Is the end nigh for Coding Bootcamps?

In the last month, two Coding Bootcamps have announced they are shutting down after being unable to find a viable business model. Dev Bootcamp, owned by Kaplan was first — they said they were unable to balance the level of instruction they wanted i.e. in-person with support and run a profit, Iron Yard cited troubles of a nascent market. Despite this, more are coming is this folly?

Not necessarily, although the specifics haven’t come out yet, some have cited the obvious: expensive real estate (i.e. some have offices in downtown DC, San Francisco etc) and high labour costs. Another angle is the payment model, both companies took an upfront payment — other schools take a % of the first year of work. The latter model can yield $2–3K more per student (subject to the (likely local) labour market and the student). It also comes with caveats, companies reliant on salary share try and de-risk this by being far more selective of the students in question — which challenges bootcamps ideology that they can re-train anyone to a ‘new collar job’.

Audrey Watters argues that Bootcamps themselves are part of a Silicon Valley narrative of a skills gap in programming which is at best exaggerated and at worst entirely aimed at getting a cheap labour supply for their own ends at the expense of students. Furthermore, they are also a second-rate education, citing a Bloomberg article which found some recruiters were dismissive of the quality of their graduates.

While the skills gap is undoubtedly a political instrument for firms, it’s hardly non-existent, governments across developing and the developed world have found skill gaps such as China and the UK. Furthermore, there are other recruiter such as Triplebyte who present a more nuanced picture of Bootcamp graduates’ strengths and weaknesses.

A more difficult to counter criticism is that made by Tressie Mcmillam Cottom, a Professor specialising in the marketisation of Education, Cottom notes that the schools are a ‘finishing school’ for the wealthy — namely that their high fees (and living costs) make them the preserve of the wealthy who use them to gain a further advantage in the job market. It’s a plausible argument, especially as one considers that even if the Bootcamp takes a salary share rather than upfront fees, their selectivity may well favour University graduates.

The more likely result of all of this is a shakedown, Coding Bootcamps will be viable in certain labour markets i.e. with high job demand for coding skills, while online options may become the preferred low-cost option for those less able to pay or who need to fit it round existing work or study commitments — here, here and here