Bootcamps Were Never for Everyone

We’re excited to announce Launch, built from the ground-up to serve the needs of young career starters wanting to enter technical careers.

Bootcamps Were Never for Everyone

This is part 1 in a series "The Near Future of Technical Bootcamps" we're publishing over the next few weeks.

Need the TL;DR version? We’re excited to announce our third program, Launch, built from the ground-up to serve the needs of young career starters wanting to enter technical careers. Designed as a longer program to accommodate a rigorous technical curriculum and a heavy emphasis on professional development, graduates will be enterprise-ready C#/.NET software developers. Learn more and sign up for updates here.

I remember where I was standing when my friend Chad Fowler asked, “if you had really smart people who don’t know anything about programming, how long would it take to turn them into job-ready software developers?" On that day in 2010, I didn’t know the answer and nobody else did either — it hadn’t been done before. We started Hungry Academy anyway while similar programs like Code Academy and DevBootcamp were also testing their hypotheses. And now, 11 years later, tens of thousands of people have entered the software industry via accelerated training bootcamps.

In the early years, there was a ton of hype and hyperbole. “College is over,” some claimed. Those people usually already had college degrees. “Anyone can be a coder,” others said. Anyone can write a bit of code, sure, but not everyone is going to excel.

And, as bootcamps grew in popularity, critics went to the other extreme claiming that they’d "never hire someone without a CS degree." Or that if you’re really passionate about the work, you should just read documentation on the web and watch YouTube videos until you’re ready for a job. They have stories about how their cousin’s friend’s boyfriend did it, and it totally worked. Or their friend went to a bootcamp, and it was a total waste of time.

There is money to be made and fame to be built by staking out extreme positions. But the more I learn about life the more I find that every sufficiently complex question comes back to the same conclusion: the truth is the middle path.

We’re eleven years into bootcamps, and I don’t see traditional colleges and universities quaking in their boots — at least not because of us. It turns out that a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and a movement of people rethinking how life “has to be” added up to a much more disruptive force than the emergence of a few small training programs. I believe and hope that Higher Education faces a reckoning over the next 20 years, but it won't be because of bootcamps.

Meanwhile…those haters? They probably work with bootcamp grads now. Maybe they work for one. They probably don’t even know it. Grads get into the industry, succeed, and nobody asks “hey, how did you even get here?” Turns out when you have two years of development experience, nobody cares where you learned or if you have a degree.

The haters were just classic "gatekeepers." They were afraid that people could get to where they got without suffering through the things they suffered. And they were right.

Bootcamps work. Programs I’ve been a part of have graduated almost 2000 wonderful people over the last decade. But, for the tech industry, that’s a drop in the bucket as hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created during the same time. An old rule of thumb says that the size of the software industry doubles every five years. That means our early graduates now have more experience than half of all software devs working in the field today. If there’s some kind of glass ceiling, they sure haven’t hit it.

Their careers are on unbelievable trajectories that just continue to head up and up and up.

For the right individual, accelerated training programs can help them build an amazing career and life. That’s obvious at this point.

But who’s the “right” individual? Programs like Turing have minimal formal entry requirements. Our government overseers made us require a high school diploma or GED. You have to be over 18 or else we face a regulatory firestorm to work with minors. If you have those, pass the logic quiz, pass the behavioral interview, then you’re good to go!

That's technically true. What you find when you look at bootcamp success stories is that the vast majority of successful graduates are career-changers. They’re generally 24-40 years old. Over half have college degrees. And they almost all have some significant work experience, from food service to corporate America.

But why is that the profile? What about younger people? Older people? Those without any post-secondary education? Sure, those profiles exist in the student and alumni pools, but they’re not the majority. Why not?

Wouldn’t a 20-year-old who’s grown up with technology seem like the perfect candidate for this kind of training? But even with the right technical skills, young people struggle to get hired in this industry.

There are tens of thousands of open developer roles. For our Back End Engineering and Front End Engineering graduates, the average student finds a job in under 60 days. But for the youngest students and grads, it's another story. They're not career changers. They don't have a decade of work experience to reference and they're not comfortable with application and interview processes. The answer isn't as simple as additional class sessions and job coaching.

The problem isn't the student, it's the employer. Hiring isn't limited by what the graduate knows. The major limiting factor in technical hiring is the employer’s willingness to assume risk. Employers don’t like chances, they like sure bets. Even companies who wax philosophical about disruption tend to, internally, run their company following the same rules and patterns as companies of the last 50 years. Their disruptive energy faces only outward, not inward.

Today the software industry talks about diversity but does very little to cultivate it. Everyone wants a QTBIPOC developer with five years experience, but few were willing to give them a shot five years ago. President Obama used to say "if you can do the job, you should get the job." But what we see clearly, particularly with young people, is that the technical skills aren't enough.

Every company wants to hire developers with five years experience because it feels safe. If you can't get enough of those, then maybe a person new to the tech industry will do – as long as they have 5+ years in some other field. But young people without a long track record of professional work experience are seen as too high a risk. Ageism (or maybe life-experience-ism) becomes very apparent, very quickly.

As an organization, Turing has learned so much over the last eight years of designing and running best-in-class training programs. Now we'll face this problem head-on. We'll leverage everything we've learned to build something totally new: a program designed from the ground-up to specifically unlock the potential of young people 18-26. Maybe they don't have years of professional experience or college degrees, but we know that, with the right preparation and opportunity, they can thrive in the tech industry.

In the next post we'll dive into the Launch program and explore how we worked with potential students and employers to challenge assumptions, find new answers, and design the next generation of accelerated developer training.