Breaking Free of the University Bubble: The Case for Alternative Learning in Software Development

There are now many cost-effective and flexible alternatives to college available for learning software development. These include coding bootcamps, online courses, and self-directed learning.

Adult training takes many forms. But for career-changers thinking about breaking into the world of software development, it often can feel like being forced into the university track.

Many companies offer their employees tuition reimbursement for software development studies—for university courses only. The years of study and huge out-of-pocket expense often can negate any tuition reimbursement plan offered by an employer. What if learners want to train outside of a traditional university setting?

Let’s explore the case for alternative learning options in software development.

Traditional Value of University Education

Let’s start by acknowledging the value of university education in software development. Universities traditionally have been a great way to learn about software development and offer comprehensive programs that cover a wide range of topics. But the pace of development has accelerated. Many schools face challenges in offering computer science courses due to extended wait times for program approvals from faculty and accrediting agencies. A shortage of qualified computer science instructors further compounds this issue.

“College degrees are out of reach for many Americans, and you shouldn’t need a college diploma to have economic security. We need new, accessible job training solutions—from enhanced vocational programs to online education,” wrote Google’s then-senior vice president of global affairs.

Alternative Learning Options

There are now many alternatives to college available for learning software development. These include coding bootcamps, online courses, and self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning is the lowest cost in terms of money, as it merely requires an Internet connection or library card. But it can be the highest cost in terms of time invested. There is a vast sea of study material and documentation online for all the myriad software languages, tooling, and integrations around the world; which to learn? Once a learner chooses a language and tool/framework to learn, they often find that the university of YouTube can be challenging to use efficiently.

Online courses are often low-cost and excellent ways to gauge interest and aptitude without spending a lot on tuition or books. Learners benefit from having a set curriculum and thus can avoid “shiny object syndrome,” where new technologies create constant distractions and rabbit holes. They usually involve video and text modules and are most often self-paced. Increasingly, these courses may even have user forums where some community interaction is possible.

Coding bootcamps in particular, have gained popularity in recent years and have a proven track record of success. While there can be variation in the quality of delivery—as with colleges—bootcamps often offer intensive, hands-on training that is specifically designed to prepare students for real-world software development jobs. Large communities of like-minded students form around bootcamps, and instructors can offer real-time guidance towards clear goals. Such courses can be great for upskilling teams, since the flexible format fits many work schedules. And in some cases, adult learners with family obligations can utilize fully remote, live training.

Benefits of Alternative Learning Options

The benefits of alternative learning options are many. They tend to be more affordable than traditional university courses, offer more flexibility, and are more up-to-date with the latest technology and industry trends. Many alternative learning options also offer partnerships with tech companies and provide students with direct experience that is directly applicable to software development jobs.

The Artificial Intelligence News Cycle Is Forcing the Issue

Think about the breakneck pace of developments in artificial intelligence (AI) since OpenAI released its API—and then consider that it can take two entire semesters to develop and win departmental approval for a new college course. Alternative learning options are a great way to learn software development that can be not only more affordable and flexible, but also more up-to-date than traditional university courses.

Companies Are Catching Up

“Organizations are saying [to the universities], ‘We need people with X, Y, and Z skills and you’re not providing that,’” says Charles Eaton, a vice president at CompTIA. Companies that only offer tuition reimbursement for university courses in software development are behind the times. They risk losing talented employees who can’t afford to pay out of pocket for a traditional university education.

Training managers and HR benefits teams need to be asking:

  • What is our current tuition reimbursement policy?
  • When was it last updated?
  • Does it cover bootcamps and online courses? If not, why not?

Being more flexible means companies can be more agile, upskilling staff faster and more cheaply than the competition.

Encourage your organization to update its tuition reimbursement programs, and consider alternative learning options. With the right training partner, organizations can help team members reach their professional development goals without delays and excessive costs.

Zandra Kubota
Zandra Kubota is a Trekkie and also senior program manager at Nucamp, Inc. With a community-based model, a state-of-the-art e-learning platform, and years of domain expertise through its leadership, Nucamp consistently outranks competition in reviews on student satisfaction. Nucamp offers a unique alternative to university or physical bootcamps, allowing career shifters to successfully start a software developer career at an affordable cost.