Making Coders: Accelerated IT Training

From New York City to Chicago to San Francisco, opportunities for accelerated tech training – such as coding bootcamps, massively-open online courses (MOOCs), and more – are introducing real-world software programming skills to students from diverse backgrounds and age groups. These programs enable participants to learn key aspects of computer science, specifically those skills that are in high demand from employers. In coding bootcamps, would-be-coders study throughout the day and often well into the night, with many bootcamps providing after-hours tutoring and support. The value proposition that bootcamps offer is a focus on precisely the skills that are in demand from employers and the ability to deliver those skills in a dramatically shorter time period – typically just nine to twelve weeks – compared to traditional multi-year college education options.

New York Tech Meetup recently convened the first Tech Talent Summit to bring civic leaders from across the New York community into the same room to discuss the goals, barriers, and paths forward in our shared quest to create economic opportunity for the broadest possible array of people. It’s an issue that Mayor Bill de Blasio cares deeply about, not to mention the countless non-profits which contribute to workforce development every day. Even the White House had a representative in attendance. Coding bootcamps, in particular, played a key role in the discussion.

Despite investments from the tech industry in efforts to teach children how to code, the present-day “pipeline problem” remains. Bootcamps offer an innovative approach to growing the supply of coders while opening opportunity to groups historically underrepresented in software development jobs. Hackbright, for instance, specifically focuses on teaching women to code, and many bootcamps offer scholarships on the basis of diversity. A promotional video from the Flatiron School captures its approach:  “There [are] thousands of ways to write a program and in each of those little differences [is] our individuality. Employers ask: ‘Where did you find such great developers?’ to which the answer is, ‘We didn’t find great developers. We found really great people and we just told them how to code.’”

Still, bootcamps are somewhat unknown and face real challenges. With many bootcamps founded just in the past few years, they are still proving their effectiveness and finding their place among an array of educational options – such as community colleges and universities. Human resources departments at potential employers might be unaccustomed to assessing skills in less-traditional ways, meaning that skilled graduates of coding bootcamps might not have access to all of the jobs they could successfully do. To gain broader acceptance, documenting short-term and long-term outcomes will be an important step in proving the effectiveness of bootcamps. Ultimately, best practices are likely to arise that will make the nascent industry stronger and more trustworthy than it is today.

Even now, bootcamps offer many the path to a better life. Some startups are actually more amenable to hiring from bootcamps than from traditional college-based computer science degree programs. However, the tuition price — an average of $9,900, according to Course Report — can be difficult to deliver for many students and sometimes impossible to make upfront, especially because the returns are unclear. And since bootcamps are not accredited educational institutions, it isn’t currently possible for participants to access low-interest-rate student loan programs to make the cost more affordable. Anecdotal evidence suggests that graduation rates and post-graduation job placement for well-run bootcamps can be quite high and a number of bootcamps boast average starting salaries well over $70,000  for alumni. But for prospective students, the high cost for an uncertain gain remains a challenge, and in many cases a roadblock. These are the very real challenges that require collaborative efforts from key stakeholders ranging from education systems to governments to non-profits to the tech industry itself.

Here at Microsoft, we recognize the importance of computational thinking, coding skills, and STEM education. That’s why we contribute through programs like TEALS and through our support of Code.org. And it is why we’re excited to partner with civic leaders here in New York and around the country to spread 21st century skills and opportunity. Because by spreading tech skills we can empower people to make an impact and to lead rewarding lives. Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” With all due respect to Ben, an investment in skills might pay even better.

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