There’s a Cheaper, Faster Way to Build Skills Than a Conventional Education

Bootcamps mean you don't need a college degree

The modern knowledge worker is learning faster than ever, but they aren’t turning to expensive, conventional degrees. Instead they are building their skills on-demand through online classes and short-term intensives.

In this post I share:

  1. My own education and career experience.

  2. Survey results from 26 people in my network who are successful without a degree in the work they do.

  3. List of short-term education programs proven to build skills for less time and money than conventional colleges and universities.


Academic performance does not necessarily correlate with career performance

When I was younger I wrongfully assumed that my mediocre academic performance would lead to a mediocre career. I struggled with tests and graduated high school with a 3.0 GPA and scored 1080 on the SAT (59th percentile). I fared slightly better in college where my writing and project work edged me up to a 3.4 GPA. Three universities and five years later I earned a B.S. in Management with a concentration in Finance and minor in Economics from UMass Boston. I’d like to say all of that hard work prepared me for the future, but it turns out that employers don’t administer multiple choice exams.

Tony Wagner, expert-in-residence at Harvard University's Innovation Lab, explains it best:


“The world of education revolves around tests and test scores. That's not how the adult world works.”

—Tony Wagner


Not to say I didn’t learn a lot in college. I learned how to stick with it even when it doesn’t come naturally. I learned how to meet deadlines, manage my time, and get along with all kinds of people. But after 6 years of being in the real world, the particulars of my coursework proved unimportant. This became even more true when I left finance to work in marketing (obviously this doesn’t apply to careers in science and medicine). Now I earn over six figures as a part-time marketing consultant (the rest of my time goes to this blog) and I’ve never taken a college-level marketing course.

This isn’t unique to me. In my experience, some of the most talented people I know didn’t go to a conventional school for the work they’re doing now:

  • Tim studied History, went to Shillington and now works as a brand designer.

  • Matt studied English Literature, got a Cisco Certification, and currently works as an Infrastructure Engineer (he’ll be helping to live-stream this year’s Super Bowl).

  • Maddie studied Linguistics, attended App Academy, and is now a Product Engineer.

  • Dan studied Psychology and is now a Tech Lead.

With technology changing so fast, many job skills are acquired on-demand, outside of a conventional degree program. The best job performers I know confront questions or problems by Googling it first. Then, if they need to learn more, they take an online class or attend a workshop or bootcamp for a fraction of the time and money of a traditional degree. To understand this more deeply, I conducted a survey and shared the results below.

Scrappy Education Survey

I conducted a survey of 26 people in my network who have attended a bootcamp or short-term intensive program. 16 people reported earning more after the program, many of whom earned significantly more. Most of those who earned the same or less were happier with their new line of work and believe their lifetime earning potential is now higher.

Programs attended by survey responders (links in program list at the bottom of this post):

  • App Academy

  • Dev Bootcamp

  • Cisco Networking Bootcamp

  • Hackbright

  • Metis Datascience Bootcamp

  • Praxis

  • Shillington School of Graphic Design

All respondents said the program they attended was really hard work. They also noted that it is the beginning rather than the end, and plenty of hustle will be required to continue building skills to get the job you want.


Average program length


Here’s how people described their experience


How would you rate the resources they provided to help you find a job after?


How well did the program prepare you for real world work?


What was your yearly income before you started the bootcamp?


What was your yearly income after the bootcamp?

Income after bootcamp.png

Income change after the program

Income after bootcamp.png

Advice from survey respondents


“Stay there late. Work though everything and learn as much as you can.”

“Be ready to fully devote yourself to the program. Try to focus and work the hardest you've ever worked in your life, as it's a fairly short thing in the grand scheme of your life, and the payoff can be huge.”

“Know that it's not a magic ticket to a new career, and that the job market for junior developers is not what it used to be. You need to hustle hard, be creative, and find ways to differentiate yourself to employers. There are thousands of bootcamp grads out there and employers may have preconceptions if they've come across only mediocre ones so far.”

“Try hard: set ambitious goals, learn as much as possible in the limited time available. Expect/embrace failure: realize the limitations (time, knowledge, resources) of the experience and also realize if you never fail, you're failing. Ask for help, and help others when asked.”


“The certifications you end up with after the program get your foot in the door; the real world experience you gain through years of hard work pays off.”


“Research deeply into the program you're interested in, there's some very niche types now. A lot of the stuff they teach you is available online in free courses, but I know the type of learner I am, I need a classroom/teacher experience and pushed to be more disciplined.”


“The program is just the start of your new journey to develop new skills! To stay relevant in the industry, you'll have to continue your learning afterwards.”

“The bootcamp itself does not guarantee a job. It is the work you put in afterwards and outside of the course that distinguishes you from other candidates.”

“You must be prepared to learn at a fast pace. There isn't time for you to cover material enough to feel comfortable with it, and if you are somebody who needs to feel like you've 100% mastered material before moving on, then you'll quickly be overwhelmed.”

“Do ALL of the pre-work.”

Shillington School of GRAPHIC Design

“Go all in! Throw yourself into it. It will be hard but worth it. Think of it more as a stepping stone to a new path rather than an end all. But it gives you a huge leg up into finding a job within the creative world.”

“Go for it. Worth every penny. If you're making a career change and you've never used any of the Adobe programs, go for it.”


Income change from a much larger sample of coding schools

Course Report, the leading authority on immersive technology education, surveyed graduates from 73 qualifying coding schools and received 1,450 qualified graduate responses in 2017. The average salary increase was 51%. The average post-bootcamp salary was $71K and the average salary lift was $24K.


Education Programs

Here’s a list of scrappy education programs to help kick off your research.

GENERAL Courses & Workshops

Online courses covering a wide range of topics including Arts and Humanities, Business, Computer Science, Language Learning, and more.

General Assembly
Offering online and in-person (31 cities) training in tech, data, design, business, and more. I personally took a storytelling workshop and still use some of the tactics I learned.

Lynda (LinkedIn)
Online classes and bite-size lessons covering a wide range of topics such as 3D + Animation, Audio + Music, Video, and Photography.

Master Class
Online classes taught by people famous for their craft—Gordon Ramsey teaches cooking and Margaret Atwood teaches creative writing.

MIT OpenCourseWare
2400 MIT course materials made public.

Online courses covering a wide range of topics.

Design Intensives

Open Campus (The New School)

Shillington School of Graphic Design

Startup Apprenticeship


Marketing e-course

The Essential Product Marketer’s Guide
Grow your B2B SaaS product with this self-guided course created by go-to-market leaders in tech. Full disclosure, I personally created this course along with my partners at Olivine.


Cisco Networking Academy
Online and in-person learning for Internet of Things, Networking, and Security. Highly reputable program that’s been training people in technology since 1997.

Online programs and classes in technology with option of earning a Nanodegree—skills based educational credential program.

Coding Bootcamps

App Academy
12-week web development program available in San Francisco and New York City.

Hackbright Academy
Women’s only in-person coding program with campuses in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Metis Data Science Training
3-month in-person data science bootcamps available in San Francisco and New York City. Evening part-time professional development courses, online learning, and corporate programs also offered.

What program did you participate in?

I’d love to make this list more comprehensive. Let me know about your experience at a non-conventional education program by taking the survey or commenting below!