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Is a hard-driving developer boot camp right for you?

Want to become a coder or brush up on your skills? With a shortage of developers, now is a good time. Here's what you need to know about developer boot camp.

Never written a line of code in your life? There's a developer boot camp for you.

You're a developer but you want to take it to the next level? There's a developer boot camp for you, too.

Want to use your development skills in a niche industry, like health or finance? Yes, there's a boot camp for you as well.

Welcome to the era of developer boot camps, which are popping up like crazy in the U.S., Canada and Europe. Camps can be full-time, 90 to 100 (or more) hours a week, part-time, online, with an ocean view, in multiple languages (just as a few examples) -- and they offer the opportunity to either start a new career or improve one. Some even "guarantee" you'll get a job by not requiring tuition payments until that happens.

The timing couldn't be better. With a severe worldwide shortage of software developers only predicted to get worse, nearly every type of business is looking for coding talent and there is not enough to go around. Traditional colleges cost a lot, take four years and even then, employers complain that new grads can't just jump in and code. Developer boot camps might be the solution to at least some of the shortage.

But no one said it was going to be easy. Your first hurdle will be getting accepted. (They're called boot camps for a reason.) Eric Wise, founder of The Software Guild, a coding boot camp with locations in Cleveland, Louisville and Minneapolis, created a hybrid IQ test and a quasi-SAT math test that quickly eliminates about half of the potential candidates. And just when candidates think it is safe to exhale, Wise, who's been coding since he was 10 years old, asks them to answer essay questions. "We've discovered that people who can't organize their thoughts well in writing aren't good programmers," he explained. And it also gives him a look at who the applicants really are. "Programming as a craft is very passion-driven," he said. "You have to really like doing research and continuous learning and banging your head against the wall. We use these essays as a reality check. People need to realize that this is a lifestyle."

We've discovered that people who can't organize their thoughts well in writing aren't good programmers.
Eric Wisefounder, The Software Guild

If applicants pass the essay portion at The Guild, they move on to a part-time 8-week "pre-work" course that's online and teaches the basics. If they succeed with that, and like it, they are accepted into the 12-week program. All that screening cuts out up to 80% of applicants, Wise said. But that's a good thing: "That's what employers really dig about us, that we're being very selective about the people we let in."

Barry Dancer, a software developer at the National Interstate Insurance Company in Richfield, Ohio, was a stay-at-home father to his young sons when he encountered The Guild in 2014. He'd been at home a bit too long, he said, to make re-entering his former career easy so he decided to make a big change.

He "graduated" from The Guild with a job at the insurance company and said he was able to hit the ground running. "My experience at The Guild definitely helped prepare me for my current job," he said. "In fact, I'd say it over-prepared me, as Guild instruction is very in-depth compared to the average tasks of a junior developer."

His advice to those on the fence about attending a boot camp? If you're willing to work at it, the opportunities are there. "The beauty of The Guild is that no previous experience in computer science is required in order to succeed," Dancer said. "My degrees are in history and secondary education, yet now I have an excellent job as a software engineer."

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