Which Program is Right For Me? | Software Engineering or Web Development

Dec 13, 2021
John Wark

Updated on 02/16/24

Due to the short-term drop in demand for junior back-end software engineering talent, we have postponed enrollment and paused applications for the Software Engineering with Java/AWS Specialization program. We plan to bring the program back when the demand for talent returns and will announce a restart approximately 6 months prior to the start date of the next cohort. You can read more about this decision on our blog.

Comparing our Web Development and Software Engineering programs

We often get questions from potential applicants seeking to understand the differences between our Web Development program and the recently announced Software Engineering with Java/AWS Specialization (SE) program. While the curriculum for our web development and software engineering program is covered on the program pages, here we outline the similarities and differences. This blog post is intended to lay some groundwork for comparing the two programs and helping applicants decide on which program is the best fit for their goals. 

Let’s compare and contrast the two programs in several different areas, including schedule/cost/logistics, skills taught, who each program is intended for, and jobs prepared for. This post doesn’t provide a full deep dive into each program’s syllabus and details - please refer to the program descriptions elsewhere on our website for more details on the individual programs. 

Also, keep in mind that the Software Engineering with Java/AWS Specialization program is still a new program at NSS and the first cohort graduated in February 2023. As a result, it’s still very difficult to compare certain features of the two programs. We have ten years of data on the Web Development program, over a thousand graduates, and over 400 employers that have hired from the program. With the SE program, we can only estimate on certain issues that are highly relevant to potential students, such as average or median starting salaries. 


The differences between the programs stand out when one compares items like length of program, cost of program, and other logistical considerations. The SE program is longer and, as a result, has a higher tuition cost. This makes considerations such as how a student will pay for their cost of living in the longer program important in the decision to apply to one program over the other.


Web Dev Program

SE Program

Full-time Length

Six months

Nine months

Part-time Length

Twelve months

Not available

Daily schedule (full-time)

9am to 4pm Central time

Monday through Friday

9am to 4pm Central time

Monday through Friday

Regular full tuition



Opportunity Tuition available



Partial scholarships available



Payment plans available



Student loans available

Climb Credit, Sallie Mae
$11,625 max tuition borrow
No cost of living loan available

Climb Credit, Sallie Mae
$16,500 max tuition borrow
Cost of living loan also available - $9,000 - $10,000 max (depending on loan provider)

Career development track and placement support



Skills taught

Let’s start by acknowledging that the two programs overlap somewhat in terms of goals and skills taught. Both programs are designed to provide motivated adults who have no prior coding training or experience with a pathway into a new career starting as a junior software developer. Both programs provide immersive, accelerated learning models. But while both programs give graduates software development skills, they target different types of software development jobs for their graduates - or at least the sweet spots in terms of starting career paths for the two programs are different. Could graduates of both programs compete for the same initial jobs - yes, that could happen. But while there is overlap in the skills taught in the two programs there are also big differences in the focus of the skills coverage in the two programs. 


Web Dev Program

SE Program

Overall learning focus

Full stack development - balanced between front-end development and server-side development, 3 months each.

Immersive learning of coding through daily exercises and/or group projects

Deep focus on server-side development - 80% to 90% of curriculum. Light introduction to front-end languages.

Immersive learning of coding through daily practice and group projects

Programming languages

HTML, CSS, JavaScript for front-end development.

Either C# or Python for server-side development

Mainly Java, with light HTML, CSS, JavaScript

Programming Fundamentals

Yes, equal balance between JavaScript and either C# or Python

Yes, primarily in Java with light JavaScript

Practical software engineering skills/practices

Yes - through classroom study and team-based development projects

Yes - through classroom study and team-based development projects

Computer Science foundations, algorithm design, data structures, sorting and searching, concurrent programming


Yes, with application to real problems through coding practice/projects

Front-end Web Development 

Intermediate JavaScript, React framework

Very light, introductory JavaScript, no frameworks

Server-side software engineering

Introductory, focused on server-side of web apps, CRUD functionality, creating a web service with API

Intermediate to advanced exploration and practice developing server-side code for business applications, middleware, process automation, etc. Using cloud-native services in AWS. 

Database management

Introduction to relational databases, practice using SQL language

Introductory & intermediate NoSQL database management using DynamoDB; introduction to relational database and SQL language

Students Intended For

What students are the best fit for each program? The obvious answers start with whether students can manage the additional time and cost associated with the SE program over the Web Development program. The SE program is 50% longer and approximately 50% more expensive, although the final cost is dependent upon various forms of financial support from NSS. Those time, cost, and logistical issues are all outlined above

In terms of technical exposure or training requirements, neither program requires prior coding experience - both programs can provide an on-ramp to a software development career for motivated adults who have the aptitude for this work. We’ve outlined some of the differences related to admissions in the table below and have published a blog focused on the admissions process for the SE program.

The Web Development program provides a “gentler” on-ramp in terms of the preparation required to start the first day of class and in terms of how fast the program becomes technically challenging. The Web Dev program assumes that by the first day of class students have completed  an introduction to the basics of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The SE program expectation is that by the first day of class students will have reached a level of proficiency with coding in Java and had a first introduction to a fairly wide range of programming concepts. The SE program then quickly picks up the pace of learning and the material becomes more technically complex much more quickly than in the Web Dev program. 

One way to think about comparing the difficulty between the two programs is to consider that the SE program is preparing students for generally more advanced roles, and hence the program covers more advanced and complex materials. Web Dev program graduates will someday need to learn this additional information on the job or through additional training if they eventually seek to do this type of work. Therefore it makes sense that the SE program would be more challenging, even given its greater length, as required to cover the more extensive curriculum. 

As a result of the above, the SE program potentially is a more direct pathway to more advanced software development careers for those who already have academic or professional experience in IT and software development. For example, recent college graduates with Computer Information Science degrees who want to target a more software engineering focused career pathway can be a good fit for the SE program. Individuals with a computer science minor who lack the practical software engineering skills and the extended practice in coding can accelerate career development through either program but for those with prior coding skills the SE program may be a better fit. We’ve always had applicants to our Web Dev program from these backgrounds but now that the SE program is available there are multiple options they can consider. 

We have also regularly had working professional developers that have turned to our Web Dev program to modernize their skills or learn aspects of web development they may never have been exposed to in school or on the job. We already are seeing quite a bit of interest in the SE program from working developers with one or two up to five or six years of experience who want to target their career growth toward more complex server-side software engineering. In some cases this interest is coming from graduates of coding bootcamps who have been focused on front-end development or full-stack work and are now ready for new career challenges and opportunities. 

But remember, you don’t need prior coding experience for either program. 


Web Dev Program

SE Program

Programming Experience or Training Required



Steps for admission

  • Application
  • Interview
  • Optional - Personal coding self-study or NSS Jumpstart class
  • Application 
  • Interview
  • Optional - Personal coding self-study or NSS Jumpstart class

Preparation between admission and first day of class

NSS curated front-end development prework - 40 to 80 hours on average 

Java programming prerequisites class (or prior Java coding knowledge)

Pass Java coding assessment

Hours required outside of class per week for homework

The program design does not require homework to any meaningful degree. Many students spend anywhere from five to fifteen hours a week outside of class reviewing material or practicing coding. 

The program design does not require homework to any meaningful degree.

Jobs prepared for

Let’s start by saying that both programs prepare students for software development careers that are very much in high demand. They target different types of roles and (to some degree) different potential employers. Both types of roles are well compensated. Both types of roles provide high degrees of potential for future career growth and learning. 

The Web Development bootcamp has a ten year history of preparing students as junior web and software developers. Graduates of the program are consistently hired in roles such as Full-stack Software Developer, Front-end Software Engineer, Server-side Developers, QA Test Engineer, etc. Graduates go into a wide range of different industries and types of companies, ranging from Enterprise IT organizations, Consulting firms and agencies, and Tech product/service companies. We have a history of placement rates in the mid-80 percent to mid-90 percent range year-over-year since 2012 from this program. And we have documented in our community impact reports that over the last couple of years the median starting salary from this program has been $60,000. 

The SE program targets a different set of software development positions and, to some degree, a different set of employers. It is a new program that graduated it’s first cohort in February 2023, so placement history of NSS graduates is not available and hence there is a leap of faith involved in starting this program relative to placement outcomes. 

We think the experience of our collaborator on this program, Amazon, is relevant in considering the jobs this program prepares students for. Our curriculum is based on a program that Amazon developed as an in-house “bootcamp” called Amazon Technical Academy. The program was designed to take non-technical adult learners with no software engineering skills to a level where graduates could qualify for software engineering positions at Amazon that have traditionally only been available to those with Computer Science degrees - and Amazon has shared publicly that the vast majority of graduates of their ATA program are hired by Amazon as junior software engineers. Our interest in collaborating with Amazon to take this program public was in large degree based on the demonstrated success of the program inside Amazon. 

Will other employers who hire computer science graduates view graduates of the NSS Software Engineering program as having a credential that is equivalent to a C.S. degree? We’ve certainly had a positive response to the idea from employers we’ve talked to about our SE program - we already have employers in Nashville that treat our Web Development certificate as an acceptable alternative to a C.S. degree. It seems as if the SE program, with its 50% longer immersion of students in software engineering practice, the explicit inclusion of C.S. topics, and the exposure to cloud-native computing concepts should be even more acceptable. 

The jobs that this program was designed to feed into are software engineering roles building server-side software. This could be the server-side code for an enterprise-scale business application - there are many, many jobs that require this skill set. But server-side code is needed for many other roles - any server-side code that doesn’t need a user interface such as middleware that provides services to other applications, that controls devices, or that manages and automates a wide range of processes. These jobs are found in the largest tech companies - or the fastest growing tech companies in the world. These companies have the most rigorous and selective hiring processes because they build the most scalable and demanding software applications. These are the types of roles, at the kind of companies, that the Software Engineering program is focused on filling. Again, we don’t yet have experience with placements into these roles and companies so we don’t have documented history regarding median starting salaries. We can say that the starting salaries for these types of roles range from as low as $60,000 to $70,000 up to as much as $120,000. 

Have more questions about which program is right for you? Attend our monthly Web + Software Development Info Session or connect with us on our Contact page.

Topics: Learning, Web Development, Software Engineering