Code Camps Versus Computer Science Degrees: Which One Gets You The Job?

Traditionally, an aspiring developer would need to complete a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science to become a Software Engineer, on paper at least. In the last decade or so ‘code camps’ have become a popular alternative to that route. Code camps are intensive courses lasting just a few months that teach you what you need to know to become a developer. If you’re thinking of becoming a Software Engineer you might be confused and may be wondering which one is right for you.

So in this post, I’m going to give you an overview. I’m going to talk about what you learn in code camps compared with degrees, how much they will both will cost you and which one will get you a better paying job faster.

Comparison 1: The Curriculum

So what exactly will you learn in a code camp or by undertaking a degree, more specifically: is what you will learn the right stuff to enable you to succeed in the industry? To understand this, let’s start by considering what we would learn during a traditional 3-year degree. Below I’ve picked 3-degree programs, Cambridge (ranked 1 in the UK), London metropolitan (ranked last) and Nottingham Trent (ranked somewhere in the middle). I’ve listed what you will learn on each course below. If you don’t understand what all the topics entail don’t worry, I’ll analyze what it all means for your career later.

 

Skill Cambridge Nottingham Trent London Metropolitan
Programming (Basics) Y Y Y
Software process/business analysis Y Y
Data Structures Y
Computer Ethics/Law Y
Computer Networking (Theory) Y Y Y
Databases Y Y
Advanced programming techniques Y Y
Creating a Business Y
Work Experience Y Y
Basic Maths Y Y Y
Low-level computer Workings Y
Geometry (for Graphics) Y
Web development Y
Software Design Y
Computer Graphics Y Y
Mobile Development Y
Cloud computing Y
Operating Systems Y Y
Algorithmics Y Y
Machine learning Y Y
Natural language processing Y Y

 

Now that we have an understanding of what a computer science curriculum might cover let’s consider code camps. To do this, I’m going to pull out everything that at least 2 of our Computer Science programs did and compare them with popular code camps in London (Makers Academy, We Got Coders, Le Wagon). Where a code camp teaches something that a Computer Science degree doesn’t I’ll include that on the list too.

 

Skill Makers Academy   We Got Coders Le Wagon
Programming (Basics) Y Y Y
Software process/business analysis
Computer Networking (Theory)
Computer Networking (Practice) Y Y
Databases Y Y
Advanced programming techniques Y Y Y
Work Experience Y
Basic Maths
Low-level computer Workings
Geometry (for Graphics)
Computer Graphics
Operating Systems
Algorithmics
Machine learning
Natural language processing
Web-based development Y Y Y
Software Design Y Y Y

 

As I promised, I’ll guide you through what all these Y’s actually mean for your career. The TL;DR of it is this though. Computer Science degrees contain more Theoretical and Mathematical training. Code camps, on the other hand, teach you exactly what you need to know to be a Programmer. This creates a shorter ‘streamlined’ course.

So what’s missing from a code camp?

If you’re new to programming or to Computer Science you might wonder what the topics that code camps are missing are and if you’ll need them. The general answer is that you won’t need them. In almost every example, the Degree is teaching you some deep theory that may be interesting but ultimately is unlikely to be used in your time as an engineer.

There are some Degree level topics that could be of use to an aspiring Software Engineer that are not featured on a code camp curriculum. I’ll explain what those exceptions are below:

Machine Learning

Machine learning involves using statistical techniques to enable computers to make predictions or categorizations. In the industry, machine learning is frequently used in applications including Driverless Cars and Facial Recognition software. Admittedly most companies have dedicated ‘Data Scientists’ who will apply these techniques instead of Programmers although not in every case.

In general machine learning could be useful but only a small proportion of jobs will ask for it.

Natural Language Processing

Natural language processing is the art of getting computers to understand human speech. We all know that there a few big examples of this recently like Amazon Echo, Siri and Google voice assistant. Much like machine learning, there will be some jobs available that a Camper would struggle to be selected for, however, most software jobs won’t require it.

Comparison 2: The Cost

For most people, the costs of further education will feel astronomical. So ensuring you make the right financial decision is critical. Unfortunately, that decision is yours, I am not going to advise you to make any financial decision or credit commitment (I am not qualified to do so). Whilst I aim to give you an overview of costs and funding options it’s not exhaustive. You should do your own research in addition to reading this post. Prices may also change in the future.

With that said, let’s look at the costs of studying a degree in England. A three-year Computer Science Degree would cost you up to £9,250 per year If you are a Home student. For a three year program that adds up to a total of £27,750. If you do a year in the industry this will likely cost you a little more. If you study in Scotland, Wales or NI costs will also vary.

As for code camps, they’re a lot cheaper. Here is the cost of some popular ones.

 

Le wagon 6500
Makers 8000 (7500 for women)
We Got coders 6000 – 8000

 

Code camps are clearly the cheaper option in terms of fees. It’s worthwhile remembering thought that there are other costs to both degrees and camps.

Cost 1: Lost Income

A Code camp takes just several months, In comparison, a degree takes several years. It’s possible that you could have already found employment and be earning in the camp scenario when you’re still studying in the degree scenario.

Of course, this assumes that you will get a job straight out of your camp/university. It’s worth remembering that in both cases there is a risk that this will not be the case. In the next section, I’ll investigate that.

Cost 2: Lower Employability

While reading this section it’s worthwhile understanding that weaker employability may mean expensive gaps between jobs or having to accept a weaker salary.

Once again I’ll investigate that next.

Cost 3: Financing

It’s worthwhile considering the funding options available when considering different programs. Most students finance their degree by taking a loan from the Student Loans Company (SLC). I won’t go into the details of these loans here but the key benefit of them is that you don’t have to repay until you earn over a particular amount (Currently £25,000) and your debt will be written off if unpaid after a number of years. This might mean that you repay less than the total amount. However, given the salaries of Software Engineers, it’s possible you will pay the full cost plus some interest.

Most code camps don’t offer financing options, for those without a serious wad of cash sitting about this may be a barrier for entry. If you choose to take a loan to pay these fees bear in mind the risks associated with falling behind on repayments, particularly if your career does not go to plan.

Comparison 3: Employability

Doing a code camp or a degree is a big commitment of both time and money. It’s likely that the big question that will make either a camp or a degree worth the above costs is “Will I get a job at the end of it?”. So let’s have a look at the actual market and see how code camps stack up to degrees.

Universities make strong claims about their employability after 6 months after graduation. London Met (ranked Last) claims that 75% of its students are in work or further study after the completion of their program.

This number represents a significant number of applicants getting a good result out of their job hunt. There is no breakdown as to whether the Job or Further education program that the students wanted was the one they got.

I’ve run a simple test to see how employable degrees are compared to camps. from LinkedIn jobs search I’ve searched for ‘Junior developer’ and ‘Software Engineer’. I’m going to inspect the first 20 results for each and see if the description claims that a degree is required. Below are the results.

 

Keyword % that had a preference for degrees % that had a preference for camps % that had no preference
Junior Developer 35 % 0% 65%
Software Engineer 35 % 0% 65%

 

Around two-thirds of companies are willing to hire applicants from camps. This number was exactly the same as the number who are willing to consider engineers later on in their career. However, Nobody expressed a preference for camps.

So it’s clear that by taking a code camp there will be less opportunity available to you compared with someone with a degree and similar experience. However, there is also a significant chunk of employers that are willing to consider campers.

To Conclude

So there we have it. We’ve compared code camps to degrees on three different criteria. The curriculum; the cost and the employability after the program is complete.  A code camp will teach you all that you need to know to become a software engineer but no more, It will cost far less than a degree but you’ll take a knock to employability as a result.

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