Are you ready to discover your college program?
So you want a high-paying tech job, and you're deciding between a computer science degree and a coding bootcamp. The real question is: What do hiring managers want?
If you are interested in becoming a web developer or a software engineer, there are a few paths you can take. Two of the most popular paths are getting a degree in computer science or earning a coding bootcamp certificate.
Comparing these two options isn't really comparing apples to apples.
A bachelor's degree in computer science takes about four years to complete. The curriculum is focused on providing students with foundational, theoretical knowledge of computation and problem-solving that will prepare them for a variety of careers.
What Are the Most In-Demand Careers for Computer Science Majors?
- Software applications developer
- Computer systems analyst
- Systems software developer
- Web developer
- Network systems administrator
- Database administrator
- Information security analyst
A certificate for a coding bootcamp typically takes between 8-16 weeks of full-time learning. Bootcamps are practical, project-oriented, and laser-focused on preparing students for job readiness in very specific roles.
Who Hires Bootcamp Graduates?
Bootcampers work at exciting companies all over the world, including some of the biggest tech companies, like:
Featured Online Coding Bootcamp Programs
Both options set graduates up for entry-level jobs as web developers or software engineers.
Deciding which option is right for you will depend on your stage of life, how much time and money you want to invest, and what your long-term career goals are.
If getting a job right out of the gate is what you really want, you probably also want to know: Who are hiring managers most interested in?
We got dozens of responses from managers about what it's like to work with bootcamp graduates vs. computer science graduates. Here's what hiring managers really think.
Computer Science Majors
"Computer science graduates have a strong grasp of software fundamentals like algorithms and data structures. Understanding how to use these and when they are applicable is very important for growing into a senior engineer role. On average, computer science graduates make stronger software engineers who grow further in their careers."
"At my company, I'm perfectly fine hiring people without degrees — if you clearly know what you're doing. That said, my company is significantly less likely to interview you or offer you a great starting salary if you don't have a four-year degree.
"You can't compare what you'll learn at a coding bootcamp to the fundamentals of computer science that you will learn in a college program."
— Shaun Poore, ShaunPoore.com
"A computer science degree will open a lot of doors. It's a common path into a development career and gives you great knowledge. The more complex your problems are, the more you're going to rely on the knowledge a degree gives you. You can gain some great skills from a bootcamp, but a degree will help you understand the theory and maths behind the code."
"Coding bootcamps teach you how to code in the real world, but they don't make you an engineer. Being a software engineer requires more than writing code: It requires calculus, linear algebra, operating systems, compilers, computer systems, and architecture — all of which you learn in a computer science degree. Those subjects are critical to understanding how software actually works and interacts with other domains."
— Gerrid Smith, CMO, Joy Organics
Featured Online Bachelor's
"I have hired three developers without formal degrees based on their skills and the certifications they have received. Coding bootcamp actually gives you more relevant and useful tools for a job than a computer science degree. While the degree sets you up with a solid foundation, a bootcamp teaches you specific skills that you can use immediately in a job.
"Both have merit, but from an employment perspective, bootcamps provide more concrete evidence of a candidates' skill than a degree does."
"One of the biggest reasons for the gap in qualified developers and tech talent overall is that traditional education institutions have been slow to adapt. Often, the practices and training students learn in college aren't job-relevant, and they have to be re-taught on the job.
"People coming out of bootcamps and apprenticeship programs are often more capable than their traditionally-educated peers — but they are not treated that way."
"We've hired some truly amazing software engineers out of bootcamps. Folks who have previous experience and then choose to learn software engineering often have other skills from previous careers that translate extremely well: managing skills, people skills, leadership, etc.
"Bootcamp grads are more diverse in all metrics, including gender, race, and socioeconomic status. A diversity of life experiences is crucial for any workplace, but especially for tech, which is lagging behind.
"At the same time, bootcamps are still a bit of an unknown quantity. As a hiring manager, I don't know enough about different bootcamps offhand to know which have a solid curriculum and which are less rigorous. It makes me wary of hiring someone straight out of a bootcamp versus someone who has held at least one job in the field."
"Many employers are uneasy about hiring bootcamp graduates; while bootcampers are able to get through the interview process, they often have trouble hitting the ground running and being productive. Bootcamps, especially the short-term ones, have a bad reputation for not instilling the fundamental programming knowledge and problem-solving skills needed to work independently.
"You can still parlay a bootcamp into a job, but it is harder now. The interview process is far more intense than it was ten years ago, especially for the better jobs out there."
Featured Online Bootcamps
Either Way, Your Portfolio Really Matters
"Degrees and bootcamps don't hurt, by any means. But they don't matter half as much as your experience. When I'm hiring, I look at the real work the candidate has done — so I'd recommend contributing to open-source software. Skill comes from practice, and skill is what makes you marketable. Your portfolio is really what counts."
"At the end of the day, your portfolio or GitHub profile will mean more to a hiring manager. A person with a degree but no project work is going to look far less qualified than a bootcamp graduate with an excellent portfolio."
Computer Science Degrees vs. Coding Bootcamps
Length of Schooling
- Immersive bootcamps typically take between 2-6 months.
- The average length of a bootcamp is 17.3 weeks.
Disciplined career-changers who want to fast-track their path into a new job. Bootcamp students must be able to set aside 20-40+ hours per week for intensive, self-directed study.
Computer Science Degree
- A bachelor's degree in computer science typically takes four years.
- A master's degree typically takes an additional two years.
New high school graduates looking to explore career opportunities, make connections, and build broad foundational knowledge of computation.
Bootcamps have a straight-forward goal: to turn you into a job-ready developer or software engineer.
Curricula vary, but most bootcamps will teach you:
- Algorithms and data structures
- Libraries and frameworks like React and Express
Bootcamps take a hands-on, project-based approach to learning.
A TripleByte analysis found that bootcamp grads match or beat college grads on practical skills.
Self-directed learners who can handle short-term, intensive, immersive learning.
Computer Science Degree
Computer science programs provide broad exposure to computer theory, systems, and applications.
Students will graduate with deep, foundational understanding of:
- Advanced mathematics
- Data structures
- Data management
Computer science programs tend to focus on the interplay between theory and practice.
A TripleByte analysis found that computer science grads match or beat bootcamp grads on deep knowledge.
Traditional learners who want a college experience.
- Coding bootcamp tuition ranges from $3,500-$30,000.
- The average cost of a bootcamp is $14,142.
- In 2020, 33% of bootcampers were self-financed, and 23% used external loans to pay for their training.
- Some bootcamps let you pay back loans with a portion of your salary once you get a job. Many don't require payment until you get a job.
People who want to save money in the long run and have a very clear idea of what they want to do.
People with access to income share agreements or deferred tuition options through their chosen program.
Computer Science Degree
- The average cost for four years of tuition, books, and supplies (not including room and board) at a public, in-state university comes to $43,676.
- The average cost for four years of tuition, books, and supplies (not including room and board) at a private university comes to $154,032.
- Online computer science degrees can be cheaper than traditional degrees, ranging from $15,000-$80,000.
Students who want a college degree and plan to get a job in tech.
Note: While the price of college tuition has soared in recent years, high tech salaries can make up for the expense of schooling. The average US tech worker salary hit $97,859 in 2020.
The average salary for bootcamp graduates is $69,079.
Average salary for bootcamp graduates is around $120,000 within five years of bootcamp.
People who want to target specific careers in specific fields. The top roles for bootcamp graduates are:
- Software developer
- Jr. web developer
- Front-end web developer
- Back-end web developer
- Full-stack web developer
- Software engineer
- Data analyst
- UX/UI designer
Computer Science Degree
The value of a computer science degree is very high in the current market. In fact, 48.9% of employers who responded to a 2021 NACE survey said they plan to hire new computer science graduates.
The average salary for computer science graduates jumped by 7.1% between 2021, to $72,173.
Median mid-career salary is $123,400 and projected to rise.
People who want access to careers in a various exciting fields, including but not limited to:
Since they hit the scene in the mid 2000s, bootcamps have fought an upward battle to establish their graduates as strong candidates for junior developer positions.
But these days, you simply don't need a four-year degree for many tech jobs. Bootcamp graduates are rapidly filling the growing need for software developers.
According to an Indeed Survey,
- 72% of employers think bootcamp graduates are just as prepared for their jobs as candidates with computer science degrees.
- 99% of employers who have hired a bootcamp graduate say they would do so again.
- At the same time, 98% of employers would like to see more regulation of coding bootcamps.
Someone who already has a resume and is changing careers.
Computer Science Degree
Even with the shifting trends toward bootcamps and programming certificates, a four-year degree in computer science continues to be highly valued and, in many cases, preferred.
- Computer science is among the top 10 in-demand majors.
- Historically, the majority of computer science majors have at least one job offer before they even graduate.
But that preference will definitely favor computer science graduates who have solid coding skills, soft skills, and practical experience over those who don't.
- 98% of HR leaders say soft skills are important in tech hires.
- 79% of employers want graduates to have a portfolio project that demonstrates acquired knowledge and skills.
Someone who wants to do hard algorithmic or low-level programming (as in, closer to machine language) and pursue senior leadership positions.
Hiring managers think computer science graduates:
- Are often the safest bet because they come from accredited programs with defined curricula.
- Are more likely to have the foundational knowledge required to be true engineers.
- Have the deep computational understanding necessary for more senior positions.
- Usually have more theoretical than hands-on experience, which means they have to learn a lot of new things on the job.
Hiring managers think bootcampers:
- May be more up to speed with industry-relevant skills.
- Have a lot of grit, discipline, and interesting work experience.
- Bring much needed diversity to the field.
- Have less regulated skills and training, which makes it difficult for managers to assess whether they truly have the knowledge required to hit the ground running.
Meg Embry is a Colorado-based writer for TheBestSchools.org covering higher education. She is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Header Image Credit: kate_sept2004, Maximusnd | Getty Images
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