Tech bootcamps vs. college

I've done both. I have a B.F.A degree from WKU and also did two part time bootcamps at General Assembly. On...

Wilian Iralzabal

In no way am I recommending to skip college. In fact, I would recommend going to college and then doing Tech Bootcamps in between semesters or quarters. America is a ladder. Therefore, the more you learn, the more you climb.

When I was 17 years old, I read a book that forever changed my life for the better - The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. In her book I learned about the power of our thoughts and how we have more control over our destiny than I previously thought. Prior to reading that book, I was very reactive to the trials and turbulences of life. The nugget of information that I took from that book was that my thoughts become reality. Our thoughts are very much influenced by the information that we consume on a day-to-day basis since they shape our understanding of the world around us. Therefore, the actions that we take daily are influenced by our knowledge.

This notion made me want to learn more about this topic, which lead me to studying all of the thought leaders in this space. To name a few: Napoleon Hill, Jim Rohn, Bob Proctor, Darren Hardy, Jack Canfield etc. The deeper I delved into this topic, the more I realized that I wanted to become a scholar. I wanted to learn all of the things. While timing played a huge part in this, I realized that going to college was not only a huge success for my family, since I would be the first generation college graduate in this country, but also a worthwhile investment in my personal development. Luckily for me, I was in the Speech and Debate program at my high school, which had connections with several college programs around the nation.

Going to College on a full ride scholarship through speech and debate

Western Kentucky University Speech and Debate team - 2009 / 10
Western Kentucky University Speech and Debate team - 2009 / 10


I didn’t care about what I was getting, as much as who I was becoming as a result of going to college.


Let’s begin this next section by shedding light on the fact that I’m addicted to the feeling of extreme accomplishments. However, prior to achieving something big, an investment phase has to occur. In high school, I would spend a lot of time in the speech and debate team room trying to become a better speaker since English is my second language. As a result of all of my effort, I went to college on a full ride scholarship to the number one ranked speech and debate team in the nation at WKU (Go Tops - Put your #4s up). As I mentioned in the intro video above, if you are lacking the fundamental skills that a professional would need to be competent out in the field, college may be a good idea for you. As for me, I definitely needed college - mainly because I did not know what I did not know and my parents were both immigrants that brought me over to America from Cuba in 1998. They were great parents, but didn’t have all of the information that was needed to ensure my long term success.


One of the main reasons to go to college is to be able to join clubs and programs on campus that are not necessarily related to your major or minor. The key benefit to these clubs is to make sure that you become a well rounded professional while you are still a student. In my case, giving speeches to small, medium and large audiences taught me how to overcome my fear of public speaking and how to properly break down a topic and deliver a cohesive message in an interesting way. As a designer today, I would argue that 60% of my time is spent talking about my work/selling my ideas in both visual and verbal forms, hence the importance of doing speech and debate in college. Outside of clubs, you learn a lot about managing deadlines and working with others on group projects related to your field of study. This leads me to my next point, which is picking a major. Jim Rhone speaks about the majors and minors of life. Conversely, you want to spend major time on major things - it’s called prioritizing. You want to be careful not to spend major time on minor things. The same can be said for college students picking a major & minor. The more that I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that design was and still is my passion. I spent a lot of time thinking about my strengths and weaknesses before picking a major. More importantly, what am I naturally good at? For example, it doesn’t matter how badly I want to be an NBA player, if I’m not 6'7" and can't run and jump like Lebron James, I would never be able to reach my full potential since I would have a short ceiling (this is not a short joke, even though I am 5'4" on a good day).


College is a great place to learn about yourself. It gave me the breathing room to really get to know myself. I learned about the things that I sucked at and the things that I could do with my hands tied behind my back. It was there that I doubled down on my passion for design and communication that has paved the way for my continued success today. In any case, while deciding wether to take a bootcamp or going to college, try and think about what you see yourself doing 2-4years down the road. If you don’t see yourself as a student in three years, then going to a 4year program might not make the most sense right? Overall, going to college is a great place to sip on knowledge and learn about yourself / continue to build yourself as a young professional. Lastly, going to college opens up opportunities for internships within the institution, that are not always available to people outside of the school. My senior year, I was accepted to take part in an internship at a student ran advertising agency on campus, where I learned that I did not want anything to do with graphic design. As a results of having access to these programs on campus, I was able to test the waters before getting a job in the market place. Within each profession, there are little pockets of specializations that you can narrow down if specializing is what you’re invested in. College was a great place for me to experiment and figure out what I loved and did not love about design. It was there that I learned about my passion for user interface and user experience design from a friend of mine, Davide Fellini.


Going to a tech bootcamp

General Assembly, San Francisco office
General Assembly, San Francisco office


After graduating from WKU, I realized, some of the information that I learned in undergraduate school was either outdated or not exactly relevant to the market place needs. To bridge the knowledge gap, I began asking professional designers if I could take them out for coffee to pick their brains. Luckily for me, people in the San Francisco Bay Area are very nice. I was exposed to this thing called a Bootcamp. Not like the ones you see your 13year old friend go to, that got in trouble for punching a teacher in middle school. But rather, the type that is specialized around some technical topics like, coding, design, marketing or program management. I was blown away by the success metrics that were being advertised on their website. 98% chance of getting a job after graduating with a median salary of 110k. This sounded really sweet to me given that it had been six months of me being unemployed after graduating. While I loved living at home with my parents, I had greater aspirations for myself.


Technical bootcamps are practical and straight to the point. You will learn exactly what you need in order to be competent on day one of your role.


I’m in no way getting paid for writing this blog about General Assembly. I simply love that bootcamp so much because of the lessons that I learned while being a student there. In the past 5years, I’ve taken two bootcamps. One in Front-End Web Development and the Other in User Experience design. If you want to learn more, feel free to search through their website to view all of their programs. While they are expensive, I look at technical bootcamps as a way to gulp on knowledge. We often take too long to learn information and age too quickly. For the sake of argument, I look at technical bootcamps as a viable way to skyrocket your career assuming that you have some of the essentials skills to be a working professional in the field. You should definitely consider a technical bootcamp if you can’t afford to take 4years off to go back to college. You should look into them if you are considering a career change. However, you should not consider them if you are trying to get rich quick.


Technical bootcamps are not easy. For people like me that understand the nature of this universe, you will always get back what you put in. Meaning, you can’t expect to put in minor time and expect major results. After taking my first bootcamp, my salary jumped from 25k to 85k. The reason why this happened in one year is because I put in the time and effort required to make the leap. Please do not be fooled that you are going to join these bootcamps and do what is required and graduate with a 110k salary. While this is not outside of possibility, it takes a lot of effort to get there. Outside of the salary jump, it is a great way to meet working professionals that are looking to level up their game. As a result, everyone in the program is there trying to crush it (since the cheapest programs are shy of 5k). To be 100% transparent, the biggest difference in the mindset of the students at bootcamps vs. college is the fact that there is no diploma for tech bootcamps, therefore the knowledge you take with you is the real value - not a paper that said you started and completed a thing. In a space like tech where what you know is more important than where you learned it, I would recommend tech bootcamps for any and every working professional that wants to level up in a short amount of time.


In conclusion, should you go to college or take a technical bootcamp - really look at your life and future goals. Below are a few questions to begin thinking through this transition:


Where do you want to be in 4years?


What knowledge gaps do you currently have that are holding you back from being self actualized today?


What are you naturally good at?


Do you have 4years to invest into a school?


If you can, do both! As I mentioned in the beginning of the article. America is a latter. The more you learn, the more you climb.

- Wilian Iralzabal

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