Coding schools are hot. A quick Google search removes any doubt about that. Countless pages of results follow a similar, well-worn format: an intensive course of anywhere from 3-6 months, taught by “experienced” programmers who have worked at “leading startups.” The sales pitch concludes with impressive graduation rates, salaries, and job placement statistics—and perhaps a list of the cutting-edge companies at which their alumni work, like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Coding bootcamps are a large and rapidly growing industry. In 2016, 91 schools raked in nearly $200 million in profits and graduated 17,966 coders. This was an eightfold increase from 2013, expanding to 69 cities across the United States (as well as other cities internationally).
Where did these bootcamps come from? More importantly, how did they grow to their current size? To answer these questions, it’s important to look into the underlying societal and educational factors behind the rise of these short-term, high-octane programming schools.
At the height of the Great Recession, America’s slow, uneven recovery was led in large part by Silicon Valley. Even as earnings nosedived across the nation (and low-wage jobs grew to outnumber mid- and high-wage ones), tech continued its strong performance. In 2014, Silicon Valley salaries were up by an astonishing 30 percent, a bright spot that defied the nation’s otherwise inconsistent economic performance. Even today, amidst fears of a tech slowdown (characterized by declining venture capital and growing inequality), tech remains strong. In 2016, for the fifth year in a row, Silicon Valley was the fastest-growing economy in America; its 8.9 percent growth rate even outpaced China’s (which stood at 6.9). Salaries remain high, with intense competition for designers and programmers driving salaries of anywhere from $123,000 to $312,000 per year.
Given the high cost of a traditional four-year computer science degree and the fact that many students leave high school unprepared for the rigor of undergraduate (let alone graduate) education, coding bootcamps can be an attractive alternative for students who want to reap the benefits of the tech boom. Compare, for example, the $45,370 average annual tuition at a private college with the $11,451 price tag on the average coding bootcamp, and it’s easy to see the appeal of the second option. The hands-on experience afforded by a coding bootcamp (which is often missing in a four-year C.S. program) can also appeal to budding programmers. A 2015 Bloomberg profile of bootcamp students found that in addition to cost, they feared that traditional colleges would not offer the practical, real-world education that a bootcamp might.
Unfortunately, as we’ll explore in future posts, all that glitters about coding bootcamps is not gold. While many can and do offer an incredible opportunity to quickly set off down a new career path, the industry is rife with misleading and sometimes outright fraudulent claims. And, facilitated by lax government regulation, some unscrupulous schools take advantage of the very circumstances that have propelled the industry to such great heights.