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5 Important Ways To Evaluate Coding Schools

If you’re considering a career in coding, then you’re probably already well aware of the fact that you don’t need a Computer Science degree to do it. However, weeding through the dozens of code schools you see online is a difficult task. Unlike Computer Science degrees, these schools have very little regulation, making it hard to make a decision on which school to pursue. Therefore, you must adopt a criteria for evaluating code schools. When choosing a code school in Raleigh, NC, these are the things you should look out for:

Career Change = Strict Admissions
Almost all code schools will have some kind of application process, but for many of these, “apply” is synonymous for “sign-up.” They appear to be prestigious, but if they’re actually not, then it may be an indicator that they’re more motivated to fill their classes than they are to find their graduates jobs. After all, if the goal is to help your students transition careers, than the bar needs to be high for admissions. The school needs to be able to see you as a marketable, entry-level software engineer when you graduate. Consider it a red flag if the school doesn’t make your write any code for them in the admissions process, or if you’re interviewed by someone who is either non-technical or not a decision maker.

Character > Skills
Your character and soft-skills are going to set you apart more than anything else as a developer from a non-traditional (no CS degree) background. Finding a code school in Raleigh that values character and soft skills in this way means finding a code school that values students above everything else, as this requires that instructors take on mentor roles in the lives of students throughout the course. When you’re applying for a school, ask to speak with the leadership and instructors. Ask them questions such as, “why do you do what do you?” Hopefully, their answers have something to do with the joy their students bring and the opportunity they have to change lives and impact careers.

Deeper Learning
A few months ago here in Durham, we hosted a meet-up where we gave a brief lesson on JavaScript Closures. Ironically, there were 4 students from the last 2 graduating classes of The Iron Yard (from the Raleigh and Durham campuses). Not to fault the students, but they had just spent 12 weeks in the Iron Yard’s full-stack JavaScript course and they couldn’t explain what a closure is in JavaScript. Closures are not the easiest thing in the world to comprehend, but surely if you’re programming Node and React apps with JavaScript, you should know one of the most fundamental parts of the language.

All that to say, there are many schools out there that will make you feel powerful by teaching you how to use the latest tools (like React), but this is the same thing as using codecademy—it’s a programming experience—but if you can’t explain how the technology you’re using works, you’re not really learning how to program. At first, this may not seem to matter if your first job allows you to use the technologies you just learned, but when it comes time to learn the next framework that comes out (which will happen and happens all the time) you won’t know how to transition into it. Therefore, you must find a school that’s not going to merely teach you frameworks, but the principles and problems that birthed that framework in the first place. Learn the thinking behind those principles and patterns and you can indefinitely learn anything in the world of software.

Immersive and In-Person
There are all kinds of online and/or part-time coding schools popping up because they’re more accessible and often don’t require you to quit your job. However, these programs are not as effective as immersion and an argument could be made that they're in fact not as cost effective, either. The two main factors that make immersion and in-person learning necessary is time and quality.

Consider a part-time, in-person, 24-week course such as the courses that Trilogy Education Services have been starting all over the country, branded as local universities (such as the UNC Coding Bootcamp). If the course is in the evenings for 15-20 hours/week, that’s a total of 360 - 480 hours over 6 months. However, since you’re working, you likely don’t have the time to put in any additional hours beyond the classroom.

Compare that to a 12-week immersive program. Even if the required hours are 40/week for 12 weeks (480 hours), this doesn’t include the additional time you’ll spend learning and working on projects. In these types of environments, 70+ hour weeks are common and doable - that puts your total hours coding at 840, almost 2-times that of a part-time course, in half the amount of time.

Additionally, there is no replacement for human-to-human interaction. Online code schools often utilize technology to match you with mentors for video-conferencing roughly 1hr/week. Compare that to an in-person school where you have face-to-face interactions with instructors all day, every day. Almost as important, is the collaboration that you need as anew learner with peers to work on projects and learn from one another, not to mention the camaraderie and environment that an intensive experience such as this creates in a cohort of students.

A Network of Employers and Placement Statistics
Finally, find a school that is focused locally and well connected to the local tech industry. These schools will usually host a variety of events throughout your course which will expose you to local companies looking to hire from your graduating cohort. Be sure to ask the school how they report their placement rates for graduating students. One standard that has emerged,  which Project Shift is a member of, is CIRR (Council on Integrity Results Reports). CIRR is a collection of schools that have come together to adopt a performance standard for transparency. Though other standards exist as well, having something like CIRR ensures that a school cares about the students’ results and operates with some amount of integrity.

In the end, the list of code schools that meet this criterion will be short, because as we mentioned in the Coding Bootcamp Implosion article, this young industry is already due for some significant innovation. Project Shift is a direct reaction to call for innovation. Our instructors have had experiences teaching at other top code schools and hiring code school graduates from the CTO perspective. The conclusion is the same - though many code schools can prepare students for an entry-level job, few of these students actually have the potential to become Senior Developers. Our end with Project Shift is to raise the ceiling for our graduates by equipping them to execute in ways that Computer Science grads can’t, educating them in practices that Coding Bootcamps don’t teach, and mentoring in such a way that we create apprentices. If you want to learn more about Project Shift and our coding program, head to our homepage:

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