CertMag’s 2003 Boot Camp Survey
“Boot camp” is a term that conjures up hellish shades of military experience: sleep deprivation, agonizing exercise, bad food, screaming drill instructors and so on, aimed at molding fighting men and women from raw recruits. The IT certification version of boot camp is less hellish, but no less intense for all that. To follow up last year’s reports from boot camp attendees, we decided to survey our readers this year to get their take on the certification boot-camp experience.
In May and June of 2003, we surveyed 887 individuals, 57 percent of whom had been to camp, while the other 43 percent had not. We also fielded e-mail from numerous respondents for whom our survey by itself was not enough. Our survey results and the extra feedback we got show that the seemingly unbelievable benefits and results that boot-camp providers claim for attendees apply by and large to real attendees, too. In fact, those who attended boot camps found them beneficial and valuable by a large margin, and also reported that they made a big difference if and when they got certified.
There’s a lot of interesting information in our survey results, which we explore in some depth, along with views and opinions from some respondents. We describe some important features and services that aren’t universally available in every boot camp. This can help you pick a future camp on the basis of those features and services you find most important or helpful. This also arms potential attendees with some of the best “comparison shopping” questions about boot camps you’re likely to find anywhere. But the survey’s bottom line is that boot camps get the job done: They offer great instruction to attendees and get the majority of attendees certified!
First, we’ll explore boot-camp attendees’ reported outlooks and attitudes on their boot-camp experiences across a broad range of topics: training materials and environment, instructors, pace, perceived value and more. Next, we’ll describe our survey respondents demographically: by age, work experience, education, certifications and so forth. After that, we’ll share a handful of detailed responses from some respondents and conclude with a list of features and services you’ll want to consider when choosing a boot camp.
Hype Matches Reality (If Just This Once)
Anybody who reads advertisements or brochures from boot-camp providers will encounter claims about great instructors, terrific working conditions, freedom from distraction, intense, focused exam drills and guided, hands-on access to systems and other necessary tools and equipment. They’ll also read claims of high rates of certification attainment for those who survive the boot-camp experience. Though a certain amount of hyperbole is normal in promotional literature, a surprisingly large majority of our 500-plus survey respondents who attended one or more boot camps agreed strongly with the claims providers make about their boot camps.
Here’s a summary of respondents’ general feelings about boot camps:
- Nearly 90 percent agreed that providers did well at describing the boot-camp experience in advance.
- More than 80 percent reported after-hours access to the classroom or lab, with more than 70 percent reporting support from an instructor or technician after hours as well.
- Instructors were the focus of universal appreciation and acclaim: More than 80 percent gave instructors high ratings on subject-matter knowledge, classroom management skills, student interaction and the ability to explain and demonstrate classroom materials. (See Figure 1.) The majority of e-mail we received also singled out instructors for praise and appreciation.
- Course materials also get high marks, with more than 70 percent of respondents granting high ratings for readability, ease of understanding, pace and quality. (See Figure 2.) In all cases, 90 percent of respondents gave boot-camp training materials ratings of good or better.
- The classroom experience is another big positive, with 75-plus percent ratings for slides and presentations, instructor classroom delivery and integration of classroom materials with student handbooks and other training materials. Likewise, lab or computer access was also appreciated, with 75-plus percent ratings for how well labs were equipped, access to and time in the lab and instructor assistance while working on labs. Numerous e-mail messages we received stressed that the hands-on component of the boot-camp experience is what prepared attendees for the exams they took, and what provided the biggest on-the-job return after returning to work.
- More than 70 percent of boot camps offered pre-exam coaching or prep sessions. The majority of respondents (more than 50 percent) reported that such sessions were valuable and that they were strongly related to subjects that appeared on the exams.
When rating the overall boot-camp experience, attendees continued in the same highly positive vein. More than 70 percent gave high marks for the exam preparedness they developed and for the value of the handouts and student materials they received at camp, with higher marks still for the relevance of the classroom materials they studied and the value of labs and hands-on access to tools and systems during the camp. (See Figure 3.) In fact, more than 77 percent agreed that their boot camp was worth attending with slightly higher agreement that they learned what they needed to know to get certified. (See Figure 4.)
Perhaps some of the most interesting results involved attitudes about the value and attractiveness of boot camps in financial terms. Half of attendees agreed they would pay for a boot camp out of their own funds, but more than 80 percent of attendees agreed that they would attend a boot camp if their employer paid all or part of the costs. This suggests that boot camps are perceived as both valuable and expensive, and explains why employer assistance substantially boosts willingness to attend another boot camp.
One statistic from the survey that’s somewhat at odds with the success rates that boot-camp providers often report—passing or certification attainment rates of over 80 percent are typical, and numbers higher than 90 percent may sometimes pop up in their literature—is the self-reported rate of those who got certified as a result of attending the boot camp. Our survey reported a somewhat lower but still quite respectable 77 percent. This still makes for very strong odds that those who get to a boot camp (but who also meet prerequisites and do assigned reading and study in advance) will come home certified.
Those considering a certification boot camp should also recognize that boot camps require long days and lots of hard work. The majority of attendees reported eight to nine hours in the classroom every day, with two or more hours spent studying or working in the lab after class was out. Most reported less-than-optimal downtime available to absorb what they learned and indicated that while the boot camp and accommodations were comfortable, it was certainly no vacation.
Survey Respondents: Who’s Talking?
Because everybody who took the survey answered the same set of general questions whether or not they had ever attended a boot camp, we were able to formulate pretty good demographic snapshots of both groups. Here, we report on what respondents told us about themselves, then compare and contrast campers with non-campers.
The bulk of respondents in both groups fell into three prime age groups: 25 to 30, 30 to 35 and 35 to 50. In both groups, 35 to 50 was the biggest component by age. Overall, the campers were a bit older than the non-campers, with higher percentages for those aged 30 to 50 (and a surprising near-ti