It’s no secret that the number of jobs in technology are expected to grow significantly over the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in the tech industry is expected to grow at a ‘much faster than average’ rate of 21 percent. And some occupations, such as cybersecurity, have even more promising prospects. Despite the booming technology market, universities are struggling to keep up—the National Academies of Sciences even describes the situation as a ‘crisis’. This problem has resulted in a new entrant in the education market which promises to address the skills gap in technology jobs: bootcamps.
Bootcamps are short-term, intensive, employment-focused programs that help people acquire the skills they need to thrive in a particular role in technology. These bootcamps were initially focused on web and software development—two careers with promising job prospects—but have since expanded to areas such as cybersecurity and user interface design.
According to Course Report (an industry tracking organization) it is expected that over 23,000 people will graduate from one of the dozens of coding bootcamps which exist this year. The growth of coding bootcamps represents a need for new technology talent which traditional education providers have been unable to meet.
While the industry is still new, coding bootcamps have grown in popularity over the last few years. Course Report has estimated that there are around 110 full-time coding bootcamps which are currently educating students, and the industry is expected to grow significantly in the future.
Indeed, prominent venture capitalists have placed bets on the success of companies such as Lambda School: a coding bootcamp which offers a quality computer science education in nine months. Students at Lambda School graduate with a portfolio which allows them to demonstrate their skills to prospective employers, as well as access to a hiring network which they can leverage to find a job.
A debate has emerged recently over whether coding bootcamps do in fact represent a true market need, and are providing a quality service to students who are looking to move into a career in computing.
Proponents of bootcamps argue that many bootcamps offer vast career services which can help students bridge the gap between their education and employment. On the other hand, opponents have argued that the outcomes are not as lucrative as they are reported, and that a quality education cannot occur in the time frame in which bootcamps educate students.
The Benefits of Coding Bootcamps
Coding bootcamps are positioned as an alternative to a college education for people who are looking to transition into a role in the technology industry. The value proposition of bootcamps is simple: they will help students acquire the skills they need to find a job, and assist them in the job search. This is in stark contrast to the value proposition of colleges, which can vary depending on the institution. Most colleges struggle with a complex business model which requires them to balance research, providing a liberal arts education, and offering career-focused programs. Bootcamps, on the other hand, only have one focus: to help their students transition into a good job.
This focus allows bootcamps to become specialists in their particular fields. This can be illustrated by the emergence of quality employment transition programs offered by many bootcamps. Thinkful, a prominent coding bootcamp, offers a vast array of career services to their students. Throughout the program, students have access to a career coach who can provide personalized support to students. Thinkful also refers students to companies in their hiring network, and helps students create strong connections with prospective employers. Colleges, on the other hand, often cannot provide this level of specialization, due to the broad nature of their business model.
Bootcamps have also adjusted their services to be more convenient for students. Most bootcamps last between three and nine months, which is more manageable than the four years one would spend pursuing a computer science degree (or more if they were pursuing an advanced degree). This shorter duration makes it easier for low-income students and people who have other obligations to manage. Students can attend the bootcamp program, who may not otherwise have been able to pursue any post-secondary education.
However, in order for bootcamps to live up to their value proposition, they must offer a more intensive course. Full-time bootcamps typically fill up most of the day working on independent programming projects and spending time with instructors and mentors in the program. College students, on the other hand, may not have such a stressful day-to-day life. Thus, there is a trade-off that coding bootcamp students must consider: is the shorter time limit worth the intensity of the program? That said, each bootcamp has different cultures, and some offer part-time courses to accommodate students who may not be able to commit to a full-time program.
The convenience also extends to where a bootcamp education is administered. Although some colleges, such as Arizona State University, offer online education programs, most colleges require students work within a classroom environment every day. Bootcamps, on the other hand, are often online, which means that students from anywhere in the world can attend without having to worry about traveling to a physical school. This allows bootcamps to expand their reach to urban areas as well as allowing rural students who may live in ‘education deserts’ to acquire new skills.
Challenging the Bootcamp Model
Despite the promise of coding bootcamps, there have been some questions raised as to the efficacy of their programs. These concerns can be broken down into four main categories: misleading placement numbers; complaints over the time of a training program; the quality of programs; and the question over whether bootcamp graduates are indeed finding jobs.
Misleading Placement Numbers
In recent years, there has been a growing pressure for bootcamps to report their placement numbers. These statistics can help prospective students make a better decision about their next steps in their education, and allow local, state, and federal governments, as well as policymakers, to better evaluate the efficacy of a particular program. That said, critics have argued that these bootcamp outcomes may be misleading.
The basis of this argument is that many bootcamps do not have their statistics independently audited, which leads to questions around whether those statistics can be trusted. Indeed, many coding bootcamps do not audit their outcomes, which means that they can use any method of information gathering they see fit. This includes methods which might allow them to paint a better picture around the quality of their programs. However, a growing number of bootcamps are moving to having their outcomes independently audited.
The Council of Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) has started to audit an increasing number of bootcamp outcomes. On their website, they actively list historical outcomes for schools such as Hack Reactor, Codesmith, Thinkful, Bloc, and more. These outcomes are verified by the CIRR using standards which are listed publicly, and so their reporting is impartial. Due to this impartiality, students can get a better sense of the actual outcomes of a particular institution.
Another element of this argument is that not all bootcamp students are starting their programs from scratch. However, most bootcamps will only recruit students who they are best suited to help, which is usually students who have little or no prior experience. Thus, even if a few students have a prior coding background, the extent to which this will influence the validity of outcome statistics is limited.
Bootcamp Training Times
Most bootcamps last between three and nine months, which is significantly shorter than the four years it takes to pursue a computer science degree. This has led to concerns about whether any school can train someone satisfactorily in such a short period of time. However, the data suggests that bootcamps are doing a good job of training students in the skills they need to find a job in coding-related areas.
According to Course Report’s 2018 ‘Alumni Outcomes and Demographics Report,’ 79 percent of the graduates they surveyed have found employment in a job requiring the skills they acquired at a bootcamp. Furthermore, these students have realized an average salary increase of 49 percent. This suggests that the duration of coding bootcamps has allowed the majority of students to find a job after graduation.
Most bootcamps are also actively working to improve their offerings, which involves changing their programs to better suit the needs of students. Many bootcamps have even started to incorporate algorithms into their syllabi, to ensure people know everything they need to succeed in a vast array of computing positions. Although many bootcamps do focus on teaching frameworks such as Ruby on Rails, these frameworks are in high demand by employers right now. While a longer term may allow bootcamps to offer a more in-depth education, the promise of the coding bootcamp dependant, in-part, on the accelerated time frame in which students learn.
The Quality of Bootcamps
Reviews of bootcamps are plentiful, both on journals such as Course Report, and social networks such as Twitter. Some opponents of the bootcamp model argue that a large portion of bootcamps are not offering a high quality education to their students. Despite this complaint, thousands of bootcamp alumni report positive reviews on such sites, which suggests that a large portion of students are indeed happy with the quality of their education.
That said, there are also negative reviews to consider. Some students have complained about the quality of the teaching at bootcamps, as well as whether or not they are fully preparing students for the job. However, it is hard to evaluate these complaints without generalizing the bootcamp industry as a whole. Indeed, many of these reviews may originate from bootcamps which offer a lower quality of education, but there are also many institutions which offer an education which has satisfied the need of the vast majority of their students. Thus, although complaints about the quality of bootcamps do exist, these should be considered on the individual bootcamp level, rather than used to condemn the efficacy of the model itself.
In addition, there has been a growing trend among bootcamps to put more skin in the game. Schools, such as Lambda School, have pioneered the Income Share Agreement (ISA) model over the last few years. This gives the schools a substantial amount of financial responsibility. Through this model, students only pay for their education using a percentage of their post-graduation income, but only if they earn over a certain amount. This means that if a bootcamp does not offer a high quality education and live up to its promise, the bootcamp will notice a direct effect on their balance sheet. This gives bootcamps a good incentive to provide a high quality and employer-aligned education—if enough students do not succeed after graduation, the bootcamp will fail.
There Are Jobs for Bootcamp Graduates
The main value proposition of bootcamps, as previously mentioned, is to help prepare people for a job. However, some opponents argue that bootcamps are not sufficiently preparing people for the labor market. One reason for this is that because there are so many bootcamps, students are struggling to differentiate themselves from others.
However, this complaint is often contingent on the fact that bootcamps prepare people for jobs mostly in the Bay Area, which is untrue. A bootcamp education can be used to find a job at any company, not just in Silicon Valley. The number of companies who are starting to hire bootcamp graduates is increasing, and many bootcamps are doubling down on their hiring networks to help people find a well-paid job at a good company after they graduate.
According to Code.org, there are over 500,000 current openings in computing jobs, and they exist in every industry and every state. Code.org also states that jobs in computing are projected to grow at ‘twice the rate of all other jobs.’ Bootcamps are only graduating just over 20,000 people per year, which combined with the graduates from university in computer science degrees is still not nearly enough to fill the skills gap.
Coding Bootcamps Aren’t for Everyone, But They Are Still Valuable
Bootcamps are not for everyone. Many individuals would benefit from achieving a traditional computer science degree, where they will be able to access an in-depth education focusing on all aspects of computer theory and programming. However, there are still many drawbacks with this model. College students can expect to pay at least $15,000 per year for an in-state education, and at least $22,500 for an out-of-state education per year. And students who want to attend institutions such as MIT will pay significantly more. Bootcamps, on the other hand, often cost less than a year of a college education. Furthermore, many people are unable to commit to the four year length of a college program.
Some students may also benefit from teaching themselves to code. There are a wide variety of resources available online which aspiring coders can use to learn about computer science; from Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), to tutorials. This offers a free approach to learning about computing, and many people have successfully found a job after teaching themselves how to code. However, this method does have a few drawbacks. For example, you will need to create your own learning syllabus, and search through many resources online, which can be time consuming and difficult for someone with no prior knowledge of coding.
Coding bootcamps do not have to be a means to an end—they can mark the start of an individual’s education. A coding bootcamp can prepare someone to transition into a career in technology, allowing them to earn the money they need to pay for college a few years down the line. While some bootcamps may have problems surrounding the quality of their programs and poor placement numbers, these represent a minority of the overall industry. Coding bootcamps are a promising way for people—especially those who otherwise cannot access a college education—to acquire the skills they need to pursue a career in the growing sector of computer science.