AI Bootcamp – A Comprehensive Guide to Weighing the Pros and Cons of Different AI Bootcamp Options

ai bootcamp in vr goggles

Bootcamps for artificial intelligence and machine learning are starting to appear all over the internet. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s time to get acquainted. AI bootcamps can be a fast track into a hot field… but they’re not for everyone.

You don’t have to put on a uniform or sign up for four years of service to get into these programs. In fact, you’re more likely to pick up carpal tunnel than shrapnel.

A bootcamp is a serious training regime that is designed to turn relatively inexperienced coders, statisticians, or software engineers into capable AI professionals.

Make no mistake, a six-month brain dump isn’t going to turn you into the next Sam Altman or Andrew Ng. Bootcamps are no substitute for the master’s and doctoral degree programs that are advancing the state-of-the-art almost weekly. The leaders who will build the best machine intelligences of their generation are the ones with PhD behind their names.

But what a bootcamp can do is:

Assuming you have some industry experience and strong foundational skills to build on, a bootcamp can be a fast-track into the new and thrilling world of AI engineering.

AI Engineer Bootcamps Are the Go-to Option for Fast-Tracking Artificial Intelligence Careers

Bootcamps have been a big deal in the technology world for decades now. Promising a fast path into the latest hot developments, they come pre-packaged with:

You know a technology has hit the big-time when bootcamps start popping up to train people for it.

Bootcamps are objective-oriented. There is no time to ponder the deeper philosophical implications of machine intelligence, or to explore new theories in algorithm building. You’re in a bootcamp to suck down a firehose of essential, practical information and skills as directly as possible and to get out and get a high-paying job that relies on those skills.

That’s another way of saying there’s no slack built in for anyone who can’t keep up. Bootcamps run on rails and if you fall off, there’s no next semester to try to make it up. You need to show up prepared, energized, and ready to learn.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an AI Bootcamp?

fitness bootcampOnce upon a time, bootcamps were fast-paced. A year of education might get crammed into a couple months worth of classes.

That doesn’t work so much when it comes to AI. Even an AI bootcamp for beginners is introducing tough concepts that take some time to wrestle with. So many AI and ML bootcamps today are available on a more relaxed part-time basis. Many of the courses are spread out to give you the space you need to master the concepts.

So the reality is that there is no set time period for how long it will take you to get through a bootcamp. You can find bootcamps that last anywhere from two to seven months. Much depends on how in-depth they go and whether you choose to pursue a full or part-time option.

Even part-time AI and machine learning bootcamp options are rigorous and demanding.

A full-time program packs in the coursework, running all day long, Monday through Friday, with a stringent schedule. Typically, a day will involve:

Part-time programs are more likely to take up full days on weekends, with one or two nights a week included.

What Will You Learn in an AI Coding Bootcamp?

Every AI bootcamp provider has their own secret sauce to bring to the table. They all have methods and subjects they consider essential to the mix.

That can include lectures, presentation, and practical coursework in areas like:

Many bootcamps are more focused on specific aspects of artificial intelligence or machine learning, however. You can find bootcamps for AI specific to subjects like:

These will cover only a subset of the larger body of theory and practice in AI. On the plus side, they will spend more time working on specific problems and with the most appropriate tools to the field they are covering.

When the Best AI Bootcamp Isn’t Actually an AI Bootcamp

programmer in front of bright computer screenThere are not very many legit AI bootcamps available right now. Unlike some of the other popular bootcamp focus areas, like coding, web development, or even data science, this just isn’t a subject many people can wrap their head around in six months.

But you will find that many data science bootcamps have started to cross over to offer relevant AI skills. These options also have the advantage of a well-established context for using both ML and artificial intelligence techniques. You’re not going to be learning algorithms and statistical analysis in a vacuum. Instead, they are demonstrated within some of the same applications that are currently being used to build artificial neural networks.

There are also some conventional coding bootcamps that are starting to incorporate AI coursework and projects. This is another option that builds a lot of context around AI and ML concepts and may be the right choice for AI programmers and developers.

These AI/ML bootcamp options that aren’t really AI/ML bootcamps may be some of the best options available for fast-track, intensive training in the field today:

  • They have an established track record, experienced instructors, and proven job placement expertise
  • They don’t try to overreach in teaching too much of a very broad field
  • They revolve around proven applications of AI and ML technologies that employers are already searching for
  • They may do a better job of leveraging your existing experience and skills than a blank-slate AI bootcamp

For the most part, that means you have to pick and choose carefully to find a bootcamp program that gets into the gritty details that are important for your career path. Look carefully at the curriculum plan and ensure you’re going to be spending enough time on the topics you need most.

Bootcamps Come with Career Services to Help You Put Your New Skills to Work

interviewingAnother important piece of the whole bootcamp concept is that you don’t just get a big infodump and a pretty certificate and then get kicked out onto the street to make your own way in the big AI world. Instead, bootcamps come with pre- and post-graduate assistance to help you find paying work for your new skills.

Most bootcamps have a dedicated career services team who will offer participants additional services such as:

Good bootcamps already have connections with companies in the industry. Their career services teams can offer you an inside track on getting interviews with the exact organizations you are most interested in working for.

They also should come with extensive alumni networks that can put you in touch with graduates who are already successful in the industry. This can help you find mentors, get early notice of new openings, and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work at hot AI startups and industry leaders.

Can You Attend an AI Bootcamp Free of Charge?

Not one that’s worthy of the name, no. Quality bootcamps cost money.

Exactly how much money is hard to pin down, however. A lot of differences in costs depend on factors such as:

Put it all together and you can find options ranging anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 for the complete course of study.

What Makes AI Bootcamps Different from Certificate Programs or Courses?

ai customer serviceYou’ll find some similarities between AI bootcamps and online certificate programs. They also overlap in some ways with MOOCs, or Massively Open Online Courses in ML or AI. But the differences are greater than the similarities.

In many cases, certificates are offered directly by universities, and offer credit or non-credit training equal to what you would get in degree in the field. Other times, they are offered by private educational providers, but generally follow the college class formula:

A bootcamp is basically pass/fail. While some of the other features—lectures, reading, and demonstrations by instructors—may be the same, they often involve team projects rather than independent study. And if you flub an exam, it doesn’t go into an average of some kind… you just didn’t get through the bootcamp.

A bootcamp is also self-contained. They come complete with all the instruction you need to accomplish the project goals. They are results-oriented, intended to give you the skills you need to be productive in AI engineering jobs from day one. MOOCs or certificate programs may be more in-depth, but not as inclusive. You might need to take several to get the same comprehensive training in the field.

A MOOC doesn’t really come with grades at all, and it’s a single course covering a single subject of study rather than a full set of AI concepts and skills. They are typically self-paced, as are many certificate programs. Bootcamps are often cohort-based, which means you have to keep up with your classmates.

Finally, bootcamps come with more support and services. A bootcamp understands that students are dealing with a firehose of new information. They build in mentorship, one-to-one interaction with instructors, and learning support to help you through. Certificates and MOOCs mostly leave students on their own or relying on more general institutional support. They don’t come with the same post-graduation career and job-seeking support, either.

How to Choose Between an AI/ML Bootcamp and MOOCs or Certificates

large lectureOf course, this means that certificates, MOOCs, and bootcamps have somewhat different audiences and training goals.

A certificate program or MOOC is mostly about the education. The depth of your understanding is the most important goal. The ways that you come to understand important AI concepts and how you relate them to one another are seen as important building blocks to your future development.

A bootcamp is almost entirely practical. If you can complete the work, you are good to go. Understanding the ideas behind them may also be important, but it is secondary. As long as you build your skills enough to get the job done, you passed.

Because bootcamp has become such a popular marketing term, you’ll find that a lot of programs that are advertised as bootcamps don’t really live up to the promise. Many are simply certificate programs with a coat of paint slapped on them.

This can also work in the other direction, however. Several colleges offer professional certificate programs that have all the hallmarks of an AI bootcamp, even though they aren’t called bootcamps.

Another way to differentiate serious AI bootcamps from dressed-up certificate programs is by the prerequisites. Any AI and machine learning bootcamp that doesn’t require you to have previous math and programming experience isn’t going to teach you much about actual AI engineering. Some of the better bootcamps also require formal work experience in data science or software development.

The Mark Cuban AI Bootcamp and Others Prepare a New Generation of AI Talent

studying hardArtificial intelligence is a novelty for people already in the workforce or who are currently embarking on a college education in the field. It’s important, but it’s also new and exciting, and getting involved with it puts you on the cutting edge of some earth-shaking changes in technology and social transformation.

But for the next generation of students, AI is just going to be a routine part of their world. It will take on the same status as dealing with computers in general today: a critical kind of knowledge you need to get through life from day-to-day.

So there is a different kind of bootcamp spinning up today. These are not aimed at professionals entering the industry right now, but at those who will take on AI tomorrow: high schools.

The Mark Cuban Foundation AI Bootcamp or Stanford’s AI4All Virtual AI Bootcamp are both examples of this trend. Open to students as early as the 9th grade, they don’t come with the kind of advanced math, algorithm, and coding instruction as other AI and ML bootcamps. But they do provide an early introduction to the capabilities and concepts behind AI.

It’s a solid way to get high schoolers excited about a technology that will dominate their society… and an excellent way to cultivate the next generation of AI engineering talent.

How Do You Pick the Best AI and ML Bootcamp for Your Goals?

vr designersThe best bootcamp is always going to be the one that fits your individual needs and interests the best. That means the answer is different for everyone. You have a unique background of education and experience; the right bootcamp is the one that fills in the missing pieces of AI and ML concepts to help you jump to the next level.

In an industry that is still finding its feet, it’s particularly tough to align your goals with the bootcamps that are available. The very terms have become so popular that you will find a lot of scams and marketing redirects camped out in your search results. You’ll have to do your homework to ensure you’re getting the kind of quality you need.

Evaluate the Contents and Curriculum

There’s absolutely no substitute for looking at the curriculum for any program that claims to be an AI bootcamp today. A quick glance, for example, will show you that the Real-World AI Bootcamp isn’t an AI engineering bootcamp at all, with no coding or ML algorithm coursework. There isn’t a curriculum listed or any promises of career support.

On the other hand, a program like the Caltech AI and ML Bootcamp has live sessions, mentorship sessions, and a clear path of courses and projects it includes. It suggests prior knowledge of programming and math, along with two or more years of industry experience.

Check out what hands-on projects you will complete in each bootcamps and make sure they are in areas you are interested in mastering.

Naturally, this is also your opportunity to ensure you’re looking at bootcamps that line up with your desired specialization area in AI. A generative AI bootcamp may have coursework that’s considerably different than a more data science-oriented bootcamp.

Check the Qualifications and Experience of the Instructors

Another factor that’s always worth considering is who you will be learning from. Again, the Caltech AI Bootcamp offers a template: actual Caltech instructors are delivering the master classes. That means you’re learning from people with a hefty academic background and very often with private industry experience.

That’s the combination you should look for in any bootcamp you are considering attending. AI expertise is thin on the ground right now and it’s not easy to find people who are interested in teaching versus pulling down mid-six-figure salaries at hot AI startups. So a camp that can offer instruction from qualified professionals offers huge value.

Consider the Schedule and Timing

Clearly, your ability to attend every class, workshop, and networking event is crucial to getting the most out of any AI/ML bootcamp. So a camp that has a schedule and format that matches your own availability is important.

Of course, online programs are increasingly common. But a bootcamp is still an extremely rigorous kind of training. So even online bootcamps are often tightly scheduled and delivered at fixed times.

Offering AI Bootcamps Online is Standard

student taking notesThe original bootcamp format stressed in-person instruction. It went with the intensive pace and cohort-oriented projects.

But the flexibility and availability of online formats gradually started to take over the bootcamp space. There was also that little hiccup you may recall in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, just about everything was online. Most bootcamps have gone in that same direction.

You can still find in-person AI bootcamps, however. They may be the preferred choice for anyone who finds it easier to absorb information in person and values instantaneous feedback from instructors who are in the same room. It can also add to the intensity when you know that if you miss an assignment, you’ll have to look the instructor right in the eye rather than making excuses via email.

On the other hand, being able to fit in a bootcamp around your existing work or family obligations is the only thing that allows some people to attend. While many online meetings are still live, you take commuting out of the equation. Also, online bootcamps open up a wide range of choices from across the country. You’re not restricted to only options that happen to be offered in your area.

Finally, online bootcamps tend to have more frequent start dates for cohorts. That makes it more likely you can get started sooner, and find the most convenient timing for your own life.

For in-person bootcamps, you either need to ensure you find an option close to home or can afford to travel and stay wherever it is being offered.

Look for Jobs and Industry Connections

A huge benefit from bootcamps comes through their networking opportunities and connections to potential employers in the industry. So it’s worth checking out exactly where their graduates are ending up and what kind of success their job placement teams have.

Not all bootcamps publish these numbers, but if not, why not? Those that are successful aren’t shy about sharing the high-profile placements their top graduates are landing. You should see what kind of alumni support is offered and how you can make connections to prior cohorts who are out working in the industry already.

How to Get the Most Out of Your AI Bootcamp Experience

get setBootcamps go by quickly, and they don’t tend to cover the same ground twice. So you have to be awake and switched-on every second you are there to get the most out of the experience.

Many people make the mistake of treating bootcamps like conventional certificate or MOOC programs. But the level of attention and intensity is a notch up. Your mental preparation for that level of performance can be key.

It’s also wise to cover some of the basics on your own before you attend the camp. Remedial coursework isn’t available. You’re expected to walk in knowing a certain level of mathematics and core programming knowledge. Be sure that you are familiar with the concepts and operations that will be required, and brush up before the program starts.

While you will absolutely have to focus on the technical details and coursework, bootcamps are also about networking and career advancement. So you will also want to remember to take a breath and get into some conversations with instructors and students along the way. These are people that are going places in the AI industry and getting to know them can help you in your own career goals.

Even if a bootcamp doesn’t offer the high-end credentials that are specified in most AI job listings today, they can bring a huge boost to people heading up the AI career ladder in certain circumstances. If you have the drive and ambition, an AI bootcamp can light the fuse that will eventually land you a spot in the industry that will define the future.