Can Boot Camps Really Boost Tech Employment?


Earlier this week, the White House unveiled an ambitious plan to train and employ millions of tech pros in 21 regions across the United States.

Carrying out the plan—dubbed “TechHire”—will depend heavily on coding boot camps and accelerated training programs, which (at least in theory) will make candidates technically proficient in weeks or months rather than years. In addition, a number of big-name tech companies such as Facebook have pledged to take on certain candidates as interns, for on-the-job training.

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But can boot camps and online courses transform cities such as Louisville and Minneapolis into burgeoning tech hubs on the level of, say, New York or San Francisco? Regions with robust tech scenes (and equally strong tech-pro hiring) benefit from a number of factors, including close proximity to universities and incubators, low-cost spaces for startups, investment in IT infrastructure such as broadband, and affordable housing.

There is a growing need for skilled tech talent nationwide, and multiple boot camps have sprung up in order to help meet that demand. Switchup, an organization that collects data on boot camps and programming schools across the nation, recently issued a list of its top 32 coding boot camps. In ranking those institutions, it took into account everything from alumni reviews and instructor quality to location and job support.

Not everybody believes, however, that boot camps and accelerated courses can quickly fulfill the need for tech talent. “Two months doesn’t prepare you for identifying serious problems and overcoming them,” Jason Polancich, CEO of SurfWatch Labs, told the Wall Street Journal in February.

Indeed, it can take years of experiences to learn all the quirks, tricks, and procedures that define working within many technology verticals. Some of the tech skills that pay the most—including Hadoop, MapReduce, Platform-as-a-Service software, and Cassandra—are highly specialized, and take quite some time to master.

So while the administrators behind TechHire may be right in assuming that tech workers don’t necessarily need a four-year degree (or higher) to compete in the space, they should probably realize that growing the country’s reservoir of tech pros isn’t something that can be accomplished in a few months.

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11 Responses to “Can Boot Camps Really Boost Tech Employment?”

    • Agreed. I have given up on IT certifications at this point in my career because, much like have an advanced degree, they do not ensure you are going to be compensated appropriately. I have over $50k in recent student loan debt I accumulated in my late 30’s, while trying to earn a BS in IT Management, which was intended to help me advance in my career. I am employed, but currently looking for a promotion from my current position, but as a recent grad with over 12 years of IT support and management experience, I thought this would improve my chances of employment… not the case. I considered ITIL and additional Microsoft certs, but the pay I’m seeing for leadership/management positions requiring such certifications is not aligned with even industry standards. I don’t know how many $40k yr or $12-$15 hr jobs I’ve come across that have been (or should be) $80-100k+ positions.

  1. I don’t see how a boot camp could work. You could learn the basics of a language but there is a lot more involved. Learning the IDE takes time. Learning the quirks of both the IDE and the language takes years of real world experience. Than most programs interface with databases, which require more years of learning.

    • Thank you for replying; it’s good to see old fashion common sense here. This isnt realistic. We all want to be genies; snap a finger …and that magic person with all that we want is in front. I am just happy with as much as most have…there IS always room for growth. Sometimes determination can go a long way, but don’t pass up people just
      because you can. Everyone deserves a chance and “a job.”

      • wageSlave

        That is really funny Patrick. They are subject to the same market forces that everyone else is subject to. Without two years of experience they cannot get a job and without a job they cannot get two years of experience. Recruiters can only get paid if they find someone with the skills the employer is trying to replace. Generally, at a price that cost them the previous employee.
        And it gets worse, a lot of recruiters approach employers looking to fill a position for 135k. At no additional cost to the employer they offer to find an employee with the skill set needed for 100k in exchange for an agreement to give them the 35k. With almost total control of access to the labor market, the ability to drive up job search costs, and the need to do this over and over again to get a commission, is it any wonder that the wages are being suppressed down into the margins where workers are not covering all of their education costs but continue to work so long as they are meeting their current living expenses (a marginal rate of return)?
        I don’t understand what modern day mangers and most technology teachers have against free market capitalism? Using the recruiter model creates shortages. It is really that simple. Sure you can bring a student up to a productive level in six months (engineer is a bit much), but they are also subject to the same market forces that everyone else is subject to.
        I can at least understand the teacher perspective of wanting to create product to fulfill a need (a contrived shortage of technology workers is still a shortage), but the correct solution starts by defining the problem correctly. A shortage can only occur at a price point. There will be shortages if the wages offered do not cover the costs of providing that service. Pumping up production cannot and will not solve the structural impaction (entry burier) caused by suppressing wages to a marginal rate.
        If the government is truly looking for a solution, it has to find ways to lower the entry buriers (new laws), increase/encourage competition, and thus free up the market forces, not ramp up production. Ramping up production will disproportionally benefits the educational institutions and teachers, but does little to address the real cause of the actual market problem.
        In my not so humble opinion. A better solution is to increase the wage of government IT workers thus pulling talent from the private sector. That will force the private sector to increase their wages freeing up the impaction.

  2. Clinton Staley

    I’m a CS professor, and I focus a lot on teaching serious programming skills. I have a mixed reaction to this idea. It is certainly true that a gifted and enthusiastic student can go from no background to becoming an apprentice developer with around 1000 hours of effort. On the other hand, I see a great many students have a much harder time learning coding fundamentals, and I am skeptical of whether someone who is chronically unemployed will generally have the intense focus and talent needed to become a serious developer that quickly.

    If the goal, instead, is modest front-end webdev ability (HTML, CSS, a bit of JS/JQuery for simple cases) that’s more realistic, but such “developers” are not that well compensated, are routinely outsourced, and are rendered obsolete with blinding speed unless they learn ferociously on their own. (Front end dev looks totally different now than it did in 2005, for instance.) I fear that such professional training may be a cheap paint job that fades and peels quickly.

    These schools will probably do two things. First, they’ll get a few rockstar students, often younger people just starting out, interested in software development, and up to speed quickly — people who didn’t realize they’d love the work, or who didn’t want to do a CS degree. Second, they’ll take a larger group and give them rudimentary web dev skills — enough to do simple front end work, or basic database backend work. Both are worth doing, though neither really solves the larger problem.

    And, while I’m at it, why do people so readily believe that software development, an area that routinely flunks out 50% of college students who major in it, is any easier to learn than, say, law or medicine? Would we take seriously a school that purported to produce lawyers or doctors with a few months’ crash study?

  3. Anyone who believes in this or any other government program performing as promised does not have the logical and analytical skills necessary to succeed in information technology. Oh, and BTW, there is NO shortage of IT professionals! End the H1-B program!

  4. From firsthand experience, I believe “retraining” is a good idea, but the boot camp format is the wrong approach. Without going into details of my latest government retraining adventure, I’d say the common factor in these programs is that they let in unemployed people with no prerequisite skills because there aren’t enough interested and qualified people. Having never touched even HTML, they are then subjected to a weeklong, fast-paced course on C#, are totally lost from the beginning, and never learn anything. I was one of the few who at least had some experience. Even then, I am not fond of these boot camps. I’d rather take the six weeks and build a project from scratch, allowing for adaptability to each person’s skillset, and have something to show for it while gaining some soft skills concerning teamwork and planning.
    Furthermore, many entities involved in these collaborations really don’t know much about the IT world, and communication among them is poor. More important, the businesses who are supposed to be so supportive of these programs usually never interact with the participants, and won’t even hire the grads for internships paid for by the government. In the end, it seems the businesses have no idea what’s going on. I’m not complaining about a free program, I did reap some benefits, but there is room for lots of improvement.

  5. I have a STEM degree, I have a job that is now being threatened by an influx of cheap, poorly trained H1b workers. This initiative is TRASH. There is NO TRAINING that will turn me into a younger Indian male who will happily work for peanuts in order to escape a 3rd world country. Shut down the H1b program.