A redemption piece on Coding Schools
I was recently quote mined by a strongly worded opinion piece on Bloomberg. I felt a degree of guilt for being a part of a message that pushed people away from a potentially life changing opportunity. The piece, I won’t link it here but you can easily find it with a search, provided a scathing review of certain software engineering bootcamps, but it fell short from painting a clear picture of what the ecosystem looks like.
To be fair, the sentiment of the article is true, many bootcamps are little more than scams and bootcamps in general aren’t for everyone. However, the good bootcamps set themselves apart and present a new paradigm in education; one that allows people to reinvent themselves in a world that is increasingly automated. This can help people that don’t normally have access to universities, are too old, or even those who have graduated but lack applied experience necessary to get a job.
My goal for this article is to write what I was hoping Bloomberg would have written when I agreed to the interview; a fair, and accurate depiction of what bootcamps are, how to choose them and problems that they are currently facing.
Software Engineering bootcamps present an incredible opportunity for people. Within three months, a person can go from novice to employable. I personally went to Hack Reactor. It provided me with over 1000 hours of instruction in a three month period. Previous to Hack Reactor, I was teaching scuba diving abroad. I had absolutely no technical experience, although my parents always thought I would “do computers” when I grew up. Hack Reactor provided me an opportunity that I would have never had otherwise. A second chance; an ability to reinvent myself after going down the road less traveled only to find out that it was not sustainable.
I graduated Hack Reactor after three months, got a job after one month, and was promoted to Lead Software Engineer after 6 months. I am a success story. So is every single person I went to school with, and so is my co-worker who is also a lead engineer and graduated from Dev Bootcamp. These bootcamps aren’t just for people who have the ability to get a loan/scholarship or put together the funds necessary for tuition. For example, Hack Reactor runs or supports several non-profit partner schools. One of which is the Telegraph Academy, a bootcamp aimed at serving underprivileged communities. They run the “Last Mile” program, aimed at providing San Quentin inmates programming lessons so they will have an easier time reintegrating with society. They support ReBootkamp, a program I have personally volunteered for, located in Northern Jordan focused on helping Syrian Refugees and Jordanians learn to code. Hack Reactor isn’t the only one; HackBright Academy focuses on training women how to code and boasts that it graduates more female engineers than Stanford and Berkeley each year.
In the article, I was quoted as saying that I am extremely wary of hiring people out of bootcamps. I was referring to a few bad experiences with some of the “scam” bootcamps out there. The truth is, I am wary and skeptical of everyone coming in for an interview. Their education is irrelevant. I have seen both bootcamp and university grads incapable of iterating through an array. Anyone who works in technical recruiting should know that the worst way to judge an applicant is by their education. The best way is analyzing what they’ve done and what they can do. I’m more concerned about work experience, personal projects, and github presence. I want to see passion and excitement for their career. I could care less where they went to school.
While bootcamps are the quickest and most efficient way to go from nothing to engineer, they are not all perfect. I would even say most bootcamps out there are no good, some of them are little more than scams. People often ask me which bootcamp to apply to, and it is always a difficult question. I usually say that a bootcamp is only as good as their hiring statistics. If one bootcamp has a 99% hiring rate and a $105k salary, and another one has a 80% hiring rate and a 70k salary, there is probably a reason.
Unfortunately it’s not that simple, there is very little regulation on how a bootcamp reports their stats. Many are not honest or stretch the truth dramatically. It is very difficult to find out which ones to trust. At Hack Reactor, there was a period of time when they hadn’t updated their stats in almost a year. I remember the day that the alumni community came together and demanded that the stats be updated, and an explanation why they hadn’t been. The executive staff stopped what they were doing and handled this immediately. They not only updated the stats, but they created a new standardized reporting methodology, so that people could see the exact details of their reports. It provided a layer of transparency that is sorely missed in this sector.
In conclusion, not all bootcamps are created equal, some are downright scams. But there are many that are absolutely incredible, life changing and reliable. This means that those who want to make this transition need to do their due diligence, research and find the right school. It also means that we need to push for tighter regulation on reporting methodologies. The absolute worst thing we can do, is bunch them all together and say that they are worthless. Because as we are headed in the direction of a more automated world, a four year degree followed by 1–2 years of internship is too long of a time for most people to spend studying, especially if they have families. Bootcamps are a way forward, they are the solution to a very specific problem, and demonizing them as a whole helps no one.