This is Part Two on Bootcamps. Part One 'What are Coding Bootcamps?' can be found here.
Coding Bootcamps offer a cost and time efficient alternative to traditional tech degrees - but do they give their graduates everything they need to start a new career in the tech industry?
What are some of the critiques of Coding Bootcamps?
The Coding Bootcamp industry is still very young, and as such, there’s not much data on them. Accurate data is even rarer, and tends to only come from industry affiliated groups. It’s hard to see what really works and what doesn’t with so little to go off of.
Newer schools that don’t have a reputation or a known name can find it difficult to attract students. People are more willing to trust older established institutions - or Bootcamps with the backings of one - rather than an unknown camp. One of the only ways Bootcamps can promote themselves is through the job placement rates of their graduates, a difficult feat for a company that’s just starting out.
While it’s undeniable that Bootcamps are much more affordable than College or University, they still aren’t exactly cheap.
A course report study found the average coding Bootcamp tuition is around $12,000. They also found that students have increasingly been using external lending partners in order to afford tuition, as 20% of students in 2017 used companies like SkillsFund or Climb Credit.
Aside from the price itself, having students pay to attend Bootcamps, just for a chance at job entry, disadvantages those who cannot afford the enrollment fees. Coding Bootcamps are supposed to be a way way to bridge the financial barrier holding back would-be-students from traditional higher education. If Bootcamp fees are still too pricey, the problem remains.
Completing a Bootcamp doesn’t guarantee a job - just like getting a College degree doesn’t. Many Bootcamp students graduate at once, and all of them have to compete in the job market against others with degrees and years of experience. Full-time Bootcamps can produce a lot of similar resumes and projects, and these graduates rarely know much about computer science fundamentals.
A 2016 edsurge article even found some employers considering bootcamp diplomas to be disqualifying. Employers found that these students lacked the big picture skills which they were looking for, and complained that Bootcamps don’t always successfully teach the skills they advertise. Broader skills and understandings are often developed on the job, but it’s not much help if that’s what you need to get your first one.
Even if graduates are pronounced job-ready at the end of the camp, getting a job still requires a lot of additional work. Most Bootcamp graduates need to have career services and networking with tech professionals if they want to get their first jobs.
Signing up for a Coding Bootcamp is one thing, but being enrolled is something else entirely. Many Bootcamps have a selective administration process, some including a self-guided coding study, a test of technical skills, and an interview. Globe and Mail reported that only one of three people who sign up for a Bootcamp are accepted. Part of the process is to make sure that the hopeful student’s career goals match up with what the Bootcamp can offer, but as Bootcamps have nothing but their success rates to promote and often fund themselves, this process can be intensive.
An edsurge article found that 59% of coding Bootcamp programs have competitive admissions. In many of these cases, if potential students want to have a chance of getting enrolled they must have existing coding skills, or even degree requirements to get in. This rather defeats the original purpose of Bootcamps, to make tech education widely available.
Another critique, is that Bootcamps are unaccredited. They have no government regulations and are not eligible for monetary support. This limits both their growth and attempts to determine success rates of graduates. Several high profile Bootcamps (Dev Bootcamp and Iron Yard) shut down as they couldn’t find a sustainable business model. And lacking accreditation, students are not eligible for financial aid.
With no government regulation, Bootcamps have the potential to go very wrong.
Take Coding House for example. In 2014, many graduates of Coding House were dissatisfied with the school. They couldn’t get hired and hadn’t learned the skills they were supposed to have learned. The school advertised a starting salary of $91,000 with a 95% hiring rate within two months of graduating, except only 57 of 70 graduates had even responded to the survey. Their website displayed a list of twenty-one companies their graduates worked at - but only two of them actually worked at any on the list. Coding House displayed a lot more sketchy behavior as well - such as making students sign agreements prohibiting them from saying anything bad about the school - and was eventually fined and closed down, ordered to refund their students.
Obviously Coding House is something of an outlier, but this particular example sheds some light on just how badly a Bootcamp can go with no real regulation. It’s important to look at these worst cases to understand what to look out for.
There’s a concerning trend where Universities label products as ‘Bootcamp Edition’. A techcrunch study found that Trilogy Education had raised $30 million to sell unproven and untested bootcamp style education to Universities. Universities suffering from financial troubles can see this as a very attractive offer, and allow the course to be released under their brand. But with no reviews and no real results to go off of, this can be a very dangerous practice - for both the University and the students taking the course.
The quality of bootcamps can vary wildly. Some land graduates in debt, possessing only very basic coding skills, whereas others are able to kick off a satisfying and well-paid career within months. The trick is telling them apart, and having what it takes to get in.
How have Bootcamps been evolving? What are the trends, and what seems to work?
The future is looking pretty bright for Coding Bootcamps. After a slight lull in enrollment last year, 2019 can boast the highest enrollment rates ever seen.
As previously mentioned, it’s becoming increasingly common to see Bootcamps with intensive application processes. Toronto based HackerYou has a vetting process where applicants are asked to replicate a website from scratch and make it responsive. Then there’s a video interview, and an in-person group interview. Intensive screening processes help keep success rates high, and help bootcamps market themselves.
With Bootcamps being a fairly new industry, it’s hard to get accurate data on them. This is why the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) was formed in 2016 by several bootcamp companies to better track the percentage of graduates with jobs in the Code School Industry. Using this, potential students can know if the school they apply for has results they can trust in.
Risk Sharing is becoming more common. Risk Sharing often takes the form of private loans from companies paying a percentage of a student’s tuition, or Income Share Agreements where students pay a percentage of their next job’s salary. It’s banking on the success of the student - a practice that’s been shown to increase the likelihood of students trusting these companies, as they are investing in them. It also lowers the cost of enrolling, and allows Bootcamp access to students without credit.
Bootcamps also need to expand what they offer, and start focusing on UX, design, and Data Science as well as code. HR departments are looking for more diverse talent. There’s a greater need for students with diverse skills, and having students specialize in specific skills needed for specific jobs lowers the cost of onboarding, as well as makes students more attractive hires. With Bootcamps teaching different skills to different students, they can avoid graduating large amounts of students with the same resumes all at once.
The largest threat to the existence of Coding Bootcamps are the free programs and tools available online, such as FreeCodeCamo, Code Newbies and Codecademy. If free self-learning platforms can provide the same education as a Bootcamp, there would be no point in signing up for one. However, students of Bootcamps cite the mentorship, live instruction and career services Bootcamps provide as worth the price.
If done right, a Coding Bootcamp should not only prepare a student to begin a career as a programmer, but connect them with employers looking for the skills they have. Networking alone is an invaluable advantage in the job market, something hard to come by through self-guided online study alone.
Keeping this in mind, Bootcamps need to make sure they are investing in more career services. The best schools include career services in curriculum, have career coaching, mock interviews, and have advisers be part of the education.
Bootcamps often hire one or two students to act as mentors to the next group of students. Having someone who understands the difficulty of the course and is still intimately familiar with the process can provide invaluable support to those taking the course.
The typical Coding Bootcamp is run on a one-size-fits-all program, teaching everyone the same regardless of background. This is a problem, in that there are many different ways to teach code, and different people are better suited to different types of learning, especially when it’s a matter of experience. Flatiron School has a highly selective program, with a different curriculum depending on experience.
According to an article, in order to make coding bootcamps more accessible and sustainable, bootcamps must have outcome-based revenue models, demand-led design, and adopt a work-integrated approach.
Lambda School uses an outcome-based revenue model, making it more appealing to students as they don’t pay upfront. It also forces the Bootcamp to align it’s financial success with the student’s success, ensuring Bootcamps are doing their best to ensure their graduates get hired. This also allows for Bootcamps to be more accessible to underrepresented demographics with less of a financial barrier.
There needs to be a larger focus on the side of demand - what the employer wants. By listening to and working with employers, Bootcamps can ensure the wants and needs of employers can be better understood, allowing graduates to be more attractive hires.
Some Bootcamps are focusing on corporate training - the professional development of students. This helps bootcamps to assure their students do well once they graduate, especially when collaborating with companies looking to hire, they can prepare for the student’s future career. An article found that corporate training has had a 34% growth at bootcamps, with 995 enterprise partners in 2019.
General Assembly states that “...success will come down to the strength of providers’ relationships with employers to create a reliable pipeline to employment.” They see Bootcamps as a way to build careers, giving graduates the skills their employers are asking for.
There’s also been a move towards Integrated Apprenticeships. The idea with these is that instead of the typical Bootcamp format, you learn everything you would in the camp on the job, while being offered paid work experience. Techtonic Group offers a program where they encourage employers to hire apprentices after 1,000 hours of work, for no additional cost.
As online bootcamps are becoming more popular, some bootcamps have begun to offer online participation as an option. This helps to reach more people, as it’s more flexible. The online students still have access to mentors and student group sessions. This is more useful for those who can’t afford to leave existing jobs, and it can reach people outside of the physical area. Some have a money back-guarantee if they don’t find a job within a certain number of months.
Techcrunch has found that most edtech companies are US-centric, but tells us that before the end of the decade we can expect to see a huge demand for the industry in China.
So what can we predict for the future of Coding Bootcamps?
Bootcamps are doing well and are likely to continue to do so. Interest in them is high and seems to only be increasing, especially as the tech industry is booming.
We can count on more Risk Sharing. Bootcamps investing in the success of their graduates not only makes students more likely to sign up, but makes Bootcamps much more financially available, as many camps have students paying them a percentage of their first wages instead of paying a large fee up front.
There will be more cooperation between Bootcamps and employers, creating a pipeline to employment. This is advantageous for everyone, as students will be trained in the skills employers want, allowing them to be hired right away and providing companies with skilled employees. It will also give Bootcamps the graduate success rates they need.
There’s a demand for more than just basic coding skills. Bootcamps will start teaching more diverse/specialized skills. More Bootcamps will integrate professional development into their camps, and focus on preparing students individually for different careers they can do well in.
Another thing we can expect is to see coding bootcamps teaching more than just code, expanding out into UX design, and computer science.
Apprenticeships will become more common. They are more accessible than bootcamps, and employers can get a real feel for their potential employee before they hire. They’re especially attractive if they provide the student with paid work experience as well.
There will be more online Bootcamps. It will increase accessibility of who can enroll and reach a wider audience. With flexible hours and spared the daily commute, more people can enrol in Bootcamps without the risk of quitting their jobs to attend.
Bootcamps are tending towards increasingly selective admission processes. They want students who will finish the course and get hired quickly, as they need successful graduates with good employment rates to attract more people to their courses.
This means that many Bootcamps will not be widely accessible, and will demand students have basic or advanced skills in coding before signing up. This will make it harder for beginners, as they’ll have to study on their own before they can hope to get into a bootcamp.
On the one hand, tech work is an awful lot of looking up things you don’t understand. Having beginners self-study and learn basic coding on their own is a good way of preparing potential students for what a coding career will really be like. But on the other hand, it disadvantages those who don’t even know where to start or what to search. Some really just need a bit of a nudge in the right direction before they feel comfortable jumping headfirst into a new skill based solely on what strangers on the internet have told them.
Some people naturally do better through individual, self-directed online study, and others do better in a classroom with peers and educators as resources - where you can ask a real live person a question and have them come over to your screen in real time to help you. It doesn’t necessarily mean these people will be poorer coders for it. All things can be learned - even the skill of looking things up and studying independently.
The takeaway here is that Bootcamps may become less about training someone with little-to-no skills, and more about training up those who already possess basic-to-intermediate skills. Beginners might have to fend for themselves until they are desirable enough to get into a bootcamp - defeating the initial purpose of Bootcamps in the process.
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