to see if I would be interested in teaching. After I taught one part-time cohort, they asked if I wanted to come on as a full-time instructor and I went for it!
There are a lot of boot camps out there these days — what stood out to you about The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin in particular?
One thing that stood out for me was the fact that UT Austin was confident enough in the coding boot camp program to put their name on it. There are tons of coding boot camps out there and they might have a great curriculum, but many of them are young and relatively unknown organizations versus a boot camp (like The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin, that is) affiliated with a state university.
Once I began teaching, I noticed right away that UT Austin does a good job of keeping the curriculum up-to-date. It's not just me trying to maintain the curriculum on top of teaching it. Trilogy has a full curriculum team that watches trends, incorporates feedback from the instructors, and creates new iterations, which means that I can focus on teaching. The curriculum team stays on top of trends, industry standards, and analyzing the market while constantly making adjustments, and this makes my job much easier.
What are the differences between earning a computer science degree and attending a coding boot camp?
With a computer science degree, you learn more of the process from electrons all the way to text editors, but boot camps are more interested in teaching what the industry is actually using. It's sort of like knowing the difference between the physics behind why a frisbee works and being able to actually throw a frisbee well. Knowing the physics means you can predict exactly where the frisbee will go given some statistical information, but I also just need to know how to throw a frisbee because we're playing disc golf, not making frisbees!
It’s also a bit like the difference between electrical engineers and electricians. Electrical engineers know what's going on behind the wall. Electricians know a decent amount of what’s happening behind the wall, too, and that knowledge may enhance what they're doing and give them an appreciation for it, but most of the time electricians are working with pieces that already exist and building things with them. A coding boot camp is more like an electrician’s application of the craft than an electrical engineer’s scientific approach.
When you're comparing a coding boot camp to a four-year degree, the commitment that you're making, timewise and monetarily, is substantially smaller with a boot camp. A boot camp is going to be a lot more focused and intense, for sure. It's probably the most intense educational experience you'll ever have.
What is your personal teaching style?
I've been compared to Bob Ross before, which I take as a compliment! The analogy I like to use here is that I am kind of like a gym teacher. You have to do the work. You won't see results until you're doing it, practicing it, working with it. I'll be there to hold the bar, correct your form, and to demonstrate how to do it, but ultimately what you're looking to do is to be able to do the work yourself. You want to lift the weights — make the applications. No matter how much I teach you or show you or demonstrate for you, until you actually do it yourself, you're not going to see the results you want.
I want students to learn the skills so that they can do it themselves. At the end of the boot camp, you should be equipped to keep up with the industry’s new technologies and educate yourself without me.
What does The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin curriculum cover?
The course is divided up into thirds, punctuated by projects at the end of each 4-week section:
In section 1, we talk about working with the browser and designing what the user sees. Basically, being able to understand the end-users' intents and writing those intentions in code to communicate with the back end or working with existing back ends and APIs.
The first project is a group project of 3-4 people. Students have a week to work on it. On the assessment-side, our projects are about the technology we’re teaching, but we leave what students are making for them to decide.
The second project is also a group project. Essentially, students prove that they can do full stack development. They’re making the front end, what the user sees, and the back end, what the user is communicating with to make all of the front end happen.
In the third section, we go through improvements, alternatives, embellishments, and things like that. For example, MySQL has many younger alternatives nowadays, so we cover MongoDB in this section. Students also learn about progressive web apps! They're a great way to put an app on a phone that isn't going through an app store or to give people web application functionality even without an internet connection. We also teach React in the third section. Students learn how to join existing projects that use React and the newest parts of React, so they’re up-to-date and can start using them as a new React developer!
For the third project, students individually create whatever they want.
Is there an ideal student for The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin?
We don't require that students know any programming before their first class — we assume that they don't! If you have some familiarity with the command line or tried some of it on your own before that's awesome! That just helps you know that this is what you want to do.
The ideal student is both hardworking and curious. They'll want to know how things work, and how to move beyond where they are. They're exploring things on their own, and they ask questions. Plus, they're not afraid of being wrong. In an educational environment, it's completely okay to be wrong! And it's okay if your background doesn't have a lot of computers, or programming, or web development. Ideally, students should try coding on their own first to make sure this is a good fit because it sucks to get to week two and realize you absolutely hate this!
How many hours per week do you expect students to commit to the boot camp?
Going to this boot camp is basically a full-time job. It's an intense program, and we communicate these expectations at the very beginning. The part-time program is about twice as long as the full-time, so you’ll spend about 12 hours in class per week and about 10-12 hours outside of class working on your own. For the full-time program, you are in class from 10a.m. – 2:30 p.m. with a half-hour lunch and a half-hour of office hours before and after class. If you want to be successful in the course, we recommend a minimum of 20 hours outside of class on top of that. Many students who have high success put in even more than that.
Tell us your favorite student success story!
I've taught a wide variety of students, including people that haven't had much experience with computers, who all come out of this program as web developers! I've also taught people who have been programmers for years, but have never done web development before. Those students get something completely different out of the course than someone who just started. It's not about where you started; it's about how much you've grown and the direction you're going.
One of my favorite student success stories is a cashier who was working at a grocery store and had no technical background. This person struggled throughout the entire boot camp and didn't feel like they had a "natural feel" for development, but after graduating, they landed a job as a developer working for a small retailer! All it took was their dedication and curiosity to make the career change.
How do instructors at The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin handle a student who is struggling with the course?
We don't do written tests or quizzes. It's all homework- and project-based. Life happens and 12–24 weeks is not a lot of time. Inevitably, during that time, something happens in just about every cohort. The student success manager, Sean, is there for UT Austin Boot Camp students, especially when events outside of a student’s control impact their academics. Whether you’re a part-time student that lost their job or a full-time student that realizes they need to get a job, the student success manager will talk you through what you need and how to get you back on track.
Academically, we're around for office hours before and after class, plus we offer tutoring, which is included in the program. At different times in the course, the TAs will lead workshops where students can come in and practice. We try to provide ample opportunity for students who are feeling behind or stuck to easily keep moving forward. Time is always a factor. You might not end up where you thought you would be by the end of the course, but the good news is you never have to stop there! You can always keep going and keep learning.
Also we won't kick you out of the course if you're not doing as well academically. You'll still get access to all of the recorded lectures online, the class repo with the exercises and the solutions, and the materials. A student of mine found that they weren’t able to fully commit to the course, and using all the materials and recorded lectures, they essentially did the entire course over again by themselves. About a year later, they got a web development job! After the course ends, you don’t get the instructional staff interaction, but you still have access to all of the course materials, the people you met during the course, and all of the lectures. Even if a major life event comes up during the course, or you didn't do as well as you wanted to, you can still get a lot out of the course and even go back to the beginning if you want to.
What types of job roles are graduates of The Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin prepared to fill?
It depends on your background, and there’s no replacement for work experience. Some students take the boot camp straight out of high school, some are college-aged, and some are switching industries. I've had students who were already employed and took our part-time course to upskill and get a better role within their company. We meet all different kinds of people throughout this course.
For students with no technical background, they’ll be ready for junior developer positions. Also students should keep in mind that it might not be application-based projects that they’ll be working on even though that's what we focus on in the boot camp. Their role may be more of a DevOps-type role working with cloud engineers. We try to give students a comprehensive picture of all web development positions so that they’re not stuck only looking for junior developer roles. Graduates of the boot camp should also look at back end roles, cloud services, and DevOps. Most of my students land jobs as full stack developers and front end developers in a junior capacity if they had no previous experience.
Senior developer roles will probably be beyond the depth of most graduates, but that's not to say that it can't happen! I've had a few students who have made that jump into senior roles, but usually those graduates had switched from an adjacent role that also involved programming. I've also had students that have gone on to work for big companies like Facebook, Charles Schwab, and Under Armour.
What are your favorite free resources that you recommend for complete coding beginners?
There are a lot of excellent free and paid resources out there. One of the things that we teach you in the boot camp is how to look at these free resources and understand which ones you should be spending your time on and how you should be using them. One of the benefits of being in the industry for a while is that you kind of develop your own network. For a lot of our students, that network actually starts within the cohort! Chances are you'll make friends with your cohort and that will grow when you get into the industry.
For free resources, I recommend:
Scotch.io for its articles and tutorials.
Freecodecamp.org for its tutorials, articles, documentation, and projects.
Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) has a lot of great front end information.
React tutorials, which you can find in a lot of different places for free.
A List Apart for its design resources.
Web Dev Subreddit because it's not half bad for finding information!
I recommend checking out meetups, too. Meetups are still happening online for free or a small fee! Search a specific technology to narrow it down. I recommend:
Is this the right time for folks to change careers into tech? What’s your best advice for career changers right now?
Whenever someone says that a career is recession-proof, I wait for the other shoe to drop. That's tempting fate. I remember the dot-com bubble, so I'm never going to call anything recession-proof. But I will say that they don't seem to be making less internet! Our lives and our infrastructure is only depending more and more on online services and connected devices communicating back and forth with each other. I don't see that role diminishing. Learning and making a career change feels uncomfortable, there's no way around that. But having learned feels pretty cool!
As a career target, there's definitely more roles and opportunities in tech than there are people to fill those roles. The opportunity is there. Making a career change is completely doable with hard work and dedication, but try it out first using those free resources! It's not just the capability, you have to want to do it. If you decide to pivot into tech, don't compare yourself to people who are doing the same thing. Instead, compare yourself to where you were, so you can see how you've grown and developed as a programmer and as a person. Now is a great time to do it! You can do it. It's just going to be hard work and time.
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