Technology boot camps — do they work?
Part two: boot camp versus uni
In the first part of this article we asked how the increasing demand for highly trained computer specialists will be met; and how, in such a fast-changing marketplace, computer science graduates will stay up to speed for these new roles.
Coding boot camps are emerging rapidly to fill the gap — but could they eventually replace traditional computer science degrees? It seems an unlikely question, but one which is being asked in some quarters. At present, boot camps are still seen as a poorer relation to university; but if the key purpose of university is to get a job, and boot camps can provide them, how vital is the traditional schooling model?
Matching workplace needs with learning outcomes
Online boot camp Bloc, for example, offers a course that can be taken part-time over a period of 72 weeks and includes computer science fundamentals ‘that top engineering companies continue to look for in employees,’ according to Tara García Mathewson. Mathewson quotes Bloc’s CEO Clint Schmidt who ‘says it’s a common refrain from employers — that computer science fundamentals are important and that they teach students how to think about software and how to use it to solve complex problems.’
Significantly, Bloc offers a job placement guarantee. ‘Graduates are eligible for a complete reimbursement of the $24,000 tuition if they don’t find a job within four months that offers at least $60,000 per year,’ Mathewson writes. ‘We’re designing this software engineering track to meet the very acute need in the market,’ Schmidt is quoted as saying, ‘but without requiring students to spend four years and a couple hundred thousand dollars in tuition to do it.’
As tuition costs at traditional institutions have risen, prospective students are more aware than ever of the need to ensure their investment in their education pays off at the other end. ‘Coding boot camps are providing a tempting alternative to a two- or four-year program, especially when they offer such job guarantees,’ Mathewson writes. She goes on to mention the Viking Code School and the App Academy, which operate on a ‘free’ model similar to the way student loans work — collecting tuition fees further down the line by taking a proportion of the graduate’s salary once they are in the workforce. Both Bloc and Code Fellows, Mathewson points out, ‘offer a refund to students who don’t find jobs using the skills they acquired through the program.’
Then there’s Flatiron, which offers a 12- to 15-week program for $15,000 and places students into jobs ‘99% of the time with median starting salaries of $74k,’ according to Michelle R Weise. ‘Students who may not even have a bachelor’s degree are landing jobs at places like the New York Times, Etsy, Goldman Sachs and Google,’ she adds.
Even so, one of the factors slowing down the growth of boot camps as a viable alternative to traditional universities is funding. To date, they have not qualified for federal funding in the US in the way that classical study centres do. This situation, however, is rapidly changing. EQUIP — Educational Quality Through Innovative Partnerships — is an Obama-led initiative designed to help some non-traditional educational providers, such as boot camps, access federal money.
‘What this experiment does is waive the rules (for a small number of test sites) where schools are limited from using more than 50% of content or instruction from another entity,’ says Joshua Kim in Inside Higher Ed. The aim is win-win for students, enabling them to use non-traditional learning establishments, helping them get the tailored education they need, and achieving the hands-on skills that employers want — without breaking the bank.
A mix of skills
It’s not time to start sounding the death knell for traditional models just yet. The advice to potential students is to choose your course carefully and decide if a boot camp on its own is really going to be enough, or whether your career prospects are best served by a mix of university and boot camp top-up. Certainly, be cautious about online-only courses. A mix of face-to-face learning and online components is the optimum way to get the best education at the best price. And whilst boot camps work well for tech — we are talking specifically about coding — nothing compares with the wider benefits of being in a university scenario; having time to absorb and apply the information you learn, the social benefits of mixing with peers, and the distillation of theoretical knowledge to accompany the practical.
As Rob Gonzalez in The Crunch points out, ‘the field is constantly evolving and changing — with more things to learn and discover every year than you could learn in a lifetime.’ Universities might have their work cut out a little more to compete with boot camps, but the wider picture is still of vital importance.
This article was first published at https://elu2016.wordpress.com/