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Data Talks: Programming Bootcamp or CS Degree

Ruan Pethiyagoda

Here is what we know about software engineers: They’re in high demand, they get paid handsomely, and their jobs can come with adorable perks like gym memberships, unlimited vacation, flexible hours, meditation zones in the office and catered lunches.

If you’re working towards a CS degree with the goal of becoming a computer programmer, the future of a six-figure salary at a cutting-edge tech company is hardly guaranteed.

Programming Bootcamp or CS Degree?

At Hack Reactor's development bootcamp, we offer graduating engineers a comprehensive suite of career support services including resume writing, impression management, interview practice, networking opportunities, and a very successful industry matching program. Through this service, we know the highest salary each has been offered. It’s not uncommon for engineers not to accept the most lucrative offer – many are swayed by shorter commutes or companies who compete on perks, team culture or product charm. Their potential earning capacity, however, is clear. The mean highest offer for a Hack Reactor graduate is around $110,000 per year. That said, I have seen offers exceeding $150K more than once, some extended to graduates with zero prior CS background.

Thus far, we have not encountered either a single coding school or undergraduate CS program that matches the combined 98% hire rate and $110K average salary offer seen by our graduates. When you consider that we don’t factor in the equity offered to students in offers – including single digit percentages in well-funded startups and significant stock packages from publicly listed enterprises and banks – this number is more impressive still.

The situation for college CS graduates both new and experienced, on average, is not as enchanting. Georgetown University publishes a report titled ‘Hard Times’ every year on the state of graduate employment, and it paints a poor picture indeed. Some highlights:

1.      1 in 11 recent CS graduates is unemployed, and the remainder command a median annual salary of around $50,000.

2.      1 in 20 experienced CS graduates are unemployed, and their more fortunate classmates have a median income of around $81,000.

3.      1 in 27 with post-graduate CS degrees are unemployed. Among those with jobs, their median income is $97,000.

4.      CS majors have a significantly higher chance of ending up unemployed than nursing, elementary education, physical fitness/parks/recreation, chemistry or finance majors.

Not only is the median salary shockingly low for recent CS grads, but the unemployment rate is absurd. We most certainly can’t speak for all non-traditional computer science schools, but we keep track of every graduate who looks for work, and 100% of our graduates have been hired with three months of completing our program.

In Conclusion

Compare that number to this bone-chilling statistic published by The Atlantic last year: 53% of college graduates cannot land a job within six months of graduating. To top it off, of those who do find employment after graduating, a third end up working in jobs that don’t even require degrees.

There’s no questioning the benefits of college. You get to surround yourself with subject matter experts and intelligent peers for four years and have plenty of fun in any number of ways. However, there’s no denying the proven inefficiencies of the traditional education system as a vehicle for building a workforce. I’m not sure that educator Ken Robinson has ever walked into a TED conference without delivering yet another incisive and scathing treatise on the grave failings of contemporary education systems.

So should you consider a programming bootcamp, a CS degree, or a hybrid of the two like Hack Reactor? The answer will vary depending on individual circumstances. What is important is that the question itself gains legitimacy, and that you make a decision fully aware of the pros and cons of each.

Let us know what you think. Would you rather attain your CS degree, attend a programming school or do both?

(This article was written by Ruan Pethiyagoda)