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All Coding Is Local: Surprising Talent Market Nuances

After conversations with dozens of coding school founders and their students over the last several months, Tip O’Neill’s famous line that “all politics is local” keeps coming back to me, but in the form of “all coding is local.”

Regularly, I see public figures and news stories proclaiming a “tech talent shortage” or by “2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings” in the U.S. In the aggregate across the country, these statements may be true. When I see maps of the coding school industry, such as this one put together by GSV, they categorize programs by “web development” or “data science,” which is a fine categorization — at a high level.

What’s missing in all this, however, is that labor markets tend to be quite specialized. Any student planning to enroll in a bootcamp needs to be sure, before enrolling, that he or she will acquire the skills for the labor market in which he or she wants to live and work.

For example — and to protect their business interests, I am not naming them specifically — one great bootcamp focuses on teaching Ruby on Rails, which is in high demand in their home market. But when asked by a government to open a campus in a different city to fill that community’s tech talent gap, they discovered the vast majority of jobs required JavaScript, not Ruby.

Another bootcamp has a successful User Experience Design (UX) program in one city, but when they rolled it out in a different city, graduates discovered — much to their job-hunting frustration — that the new city doesn’t have a UX job shortage.

Finally, there are bootcamps that teach .NET even though it currently isn’t a sexy coding language. They’re teaching it to respond to employer needs in their communities, where the local jobs exist, even though there probably aren’t massive .NET shortages in SF or NYC.

To quote one bootcamp founder from east of the Rockies: “If we had this same curriculum in Portland or Seattle, we would probably have to throw out 50% of our syllabus because those topics wouldn’t matter to West Coast employers.”

When Skills Fund completes due diligence on a coding school to determine if they meet our quality standards (and thus we will finance students to attend their programs), we want to ensure that the bootcamp is training in high demand occupational skills. It turns out this is very localized, even for multi-campus schools.

There isn’t so much as a “tech talent shortage” as there are many different, localized tech talent shortages, each slightly different depending on the employer needs in different labor markets.

All politics, and labor needed, is local.

Originally published in December 2015 via Medium.