Are bootcamps better than University?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

My Europeans friends think its weird that universities in the USA insist that students take a wide range of classes. In Europe, university is seen as a time when one becomes a specialist in a particular skill. For instance, in Poland, it is common for a person to go to university for 5 years and graduate with the equivalent of a masters in a given field.

Especially considering how expensive university has become in the USA, asking students to take a wide range of courses seems wasteful. For computer programmers, bootcamps might be a rational response to the rigidity of the university system.

It’s a new model for making programmers – a cross between traditional academia and the bootstrapped-learning of the tinkering children of the 70s, 80s, 90s. To me, a bootcamp is like finding another kid at school who also spends their nights nerding out, fiddling with the same toys you’re fiddling with. Only now that kid isn’t on an island in a sea of people disinterested or actively annoyed with your passion. Now that kid is a group of people, learning with you, fascinated by the same stuff.

The reason it’s like that is this: project based learning, and relationship-based learning. Unlike traditional university programs, you have a teacher that spends all day with you, encouraging you to learn and getting to know you. They stay with you through the whole course, not like a course advisor- an actual industry expert you develop a real relationship with. They aren’t lecturing to 150 freshmen, they’re lecturing to less than 30 people, all of whom they’ve sat and pair programmed with. And what you’re working on is real and it’s interesting. It’s something you’d find in the industry, or something it might occur to you to make for fun. You make an actual webserver with real tools that you might be using when you go get a job. You build games and make diagrams of the way the data moves between them.

Traditional Academia would never hire me- I’m just a programmer with no degree. But I’ve done some impressive stuff in my career- industry changing shit. The respect of my peers and my ability to do the job and do it well, along with more than a decade and a half of experience means nothing in academia. My teaching abilities mean nothing there as well- people are literally fired for doing a good job teaching at universities. The incentives don’t line up- professors are incentivized to do a bad job teaching. So my career in academia never would have happened- I love teaching too much!

The way most professors start out is by wanting to do real, very scientific, unbiased research. Unfortunately, the only way for you to do that work is to go become a teacher. The skill set for teaching and the skill set for research just aren’t the same- teaching is not research. There are a large number of people who care very much about their work and are willing to do what it takes to get to do it, and it turns out that the way to their goals is through some students. On top of that, there are a very small number of roles because very little money is allocated to people doing research, and so you have a lot of very desperate, type-a, driven people trying to advance the human race- these people are the ones asked to teach you. You’re in their way.

Honestly, that’s why college takes 4 years. As a student, you’re often a necessary evil. A lot of the work you’re given to do, you’re sent to struggle with it alone for hours and hours. At a bootcamp, we give our students assignments and walk them through them- first showing them how, then doing it with them, and then letting them do it alone. We also keep in touch, and coach them on their careers. They typically come back for years, always having a place to get advice, and a network of people willing to help further their career. The relationships built between bootcamp instructor and student are deeper than those between college professors and their students. The advice is solid too, because instructors come from the actual industry the students are trying to get into.