SoT 1908: The Freedom Business

What do we actually do at Turing? Do graduates find the careers they're looking for? We studied 830 alumni to find out.

SoT 1908: The Freedom Business

So many conversations in my life start the same way...

“Hi, I’m Jeff.”
“Hi Jeff, I’m So-and-so. What do you do?”

Then there’s this long moment. Is the answer...

  • Send Slack messages?
  • Stress about student enrollment and jobs?
  • Have one-on-ones?
  • Teach a class here and there?

What do I do and, moreover, what do we do? Let’s start at the beginning.

On June 3, 2014 we opened the doors of Turing. We were in a converted basement storage room under Patagonia. We had fake windows, peeling paint, and a pile of Ikea boxes. Day one team-building was to build the furniture. We would get to programming on Day 2.

Part of entrepreneurship is selective truth-telling. Maybe it’s being very confident about what you believe will one day be true. But when it comes down to it, you don’t know. You’re just guessing. When we interviewed those early students in the Tattered Cover bookstore we told them we knew what we were doing, we told them they’d be successful, and we told them they’d get great jobs afterwards.

Justine helps businesses run smarter at Workiva

In 2012, Hungry Academy was one of three bootcamps in the country. As Turing got going in 2014, there were a hundred. The fight was on to secure millions in funding, establish multiple campuses, build a huge valuation, then get ready to sell to the highest bidder.

At that point I’d been teaching for eleven years. I’d been running a one-person business for the last five. I’d run three drafts of courses like this between Hungry Academy in DC and two gSchool/Galvanize classes in Denver. I knew more about this work than anyone else. As a team we were making a promise to our students – and I keep my promises.

Part of doing better meant redefining what it meant to “win.” Being the biggest, getting the most funding, catching headlines and awards — not interested. We’d be one campus. We’d be a non-profit that couldn’t take investment or be sold. We wouldn’t have a fancy office with glass and metal. We’d have the peeling paint in an ancient basement.

Through a career in education I had learned over and over that you have to put student achievement first. Go all-in to ensure the success of the students you’ve got and let everything else work itself out.

Paul, Erin, and Julian planning sprints at Cognizant Accelerator in India

We knew the direction we had to go, but we didn’t exactly know how or why. In those early days there was no mission statement. I think we knew it in our hearts, but it wasn’t written down. We were trying to find great people with the right potential and set them on an amazing career path. After a few months we found the right words: our mission is to train a diverse, inclusive student body to succeed in high-fulfillment technical careers.

That mission has been our North Star. Once you find it in the sky, you can figure out everything else. It’s helped us say “no” to lucrative, tempting projects like corporate training. We’ve said “no” to rich friends wanting to acquire us. It’s helped us to say “yes” to bring Computer Science summer camps to high school girls across the country. It’s the measuring stick against which we can hold a new idea and say “will this get us closer to our real purpose?

While the mission is so meaningful, it’s still hard to describe what we do. What’s the “why?” behind the mission. Usually I just bail out with a simple, literal answer like “I run a school where we teach computer programming to adults.” Wow, exciting! (Don’t put engineers in charge of your marketing pitch.)

Before we defined the mission we knew it was there. And this “what do you do” question has always felt like the same situation. I knew the answer, but I didn’t have the words for it. I’ve started to figure it out.

People have looked at my job history on LinkedIn and said “you’ve done a lot of things!” But I feel like I’ve been doing the same thing for 16 years now. I’ve been attacking the same problem from different angles with different bands of misfit adventurers. But it’s always been the same problem. I get it now.

Kate, Shannon, Becca, Jesse, Marshall, and Joey building the unicorn at Denver's highest valuation tech company

I believe that humans need work like they need oxygen, food, water, and love. When a person has access to fulfilling work, they can find purpose. When work is also financially lucrative, they can find comfort. If they can layer on love to and from people they care about, now you’re headed for fulfillment.

So, yeah, we teach computer programming to adults. We push them into the pits of failure and demand that they climb up. We smash them together in pairs and groups, apply enough pressure to create interpersonal drama, and equip them with the skills to sort it out. We push them to confront the challenges and potentials of these technical superpowers and how they affect the world around them. We put them on stage and compel them to find their self-confidence.

I always come back to the question “how do you help someone become the person they want to be?” You show them that that person is not more than they are, it’s who they are. It was inside them already. They just have to push all the other noise aside to see it.

That’s the promise we made to those early students: we’ll help you be the person you want to be. But then in 2015 I was at a Denver Startup Week event where the panel was talking about the technical workforce in Colorado. When discussing bootcamps and accelerated training, a person from Oracle said “according to our research, the people coming out of these programs will be stuck in entry-level positions…those likely to be automated within five years at which point they’ll be unemployed and looking for more workforce training.”

My heart was screaming “BULLSHIT!” but I couldn’t prove it, yet. They had done the research. I just had my instincts. All this time and effort, all these promises we made, it was leading somewhere, right? Time would tell.

Turing turned five years old in June of 2019. Including my grads from Hungry Academy and gSchool, I’ve collected seven years of receipts. What happens to graduates when they’re actually out in the field? Are they in dead-end jobs or can they make a career out of it?

With the help of Turing staff and alumni, I made a list of every graduate of every class since 2012. We found people on LinkedIn and gathered their location, current job, and company into a spreadsheet. When we didn’t find the info on LinkedIn, we reached out to them directly to get it. This is our research.

As the data took shape, we decided to omit graduates from the past few months who are hunting for their first job. Our hiring data says that those folks will get jobs soon, typically within 90 days of graduation.

Tess and her gigantic OctoCat are making the GitHub

I had a lot of emotions while compiling the data. There were CTOs, yeah, that was cool. There were folks who I loaded the page with a squint, ready for bad news – and sometimes got good news. There were a lot of “Software Engineers.” There’s one who left tech to buy and run a children’s clothing store. Test automation, devops, product managers. It’s a whole spectrum.

When we got done, here’s what we’d found:

  • Over 91% of graduates are working, today, as professional software developers
  • Another 4% are working in technical roles like Product Owner or Project Manager
  • 2% are teaching programming here at Turing or other technical training programs
  • Amongst the 3% who have left tech, many left by choice to start new businesses, take over a family business, or follow another one of their passions. They’re still doing something they’re excited about.

So that means 91% are developers, 6% in related technical roles, and another 1% following their dreams. Over the seven years, 98% of graduates have found great work and are on their way to great careers.

That work pays them well. The average salary coming out of Turing has held steady in the $75,000 range. In the #salaries Slack channel, many grads report that with two or three years experience they're over $100K. It’ll continue to trend up and, while the actual dollars don’t matter, it means that people are earning enough to support a comfortable life for themselves and those they love.

You see in the data that many grads have moved companies. After just 24 months, the typical grad can take advantage of the incredible mobility in the industry. Their skills and experience are what matters most to employers. Opportunities abound. And, just to be clear, some grads have been working at a single company for four plus years and are happy to call it home.

Grads have moved to the Bay Area, Germany, Australia, and back to their hometown in Nebraska. They work in-person and remotely. A few work less than full time so they can travel and be “digital nomads.”

Mark and Julian proving that remote developers do get dressed.

Look at the employers and you find grads working in tiny startups, established, growing companies, and the biggest enterprise behemoths in the field. They can choose to work in companies that reflect their personal values, make a social impact, or just keep it simple and maximize their earnings.

They work with people who appreciate and support them. I heard over and over “I can’t believe this is what work looks like.” They’re cared for, mentored, and pushed to take on new challenges.

They have work schedules and benefits that allow them to travel. They can be great partners to people they love, supportive children of aging parents, and exceptionally present for their own kids.

They get to live the lives they want with the people they want in the places they want in the way that they want. It’s not just that their life is better, it’s a durable self-empowerment that can change whole families.

I understand it now. We don’t teach computer programming.
This is the Turing School of Software & Design.
We set people free.

I’m the founder and Executive Director of the Turing School of Software & Design. I want you to find the freedom to be the person you want to be.