Coding skills seem to be the new vogue in the employment world. Budding entrepeneurs believe the only thing between them and the next Facebook is their lack of HTML mastery, while employers are searching for tech-savvy hires who can keep up with this month’s must-have digital feature. Bootcamps advertise a zero-to-hero program, getting intrepid wannabe programmers up to a decent coding skill level in 9 to 12 weeks; but is this even possible? The Daily talked with a few Canadian bootcamps and their alumni, who had very different experiences.
A typical bootcamp lasts about two to three months and costs anywhere from $7,000 to $12,000. Students immerse themselves in an intensive training program where they are taught programming skills through tutorials and hands-on projects. Bootcamp programs are demanding – students typically commit to 40 hours a week of class and another 20 to 40 hours per week for side projects. All this work promises a much -desired reward: employment. Bitmaker Labs, a bootcamp in Toronto, boasts that over 85 per cent of its graduates find a job or begin their own startup within a month of graduating.
Tory Jarmain, a co-founder of Bitmaker Labs, told The Daily that because “there are more web development positions open than developers,” bootcamps are becoming a popular way to teach people to code. Though other options such as free online coding schools and university programs are available, Jarmain believes that, “A huge advantage exists in skill training with other people and that learning to code does not need a four-year commitment.” With the lack of specializations in web development in higher education and the increasing demand for people with coding abilities, the demand for talent is far outstripping supply.
Bootcamps are also a way for companies to recruit skilled people other than computer science graduates – such as people looking to make a career change or demographics underrepresented in technology. At HackerYou, a Toronto bootcamp, 70 per cent of the classes are comprised of women. The founder, Heather Payne, who is also a founder of the not-for-profit Ladies Learning Code, told The Daily that bootcamps “accelerate the career of anyone who already wanted to be a web developer.”
“[Some] fell behind and were not at the caliber they thought they would be at the end.”
Bootcamps advertise the ability to teach people of all skill levels to code, though they are largely tailored toward those who want to start their own venture or become professional web developers. However, both the interviewed alumni expressed similar opinions that the initial differences in coding ability, combined with hard work, quickly stratifies the students into high-achievers and those who get left behind.
Unlike conventional education systems, which have formal regulation and evaluation systems, bootcamps operate free from wide-reaching structure or oversight. In Ontario, vocational programs that cost more than $1,000, and are more than 40 hours in length, may be subject to investigation or registration with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). Earlier this year, the MTCU investigated Bitmaker Labs on the grounds that it was operating as an unregistered school, causing Bitmaker to put its program on hold. Bitmaker Labs eventually received a legal exemption, but without regulation it is hard to evaluate the promotional claims made by bootcamps.
Ashley Beattie, a graduate from Bitmaker Labs in winter 2013, had an overwhelmingly positive experience, and has since started a company called Kiwi Wearable Technologies. He went into the program with previous coding knowledge and was able to ‘get it’ after six weeks of the course. “After you write 10,000 lines of code you are well on your way to being a successful programmer,” Beattie told the Daily. But he emphasized that this was not the case for everyone: “[Some] fell behind and were not at the caliber they thought they would be at the end.” Beattie knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur going into this program and was able to use his experience at Bitmaker to eventually start Kiwi Wearable Technologies.
Bootcamps advertise the ability to teach people of all skill levels to code, though they are largely tailored toward those who want to start their own venture or become professional web developers.
The Daily spoke with another recent alumni from a Canadian bootcamp (which she chose not to name) who did not have such a positive experience. According to Jennifer*, “[It was] unfair because the bootcamp increased the class size to almost double what was promised, it unexpectedly shut down for a few days halfway through, and it lacked a well thought-out structured curriculum.” She went on to say that, “The program had internal conflicts and the teachers, students, [and] organizers did not share the same teaching philosophy.” She referred to the stressful learning environment, frustration in the difficulty of understanding concepts, and the lack of guidance as reasons the bootcamp did not live up to her expectations. “The program worked well for some but not for me,” Jennifer admitted to The Daily.
Bootcamps can generally provide a relatively quick and effective method for people to learn to code with high employment rates – making it an attractive option for those who are hoping to learn highly marketable skills. Still, this stressful and condensed environment does not work for all. To really thrive in this environment, some previous knowledge of programming is generally required. The lack of transparency and the variable quality of courses implies high stakes for students who are investing large sums of money.
*name has been changed