Data Science Bootcamps : What They Can and Can’t Do

Data Science Bootcamps : What They Can and Can’t Do

Who a data science bootcamp can help, and where they overpromise. It’s pretty common that I get asked if a data science bootcamp is worth it. Bootcamps tend to overpromise to those without a highly technical background. If you’re not already most of the way there, a bootcamp won’t make you a data scientist.

It’s pretty common that I get asked if a data science bootcamp (or a part-time Master’s program, which for the most part I put in the same category) is worth it. Just to get my credentials out of the way as I weigh in: I have taught for a couple of Master’s programs and an online bootcamp, as well as having gone through a bootcamp myself when I was making the transition into data science.

I’ve written some thoughts on bootcamps in the past. The trouble is, it’s a hard question to give a single general answer for. Everyone has different skills and different goals. However, I think one thing is pretty constant: bootcamps tend to overpromise to those without a highly technical background. If you’re not already most of the way there, a bootcamp won’t make you a data scientist.

Different starting points

Let me give a few thoughts on bootcamps for people at different stages in their data science learning:

Starting from scratch: Let me be blunt. If you have little to no experience with programming, data, or statistics, a 6 month part-time program isn’t going to make you a data scientist. You might learn some cool skills, and if you put in the work you might land an entry-level data analyst position. Data science positions are generally considered pretty senior, or at least highly skilled. A short program simply isn’t enough time to gain the levels of competency expected in the foundational skills.

Academic backgrounds: I think those coming from a quantitative academic background are some of the best candidates for bootcamps (full disclosure, this was my background). Most quantitative academics have passable coding skills, know statistics, and have experience working with and telling stories about data. Bootcamps give a taste of the breadth of tools out there, some practice using some of the popular tools in data science, and some coding practice. Generally, people with this kind of background are the ones I see most reliably go on to actually get data science positions following a bootcamp. As an added bonus, there are programs like Data Incubator and Insight that are free for promising candidates coming from academic backgrounds. That said, many make the transition without needing a bootcamp, so while I think they can be useful, it might be worth getting a sense for your prospects on the job market without one first.

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