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What’s Right For You: Bootcamp or Self-Learning ?

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It’s now easier than ever to learn a new skill – even something as technical as programming. You don’t need to go back to school. Instead you can sign up for online courses, boot camps, focus groups and what not. For anyone looking to learn a new programming language, or to just start coding, there’s a wide range of options to choose from. And therein lies the problem – the problem of plenty. Which of these should you sign up for? What’ll work better for your situation? Should you sign up for one of the free online courses? For one of the paid ones? Should you join the live boot camp at a location near you? Or should you stay old school and stick to books?

At the end of the day, it depends on what your end goals are, and which learning environment is best suited to your learning style. In this article, I’ll compare two of the most common learning scenarios – bootcamps and self-learning – and list out the pros and cons of both so that you can better decide which method to opt for.

BootCamp / Regular Classroom

A coding bootcamp is a great way to learn the nuts and bolts of a programming language. Bootcamps are usually live group events (there are a few online ones as well) spread over a few days or weeks, that cover a specific programming language.

Bootcamps are best suited for those who want to learn a specific programming language in a structured way, in a group environment. It works well for those that prefer classroom learning. If you’re looking for a job as a junior / new developer, having a reputed bootcamp to back your skills may help improve your job prospects.

Pros

  • BootCamps lay a good foundation, covering the theory of the language in a structured manner.
  • They usually have practise sessions for you try out simple projects.
  • They offer great group dynamics and enable participants to learn from each other and work together.
  • Demonstrate your ability to learn new technologies quickly – a major plus for potential employers.
  • Great way to make connections with peers as well as tap into your instructor’s network.

Cons

  • Bootcamps cover a fixed syllabus, that may or may not be suited to you. It’s also a set pace meaning if you can’t skip over parts you already know, or slow down for concepts that you need more time with. Individual attention is lacking.
  • The main focus is usually on understanding the theory, the basics, with some information about best practices thrown in. But will you remember to apply those principles when you’re actually writing code? No one checks your individual work.
  • Participants leave with knowledge, and the hope that they’ll leave with the necessary skills to build what they want – but not real world deployable code.
  • In the real world, usually a combination of programming languages are required to create a product. It’s rarely just one language. So make sure you choose a bootcamp that covers the stack that you need.
  • They are often expensive, located in the big cities and require a significant time commitment, which may be difficult for those with work or other obligations.

Self-Taught

The availability of online courses, discussion forums and other supportive sites has made it much easier to learn programming by yourself. This method of learning is best suited for those who prefer to learn at their own pace, and want some flexibility in the structure and content.

This is best suited for

–        when you have a specific goal in mind – to build an app, or some other project.

–        people who are self motivated, entrepreneurial, or those who work better alone or with small groups.

–        experienced developers looking to learn a new language.

Pros

  • You get to set your own syllabus and pace. You can put together a medley of programs/languages to cover just what you need.
  • You can practise all you want, experiment as much with the code as you need.
  • Self-learning is usually directed towards an end goal – such as developing an app. At the end, you have something concrete to show for it.
  • You can study where you want, how you want. Location is not an issue. You don’t have to leave home/office if you don’t want to.
  • There’s a wide range of online courses available to suit every budget from free to paid.

Cons

  • When studying by yourself, there is a tendency to just read or copy-paste the code and not actually write the programs. This means you’ll just learn the theory and lose out on valuable coding experience.
  • When working alone, it is very easy to lose motivation when you get stuck and don’t know how to get over the bottleneck. It needs a lot of discipline.
  • Working by yourself can get lonely. There’s no one to discuss things with, no one to turn to for help, especially when Google can’t provide the answers.

The Best of Both Worlds

However, both learning methods have their own drawbacks. To get the best of both worlds, you can choose a middle path – do a bootcamp or online course to learn the syntax, theory etc and then work with a mentor (like in the Codementor program) to further polish your programming skills and complete that pet project or app. Codementor combines these approaches in some of its live classes. Alternatively, you can work with a mentor to help structure your self learning for the fastest possible results. Learning side-by-side with an expert helps in many ways, a few of which are:

 

  • In connecting the dots – providing practical advice and guidance about other resources to pull in like the right development tools, scripts, plugins etc.
  • Improving the quality of your code with hands-on pair programming, practical tips on coding conventions, common errors and pitfalls to avoid.
  • Live support to answer your questions, help uncover different ways to proceed with a problem and simply get over coding hurdles/issues.
  • Holds you to a higher standard, in the quality of your code, and in your commitment to the task/learning.

To sum it up, if you prefer a live, in person, structured, group learning environment a bootcamp would be the better option for you. If on the other hand, you prefer loose, self paced learning, that you can tweak as you go along, self-study through online courses is a better option. But note that the bootcamp or the online course is just the beginning. You’re going to want to polish your coding skills and create real apps or projects. When you get to that stage, having an expert mentor to help you real-time, can be invaluable. So try to sign up with someone in-house at work, or with Codementor, for that extra boost.

Given a choice, what would you prefer – a bootcamp or a self-study plan customized by an expert? Why? Share with us in the comments below.


Author Bio:

Once upon a time, Richa was a savvy techie & manager, in the semiconductor software industry. After her miraculous escape and recovery, she now works from her garden, creating websites, writing about technology, business & entrepreneurship; and helping others escape the cubicle lifestyle. Connect with her over EmailLinkedIn or Google+.




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