So you know that coding bootcamps can teach you how to code, but will those skills align with what employers want, or are most tech recruiters still looking for people with computer science degrees? The coding bootcamp industry has been around for more than 5 years, so have employers’ attitudes towards coding bootcamps changed in that time? David Yang, who co-founded Fullstack Academy in 2013, explains the shift in thinking he’s seen among employers, and how, in 2018, coding bootcamps grads are filling a high demand for skilled tech talent.
Five years ago, in May of 2013, Fullstack Academy’s Software Engineering Immersive welcomed its first cohort of students. My co-founder, Nimit Maru, and I had been teaching for some time, but this was the formal debut of the program we had created, and we were scared.
Bootcamps were a new thing at the time. There were a few resources out there for learning to program, but not many, and there certainly wasn’t a whole industry devoted to the idea. Most intimidating of all, we had no idea if employers would actually hire our grads.
A lot has changed since then, but some people still see them as the new kid on the block. So after five years in business we’re here to tell you: Bootcamps aren’t a novelty anymore; they’re here to stay. And that has a lot to do with how employer attitudes have changed over the years – for the better.
We started Fullstack Academy because adults we knew – who’d studied finance and business and marketing – kept coming to us for programming hacks that would help them move up the chain at work. Formulas, building or managing websites, data visualization, all that stuff.
As word spread that we could teach you all that, more and more folks were referred to us, and we realized there was a big gap in education that was only going to widen. You had people who’d already spent a lot on their degree, but now they needed a totally new skill set just to get ahead in their jobs, and the only avenue for building those skills was to get a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, which is not what these people wanted. They just wanted practical skills – vocational training, essentially. So we figured we should offer that.
With, at the time, about 30 years of combined coding experience (closer to 40 now!), Nimit and I definitely had ample knowledge to share with students. And the curriculum we built was based on the same skills that we, ourselves, during our many years as engineering managers, had looked for in our own hires.
The problem was: What if the skills we’d looked for weren’t the same skills Google was looking for? Or Facebook? Or Amazon? Or what if there was some other magical quality that got you hired at those companies that was totally separate from your skills? Some sort of secret formula that hiring managers and tech recruiters knew that we didn’t know and thus wouldn’t be able to impart to our students. We were pretty nervous – and we’ve never stopped being grateful to the first students who enrolled and trusted us to get them hired and gave us outcomes to prove we could continue to do that.
Truth be told, we felt like we could always convince startups to hire our grads. Startups are looking first and foremost for people who can do the job right now and they don’t have complex hiring processes (or sometimes any processes at all). If you have the skills and are either the first in the door, or referred by someone the founders trust, you have a good chance at getting the job. Our students definitely knew their stuff, and we could help them with connections.
What we were worried about were the bigger companies. We had heard rumors of reluctance – thought leaders tweeting about the bootcamp “trend” and how bootcamp grads wouldn’t be seriously considered for jobs – and we were sort of holding our breath for that first major hire.
And then it happened. One of our students emailed us to tell us he’d been hired at one of the big three companies (Facebook, Google, Apple), and it was really validating. We realized there was no secret sauce; we were giving people the skills necessary to get hired, and they were getting hired, and that was success. And it kept happening: grads hired at Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, Dropbox, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs, Amex – the list goes on (you can check it out here).
Once we’d gotten over the first hump, there was no resting on our laurels. Now that we’d managed to get legitimate companies interested, we had to engage with them, incorporate their feedback, and spend time learning from alumni in the field to keep improving our offering.
The first major change we made was to our curriculum. This industry shifts constantly, and to stay relevant you have to be agile enough to shift with it. Everything here flows downstream from the curriculum, so making updates is a challenge, but we agreed early on that if cutting-edge curriculum was going to be our bread-and-butter, we would have to stay flexible. For example, when we saw companies that had hired from us moving away from Angular and toward React, we realized this was the wave of the future, and updated accordingly.
The next big change was to shift more focus in the second half of our program to Career Success. As we mentioned, startups generally don’t have systematic hiring processes, but more established companies do, and once we’d seen that these companies were giving our grads a chance, we took the next logical step: engaging with those companies to find out how we could better prepare our students for the actual job search, so more students would have a shot at their openings.
Getting a job at Google, Facebook, JPMorgan, etc. requires a skill set that’s totally separate from the skill set it takes to actually do the job, and our hiring partners and growing Career Success team were able to pinpoint exactly what developer hopefuls needed to be successful in that regard. Now we do daily REACTO drills and regular mock behavioral interviews, plus our team helps with resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, and contract negotiation.
Nimit and I are a little surprised, to be honest, when prospective students in 2018 express concern that employers might not hire bootcamp grads. Having been immersed in the industry so long, we’ve seen employers progress from being essentially unaware of bootcamps, to dismissing them, to begrudgingly giving grads a try, to accepting bootcamps as part of the educational landscape.
Case in point: For every graduating class, we offer an in-house job fair to help grads make connections and practice interviewing. When we first opened, there was no way we could have filled a room with tech recruiters. But eventually, we were able to attract about 10 companies with as many recruiters every seven weeks. And now? Our job fair has grown to attract double that number of companies with triple the number of recruiters. And companies are now coming to us to ask to take part, rather than just vice-versa.
Truthfully, major companies like the ones we’ve listed have bigger things to worry about than whether you studied at a bootcamp – or even whether you graduated college. They may have intense interview processes, but if you make it through and prove you can do the work they’re looking for, they aren’t going to worry about your pedigree.
Startups are probably most excited about bootcamp grads because they tend to be at the very forefront of technology – just like our grads. They don’t necessarily want CS grads who learned theory in college 5 years ago; they want employees with the most up-to-date skills they can find – and bootcamps like Fullstack Academy and our all-women’s school, the Grace Hopper Program, are agile enough to graduate exactly those kinds of developers.
It’s only middle-grade companies (profitable enough to hire, but risk-averse) that are still a little hesitant, if they haven’t yet hired a bootcamp grad. And that’s the trick: if a company can manage to hire a single bootcamp grad, that grad is almost guaranteed to assuage the company’s fears that bootcamp grads are incompetent and dispel the myth that bootcamp grads have no experience. (Most alums have worked in some other field and absolutely know how to function in a professional environment, so those fears are misplaced, and programmers who’ve graduated from rigorous programs like Fullstack Academy are absolutely competent to fill junior developer roles.)
One of the ways we get through to reluctant companies is to have students complete projects – fully-formed apps and technologies – on their own, in pairs, and in larger groups. Students put those on their resumes, their LinkedIn profiles, and git repos, and share them across their digital properties. It’s a myth that you can’t get a job without experience; but it’s not a myth that you won’t get a job if you pitch yourself as having no experience. So it’s important to understand how to present yourself so that companies focus on what you have done, rather than what you haven’t.
And that’s a big part of what we’ve come to teach our students over time, and why, these days, most companies have overcome their reluctance to hire bootcampers: Bootcampers present like any other candidate, from their experience (gained from project work), to their technical skills (demonstrated in technical interviews), to their interpersonal abilities (we focus on pair programming and learning how to be an asset to a team).
One development that has surprised us – though maybe it shouldn’t have – is companies coming to see our programs as an essential part of their hiring pipelines.
Our all-women’s Grace Hopper Program is especially valuable because many tech companies run and staffed primarily by white men are looking to plug into communities of women and other underrepresented groups in tech. Our program, which enables students to train first and pay only once they’ve landed full-time work, lowers the barrier to entry, opens up the space to systematically disadvantaged groups of women, and guarantees employers a pool of top-notch developers who are far more diverse than your typical tech pipeline.
Even Fullstack Academy’s pool of grads is a boon to any tech recruiter because it offers a steady stream of qualified, passionate programmers to pull from to fill junior dev positions. One trend that bears this out is the demand our Career Success team has seen from employers to get access to our grads earlier, while they’re still students, and more often, so they can build long-term relationships with promising candidates before there’s even an opening to fill.
We see this as the next big shift in our relationship with employers: From persuading recruiters to join our hiring fair to working on even footing with those recruiters in an effort to create unique relationship-building opportunities that benefit both them and our students.
The higher education space will continue to change: We’re seeing government agencies turning to bootcamps for workforce training purposes (we have graduated two tuition-free cohorts of low-income New Yorkers in partnership with the City of New York’s Tech Talent Pipeline); bootcamps acquired by various corporations to various ends; and even universities dipping their toes into the bootcamp space.
What’s not going to change is that programmers are more in-demand than ever before, and as the world gets more technical, developers will need to be more agile and more well-versed in current technologies. So both our program structure and our curriculum will keep changing with the times, and our relationship with employers, similarly, will continue to evolve.
We’ve seen so much progress in the last five years; we can’t wait to forge ahead into the next five.
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