The Problems with Coding Bootcamps: Allure with little Payoff

August 28, 2017 at 7:00 am 4 comments

Audrey Watters weighs in below on why Coding Bootcamps are failing. She argues that bootcamps aren’t filling a real need, that there really isn’t a huge untapped need for coding skills.

Kyle Thayer and Andy Ko just published an article at ICER 2017 about their analyses of bootcamps.  Kyle has a nice summary as a Medium post (see link here), but I recommend reading the actual ICER paper, too.  Kyle’s summary is balanced about the strengths and weaknesses of coding bootcamps, while I think the results in the ICER paper are much more critical.  This one quote, about the nine months (!) following graduation, was particularly compelling for me, “I preŠtty much devoted my time to [my bootcamp’s] prescribed job hunting methods, which means €financially, I have no money. [. . . ] And that [sacrifice] reflects on my family because now we’re low on funds [. . . ] and now instead of selling our house and buying a house, we’re selling our house to pay the debt that we’re in and then go rent until I can €find a job.”

Kyle’s visualization of the paths of his 26 interviewees is rich with detail, but can be confusing.  Here’s a slice of three of them.

What I didn’t get at first is that the gray area to the right is planned (or even imagined).  So P18, above, has already had one partial bootcamp (half-moon), one complete bootcamp, and still doesn’t have the desired job (the star in the upper right hand corner).  Of his 26 interviewees, only three have their desired job in the software industry.  Several have less than desirable jobs (including one that has an unrelated job and gave up). Nine of the 26 had already dropped out of a bootcamp.

When I read Kyle and Andy’s study about the struggle and pain that the bootcamp attendees go through, including difficulties finding jobs beyond what was expected, and then read Audrey’s piece suggesting that there might not be as many jobs available as people think, I wonder what is the allure of bootcamps.  Why go through all of that when there isn’t a guaranteed (or even likely?) payoff?

Within the past week, two well-known and well-established coding bootcamps have announced they’ll be closing their doors: Dev Bootcamp, owned by Kaplan Inc., and The Iron Yard, owned by the Apollo Education Group (parent company of the University of Phoenix). Two closures might not make a trend… yet. But some industry observers have suggested we might see more “consolidation” in the coming months.

It appears that there are simply more coding bootcamps – almost 100 across the US and Canada – than there are students looking to learn to code. (That is to say, there are more coding bootcamps than there are people looking to pay, on average, $11,000 for 12 weeks of intensive training in a programming language or framework).

All this runs counter, of course, to the pervasive belief in a “skills gap” – that there aren’t enough qualified programmers to fill all the programming jobs out there, and that as such, folks looking for work should jump at the chance to pay for tuition at a bootcamp. Code.org and other industry groups have suggested that there are currently some 500,000 unfilled computing jobs, for example. But that number is more invention than reality, a statistic used to further a particular narrative about the failure of schools to offer adequate technical training. That 500,000 figure, incidentally, comes from a Bureau of Labor Statistics projection about the number of computing and IT jobs that will added to the US economy by 2024, not the number of jobs that are available – filled or unfilled – today.

Perhaps instead of “everyone should learn to code,” we should push for everyone to learn how to read the BLS jobs report.

There isn’t really much evidence of a “skills gap” – there’s been no substantive growth in wages, for example, that one would expect if there was a shortage in the supply of qualified workers.

Source: Why Are Coding Bootcamps Going Out of Business?

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rademi  |  August 28, 2017 at 7:43 am

    Sounds about right.

    Reply
  • 2. Bonnie  |  August 28, 2017 at 8:52 am

    The issue isn’t whether or not industry needs qualified software engineers, because they do. The problem is that the coding bootcamps are not teaching what companies need. Notice I used the term software engineer. Companies need people who are have the skills to design systems and manage them across the lifecycle, not “coders”. In fact, I wish the term “coder” would disappear for eternity. What those coding bootcamps produce are people who have memorized one approach to building software, without enough of the underlying principles to understand how to tackle problems using other approaches. Companies need people who are familiar with many approaches to building software, who understand algorithms, and system architectures, and design paradigms, and who can take an often vaguely worded set of requirements and figure out how to design a system that performs well and meets user needs. You can’t teach that in a couple of months of “coding”.

    Reply
  • 3. Kyle Thayer  |  August 28, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    I’m glad to hear you liked our summary and paper on coding bootcamps! We definitely heard some increadibly positive stories from coding bootcamps as well as some devestatingly sad ones.

    I did want to clarify one thing for your readers:

    Our sample was intended to be capture a wide range of experiences and not necessarily capture accurate ratios of people in coding bootcamps. For example, I specifically asked people at different bootcamps if they knew anyone who got a job, didn’t get a job, or who dropped out of a bootcamp early so I could hear what those experiences were like. This means the ratios of people in each group might not actually be representatives of coding bootcamps overall.

    You can find more concrete numbers (though not peer reviewed) through a transparency initiative for bootcamps (https://cirr.org/published-data) and CourseReport (https://www.coursereport.com/reports/2016-coding-bootcamp-job-placement-demographics-report). CourseReport said 73% of grads had found full-time developer jobs. What I found was how happy some grads who succeeded were, how hard some grads had worked, and how devestating it could be for the 27% who didn’t have jobs.

    The overall success and failure rate for bootcamps definitely needs to be studied more to find out whether bootcamps are worth the effort, and who is most likely to succeed (e.g., does prior programming background predict success?).

    Thanks again for reading our paper and thinking through the effects (both very positive and very negative) these bootcamps can have on real people’s lives!

    Reply
  • […] As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, the paper by Thayer and Ko on bootcamps talked about what bootcamp attendees believed going into the camp, their deep frustration with the camp, and the pain of being unable to find a job afterwards. […]

    Reply

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