Written By Jess Feldman
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With a turbulent tech job market and the introduction of new AI capabilities, many would-be career changers are asking themselves, “Is now a good time to get into tech?” Jeff Casimir, Executive Director at Turing School of Software & Design, takes this question head-on, laying out a roadmap to great opportunities for those considering a tech career by enrolling at Turing. Learn how Turing is iterating on its career support to ensure students are landing tech roles now, and Jeff’s take on what AI could mean for future tech roles.
As the Executive Director, how do you support students at Turing School?
I started one of the first accelerated developer training programs back in 2011, so I have been at this for 12 years now! I still get to teach a class here and there, but most of my time is spent guiding the leadership team to keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for our students and working to ensure we’re setting them up for career success.
You’ve been teaching students to be software engineers for over 10 years now – how is 2023 different?
I keep thinking about how the Spring of 2020 was so terrible and disruptive to the whole world. But for the tech economy, that disruption really only went from March to about July before the recovery came back strong. Now in 2023 we’re continuing to work under this market disruption that really started last summer, so it’s been like nine months. It keeps feeling like “this is the last round of big companies laying people off”... and then there’s another round.
There is still a lot of hiring happening and people getting promotions — It’s just happening in a fog of uncertainty. The tech market moves in extremes – when it’s up it’s WAY up, when it’s down it’s WAY down. That’s hard on students and grads who are not totally sure what kind of environment they’re putting themselves into.
The job market in 2023 is more nuanced than the headlines make it out to be – what are you seeing at Turing?
In some ways COVID was easier to understand when things were just shut down. This moment in 2023 is harder to understand because in large part the challenges are intentional. We had worldwide markets experiencing very high levels of inflation, which is very bad for the lowest earners in an economy. In the US, we’ve seen the Federal Reserve step in with the tools they have to try and slow inflation down. In raising interest rates quarter after quarter, the Fed has successfully slowed down growth in the economy. But for some banks, those rising interest rates made their existing investments untenable and they failed or were acquired. For many tech companies, those higher rates make it more difficult for them to get the investment they rely on, so they have to cut growth plans or lay people off.
It’s not like tech is “over.” It’s just that when you’re working in the highest-growth field in the economy and the government actively tries to reduce the rate of growth, you’re going to feel it in a big way.
In fact the Fed just raised those rates again (now the tenth time!) within the last few weeks. They’re still pushing on the brakes while many in the tech industry are struggling.
In this year’s turbulent tech job market, are Turing graduates getting hired?
Grads are getting hired, but yes it’s more difficult than it’s been in the past. There are many open jobs and there are many jobs being created, but it takes even more work and focus than in the past. If you’re just cold applying for 100 positions on LinkedIn, then you’re probably not getting a single interview. That was a bad strategy two years ago and it’s an awful one now.
The hardest thing about time-to-hire is that grads don’t get hired in any kind of order. It’s not like the job hunter who graduated six months ago is now “due,” and the person graduating today has to wait. Once you finish Turing or any training program, the timeline is up to you.
I’ve always said that getting a great job in this industry takes three things: discipline, hustle, and skill. You need the skills to pass the technical interviews and do the job. You need the discipline to lay out a plan of attack and go after it, even though job hunting is frustrating and disappointing. You need the hustle to put yourself into places you don’t necessarily belong, to reach out to people, to show up to meet-ups, to connect the dots about who might be hiring without a job post.
Now, more than ever, if you’re applying for posted junior developer jobs I really think you’re wasting your time. Any company worth working for knows that posting an entry-level position publicly is going to result in 500+ candidates within a few days, and now they have a long and exhausting selection process. If you want to get a good job today you’re finding the job opportunity that’s not posted publicly — that takes work and a bit of luck.
What types of companies or industries are hiring recent Turing graduates?
The best place to look right now are companies that are (a) not identified as “tech” companies and (b) companies that either have money or make their own money. Companies that rely on outside investment, regardless of industry, are not in a great spot right now. If I were job hunting right now, I’d be targeting industries that have undeniable growth coming in the next ten years. Number one on the list is green energy, and obviously there’s a ton of tech influence there.
Whether I know anything about it or not, I’d decide this is where I’m going to deep dive. I would probably look for companies in my state. What organizing bodies exist? Is there a “chamber of commerce” type organization that convenes these companies? If so, what kind of list is accessible to member companies? Do they host events? Who’s tweeted or made LinkedIn posts about those events in the last 24 months? Where do they work?
From there I’d shoot to develop a list of about 24 companies that are worth investigating. Do an initial round of digging and probably cut that down to 12. Then I decide I’m getting a job at one of those 12 companies. I’m reaching out to HR people, technical people, current employees, past employees, looking for friends of friends, reading blog posts, reading press releases, and following up with every name I can find. I’m just knocking on every door they have even when they say they’re not hiring. I’m going to send folks 3+ messages or emails unless they ask me to stop.
That’s what the hustle looks like. It’s hard and tiring and most people aren’t willing to do it. And that’s why it still works.
What makes now a good time to enroll at Turing? If someone starts at Turing now and graduates in ~6 months – do you think it will be different in 6 months?
Despite everything I’ve said so far, I think now is a pretty good time to enter into a training program. At Turing, our next cohorts kick off in July and that means they’ll graduate in early 2024. The Fed has indicated that the most recent interest rate increase will probably be the last, so now there’s nine months for the economy to adjust to new normals before you start job hunting.
The tech economy booms hard and busts hard. We’ve been in a down cycle and it sucks — but inflation is cooling and economic conditions will improve. That makes 2024 look like another year for growth.
What about for recent high school graduates — is this a good time to enroll at Turing rather than a college program?
I have so many mixed feelings about college, so it’s hard to say. I think it is hypocritical for people, like me, with a college degree to say, “College is stupid, don’t bother!” I went and I got a lot out of it. I don’t want to undercut that dream for somebody else.
But I went to college in 1999 and things are pretty different today. I was doing some career analysis work last week. The stats show that, in the US, the average college degree helps you earn an additional $700K in your lifetime. It costs about $100K in tuition but you’re also losing 4-5 years of earnings, so the real “cost” is generally above $200K. If the average American is only getting a 3.5x return on college then I don’t think we can justify it being a worthwhile investment. If you want to study, learn, and have some time to grow up, then college can be great. But if you’re wanting to build a career and earn money, college is one of the worst ways to do it.
For folks who recently graduated high school or have been out a few years, there is a ton of opportunity out there. So many skilled professions are desperate for good people. You can become an electrician in a few years and earn more than if you went to college. Or you can come to Turing and become a software developer! That same data analysis said that the average graduate will earn $5.3M more in their lifetime because they came to Turing. That’s seven times more than the average college graduate!
College can be a great coming-of-age experience. But if you want to start a career and earn money, do almost anything else.
In this rapidly changing world and expansion of AI, how is Turing ensuring that students graduate with the skills they need to launch successful tech careers?
I love talking about AI because none of us know what the hell we’re talking about. Years from now, we’ll look back on these moments and laugh about how naive we were — I just don’t know how, yet!
I think AI is going to have a huge influence on the future of work across all industries and that includes software development. Yes, AI can write code. Yes, some of that code actually works. Yes, those capabilities will get more advanced over time. I think it’s not so different from industrial progress of the past. If you were farming with hand tools and saw your first tractor, you probably said “damn, my way of life is in trouble.” And that was true in the narrow sense. You’re not going to do the same things the same way in the future, but someone needs to drive the tractor. Someone needs to maintain it. Someone develops the seeds to plant, analyzes the soil quality, and a hundred other agricultural jobs. The roles change but there’s still room for smart, hard-working people.
Let’s be real – some parts of programming are boring. I hope that AI can do some of that work. Take care of the repetitive and the boilerplate. But there are still going to be so many roles for software developers. If you want to have one of those AI roles, you’d better be thinking about what it means to drive the AI, not just trying to avoid it.
Have you had to iterate the Careers program at Turing to make sure students are receiving the support they need to launch a career at a time like this?
We’re always evolving our career support. I think the challenges of the last year have shown that we have some real opportunity to grow. When hiring is good, it’s enough to train students with the skills they need and support them in finding a good job. That’s worked for years, but it’s really not quite good enough for this moment.
The word I keep coming back to is aggression. Being prepared to succeed in a job is not enough to get the job; we know that. It takes that discipline, hustle, and skill. I think our career support hasn’t had enough hustle, hasn’t had enough innovation. We’ve always had a model of coaching and supporting the individual, but now as an organization we need to step up in a bigger way. We’re developing stronger partnerships with hiring companies and hiring conduits (like recruiters and apprenticeship programs). We’re reaching out on behalf of students to knock on some of the same doors. As an organization we need to embody the same practices that we want to see from students.
In just the last few weeks, we’ve reconfigured some of our existing career support roles and brought in some fresh perspective from the outside. I think combining those changes with the stabilizing market over the next three months is going to really pay off for graduates.
Have you found that Turing alumni have continued to climb the tech career ladder since graduating?
I’ve been working on this “five year report” looking at where people are now who attended Turing in 2017. The short answer is that it’s really, really good. Most of them are in their third position through promotion or changing companies, the most common job title is “Senior Software Engineer,” and their median annual compensation is $160K.
Layoffs have affected those distant alumni too, but not dramatically. Generally, people who have experienced layoffs are able to get into interview processes quickly, find a new job while they still have severance payments from the old job, and go into roles paying the same or higher than their previous role. So it’s a change of company but not an economic disruption.
This data and trends prove what we’ve always known: Being a software developer with a few years experience is an amazing place to be — but it still takes some hard work to get there.
What do you believe will continue to set Turing graduates apart from other candidates in their job searches?
I don’t really think about it this way. I don’t believe Turing graduates need to compete with candidates from other places. The demand for these software roles is so big and growing so quickly that we need great, high-skill people from every college and training program. If someone wants to enter the industry and Turing feels like the right path for them, awesome. But if they want something in-person, something longer, something shorter, or whatever – I only wish them great success in that journey.
I don’t know what might set Turing grads apart from other training programs because, honestly, I don’t spend time wondering or worrying about what other programs are doing. I just focus on our students and the employers. We emphasize building great technical skills combined with great professional and collaborative skills to ensure alumni are ready to thrive in the industry. That five-year data proves that it’s working.
Is Turing offering scholarships to continue diversifying the tech pipeline?
This is a long-term project for us across all potential students – how do you make Turing feel as cheap as possible? There are several levers to influence that.
First, yes, we try to reduce up-front cost without compromising the level of support and instruction delivered in the program. So we offer scholarships for students who demonstrate need.
We also want, when possible, someone else to pay the tuition. We work with the VA to ensure veterans can get their whole tuition covered. We work with state and county workforce offices to qualify students for funding like WIOA, vocational rehab, and state-specific programs like TEC-P. Those sources can often pay between $4K and $10K of a student’s tuition.
Then, with what’s left, we want students to get money as “cheaply” as possible. We have some good lending partners that offer loans for tuition and cost of living. We have some good things in the works to hopefully get students even lower interest rates in the future. Employed grads can usually refinance their student loans to quite low rates.
Then, of course, it’s about the earnings after graduation. For the typical grad the break-even point is under two years. Within 24 months, you’ve earned so much additional income over your previous employment that you’ve paid off both the tuition and the opportunity cost of the money you didn’t earn while you were in school.
On a long enough timeline, Turing feels free. But we’re working to use scholarships, government funding, and private funding to make that timeline as short as possible.
What’s your advice to incoming Turing students on making the most of their time in the program? Do you find that there are certain behaviors of successful Turing students that enable them to land a job right after bootcamp?
This question might have to be its own article! There are definitely behaviors that influence success — or, put differently, success at Turing isn’t up to luck. Over the years I’ve also started to have some real skepticism about “aptitude.” There are, for sure, underlying factors that influence how hard it is to succeed at Turing, but a student’s choices play a huge factor.
I’d say the prerequisite is focus. Students need to be able to commit a lot of time and attention to their learning. When people have other responsibilities that take a lot of brain space, then an accelerated program like Turing probably isn’t going to be the best fit.
Second is a willingness for organization. I don’t think you have to be super organized by nature, but you have to be willing to pretend for a while. There are always several things to be doing, keeping track of, and showing up for. You can’t come to Turing and just “go with the flow” or expect other people to tell you what to do all the time. You need an organizational system and process that helps you do the right things on the right schedule.
Third is an effort to collaborate. I was just reminding students this morning that we believe “everyone’s success is everyone’s success.” Turing students don’t compete with each other. We do our best when we work together and make sure every single person is learning to the best of their ability. That means asking and answering questions, giving candid feedback, being willing to be wrong, and constantly working to improve.
Fourth is buying in. You know the person who would show up to class, sit in the back, and do as little as possible? This doesn’t work that way. If you do the minimum you can to just barely graduate I can’t say there’s going to be an employer waiting for you on the other side. Getting a certificate is really great, but the value is in the skills and understanding you develop. The paper isn’t going to get you a job.
I’ll stop at a fifth point, which is to seek out connection. Students always connect with those in their cohort, but the smartest ones are talking with people in the other programs, in earlier and later cohorts of their own program, and with mentors and alumni. The Turing community is over 2,000 people and most of their stories are pretty similar to your own. When you put effort into building relationships it makes the whole thing more rewarding and more successful.
Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.
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