“The future looks bright when you know how to code,” or so says Fullstack Academy, a New York-based coding boot camp that promises to transform students into full-stack developers in just thirteen weeks. Fullstack Academy is just one of many coding academies to pop up in the last four years.
Similar to startup accelerators, code academies provide a fast, tailor-made education to expedite the process of becoming a software engineer.
Demand is high and why wouldn’t it be? Traditional computer-science majors take four years to complete, can cost over $100,000 in student loans, and prioritize theory and problem solving over actual coding. In comparison, coding academies promise the technical skills needed in a day-to-day developer job in just ten weeks for about a tenth of a price. Working ten hours a day, boot camp students cover a semester’s worth of material in four days, said Anne Spalding, who left a tenured computer science post to teach at Dev Bootcamp.
The promise of hack schools is that anyone can learn how to code: an English major, a nurse, even a delivery guy. Ten grand and ten weeks of immersive coding is all it takes. Overnight you’ll become irresistible to tech companies that will be hounding at your door to offer you a six-figure salary with benefits.
The truth is a bit more complicated.
Success at these institutions depend on a host of variables: the quality and experience of the instructors, a student’s ability to keep up with the rigorous curriculum, the reputation of the institution among others. While many do land software engineering jobs at Google, others drop-out, are asked to leave mid-program, others are left with three months of experience and no job.
Admissions into top coding academies are extremely competitive and drawn-out processes involving in-person interviews and coding tests to test the candidate’s problem-solving potential. Often, the admission rate is less than ten percent. Dev Bootcamp accepts only 20 applicants at a time. HackBright academy, a female only program, accepts less than 5 percent. The majority of people do not get accepted.
Candidates often take out loans to afford coding boot camps. This can have disastrous consequences when a candidate finds the program to not be a good fit for them. Most camps require 16-hour, 18-hour days which can easily become strenuous. For first-time programmers, this kind of intensity is overwhelming.
Instructors are primarily coders themselves that are learning how to teach as they go. Teachers are ill-equipped to deal with different types of learners, especially those who are programming for the first time.
Coding boot camps make money mainly off of tuition. The Flatiron School in Manhattan charges $12,000 upfront for their 12-week web development program. Other programs are tuition-free like App Academy—unless you get a job (then its 15 percent of the first-year salary to be paid over six months).
Many coding academies also have job-placement partnerships with companies to hire their graduates, often charging fees off of first-year salaries. Programs promote partnerships with promises of tuition reimbursements if a graduate accepts a job at a partner company.
Fullstack claims a 97% hiring rate post-graduation. Other coding boot camps provide similar statistics regarding job placement rates and impressive starting salaries. But often these statistics go by unchecked by third party auditors. There are no standard statistics.
App Academy, based out of San Francisco, measures its job placement rate for graduates over a year-long period. Other academies measure it over just six months. Some academies define job placement to include temporary jobs and internships. Not to mention there’s no way to confirm if these jobs were actually in tech.
Only one major coding school releases statistics about their students in an effort to increase transparency: the Flatiron School in Manhattan. In their 2015 Jobs Report, available online, of the 205 job-seeking graduates in 2015, only 58% accepted full-time salaries roles. Another 34 percent accepted paid apprenticeships, which are defined in the report as “a paid position of defined duration, usually 8-12 weeks, often paid hourly and on a contract basis. Often an apprenticeship is used to evaluate a candidate for full time salaried status.” The average initial salary for full-time graduates was $74,447.
Still, many graduates find difficulty in securing a salaried position. Even if a graduate of a boot camp is a capable iOS developer, most companies are still reluctant. They say three months is not enough experience. In an unforgiving job market coupled with staggering debt, finding entry-level jobs after these boot camps can be difficult. While demand for experienced software engineers might be high, postings for entry-level positions are saturated with people with little experience.
There are plusses to the coding boot camp ecosystem—such as, helping to attract more women to the technology sector. Entire coding programs like Grace Hopper Academy in New York City are exclusively female in an initiative to convince women to join the male-dominant field. The New York Times reported last year that only 18 percent of graduates at four-year universities are women. On the other hand, 35 percent of students are specialized coding schools are women. At Flatiron, 39 percent of graduates in 2015 were women.
Coding boot camps provide an opportunity for people looking to switch careers or who never had a chance to attend or complete college in the first place. Relatively speaking, it’s cheaper, shorter, and according to boot camp website, generates a nice salaried return.
These coding academies work to fill the dearth of talented developers. And let’s face it: generally speaking, coding academies churn out lower-quality software engineers. Even if program graduates are talented, three months of experience is still three months.
“Finding good engineers is tough because it takes a long time to be a good engineer,” Steve Huffman, cofounder of the travel search company Hipmunk, told Fast Company. It takes more than three months and a few practice apps to be an experienced programmer that understands the nuances of coding that most companies are looking for. Find more NYC Tech News in our tech section.