The exponential rise of coding bootcamps seems like a way to fill the tech talent gap and provide people with an entry point into a lucrative tech career. But can a coding bootcamp graduate compete with a computer science degree holder in the tech marketplace?
Coding bootcamps rose to prominence in 2012, promising to quickly teach people tech skills needed to work for major tech firms. The bootcamps last an average of three months, and cost an average of $11,451, according to Course Report. In 2016, 91 bootcamp providers were operating in 69 US cities, compared to 67 schools in 2015.
An estimated 17,966 students graduated from bootcamps in 2016, according to Course Report. In comparison, there were 61,408 undergraduate computer science graduates from accredited US universities in 2015.
Researchers from Triplebyte recently studied differences between how bootcamp grads and college grads performed during technical interviews with their company. They found bootcamp graduates were better at web programming and writing clean, modular code—but worse at algorithms, and understanding how computers work.
"At the end of the day, there is no shortcut to becoming a good programmer," said Mark Dinan, a tech recruiter based in Silicon Valley. "If you go to a bootcamp that's a three-month program, you're competing against recent college grads who have four to six years of intense software development experience."
Data from Indeed.com show that resumes listing "coding bootcamp" experience increased more than 1,000 between 2012 and 2016. They almost doubled between 2015 and 2016 alone.
Dinan said he often receives resumes from bootcamp graduates. "Some people do get jobs in tech after going through them," he said. But more end up in non-coding positions, such as project management or QA. In his experience, "it's an extremely low probability that somebody going to a bootcamp could make a major career pivot that they otherwise wouldn't be making," Dinan said.
Blake Angove, director of technology recruiting services at LaSalle Network, agreed. "The bootcamp graduates who have the most success were usually in some type of STEM-related field," Angove said. "This experience coupled with the bootcamp coursework allows them to hit the ground running much faster as a developer."
Dev Bootcamp, founded in 2012, was one of the coding school pioneers. Accepted students complete nine weeks of online work, nine weeks of in-person work at one of six locations nationwide, and are offered ongoing career services. The bootcamp has graduated 2,800 students since its inception, according to COO Tarlin Ray.
"If you're looking to change your career, with the proliferation of tech and data, the new bilingual is the need to know this other coding language," Ray said. "It's where the jobs are."
Often, Ray said, people perceive that there is one set job for coding school graduates: Full stack developer. But based on a student's background, they might be a better fit in DevOps, QA, engineering support, or developer sales.
"We believe there are more jobs than a single job," Ray said. "Some people say bootcamp grads can't qualify for top notch jobs at Google, but there are so many other roles that need a pipeline. Every person shouldn't be going after the same role."
Once they graduate, some students chose to continue learning through apprenticeship programs, Ray said. The camp does not publicize the number of alumni currently working in the tech field.
"Even though this is a short, intense form of training, it's not the lottery ticket to the senior developer job and you're done for life," Ray said. "It's the first step on a continuing path to having an amazing career in tech."
Coding bootcamps may also offer a way to get more diverse candidates into tech fields, Ray said. Facebook donated $250,000 to Dev Bootcamp in 2016 to provide scholarships for women and minorities. The bootcamp also recently partnered with Lesbians Who Tech to help fill the talent pipeline with more LGBTQ women. Other schools, like Hackbright Academy and Ada Developers Academy, admit only women.
This follows the industry's efforts to diversify. More than 10% of IBM's new hires are for what it dubs "new collar jobs," designed for people without a four-year college degree, or for those changing careers via a bootcamp.
Expedia partnered with the school Coding Dojo as a way to recruit nontraditional candidates. "We've found that programs outside of colleges can produce enthusiastic, smart, driven candidates with diverse backgrounds," said Deepthi Kondapalli, Expedia director of technology.
Ray's message to tech industry hiring managers? Give coding school graduates a chance. Certain large tech companies use a hiring process by which candidates need to check certain boxes before they are granted an interview. "Some bootcamp grads may not have a computer science degree," Ray said. "But maybe they learned Ruby, and the interview was fully in Python, and they showed they could adapt and have the ability to learn and work well in a team."
Many coding schools, including Dev Bootcamp, are also willing to partner with tech companies and adapt their curriculum based on what those companies are looking for in future employees, Ray said.
Lack of regulations
Coding bootcamps are an attractive educational option for certain populations, according to Kevin Kinser, department head of education policy studies at Penn State University. "They are one of the examples of new ways of thinking about providing access to education that is focused on providing marketable job skills," Kinser said.
However, bootcamps are not accredited institutes of higher education. Therefore, a problem—such as a student not believing that the program lived up to its promises—would likely lead to a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, unlike at an institute of higher education, which has multiple layers of oversight. "You have to be assured based on your own understanding of the industry that what you're getting is going to have a return on investment," Kinser said.
Longevity is an important factor to consider: If a coding school is not reputable, it's likely that they will not be around for long, Kinser said.
"Generally, people need to be very cautious about paying a lot of money for a bootcamp," said Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who focuses on for-profit college accountability in education policy. "For-profit companies can recruit a lot of people, get them to pay for a course, and then it's easy to blame the students for not getting a job. Do your homework before signing up."
Shireman warns potential students to be cautious of a school that seems too eager to enroll, and those that make aggressive sales pitches. "Find one where you know someone who went through it who you can talk to about their experience, who is not doing recruiting for the school now," Shireman said.
Tech companies report a variety of different experiences interviewing and hiring coding bootcamp graduates.
"At Salesforce, we're always looking for people who embody our core values and have real world experience," said Sarah Franklin, general manager of Salesforce Trailhead. It's difficult for many traditional computer science programs to keep up with all of the rapidly-innovating technology and skills needed for many tech jobs, Franklin added, so non-traditional approaches can be helpful.
"We like to keep a mix of junior, mid, and senior developers on teams," said Ben Nowacky, CEO and founder of 3Screens. "The passion graduates from the code academies bring to their work has been second to none. They have a strong foundation in development, but are void of bad habits many seasoned developers bring in with them. It's been a great experience for us."
Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, said he hired three developers from coding bootcamps, with mixed results. "A new green developer can eat up more time than they actually contribute to the project because of needing supervision and management," Clayton said. And with the accelerated learning environment, sometimes graduates do not actually know if they enjoy working in the field until they are already in a job, he said.
Doxly, a legal transaction management software based in Indianapolis, hired two Iron Yard bootcamp graduates in the past six months. "The two graduates that I've hired came through the program having gained an incredible amount of knowledge in software engineering fundamentals," said Moses Dwaram, vice president of engineering. "They have been very eager to learn and grow to the next level."
Alex G. Balazs, chief architect of consumer tax group at Intuit, has hired bootcamp graduates. "You will find amazing talent in places where you don't necessarily expect it," Balazs said. "We have lots of engineers at Intuit that have degrees in computer science but some do not. Great software developers can come from different places and backgrounds but you'll never discover it if you don't look."
Bootcamp graduates tend to have great communication and collaboration skills, said Stephen R. Foster, CEO and co-founder of ThoughtSTEM. However, they tend to struggle with backend developing projects, and usually lack basic algorithmic understanding, he added.
"When you compare the traditional computer science undergraduate experience with the bootcamp experience, you tend to see two ends of the spectrum," Foster said. "Bootcampers often have a lot of practical skills with hot technologies, but they lack a good foundation in computer science. Undergraduates often have a great foundation, but very few practical skills."
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Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.