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Boom or bust: The lowdown on code academies

Dan Tynan | Feb. 11, 2014
Programming boot camps are on the rise, but can a crash course in coding truly pay off for students and employers alike?

For fees typically ranging from $1,000 to $1,500 a week, students can enroll in intensive 8- to 16-week courses on topics such as JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, Python, or iOS programming. At the end of their terms, many graduates can expect to receive high-paying job offers from both startups and well-established tech firms. Depending on the academy, students may get a partial refund of their tuition, which the schools more than make up for by collecting a finder's fee from the employer. Some schools claim to place more than 90 percent of their graduates within three months.

Little wonder, then, that these schools — known variously as code academies, hacker dojos, or programming boot camps — have been sprouting up like mushrooms after a deluge. But opinions about these institutions, most of which did not exist before 2011, are sharply divided.

For some tech companies, these programs offer a way to quickly find desperately needed talent without struggling with H-1B visas or protracted college recruitment programs. Other employers and recruiters, however, steer a wide path around them, saying a three-month course cannot possibly provide the engineering fundamentals required for being a productive member of a development team.

"Programming boot camps can't serve as a substitute for formal training or real-world experience," says Jon LeBlanc, head of developer evangelism at PayPal. "If you want to advance in your career, you need to have a complete understanding of languages and concepts that is developed far beyond the limits of a 12-week course."

Recently, these schools have come under fire from state regulators as well. In January, California's Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education sent cease-and-desist letters to Hack Reactor, Hackbright, and several other popular academies, demanding they come into compliance with state laws regarding vocational education or risk being shut down.

The students: Jump-starting a career change
A wide variety of students are attracted to these kinds of programs, says Adam Enbar, co-founder of The Flatiron School in New York City, which offers 12-week programs in iOS and Ruby. Some are experienced programmers who want to master a new skill set. Some work in nontechnical jobs and want to add coding skills to make them more valuable to their current employers. Some are entrepreneurs who want to build their own products.

But the majority of enrollees at code schools tend to have little or no programming experience; for them, these boot camps are the fastest way to jump-start a career change.

Baylee Feore is one of the latter. After she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with multiple degrees in business and public policy and international studies, she went to work as a management consultant for Booz & Co. in New York City.


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