University, Bootcamp or Self-Taught: What tech education path to choose?

Written by Emilie Brunet on June 19, 2023

I’ve been working for Journey Education, the parent organization for the Concordia Bootcamps brand, for two and a half years. When I tell people that I work for a Tech Education company, I often find myself facing one of two oppositional questions.

People either ask, “Why do a bootcamp? Can’t people just learn all of that online?” or “Can you really learn everything they teach in a 3 year Bachelor of Software Engineering degree in a 12-week bootcamp?

The juxtaposition of the two questions is not lost on me, but I get it. So, the question remains, do you need 3 years of university education to land a tech job, can you just teach it to yourself online or is a bootcamp the way to go?

Leaving behind the university degree

When faced with the second question, I usually explain how while a university degree may teach you the “why” of computer science and the complexity of the systems behind it, you don’t actually need that to start a career in Web Development or Data Science. Just like how you don’t need a degree in Mechanical Engineering to be a Mechanic or a degree in Chemistry to be baker or a Linguistics degree to learn a language.

Think of university as… well, university, and a coding bootcamp like trade school. We give you the technical and practical skills you need to get a career in tech without the essays, theses and lectures about “why”. We’re more focused on the “how.”

Just like how you don’t need a degree in Mechanical Engineering to be a Mechanic or a degree in Chemistry to be baker or a Linguistics degree to learn a language.

That’s not to say our courses aren’t intense. In fact, they are very intense. Our online full-time courses are 60 days of class, 7 hours per day with 15-20 hours of work outside of class. Which means you are learning about 600-660 hours of material over the course of 12 weeks. (We even tell our students when they start, to say goodbye to their friends and family for the next 3 months).

I’m also not over here telling you not to go to university, it’s just different. A huge portion of our student base are people who have Computer Engineering, Software Engineering and Computer Science degrees. In the same way that someone can’t walk out of university with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and expect to get a job as a Mechanic, your Computer Engineering degree won’t teach how to work in the industry, but a 12-week career-focused online bootcamp will.

Can’t you just become a self-taught web developer online?

Look, if I’m being totally honest, you kinda can. But the real question is, are you going to? Before working in the tech education industry, I worked for about 10 years off and on in the fitness industry. I was a personal trainer and yoga teacher, and I worked the front desk of multiple gyms. Why is this relevant you might ask? Because much like web development and data science, there exists a plethora of information online on fitness and training. There are countless apps to track your steps and your exercises. There are endless YouTube videos, Instagram profiles and TikTok reels on the best ways to increase your cardiovascular health, get six-pack abs, strengthen your shoulders, lift more, etc. And yet there is absolutely no shortage of people signing up for personal training and group fitness classes. Why would they do that when they can just learn it on their own through online resources?

The power of accountability

A personal trainer friend of mine once told me that 80% of his clients have continued to see him over the years because if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t work out at all. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much motivation we have to change our lives, if we don’t have someone backing us up, cheering us on or holding us accountable to our goals, we won’t do it. That doesn’t mean you don’t have willpower or perseverance (because at the end of the day, if you don’t have those, you won’t complete our bootcamp either), it just means that you need someone who is going to hold you to your word.

When you learn online, who’s going to know that you haven’t completed your lesson that day? Who’s going to know that you haven’t watched the lecture you were supposed to watch? Our bootcamp holds you accountable to completing your workshops, and showing up to class. We want to see you through to the finish line and we’ll hold you accountable to that.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much motivation we have to change our lives, if we don’t have someone backing us up, cheering us on or holding us accountable to our goals, we won’t do it.

And honestly, if you’re the type of person who says, “I’m just going to learn this online” and then you sit down and learn it and get it done, then maybe our bootcamp isn’t for you. But if you’re the type of person who says, “I’m going to learn this online” and then you sit down and try to learn it but then get distracted and disinterested and then it’s 3 months later and you realized that you still haven’t finished the Introduction to Python course on Datacamp, then maybe what you actually need is accountability and structure.

Misery loves company er… I mean… Community is key.

A bootcamp is intense. The name implies it. It exists to kick your ass. And sometimes, when your ass is getting kicked, it’s really nice to look around and see other people getting their asses kicked and you can all just virtually hold each other’s hands and cry about how much your ass is being kicked. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

But in all seriousness, community genuinely makes a difference in learning. When the work feels difficult, when you’re not sure what to do next, when you’re feeling demotivated or frustrated, being able to lean on a community of people going through the same toughness as you, can be re-energizing, give you a place to vent or simply help you see and solve a problem from a different point of view.

Outside of getting you through the bootcamp, learning within a community is the first step in building your network to help you get hired after you finish. We’ve had students get hired at companies and then refer other people in their learning community who end up getting hired as well.

Career support in a tough market.

Most online bootcamps are designed to get you hired after you complete them. While there’s an abundance of online resources on how to get hired, being a part of a bootcamp gives you access to networks — which is key in getting hired. Career coaches give you personalized support on your CVs and your Linked In. In the same way that having teachers hold you accountable through the bootcamp, career coaches hold you accountable during the hiring process. Some career-focused bootcamps, like Concordia Bootcamps, have employer partnership events for graduates only, so they get exclusive access to networking opportunities with major companies.

With the hiring market flipping back in favour of the employers, it’s hard to get hired in tech right now and career support is an invaluable resource that you don’t get from completing a university degree or teaching yourself online.

So what does this all mean?

Yes, you can go to university and spend 3-4 years learning computer engineering but you might walk out and still need to jump into a web development or data science bootcamp. Yes, you can try to learn it online, and hell, why don’t you start by trying that way? You might realize that’s all you need and we’re not here to convince you otherwise. But if you’ve tried online learning a few times and always end up frustrated and disappointed that you haven’t followed through, it might be because you’re lacking the accountability and community that a structured 12-week bootcamp can provide you.

Still not sure if it’s the right choice for you? No stress. These things take time and it’s a big decision. You can always book a Discovery Call with our awesome Program Manager, Alaa who can help you figure out what the best choice is for you.

About the author

Hey, I'm Emilie 👋🏼

I'm the People & Culture Manager at Journey Education. I have always had a passion for writing, organization and finding creative solutions. I aim to be personable, empathetic and compassionate and believe that kindness can go along way in both business and life.

Having worked and organized with anti-capitalist, feminist and queer organizations, I strongly believe that EVERYONE deserves, not just a living wage, but a thriving wage and that it should be the priority of every business to create an inclusive, caring and diverse work environment that doesn't just ensures the work happens, but allows people to be people while the work is happening!

My approach to everything I do reflects my training in trauma-informed practices, active listening and harm reduction as well as my interest in understand the way people work, behave and exist as their full human self. I want to create safer spaces for people to explore, create and excel in a supportive environment - whether that's in life or at work.