How to become a software engineer: Bootcamp or CS degree?

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How to become a software engineer: Bootcamp or CS degree?'s Image

Written by Laurence MacNaughton for Hack Reactor

A decade ago, anyone looking to become a software engineer and land a job had to get a four-year computer science college degree. But in recent years, immersive coding bootcamps have exploded in popularity by promising to teach students the necessary skills in just a few months, or even weeks. 


My class was full of people from all different walks of life. We had computer science graduates who were having trouble finding a job. We had someone who owns a yoga studio. They all had their own different levels of experience coming into it

The question is, do coding bootcamp graduates emerge truly prepared to compete for challenging tech jobs? Or do you still need a traditional four-year degree to land a high-paying job as a software engineer? 

Money is a crucial deciding factor. While the cost of a bootcamp can range from free to five figures, there is typically a substantial pay bump for those who graduate from a coding bootcamp. Average salaries for bootcamp students increase 51% after graduation, from $46,974 to $70,698, according to Course Report. That income jump is a huge incentive for students like Ian Salmon, who was a professional violinist and teacher before taking a Hack Reactor immersive bootcamp.

“I have a Master’s degree in music and violin, but I started doing web dev just as a hobby with my brother. He pursued computer science in college,” Salmon says. “I didn't, but I kind of continued to teach myself programming as I was playing violin professionally.” 

His first side projects involved building and running websites for his music school, and then for friends and professionals in the music field. When he started making money doing it on his own, he changed career directions and hunted for a full-time position as a software engineer. But he couldn’t seem to land a job, no matter how hard he tried.

“While I did have some success in getting interviews, that was as far as I could go. Going to meetups and job fairs wasn't really helping. I was really unable to get a job,” Salmon says. That was when he decided to join an immersive bootcamp.

“My class was full of people from all different walks of life. We had computer science graduates who were having trouble finding a job. We had someone who owns a yoga studio. They all had their own different levels of experience coming into it,” Salmon says.

College enrollment across the U.S. has been on the decline for eight consecutive years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. At the same time, more and more bootcamps have emerged. Some of them, like Hack Reactor, are becoming leaders in the field. One reason for their rise in popularity is that they fill a need that traditional colleges aren't meeting.

 Hack Reactor’s Full Stack curriculum
Hack Reactor’s Full Stack curriculum

While a computer science degree provides a thorough overview of the scientific field of computing, it doesn't typically train students in the specific skills needed in the workplace today. The practical, real-world skills that bootcamps teach is what sets them apart.

Employers seem to be catching on to their effectiveness. While many employers do want to hire someone with a four-year degree, it doesn't necessarily have to be a degree in computer science. In some cases, any four-year degree qualifies, as long as the candidate has the skills needed to do the job.

Top coding bootcamps like Hack Reactor, see their graduates command a higher salary than average software engineers. Hack Reactor has over 7,000 bootcamp graduates at companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. 

Hack Reactor Graduates Make More than the average Software Engineer

 Hack Reactor Graduates Make More than the average Software Engineer
Hack Reactor Graduates Make More than the average Software Engineer

One benefit of a bootcamp like Hack Reactor includes job placement support, and they put their money where their mouth is. Galvanize, which administers and hosts Hack Reactor bootcamps, allows students to delay paying tuition until after they complete their bootcamp program and land a job making at least $50k/year.

"Since the beginning, we've been successful only when our students have been," said Harsh Patel, Galvanize CEO. "While we've already offered several ISAs in the past, we can now offer ISAs for both of our immersive bootcamps across all campuses. That includes the Galvanize Data Science Immersive and the Hack Reactor Software Engineering Immersive bootcamps."

 Students in San Fransisco working through a problem
Students in San Fransisco working through a problem

“A coding bootcamp and a computer science degree have very different purposes. A bootcamp focuses on what will get you hired. If you've gone through one of these, it demonstrates to employers that you have a measurable amount of perseverance. I was there Monday through Saturday, six days a week, for 10 to 12 hours per day,” Salmon says.

According to an Indeed survey, 72% of employers consider bootcamp graduates to be “just as prepared” as college graduates, and just as likely as those with a computer science degree to become high-performing workers.

For Salmon, his bootcamp experience provided a direct route to the full-time job he wanted. He started interviewing before he had even finished his classes. “Without a doubt, it accelerated the process. I graduated at the end of May and began my new job at the beginning of July. Now I’m a solutions engineer at a really engineering-heavy company. We’re all engineers here and we kind of geek out all day long. It’s fun. I love it.”