The Career Hacking PodcastIn today's episode, we're going to talk through a topic that we cover quite a bit in one-on-one coaching sessions on WehnerEd- how to choose between a four-year software degree, a coding boot camp, some of the online courses that are available such as Udemy, Udacity, Lynda, EdX, Treehouse, and others or even doing a self-taught class (YouTube videos, books or other resources on the internet). What are the pros and cons of some of those options and how do you determine which of those opportunities is the right direction for you to pursue your education.

At a high-level, these different options for learning to code, all get you to the same end goal: a career as a software programmer.

In the more expensive options, you’re paying for structure, accountability and more rigorous content that the courses provide.

The structure will include a syllabus. You’re going to have a teacher that provides lecture content. You will have due dates on homework assignments and projects so the structure really drives quite a bit of accountability. If you have clear dates and milestones that you're working toward, it really motivates you more to work at that schedule and to not to fall behind. You actually take the course more seriously than you might otherwise.

Additionally, a four-year degree at a University and a boot camp are going to be your more expensive options compared to the other two. Boot camps can be as little as six thousand dollars I've seen. But some of them are more than twenty thousand dollars and as you know a four-year degree is north of that price as well and so they are certainly quite a bit more expensive than the other alternatives. But for a lot of people having that structure and having that accountability is really necessary and then beyond that, the content that these options provide are also advantageous for learning. I mean you're going to have coursework that aligns well with the lecture content. So as you're learning new things in the online videos or from the instructor, that's going to align pretty closely with the homework and projects that you're doing after those lectures are done and so this drives a nice flow from the beginning of class all the way through. In this way, you will continue to learn in an organized fashion and build new skills upon that.

The price differences remind me of a friend of mine I was talking with earlier this week. She does an exercise class called Orange Theory. It's a class that she pays a little more than $100 a month for and ultimately it's like any other exercise program. You have an instructor there that provides energy, there's a soundtrack, there's an organized set of workouts that you do for each of the classes. Because it's expensive to do, it holds her accountable so that she makes sure that she goes a certain number of times to get her money's worth. I was like why on earth would you pay that much money when you can pay a tenth of that just to get a gym membership to any 24-hour fitness or any other gym and she said for her it really, having to go a certain number of times to make it economically viable is the motivation that she needs. Having a community of people that she interacts with at the gym and they smile and welcome her by name when she walks in the door. Those things add to the experience and make it worthwhile to pay that little bit of extra money. The membership benefits hold her accountable, and make it more enjoyable for her to do these things to better herself. This example aligns very closely with the reason why people pay more for the educational options that they choose. I wouldn't say they necessarily get any more benefits. Ultimately they're getting the same goal.  Whether it's honing a new skill or staying physically active. But some prefer to pay more to have those luxuries and to have those benefits to come with it. So with that said, I mean we can talk about some of the online classes. The lower price levels below boot camps. Because they don't provide all of those same bells and whistles, although they still get you towards the same end goal.

Conversely, if you look at a class on Udemy, some of the classes are offered by experts; people who have taught at universities, who do it professionally full-time and they have good experience with those topics in general. With those, you can have lecture content that really walks you through from the beginning up into a pretty solid level of proficiency and in a lot of cases, you'll have assignments that follow pretty closely with that curriculum. Those two together do a great job of teaching you and getting you off the ground with these skills. With that said, there are plenty of other options on those websites on Udemy or otherwise that are put up by folks that don't have a background in teaching and who haven't done a lot of user testing with the content and so their lecture videos may be poorly produced. They may be boring and non-interesting to follow along with. They may not follow very closely with the homework assignments and so you could be getting stuck and frustrated more often due to the disconnect between the two. Take a look at the recommendations of courses on our website. Because we do our best to navigate around those types of classes that have those disconnects and that cause the unneeded frustration while you're trying to get through a class. So just something to keep in mind is that not all of these online classes are at the same level.

A higher priced course could sometimes reflect a higher quality. But ultimately your best metric is going to be the ratings and reviews on those sites. I find that the ratings are generally pretty fair. If the class is rated 4.2 or lower I would probably be hesitant to take it if it were me. But generally, when you find courses that are best sellers and that have 4.6 or higher reviews you’ve found a winner. If you read through some of the things that people say and they say “wow this instructor really inspired me, what they had to say was useful, their homework or the assignments that they gave were relevant and helped me understand things and I was able to parlay this into a job”. When you can see any and all of those things within the reviews, you can rest assured that you're going to find that you enjoy that class and get quite a bit out of it as well.

With free resources, I mean there are plenty of channels on YouTube. There are countless books to be had to teach you these skills and there's certainly a number of blogs and other resources available on the internet. If that's the route that you want to take to learn how to code and to build the proficiency to help you be a professional. It’s not too hard to find testimonials online of people that have done this. But it's certainly not something that a lot of people can do. You don't have people that are not working with personal trainers and getting into the best shape of their life and the same that you don't have folks that are learning coding or any other skill from scratch on their own through the resources that they curate themselves, through the advice that they get from others and through challenges that they're able to work through on their own over and over and over again in order to become proficient at the professional level. It's certainly an option. It has a lot of flexibility in schedule and it's obviously the most affordable option, but it's much more like the Wild West. It’s much more on you to be able to have the self-discipline to take the time to make that happen, to work through the frustration, to have that willpower to make it happen. So it's certainly something that we are hesitant to recommend to the folks that we'd consults at WehnerEd. But if you're the type of person that can make that happen and may be constrained with finances or aren't able to learn some of these skills full time, it's certainly an option that's on the table.

An additional benefit of learning to code through either four-year institution or through a boot camp are that those organizations generally provide career support as well. So that can be relationships that they maintain with companies that can hire you directly after completing the curriculum or even preparation for updating a resume or ahead of a technical interview. So those are certainly perks that are included in the more expensive options, but that's not to say that's the only way that you can get that support, certainly WehnerEd offers it. But then there are other career consultants that can help prepare you and create those opportunities for you as well. I'd also like to mention that just because you get a four-year degree doesn't mean that you have the best chance of getting hired into one of these positions and what I've found in my experience both as a recruiter and talking with other recruiters on the subject; is that they're more looking for your relevant work experience. Have you worked with other companies before? Do you have experience running into roadblocks and experiencing when your best-laid plans don't go as planned? How do you handle those situations? How do you audible and find new and creative ways to achieve that end goal when it's not a clear assignment like you have in your homework? In many cases for your institutions teaching more of the theory and the practical side behind things rather than the skills that you actually use day-to-day in the job. Now that's not to say that those things aren't important. Learning the theory is certainly an important part of understanding the programming languages and the strategies and help you be creative to come up with solutions. But it alone isn't going to get you the experience and the skills that you need to be successful in that job. Coding boot camps and other options where you're doing internships, you're practicing the skills in the real world. Those things are valued more highly by recruiters than just having a diploma. Because as a recruiter I can tell you that I would much rather hire somebody with a 3.4 or 3.6 who also has relevant work experience. Who also has leadership experience and experience working on teams with people and being a team player rather than somebody who is a 4.0 student who spent all their time in the library getting great grades, but not actually learning how to program and running into problems and doing those sorts of things. That's great that they understand the languages and the concepts that are within the scope of the classroom, but that's not how the real world works and so having somebody that has instead bit more of their effort pursuing their own projects, creating their own websites, creating their own databases, creating apps that their friends can use just to solve a small problem that they have even if they're just trying to find distractions to keep them occupied during lectures. I mean those sorts of things are the types of experiences that the recruiters you want to look for and value more highly than just “okay great you went through the courses and you understood whatever it was that the instructor thought was important for you to learn.” I want to know if you can actually jump into this job, understand more than just base value of the language and get yourself unstuck and be able to program independently and not have to rely on the team every time that you run into something that wasn't covered in a lecture.

In many cases, a boot camp is going to best prepare you for a job in the real world. Boot camps not only have the lecture and homework side of things, but they have relevant projects that are based on industry examples. That are created specifically so that you run into roadblocks. So that you run into challenges that you didn't foresee when you first set out. That challenge you just say, “Okay we understand that you can program this one way, but how do you make it efficient enough to meet these standards.” Google isn't looking for somebody that can come in and help them add more features to their search functionality alone. They also are looking for “okay we can do this search in half a second, how can we do it in a quarter of a second? How can we do it in a tenth of a second?” They're looking for folks to understand the logic behind the programming languages well enough to optimize and to make their existing products better in addition to what new ways can we create value with the data that we have. That's something to keep in mind is, it's more than just the curriculum that you're learning within the lectures and the homework. It’s what are the other aspects around that… that will help you be an asset to their company.

So, to review, we have four-year degrees and boot camps that are similar and that they both provide quite a bit of class structure and accountability that comes with that. they generally have well-organized content that's been improved and optimized over several years or several generations of classes so that they are very fine-tuned and will be very effective at teaching you the skills that you're looking to learn to go into these new careers. Those options require the most time commitment. They’re generally full time. if you want to go to a four-year institution, if you want to a boot camp that's going to be your day job and you're having to pay for the privilege and so that may be accessible for a lot of folks out there. But a boot camp is certainly the fastest way to get you in that direction. On the other side you have online courses. Those are far more affordable. They lack some of the same structure and some of the same accountability. But they do generally have good solid assignments, they have projects that are relevant and help you intentionally run into challenges that will help you become more resourceful and become a better programmer. They have less instructor support and so as you get stuck you may spend a lot more time on forums, reaching out to folks on the web to try to help you get past a roadblock that you're facing. But again that's good for you. That’s something that you'll face when you are programming full time and so it's worthwhile in my opinion to do those things during the learning process. So it's not something that you have to learn while you're also trying to get up to speed and get used to working in a new job Finally, you have the free resources. Learning through YouTube, learning through books, and learning through blogs are certainly viable options & the most affordable option. But it certainly requires quite a bit of discipline and self-direction. It can be the right option for you. But it's generally not the right option for the majority.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode! Feel free to leave your comments and feedback on the podcast page on our website and as always if you have questions that you'd like to submit to the career hacking podcast, feel free to send us a tweet at Wehner_Ed or send us a note through the contact us page on our website

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