How Is Qwasar Different From a Bootcamp or CS Degree?

Apr 23, 2020 1:50:46 PM / by Jennifer Robertson

Great question. There is a fundamental difference between bootcamps and CS degrees, and that's our learning model, thus, the outcomes are different, the learning experience is different, and your role in your own learning is different.

Here’s a summary of the differences followed by short explanations of each:

  • skill level achieved
  • your thinking abilities & problem solving
  • experience level
  • your readiness for the workplace
  • languages, tools and skills used,
  • number of projects completed & lines of code written
  • your confidence level
  • how learning occurs
  • your responsibility in your learning


Skill level

We train to a much higher software engineering skill level than bootcamps and CS degrees. Bootcamps do not cover foundational computer programming concepts and the real fundamentals of how a computer works, meaning bootcamp students don’t understand what’s “underneath the hood” because the vast majority stop at higher level programming languages. CS degrees tend to focus on computer science, but not necessarily computer programming. They cover theoretical concepts, but software engineering is applied: you’re expected to build with and use algorithms, data structures, databases, languages, and the theoretical concepts, not study them.


Thinking abilities & problem solving

Learners in our program naturally solve problems, over and over again, and ones that become increasingly more complex and difficult. Whether it’s debugging, getting your software to return or do what it should, how to translate specs into actual code and software, or how to build a complex architecture, answers aren’t provided, so learners have to learn to think and figure things out on their own, just as a software engineer does in a job. Bootcamps tend to offer a few projects, but they lack real challenges and complexity that mirror industry demands. You don’t develop structured problem solving skills by doing a few simple projects. Similarly, you don’t develop deep problem solving skills by sitting in a lecture, taking a test, or asking questions and having answers given to you. It’s only when you are forced to think and are challenged that you start to develop mathematical, scientific, and analytical thinking abilities.

When you're faced with a problem that you can't solve or figure out, you can test different solutions or try different things. If you aren't structured in your approach, you'll go round and round in circles. When you have to solve a problem and you're stuck, you start to learn structured problem solving, scientific thinking and using hypothesis and testing, and the ability to break a problem down into smaller, more easy-to-handle pieces. These skills are exactly what makes someone a good programmer, but are not what you learn at a bootcamp or CS degree.


Experience level

Quite simply, learners in our program do a LOT more coding than bootcampers or CS degrees. Our learners are more experienced in software development, in the software development cycle, and in what it’s like to work as a team to build a piece of software. Employers have told us the significant difference between CS graduates and learners from our programs: they are ready to integrated directly into teams at work because they know how software engineers work. That's not to say that graduates can't learn these things; they certainly do, but there's a difference from the employer's point of view on how ready a candidate is to actively contribute to a team and start coding.


Your readiness for the workplace

Our approach is simple: you practice what you’ll do in a job as a software engineer before you actually get a job as a software engineer. You use the same tools, processes, peer code reviews, languages, and frameworks; as much as possible is the same. This means that, come the end of our curriculum, you are ready for the workplace. Further, you’ve already worked in teams and are familiar with collaborating, communicating, and what it is that makes teams work well together. You understand the nature of group work, how to succeed well in it, and what doesn't work well. You know what it’s like to have deadlines for your work, what the software development process does and doesn’t look like, and what expectations you should have for new projects.

Further still, you have the experience and technical knowledge to do the job, and even if you don’t have very specific skills that an employer needs, you are confident that you can learn whatever new tool or language is required of you because you’ve learned so many new tools, languages, and frameworks, that you know how to pick up something new quickly and efficiently.

There is truly a fundamental and vast different between your preparedness for jobs with the Qwasar program and the preparedness of a CS or bootcamp grad. They just don’t have the experience, depth of knowledge, or level of our learners.


Languages, tools, and frameworks used

Qwasar uses tools, languages, and frameworks that align to what the industry uses. Whether it’s an integrated development environment (IDE), Git, peer code review system, cloud platforms, programming languages, coding norms and standards, or common content management systems (CMS) for our full stack program, we’re aligned to what is used in industry. Bootcamps tend to use front-end languages and one back-end language, but grads don’t have a deep back-end comprehension or ability to understand and use data structures and algorithms. CS grads, on the other hand, tend to be stronger with algorithms, but have used mostly Java or C++ and lack integration into workplace tools, processes, and languages. Employers want both in one person.


Number of projects completed and lines of code written

Bootcamp grads tend to have done anywhere from 1-5 projects, perhaps 20 for “long bootcamps” but these are unusual. CS students, we’ve found, have done about 3-5 projects, but most haven’t actually finished the projects, done a peer review, or deployed their projects to production. Some haven't even had to write, compile, test, and debug their code because they do their coding exams on paper (no joke, we have a photo of this happening in 2020!). Both grad types have written maybe 10K lines of code, perhaps a bit more, but certainly not in the 50K-100K range. Qwasar learners complete 25-50 projects depending on their area of specialty. This translates into well over 100K lines of code written.


Your confidence level

Just like sports, the more that you practice, the more confident you feel. The closer you’ve been to a game-like situation, the more confident you are that you know what you’re doing. The more experience you have, the more you see your skills growing. Coding is the same. The more you do it, the more projects and areas you cover and the more code that you write, the more you see yourself growing. We give learners the opportunity to grow in their confidence and in their code in a way that no other program does.


How learning occurs

In a CS degree, learning is mostly lectures (where information is delivered to you), tests (where you reply with the same information from lectures), and possibly exercises that are graded and opportunities for Q&A where answers are provided. With bootcamps, learning is still mostly lectures, exercises, Q&A, and some projects that are given to students along with help from instructors.

With Qwasar, you’re responsible for your learning. There aren’t classes to attend but instead work and projects to be done! It’s up to you to identify what new terms or vocabulary appear with each project, what you don’t understand and need to research, what possible solutions or options exist, and how to evaluate the different options you think are viable. There often isn’t a right answer for the best way to complete a project as there are trade-offs, but there your software always either works or it doesn’t; it does what it should, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you have to fix it and you don’t have an instructor who you can ask for help to fix it for you; this resembles a job situation. You have to use the resources at your disposal! You can ask a friend, ask a colleague or fellow student, look things up online; it’s a much more involved process of learning and you have to be resourceful.

Often, it’s when things don’t work that you learn the most. The way that most CS degrees and bootcamps are structured, rarely do you have the opportunity to learn from errors or mistakes. With Qwasar, “failures” or errors are where you’ll learn the most, and this is exactly what will make you ready for the workplace. It’s not about passing or getting an “A”; it’s about building software that works, together.


Your responsibility in your learning

It’s up to you to progress through your projects and exercises. We expect you to take responsibility for your learning! We aren’t here to deliver answers or lectures for you; that’s not what happens in the workplace, so the best thing we can do is to help you prepare for the workplace and for learning throughout your life. We’re in a world that’s ever changing, especially when it comes to technology, so one of the most important things you can learn for the rest of your life is how to learn and that learning is your responsibility!


Learning Model / Experience

There are no professors or single source of truth. Knowledge is generally widely available thanks to the internet and Google. Building software isn’t about getting the right answer: it’s about building something that works, whatever “works” might mean. As a software engineer, you’ll be expected to figure things out, to fix whatever isn’t working, to try new things until you figure out how they work, and to be resourceful. If answers are always provided for you, then how will you learn to be resourceful?

Good programmers and engineers are problem-solvers and they tend to be creative and resourceful, thinking outside the box. These are the skills that work in the 21st-century require! They're also the skills that you don't get to practice and truly develop in a CS degree or a bootcamp. That's not to say that grads don't have them; more likely, they learned their skills elsewhere.

The Qwasar model is truly a different, more engaging, more enjoyable, and more challenging, hands-on way of learning compared to the traditional instructor/professor to student knowledge-transmission model.

Here's a learner journey comparison for a computer science student and a Qwasar learner and how one is more prepared for the workplace than the other:

qwasar programs compared to CS students


Jennifer Robertson

Written by Jennifer Robertson

Jennifer is one of the co-founders of Qwasar and is on a mission to make a difference via engaging education.