Why is the first coding bootcamp closing?

Sylvain Kalache, co-founder of the Holberton School, discusses why the first coding bootcamp will be shutting its doors

This is a contributed piece by Sylvain Kalache, co-founder of the Holberton School of software engineering in San Francisco

Recently, we heard that Dev Bootcamp, the first of the coding bootcamps, will be closing its doors in December, claiming that they are unable to “reach a sustainable business model”. But behind the headlines, the demise of Dev Bootcamp (despite more than a half million unfilled tech positions) suggests that there’s more to this announcement than meets the eye.

Dev Bootcamp started the coding bootcamp industry back in 2012, teaching students enough coding for them to be able to find a job. After all, the bootcamp fad rose during a time when the world became hungry for workers with tech skills, with 40% of employers worldwide face talent shortages. And for students, for just an average cost of $11,000, they would, on average, see a 64% growth in their salary. And so the bootcamp industry exploded, growing from one bootcamp in 2012 to nearly 100 in 2016.


So what’s happening?

The market is now choking on too much junior talent. Just a few months training is not enough to become a software engineer. These “blue collar developers” are only trained on a specific tool, and can only potentially interest companies that are looking for very junior talent for this specific skill. Bootcamp graduates have to be heavily coached by senior Software Engineers to guide them on how to do their jobs, preventing them from doing their own job, not solving the lack of skilled workers.

Stronger talent is coming out of coding bootcamps, and they can be operational quickly and need little coaching. But those graduates are existing developers who came for training on the hot programming languages that they don’t have on their résumés. In these cases, bootcamps mostly act as training accelerator or résumé polisher and they also provide job placement services. HackReactor, known to be among the best coding bootcamps, requires students to have a significant amount of prior programming knowledge in order to get into the program.

Bootcamps are a great add-on to our education industry and are certainly not going away, but the peak of coding bootcamps has come and gone and the market has started to consolidate. This was anticipated as a classic pattern for any newly-created industry.

As businesses and entire industries turn to software to radically alter the way they do business, bootcamps will continue to train the next generation of blue collar workers who will take on the growing numbers of jobs that require little tech skill, but still pay way above average wage. The most prestigious bootcamps will continue to accelerate software engineer training. But we can’t expect this to solve our massive lack of talent.

What about attending a traditional college? For centuries, this is where parents told their children to go to “get a job.” But even their relevance may be fading. A new generation of Software Engineers is eschewing the traditional CS degree. Many scholars say that colleges are not about getting students a job while 91% of students going to college do it in the hope of getting a job. Bootcamps are clearly targeted toward this goal, and they are right. According to Triplebyte, coding graduates match or beat college graduates on practical programming skills and 72% of employers think bootcamp grads are “just as prepared” to be high performers as degree holders.

Coding bootcamps got one thing right - focusing on bringing the right set of skills to students. LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, believes that “our school system is not doing a good enough job equipping people with the skills they need for the jobs that are and will be, as opposed to jobs that once were”.

However, only focusing on skills is not a sustainable solution either, especially in the tech industry where tools are constantly changing. Students must develop their capacity to retrain and retool their brains to learn new skills that they need to master in order to continue to grow in their career. The key to thriving in today's and tomorrow’s world is adaptation and creativity, two skills that bootcamps and colleges often do not teach.

New era colleges taking inspiration from progressive education, focusing on learning by doing via hands-on projects where teachers coach students to achieve their goal instead of feeding them knowledge, are training the types of professionals the tech industry desperately needs. Students work in groups on projects, developing their social and collaboration skills which are key to company's success.

Education as we know it is changing. Bootcamps changed the game and took a step toward this change, let’s continue to bring the change to the next level.