Five years ago, the first coding bootcamps popped up in Silicon Valley with a curious proposition to anyone thinking about changing their career. No matter your current line of work and even if you were a humanities major in school, you can learn to become a professional developer with just a few months of intensive training and a check averaging $11,000 for tuition. The idea took off and has since turned into a $260 million industry with almost 23,000 students expected to graduate from one of these programs in 2017.
But the job market has changed in the years since the bootcamp’s arrival and some companies have inevitably shut their doors. What’s surprising, however, is the latest two bootcamps to fall are relatively large and well-reputed.
Two coding bootcamps announce their closure
One of the two companies to close, Dev Bootcamp, was one of the first to debut the coding bootcamp concept to the world. It started in San Francisco in 2012 and generated over 3,000 graduates in that time. In announcing their closure, they cite a failure to find a sustainable business model.
The Iron Yard, a Greenville, S.C.-based bootcamp, also announced their own closure last month and echoed a similar justification.
While potential learners still have an overwhelming 95 for-profit coding bootcamps left to choose from in the U.S. and Canada, the closures of two popular names do elicit some sobering questions about the risks associated with signing up for a bootcamp as well as remind us of just how costly it can be for professionals as they seek new ways to gain the skills they need for today’s job market.
Why some bootcamps are a risky bet
While success stories of individual students exist, so do less stellar ones. The lack of transparent metrics from all bootcamps about their placement rates means some are riskier bets than others. Though to be fair, some schools have joined efforts to track standardized placement metrics in coalitions like the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting.
What we do hear from recruiters and employers emphasizes the notion that bootcamp graduation is not always a silver bullet. Students get a condensed curriculum that likely skips a lot of the theoretical and abstract concepts that can have them walking out of the learning experience with a handicap against developers with traditional backgrounds and a broader foundational understanding of programming. According to Bloomberg, a representative at Google said “most graduates from these programs are not quite prepared for software engineering roles at Google without additional training or previous programming roles in the industry.”
A changing landscape for skills acquisition
In a crowded field, some bootcamps are staying relevant by adapting their business models. General Assembly expanded their curriculum to include programs in currently trending fields like data science and UX design. Both General Assembly and Udacity are putting a bigger emphasis on corporate training programs tailored to meet employer objectives. Still other learning companies do things like put an emphasis on career development and support.
But for all their promises, bootcamps haven’t proven they’re the right ticket for everyone looking to to gain entry into the technical labor market. Meanwhile, online-only learning hubs like Coursera and Lynda threaten the bootcamp business model by chopping down the price of education for students who can forego a physical campus.
To set as a backdrop to all these adult learning offerings is a competitive job market where more professionals are finding they need to constantly acquire new skills throughout their lifetimes but employers are less willing to pay for it. The number of U.S. workers receiving employer paid training fell 42 percent between 1996 and 2008, according to the Council of Economic Advisers’ 2015 Economic Report of the President.
This leads to a tough outlook for some professionals where a college degree alone is no longer sufficient to secure highly skilled jobs but employers don’t necessarily offer the resources to prepare them for the next step. So to fill that gap in the interim, we’ll continue to see the rise of privately owned learning centers catering to those willing to take the bet.