An insider’s take on the future of coding bootcamps

Comment

Image Credits: Dev Bootcamp (opens in a new window) / Flickr (opens in a new window) under a CC BY 2.0 (opens in a new window) license.

Darrell Silver

Contributor

Darrell Silver is the co-founder and CEO of Thinkful.

More posts from Darrell Silver

How could two coding bootcamps close while employer demand for bootcamp grads grows? The answer, in the five years since their founding, is that some schools are still at Version 1 while others continue to innovate. Here’s where the market is going:

Why bootcamps exist

Code schools will graduate 22,000 students in 2017, about half as many as all accredited colleges and universities combined (despite a 200 year head start). The growth comes from millions of adults who picked majors that didn’t deliver a good career, a recognition that they weren’t qualified for the job they wanted, and that employers won’t fund switching careers.

Coming innovation

More risk sharing. Private loans from Skills Fund and others demand schools put in escrow around 15% of tuition until students succeed. The next wave of this kind of “risk-sharing” will be with Income Share Agreements, where students pay no tuition but a fixed percent of their next job’s salary. It’s an old idea but coding bootcamps are going wild for it because students trust schools with skin in the game, and it helps create access for those with no credit (and all without government funding; more on that later). If there’s investor appetite ISAs will become a standard offering.

Staffing firms are starting to bet on education as well, with companies like Revature training people they then hire for consulting gigs at companies. Just last week Purdue partnered with staffing firm Infosys to provide training, and last year Chan Zuckerberg Initiative backed Andela to create a similar model for training and placing engineers in Africa.

These companies may not look like bootcamps but they’re very similar: They’re a bet that they can provide an education that increases adult’s earning power. The main difference is that Andela and Revature do it by contracting out the newly valuable labor in exchange for providing a “free” education while bootcamps collect a simple tuition.

HR departments, in addition to shortage of qualified applicants, are seeking new, creative ways to find more diverse talent. Forward-looking companies are open to new solutions, and programs like TechHire or the all-female Hackbright Academy will keep growing.

Schools will start graduating students with more diverse skills so they’re not all competing for the same jobs. Helping students specialize in the exact libraries, tools, and topics employers need lowers employers’ cost of hiring and onboarding. Students who can show why previous work experience is valuable in a new job will continue to be handsomely rewarded – it sets them apart. Similarly, they should be wary of schools graduating dozens of people every few weeks all seeking the same job in the same city.

News flash: web development will not be the only topic adults learn when changing careers. I’m not sure why some schools put “code” in their name, but it’ll prove shortsighted. UX, design, and Data Science are the most common next courses in schools’ catalogs, and cyber security is coming next.

Universities are cashing in by white-labeling products claiming a “bootcamp education.” My British fiancé believes there’s a chip implanted in first-year students during orientation at US colleges to build lifelong affinity. He may be right: Trilogy Education recently raised $30m to sell an unproven (no outcomes, no reviews…) bootcamp education to Universities (who need the cash) who allow it to be resold under the university brand.

The table stakes


Outcomes. 2017 will see two independent, competing standards for reporting outcomes. The arguments around which is better are useful but largely inside baseball. CIRR members already publish stats, while EducationQA promises to eventually include more types of schools and programs. But the basic point is that reporting outcomes is a requirement for students, and soon, reporting within one of the main standards will be as well. Neither of the schools that just closed, Dev Bootcamp and The Iron Yard, reported outcomes.

Incredible career services. Students commonly spend as much time in career services as they do learning in the program. As a result, the best schools 1) weave career services into the curricula months early (this is one of the hidden innovations versus a traditional college education that puts career services into separate buildings altogether), and 2) budget for the cost of hiring phenomenal career coaches, advisors, and mock interviewers. Covering up to six months of career coaching is crucial for student success.

The pitfalls

Sebastian Thrun once lamented, “In education people just have these irrational beliefs in these 200 year old brands. That’s the slowest thing holding back innovation.” For schools that are only 5 years old, the collective reputation is as important as any individual schools’ message. If there’s fraud, if there’s betrayal of students, if there’s profiteering, a single school may suffer in the short term but eventually it’ll hurt everyone. Splitting apart the best programs from the at-risk ones is one of the reasons CIRR brought so many competitors together.

EQUIP, the Obama-era initiative, is an experiment allowing students to take out government loans to pay for bootcamp education. If scaled (and so far it’s barely starting up) the program will undermine the basic premise of bootcamps: That education should be clearly ROI-positive for students with schools directly held accountable when it’s not. Government-backed student loans, however, shift focus from outcomes to government certification. This is the road for-profit colleges went down generation ago, turning cheap loans into thousands in personal debt and unmeasurable degrees. EQUIP may be a test but its outcome would be to distort incentives and end other innovation.

Image: Getty Images

The critics


Tressie McMillan Cottom, author of the fantastic LowerEd, recently had a Twitter debate with one mission-driven bootcamp founder. Dr. Cottom is an important voice, and schools should listen up. From her recent lecture at Harvard:

It’s not that I’m critiquing bootcamps, it’s that we’ve done this before. We know how this model goes. … If people want to pay for their own employment labor market training, and I do think we should maybe start to not think of that as normal, but OK. If people have the money and discretionary income and they want to do it that’s fine.

But that’s not what happens. What happens is that social policy starts chasing those programs. So we see something like EQUIP – part of this is traditional higher ed is reticent to change; doesn’t want to innovate. so Obama tested using federal student aid programs to pay for bootcamps. So you’ve got some test cases happening under EQUIP. That’s where I’ve become concerned because we’ve already done that. That’s exactly how for-profit colleges started to legitimize access to fed student aid programs in the 90s and again, we see what the logical ends of that are.

Cottom also argues on her blog that students’ paying for their own education is a “tax paid for job entry.”

So, ruling out government loans (like EQUIP) and students paying themselves, Cottom dismisses Bootcamps because “until the social problem is solved or the political conditions that make the market the only solution to that problem change, we will keep writing this story.”

Rather than Cottom dismissing bootcamps (and founders ignoring her) both parties should listen more. In fact, Dr. Cottom’s own framework for success is exactly what Bootcamps are after:

Without a guaranteed job or salary while training, [bootcamps] constitute a pre-tax paid for job entry. Of course, this only works, as I go on to say on Twitter, if 1) you don’t need the boot camp certificate as a signal 2) wages are sufficiently high to offset individual costs and 3) the boot camp credential functions for both labor market entry AND promotion.

Exactly! Good adult education must be a clearly ROI-positive investment. The best schools have job guarantees and are “good” because they have clearly stated placement rates, not brands like Harvard, behind them. And lowering tuition would be fantastic both socially and in the marketplace. Coding schools’ achilles heel is that despite 22,000 graduates there’s still only 5 years of data. We’ll get there.

As the industry grows we need to listen to the critics and learn from history. After all, the status quo in higher education kind of sucks. This year Columbia University introduced a one-year journalism degree (journalism!) that costs $147k. Innovation is required.

The neighbors (for now)

Within two years bootcamp-providers will also expand into new areas beyond courses funded by early- to mid-career adults seeking career growth.

Companies will spend more money to advance their teams. General Assembly has already shifted focus to this corporate market, letting their “immersive” courses coast. In the next couple years this will be repeated by others schools going after the tens of billions spent on offline corporate training. Udacity is on to a similar trend, and has excelled as the go to provider for training in Google technologies, like Android.

Several startups are looking to be a more explicit college replacement. Helping 18-year olds start adulthood is a wholly different educational challenge than getting an adult a new career as bootcamp programs promise. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of people who feel ready to jump into their first job at 18 years old (especially kids in Silicon Valley for whom access to career growth let alone the the “middle class” isn’t in doubt). For even more people the costs and debt of higher education are irrational, and finding a way into that market is an exciting long-term proposition.

A few names – FreeCodeCamp, Code Newbies, and Codecademy – will continue to be the “go to” places to spark curiosity in coding. There’s yet to be a breakout winner and free tools make revenue opportunities harder. But for bootcamps the free tools are an existential threat: If someone succeeds in creating a free, self-learning platform as good as bootcamp programs the cost of this education will drop from several thousand dollars to $0. When talking with students, however, the personal guidance (which accelerates learning) and career services (which connect students to actual employers) is what students are paying for.

Finally, economic forces in China eclipse nearly everything happening in this largely US market (yes, there are code schools in Europe, but they’re smaller). In China there’s millions of wealthy parents and grandparents (most with only one child) who, generally speaking, idolize American Education and the tech industry. While today’s edtech entrepreneurs are weirdly US-centric, expect before the decade is out to see more people turn attention to massive and unique demand in China.

It’s not rocket science

Growing beyond Version 1 is not for everyone, and not everyone will survive. It’s just careful, hard work, by passionate professionals. After five years as an education entrepreneur I’ve learned, perhaps to the chagrin of my gold-seeking peers, that success will come only from those who remain harder working than the competition, more optimistic than the critics, and more dedicated than those who thought it’d be easy.

More TechCrunch

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost