What to look for when selecting a coding bootcamp


  • Coding bootcamps can have a financial incentive to overestimate their effectiveness.
  • Learning to code can still be life-changing for some, so we asked insiders how to find the best bootcamps.
  • They advised to monitor placement rates and beware of the number of graduates not looking for jobs, among others.

Last month, I reported on what appear to be exaggerated reports on student achievement by the Lambda School coding bootcamp. According to my reports, the school’s placement rate for its graduates was around 30%, which is well below the 74% currently advertised. My report showed that the school’s advertised rates omit a large portion of its graduates.

The school itself countered that such discrepancies were simply the result of standard practices for reporting bootcamp outcomes. In this, they may be right: the General Assembly, for example, has abandoned more than 30% of its graduates for not fully “participating” in its career services. Once these non-participants were removed, they could then claim that the remaining 99.2% of their graduates were successful in finding employment. Flatiron School, with more than 2,000 students, missed 22% of non-job seekers. Other schools like Coding Dojo have excluded up to 40% of graduates.

Coding bootcamps are private, for-profit schools that typically take adults with some work experience and retrain them as computer programmers. They cost between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000, about 15% of an entry-level tech salary – a price well worth it if the student gets a job. Last year, 35,000 students graduated from these bootcamps.

Unique among post-secondary schools, bootcamps have a cultural history of disclosing significant numbers on how many of their graduates get jobs. However, not all bootcamp reports are created equal. In their quest to compete for enrollment, bootcamps have a potential financial interest in overestimating their effectiveness, and prospective students should be aware of some of the tips used by larger bootcamps.

Selective data is plentiful among the biggest bootcamps

According to Course Report’s 2020 Boot Camp Graduates Survey, students primarily chose schools for perceived alumni results, according to Course Report’s 2020 Boot Camp Graduates Survey. Placement rates are a student’s most visible estimate of the success of their career change.

Looking closely at the aforementioned schools, you will find that graduates are routinely missed from their tally for a number of reasons, including not responding to Career Services or not applying for enough jobs in a week. . Some schools have missed up to 40% of their graduates from their placement rates.

An instructor from the Lambda School told Insider that the rate of non-responsiveness in bootcamps is alarming. “Maybe the students don’t respond to you because they are mad at you. Maybe they don’t respond because they are ashamed.”

Typically, these “non-jobseeker” students are referred to as such after graduating from the program – which is a red flag, according to Sheree Speakman, former CEO of the Council of Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) , a non-profit organization that tracks bootcamp performance.

General Assembly spokesperson Tom Ogletree told Insider that the students failed to choose to “go it alone” and that their placement figure of 99% was a given that potential students are looking for before they go. register. Coding Dojo spokesperson Luke Lappala told Insider that students who do not respond “are classified as excluded from career services due to their non-responsiveness” and this is “explicitly stated in our reports.” Flatiron School did not respond to a request for comment.

Speakman says almost all boot camp students classify themselves as “job seekers” when they start their programs because these programs are designed for students looking for a career in technology. The Course Report survey also showed that 91% of graduates attended a bootcamp primarily to get programming jobs.

For this reason, bootcamps under the CIRR ask students if they are looking for a job before entering a program and are not allowed to remove these students from their placement rates once they graduate. According to Speakman, prospective students should be wary of any non-job search rate above 10%, as this is a sign that the school is looking to weed out poorly performing students. The CIRR does not allow students to be withdrawn from their account after the fact.

In general, students should be wary of results that are only published directly by the school. Prospective students should check whether a particular school’s placement performance is available through a state regulatory body or on the CIRR website. Reports to regulators or independent bodies are much more standardized and leave less room for creative accounting.

Revenue Sharing Agreements and Tuition Reimbursement Programs May Be Too Good To Be True

Lambda School has also pioneered tuition deferral programs called “revenue sharing agreements,” where students only pay a percentage of their salary after they get a job that earns $ 50,000 a year or more. . Since then, similar programs have spread throughout the bootcamp industry. Some schools, like the Thinkful e-learning platform, even offer tuition reimbursements for graduates who are unable to find employment. But for many, these financing options may sound a little too good to be true. In the case of Lambda School, even if a student withdraws, they can still be responsible for paying the school if they get a tech job within five years.

Recently, revenue sharing agreements have also come under regulatory scrutiny for a variety of reasons. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, some schools misled students into believing that ISAs were not in fact loans and did not follow the consumer credit law. Lambda School was also recently censored by the California Department of Financial Protection for claiming that its ISAs were not dischargeable in bankruptcy, when in reality they were.

Even Thinkful’s tuition reimbursement promise requires strict adherence to certain conditions such as the inability to say no to an “eligible position.” This can put graduates in a very awkward position. If a graduate receives an offer paying only $ 40,000, they must either accept the job and pay the tuition from Thinkful, or reject the job and pay the tuition anyway as they are no longer eligible. to a refund. In high-tech cities like San Francisco or New York, this is barely within the living wage for one-person households and well below the living wage for anyone with dependents, as are many. bootcamp students.

The best ways to choose a bootcamp

Despite these controversies, bootcamps serve an ever-growing share of students looking to break into technology. And for some, it can be a good career development.

Jesse Farmer, co-founder of Dev Bootcamp, one of the first coding bootcamps, sees a need for reform in the industry. Farmer, who now teaches programming at the Adjacent bootcamp, told Insider what prospective students should look for when selecting a school.

“Students should buy bootcamps like they buy houses, but they buy bootcamps like they buy grain,” he said. Farmer stressed the importance of taking the time and making sure a school is suitable rather than signing up for something right away.

He recommended that prospective students ask schools, “What’s the hardest thing ten random LinkedIn graduates will say about your school?” A good school will be honest about the difficulties students face in certain situations and may also connect potential students with graduates in similar situations to theirs. He also recommends contacting alumni independently, for safety.

Farmer also stressed the importance of regular code review by experienced programmers in a school’s curriculum. “Code reviews are at the intersection of all important parts of the learning experience. There is the job, the tools, the student, the staff, your peers, and they all converge in this place called the code review. Farmer encourages students to ask how many code reviews they can expect in a week, and if the answer is less than one, to drop out of school.

Lambda School has transferred code reviews from its professional instructors to teaching assistants. Eventually, the majority of them were completely removed. Farmer has warned me that these cost-cutting measures are the result of pressure from expansion attempts. “Once you try to get past the teacher-to-student limit, you just become more and more just a video library and a cool discord channel,” he told me.

Despite their problems, Speakman told me that it is noble to publish the results of the placement in public when the norm in education is to avoid the issue of placement altogether. However, for this transparency to make sense, these results need to be standardized and reliable, which is not possible as long as each large school publishes inconsistent results in slightly different ways.

Unfortunately, big bootcamps are now stuck in a prisoner’s dilemma – no school wants to be the first to publish “clean” statistics while others continue to rig their numbers. As Speakman told me, “You better learn to self-regulate, because you won’t like external regulation when it happens.”


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