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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?

After two and a half years, though, Feore felt it was time for a change, so she moved 3,000 miles to San Francisco to enroll in General Assembly, one of the larger coding academies with schools in nine locations worldwide. For three months Feore learned the principles of Rails, logging 70 hours a week in class time and project work. Despite the fact she had no programming experience prior to attending General Assembly, within two weeks of graduating last August Feore had a job with Yeti, a small mobile and Web apps development and design shop in San Francisco.

"The biggest reason was I wanted to make things," she says. "And I really love tech. I know a lot of people who want jobs with startups because they like the idea of wearing jeans to work and getting their lunches for free. But I just like solving problems analytically and making cool stuff."

Zoe Kay had a degree in social science and was working as a temp at a hospital before she decided to become a programmer. Encouraged by her developer boyfriend, Kay spent several months at the free online Code Academy learning programming fundamentals before enrolling at Hackbright, a small San Francisco school that caters exclusively to women. She also completed a three-month post-graduate internship at New Relic before joining the application-performance monitoring firm as a full-time employee in January 2013.

Sometimes, though, Kay says feels like she's suffering from "imposter syndrome."

"I have wonderful co-workers, and I really enjoy where I work," she says. "But sometimes I can't believe they hired me, as I have such limited experience compared to my team members. I have to remind myself that I am just starting out and they have been in the business for years. Being in a male-dominated field just accentuates the pressure to learn quickly, since in some ways I am representing women who are entering the programming field just by being here."

The employers: Skeptical but warming
But for every firm that's eager to hire a recent boot camp graduate, there's another that wants no part of them. Part of the problem is these schools are so new that most have limited track records, making it hard for employers to assess the success or failure of their graduates over the long term.

Drew Sussberg, VP of sales and recruiting at Workbridge Associates, a tech staffing and recruiting firm, has placed graduates of several top coding academies into well-paying jobs.

He admits that salaries for graduates with no prior coding experience tend to be closer to $50,000 a year instead of $100,000. And some of his corporate clients won't even consider hiring someone who lacks a four-year computer science degree.


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