Tech & Work

Coding camp movement shows spike in graduates and schools in 2015, new survey says

Course Report's latest assessment of the coding camp market shows strong and steady growth in the age of the infamous tech skills gap.

A new survey from Course Report shows that the trend toward coding camps as a means to quickly gaining tech skills is steady and significant in 2015. In fact, coding camps will turn out more than 16,000 students this year, up from 6,740 in 2014.

By comparison, the estimate that four-year undergraduate computer science programs in the US produce about 48,700 graduates.

The report was compiled from self-reported data from 67 coding schools in the US and Canada. Course Report, founded in 2013, is a resource for prospective students, on all things coding camp, from application tips, to reviews, and interviews with founders, instructors, and students.

The survey also found that the average tuition for a program is $11,063, which means that projected average tuition revenue from coding camps, excluding scholarships, will be $172 million in 2015 — that's more than double from last year, which saw average tuition revenue at $52 million.

This level of growth, 138%, is eye-catching, but Course Report's co-founder Liz Eggleston pointed out that isn't far off from last year.

"It is a slightly slower number than we saw last year. Last year was 178% — but still pretty, [that's] booming," she said.

There are a few reasons for these boom times.

In the past year, The White House launched its TechHire Initiative to get more more Americans plugged into tech jobs, and that came with the inclusion and encouragement of not only the coding camp model of education, but the message to companies to be more inclusive in their hiring practices. If a candidate can prove he or she can do the job — hire them.

"I think TechHire has definitely increased awareness around this space. I think you'll start to see more of an emphasis on placement and trying to change some of those practices that go into hiring," she said.

Robert Half Technology's senior executive director, John Reed, agreed and said that any focus on STEM careers ends up being a positive move.

And in part thanks to TechHire, many of these camps are moving into cities beyond the traditional tech hubs like San Francisco. Eggleston said that according to the survey, there are coding camps in about 51 cities, currently.

To large degree, why TechHire exists in the first place is because of that looming jobs gap — the half million open jobs in information technology.

Because so many coding camps students already have career experience, and are either switching careers or are upgrading their skill set, four years and six-figures is too long and too much to invest in trying to snag one of those jobs.

"As technologies advance, in some cases, faster than the talent to actually execute - coding camps may be effective in ramping up talent so they can quickly implement these skills within organizations," Reed said.

Along those lines, Seattle-based Code Fellows' CEO Dave Parker said the exclusivity of traditional computer science programs seldom helps meet the hiring needs of companies.

"We know we need more veterans, more women, and more minorities to want jobs in this sector, but they weren't trained up in computer science — which means code schools are a great alternative for folks who are great cultural fits. They have ambition and aptitude to learn, and they've not had access to CS programs," Parker said.

Cultural fit is another factor at play, he said. Code Fellows has worked with companies like Facebook and Expedia, and those companies place a great degree of importance on finding candidates who fit, culturally, and they're more willing to take people with entry level skills and the ambition to learn more.

Parker is also looking at the pipeline of Code Fellows graduates and seeing signs of a network. As graduates move on to other jobs and other roles, they can help newer graduates with things like referrals and, in general, help shape the way non-traditional education is perceived.

As far as what coding camps can do better in the time to come, Reed emphasized the importance of also teaching soft skills and business acumen, along with those tech skills.

In a sense, the situation looks something like this: The demand and the growth are there, and the opportunity for the market is basically coding camps' to lose.

"The challenge is making sure the product quality is super rock solid," Parker said.

Eggleston also said about 30 new bootcamps started this year. She also noted that several coding camps, like MakerSquare, shifted more focus to teaching Java Script, though Ruby is still the most common language taught in 35% of courses.

A more ancillary effect Eggleston noted is that the bootcamp model is spreading out beyond web, mobile, and front-end development, and into other areas like data science, sales, and even product management.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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