With the recent attention on coding bootcamps in California and pressure to comply with the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, we wondered if any coding schools in the US had gone through this accreditation process and what it meant to them. Turns out, the Software Craftsmanship Guild took the steps to become regulated by the Ohio State Board, and they think it's important that other schools comply as well.
We talk with Eric Wise, founder of the SWCG in Akron, Ohio, about his .NET bootcamp that's helping to fill open tech jobs in the Midwest, the importance of working with your state's regulatory agencies, and exactly what it means to be a "compliant" coding school.
Tell us about Software Craftsmanship Guild and how you got into the coding school space.
I was a Microsoft .NET developer for many years, and had worked my way up to being a director of application development for an insurance company. When we went to hire, it didn’t matter what was going on in the economy, people who knew what they were doing were impossible to find. In Ohio, we have Ohio State, Akron U, and other big colleges, so we were trying to hire college students, but they never learned how to hook everything up together in their undergrad. Talking to these college students, I realized that they were teaching the same things they taught 20 years ago. A lot of companies were responding to this by not hiring junior level developers anymore. So when the market started heating up, the only option for those companies is to poach each other’s employees, which ends up driving salaries way up. Small businesses can’t afford to hire senior people anymore, but no junior people were being trained, so a lot of companies were stuck. With all of these problems and people not being properly trained, we had to start training employees ourselves. I successfully trained and placed several non-technical staff members at my company into technical roles. Between that and having worked with people in my career without CS degrees, I realized that the degree isn't necessary and that I enjoyed teaching people more than I enjoyed doing the work myself.
Do you recruit for your school from universities in Ohio?
Nope, that was most shocking to me. About half of our students come from out of state. In this cohort we’ve got Idaho, Michigan, Texas, Chicago, and one from San Diego. That was a hard thing to manage when we were getting started- we started getting out-of-state interest, so we started subletting apartments for out-of-state visitors. Finding a short term lease is difficult! Now that we have local partnerships with nice apartments nearby, it’s a smooth experience for out-of-state learners.
When was your first cohort?
June of 2013.
And when did you decide to start working with the regulatory agency in Ohio?
In June, we started filling out the paperwork right away. We were in the process during our first cohort. We were working with the Akron Global Business Accelerator, a tech incubator. And they suggested we get an accreditation, so when we talked to the state of Ohio (the Ohio State Career and Colleges Board), they said we could continue operating the school while we were filing (although they would have preferred the filing be done in advance) and start teaching, because the accelerator gave us credibility. The state was really good at working with us, and saying that as long as we were in the process, we could open up.
What does it mean to be compliant (logistically) in Ohio?
There were a lot of things we had to do for consumer protections. They reviewed all of our policies, especially around tuition payments and refunds. We have to comply with their refund policy- originally we had a $1000 non-refundable deposit. The regulatory agency said that everything must be refundable if the student doesn’t start the class- things like that. They review marketing literature; you can’t promise someone a job. Which we weren’t doing anyways.
We had to submit biographies for all of our instructors, to ensure that our instructors were qualified to teach the material. You have to create a course catalog. For that, they’re not really interested in the content of the catalog, but they want to make sure that whatever you tell students you’re teaching, you’re actually going to teach.
We had to put up a surety bond to reimburse students if we happened to go out of business in the middle of the cohort. If we make any major changes in the curriculum, we’re required to file that change with the state. Most of this is about consumer protection. The things they asked us to do, in the age of diploma mills and fly-by-night cosmetology schools, was logical.
Do your instructors have to have education degrees?
No, but they have to be qualified in their field. This is a place that I’ve been really aggressive on the forums. I know that a lot of the bootcamps hire students as their TAs- we do not. We have a policy that you must have at least 10 years of experience in the field, or you’re not allowed to teach here. If you’re paying that amount of money for a bootcamp, you want a professional teaching the class. We have two and a half teachers. I’m the .NET instructor, Eric Ward runs the Java cohort, and Sarah Dutkiewicz is a generalist instructor.
Why do you think it’s important that other schools become accredited or compliant in the US? What do you think about the tension between the regulatory agencies and the fear of “stifling innovation?”
I think being compliant outweighs that fear. When I talk to potential students and employers about this program, the first thing I get is: “Twelve weeks? That sounds too good to be true.” I feel that regulatory bodies actually help us with our legitimacy. Anything that protects the consumer, I’m all for. I see new bootcamps popping up every week- some are popping up that are a lot of money for part-time instruction for 9 weeks. In my experience, there’s no way you’re going to become a professional developer in that amount of time. I think oversight is good and will shake out pretenders from legitimate businesses.
How long did it take to become compliant with the Ohio State Board and how much did it cost?
It took 60 days. We did have our lawyers involved, and with the cost of the surety bond, the process cost about $25,000 here in Ohio.
The Guild does not guarantee jobs, but have you found that you’re able to place your graduates more easily because you’re compliant?
To be honest, our companies don’t even care. The biggest selling point is that we put a junior developer in front of them and they can actually do things. There’s such a demand for people who can actually do the work. A lot of companies tell me that when they hire out of college, it takes months to ramp them up. The companies hiring our graduates are not really looking at college grads anymore, they’d rather hire our graduates because they’re productive in the first 30 days and it’s less risky.
Do you place students mostly in Ohio?
We are, but we have a hiring network around the country. Because most of our hiring network is built through our professional network, so most of our companies are in the Ohio region. We’ll work with anyone- we just want to get people employed.
Tell us about the Ohio tech scene!
It’s exploding. The Midwest has a problem, because for so many years here when companies weren’t hiring Junior Developers, all of the talent was going out to the Coasts. So now that there’s an explosion of demand, we don’t have people to fill the roles. I don’t think Ohio is alone- if you talk to people in St. Louis or Detroit, you’ll hear the same thing. There’s been a big brain drain to the coast. Plus the standard of living is great. We place students from Chicago who are working in Ohio- every one of them comes back to me a week later and they’ve found an apartment in the center of the city for $600/month, which would be a $2000/month in Chicago.
Why .NET and Java instead of Ruby?
If Ruby becomes the #1 desired language, we’ll start teaching Ruby. But if you look at job sites, .NET and Java combined are so much more in demand than Ruby jobs.
Want more information about the Software Craftsmanship Guild? Check out their school page on Course Report!