On Thursdays I cover topics related to the tech industry, and today I’m going to discuss the question of: is traditional education dead?
This question has been debated for the past few years and I don’t want to rehash the topics that have already been covered. Instead I want to focus on some practical approaches to help you decide on what type of education is right for you.
Traditional vs Skill Based Education
Over the years I’ve been able to experience both sides of the educational spectrum. I have a bachelor’s in Computer Science and I’m currently working on my Computer Science PhD from Texas Tech University. On the other side of the coin I’m also the co-founder of a coding bootcamp. So I have been able to observe both options in detail.
For the sake of clarity, let’s define both educational types.
- Traditional Education. For the sake of this discussion, a traditional education entails getting a University degree.
- Skill Based Education. There are countless non traditional educational options (we’ll discuss a number of them shortly). In this guide a skill based education will include programs that allow students to circumvent a traditional educational approach.
With my status as the CTO of a developer bootcamp, you may think that this will be a traditional education bash fest, however that would be a wrong assumption. Instead my opinion on the matter is that your educational choice should be dictated by your long term goals. In the rest of the guide I’ll walk through the pros and cons with each option.
Benefits to Traditional Education
There’s something special about walking into a classroom on the first day of a semester. I love the anticipation of imagining what I’m going to learn, what algorithms will be covered, etc. There are a number of key benefits to pursuing a traditional education. Including:
Experienced professors can help teach you how to learn
You have to consider that professors have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of acquiring knowledge. Through my years studying at Texas Tech my greatest takeaway has been learning how to research and apply advanced software engineering topics.
Learning formal solutions
In a classroom environment professors focus on best practices. This can be a negative at times since a number of these approaches are not practical in real world scenarios. However if you organize the concepts in your mind properly it will be beneficial later on in your career. Universities will teach you about theoretical algorithms, abstract processes for programming, and various solutions that are rarely covered in skill based educational systems.
Working through annoying tasks
This may sound like an odd benefit. However, when you get a job you’ll understand that many tasks that you’ll be asked to complete are monotonous. A traditional classroom education is filled with projects, homework, and quizzes that amount to a pile of busy work. I remember hating going through these types of tasks. But now that I’m working I appreciate that school taught me how to work through boring assignments.
Benefits to Skill Based Education
Over the past few years, coding bootcamps and non traditional learning programs have grown exponentially. Nearly every industry has seen this type of growth. However few sectors have embraced skill based education quite like the developer community.
While I could create an entire book on the benefits of a non traditional approach to education, here are some of the key pros to skill based learning.
In a non traditional environment you will go through curriculum and projects targeted on real world development. For example, in a University environment I’ve seen many times where a professor didn’t even care if a final semester project worked properly, they only cared about the high level concepts. However bootcamps make sure that you can build fully functional projects.
While universities focus on teach abstract topics related to programming, skill based organizations focus on teaching specific language and frameworks. Part of the reason for this focus is because bootcamps have one main goal: to make sure you can get a coding job after you’re done.
Depending on how much research you’ve done on coding bootcamps you may or may not have noticed that they’re targeted. You’ll find Ruby on Rails bootcamps, iOS bootcamps, Data Science programs, etc. This type of focus is vital since you will be asked to learn a massive amount of information in a short period of time. Therefore you wouldn’t want to waste time focusing on anything besides the skills needed for the job you’re pursuing.
While a university education can take 4-5 years on average (and much longer if you pursue a graduate degree), you can typically go through a bootcamp in a few months. This type of rapid learning is possible because as a bootcamp student, you’ll spend your time being completely immersed in the language or framework.
For non developers, it may seem crazy that you can learn a professional skill such as coding in a few months. However I’ve seen it done over and over again. If you’re wondering about the quality of work that a developer with only 2-3 months of training can produce, just follow the money. Software companies are hiring bootcamp graduates so quickly that the majority of bootcamps are able to guarantee jobs to anyone that successfully completes the program.
At devCamp we have been able to offer this guarantee. And thankfully I can say that every student that has completed our bootcamp has gotten a job.
Industry best practices
In my experience I have seen two types of best practices. While universities teach theoretical best practices, these concepts don’t always apply directly to real world jobs.
On the other hand, bootcamps focus on teaching industry wide best practices. This includes topics such as:
- Test Driven and Behavior Driven Development
- Source version control/management
- Clean coding practices such as Don’t Repeat Yourself
- Pair programming
These types of practices are used in production coding environments. However in around a decade of academic experience I haven’t attended a single class that discussed these topics.
Options for Skill Based Education
Some of the options for skill based education are:
- In person programs such as Dev Bootcamp or the Flatiron school.
- Online bootcamps such as devCamp, Thinkful, or Bloc.io. This option is great for individuals who want to learn how to code while still holding a full time job.
- Online courses from platforms such as Udemy or Skillshare. Instructor support for these options are limited, however they can provide a wealth of information.
Is Traditional Education Dead?
So, is traditional education dead? I would have a hard time saying that it’s dead, especially considering that I’m currently in grad school. There are a number of reasons why a university education is still important:
- Many organizations still require job applicants to have a degree. This requirement has decreased dramatically over the last few years, however the large majority of enterprises want you to at least have a bachelors.
- If you want to pursue academic or theoretical research a university is typically the best option. Especially if you have any aspirations for being a professor or any academic occupation.
- If you are looking to make advances in the developer community. Sergey Brin and Larry Page came up with the initial Google algorithm while studying at Stanford on their PhDs. While working on his PhD Roy Thomas Fielding published a dissertation on REST, which has become the backbone of all modern web applications. And the list goes on and on for the advances made in the university ecosystem.
So which option is the best fit for you? It’s completely dependent on your goals. If you want to become a developer, a coding bootcamp will give you everything you need, including helping you find a job. If your long term goals revolve around academic pursuits or getting a job at a Fortune 500 company, then a traditional education may be the best fit.
So, I’ll ask again: is traditional education dead? No, it has a very secure place in the developer community. However it is changing, and that’s a good thing for anyone wanting to learn coding.
I hope that this has been a helpful perspective on the state of education as it relates to developers. In the show notes I’ve included a set of links to a number of the platforms that I discussed in the guide. Good luck with the coding!