Bootcamp vs. CS Degree: Which One Should You Choose?

Melchor Tatlonghari

As technology advances at lightning speed, the demand for software engineers continues to rise. However, there is a debate on whether a CS degree or a bootcamp is the better option for aspiring software engineers. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two paths and help you decide which one is right for you.

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Engineering’s Levels of Abstraction
One of the key differences between bootcamps and CS degrees is the level of abstraction they teach. Bootcamps typically focus on the topmost layer of software engineering, which is the implementation of software using specific tools and frameworks. CS degrees, on the other hand, dive deep into the fundamentals of computer science, including algorithms, data structures, operating systems, and computer architecture. That in itself comes with implicit pros and cons: the time it takes to understand and deep dive into a topic is a big investment in itself that not everyone can afford. However, as bootcampers are painfully aware, big companies — especially high-paying ones — heavily invest in vetting their engineers through rigorous stages of interviewing that cannot be passed by simply knowing the basics.
CS degrees require students to take courses in algorithms, data structures, systems design, database structures, networking, architecture and everything in between. Some may find some of these concepts seemingly unnecessary to web development when starting off — asking themselves “Why do I need to learn algorithms when I’m just building a Front-End application?” While this may be true for juniors, as one becomes a Senior Engineer, knowledge of abstract concepts and theories like Big O notations is expected in the community. For example, not being aware of the implications when nesting loops with regards to time and space complexity can quickly lead to loss of credibility and being branded as those “Tenured” Senior Engineers who hold their title through longevity rather than skill. Although CS students may not see the practical applications of these concepts until later in their education, they are crucial for career growth.
Bootcampers, on the other hand, learn by doing, which allows them to see the practical applications of the tools and frameworks they are learning right away. They may think they have made the right choices for landing a job immediately and earning above-average pay compared to their non-technical friends. However, sooner or later they hit a roadblock and reach the boundaries of their education. While they may excel in web development, they may struggle to become technical leads or architects, leading them to question whether pursuing a degree would have been a better choice. It is important to note that this is not a one-size-fits-all situation; average bootcampers may face these challenges, but there are outliers who started with bootcamps and pursued all the fundamentals of software engineering to become more educated than those with degrees. It all comes down to the learning mindset — “The ability to learn is the best skill any engineer should master.”
Technologies’ Neck-Breaking Speed
As mentioned earlier, CS degree programs usually start with introductory courses in programming, algorithms, and data structures. These courses build a strong foundation that students can use throughout their education and careers. However, keeping up with how fast technology is evolving poses a challenge for universities. Even engineers themselves find it difficult to keep up with new technologies in their day-to-day jobs; so how can we expect universities to articulate and evolve their curriculum at a national level within such short periods of time? The reality is that they cannot. This disconnect between what universities teach and what is happening in the world often leaves students feeling unprepared upon graduation.
Bootcampers learn specific tools and frameworks that are currently in demand by the industry and focus intensely on them for short periods of time. This allows them to start working in the field right away. They are more accustomed to getting used to new frameworks that emerge every couple of months.
With universities struggling to keep up, bootcamps training individuals to quickly adapt, and the high cost of education — both in terms of time and money — it is understandable why more people opt for the more accessible entry point into the software engineering field.
Which One Should You Choose?
Ultimately, the decision to choose a bootcamp or a CS degree depends on your individual goals and circumstances. If you are looking for a more accessible and practical way to enter the field of software engineering, a bootcamp may be the right choice for you. However, if you are looking to build a solid foundation of computer science fundamentals and have a wider range of career options down the line, a CS degree may be a better option.
It is also worth considering that many bootcamp graduates end up pursuing a CS degree later on in their careers to deepen their understanding of computer science fundamentals and broaden their career opportunities. Similarly, many CS graduates supplement their education with bootcamps or online courses to gain practical experience with specific technologies and frameworks.
Both bootcamps and CS degrees can lead to successful careers in software engineering. The key is to choose the path that aligns with your goals and values, and to continue learning and growing throughout your career. With dedication and hard work, you can build a rewarding and fulfilling career in this exciting and constantly evolving field.