The long established system of educating new software engineers is seriously broken. Software engineers need to be able to build large, scalable, flexible and responsive applications quickly and effectively with a team of developers. Build and deliver. If you can do that, any sensible hiring manager, on the planet, will hire you. If you can’t do that, good luck.
This is what colleges and universities should be doing when they develop their computer science programs; however, they are not currently completing this basic task. If the developer bootcamp you are considering is essentially replicating the old way of training developers, run. If, instead, you are looking to identify an educational partner that will help you prepare for the world of software engineering, and plan on spending thousands of dollars on such an endeavor, then you should keep reading.
Sabio created this guide with your best interest in mind. Why, since it is highly unlikely that we have never met? At Sabio we are dedicated to cultivating and nurturing exceptional technical talent. We are looking to identify highly-motivated and smart individuals that want to develop their technical skills. This guide is an attempt to provide you with resources and help in your bootcamp search.
New Thoughts and Many More Questions
It’s a new year and a new chapter in the book that will be written about the rise of the coding bootcamps. I wanted to take a second crack at the “ How to Select a Developer Bootcamp “ post that I wrote back in 2013, now that many new players have entered the market and that the landscape has taken-on a very different look. I will describe for you the the things that concern me the most about other industry players and give you some advice about what you should be asking and researching for yourself, as you research which coding bootcamp is right for you.
Naturally, I will tell you how and why Sabio is different from most coding bootcamps and I will call out this commentary so you can skip it if you like, it will be outlined in the Sabio Notes section.
Does The Coding Bootcamp Care About Outcomes?
If you have already have a college degree, you know how easy it is to lose sight of this very important aspect of your education. Here are some key questions that will keep you from being sold a false bill of sale from any coding bootcamp.
What are your job placement rates?
This is a big one with many follow up questions. Ask this one several times, and make sure the answer does not change.
Our job placement rate stands at 91%. That is 91% of our graduates find full-time employment after attending our immersive training. This number is current as of 2/23/2016 and is inclusive of cohorts graduating as late as 12/15/2015.
Are those full-time jobs?
The following questions will help establish what they consider to be a “job” . Their definition could differ from yours and their “clarifications” to their previous answers will prove to be very enlightening.
- Are the jobs paying at least industry average for the area?
- Unpaid internships…those are illegal, do your graduates get any of those?
- Is coding their main responsibility?
- Does it matter to you if the student is a community manager or account executive at the local start up?
- Does it matter that they are actually working in tech and not at the local library?
- How many of the students are hired back by the bootcamp itself?
- How long does it take students to get a full-time job?
- What kind of salaries are students getting in the area you want to work? Salaries in LA are very different than San Francisco, so be sure to differentiate.
If they tell you that “they don’t keep track” of these numbers, then simply check with your State.
In California, we are required to keep track of these numbers as we need to report them to the State, and to provide students with an Outcomes / Performance disclosure.
If they truly do not keep track of those numbers, then, what do they keep track of? How do they know what is working? How do they know what to adjust, and where? and when? This is extremely important: How do they measure success?
Beware of the Independent Contractor // Freelancer
Many times this title is just a nice way of saying “unemployed,” and I see it used by many coding bootcamp graduates. If the bootcamp’s graduates are all independent contractors, take that as a red flag.
Once you flesh out all those numbers then do some simple math and see how different your measure of their job placement rate is in comparison to their original answer. A difference in these numbers will reflect how genuine they are in speaking with you.
Our job placement rate currently stands at 91% and only includes people working full-time as software developers. We don’t include interns or intern level pay, and we never hire our own students. If you came to us to build your app or business venture, we do not count you as a job seeker.
Our numbers are made up of job seekers predominantly in the greater Los Angeles area, with a small percentage in Orange County.
On average, our Fellows get hired within seven weeks at a median starting salary of $60,000.
Sabio Fellows only count as employed when they are coding full-time.
All Theory & Code for the Sake of Code
Where are Computer Scientists made? For the most part, they are made in universities and if universities were doing an exemplary job at producing well-trained developers, there would be no coding bootcamp industry for us to discuss. Finding a computer science graduate frustrated with their job prospects is not that hard. If you argue that there are not enough jobs, then where are all the bootcamp graduates getting hired? They are getting hired at companies that hire people that can write code and build software.
After 15 years in the field, I can tell you that CS students coming right out of college are not functional software developers. They are employees that you need to train for a several months before you can expect them to really contribute any value. The exceptions are few and far between.
OK, so what does this tell us? It tells us that the instruction at most colleges and universities is most likely poor. The curriculum is dated and how they teach it is inadequate. Bootcamps that seek to emulate the “theory” and “science” of a CS degree are missing the point. If they are looking to cram into 12 weeks what a full blown Computer Science curriculum major does in four years, that is just not possible. Just do the simple math. Working on logical and siloed “coding” exercises, “toy problems” for 12 weeks is not going to get you very far in terms of building software. Four years of that stuff does not get you very far, how are three months of that going to be of any help?
Bootcamps should do what universities are not doing, and that is to build software in teams. What we need is people that can build big, scalable, flexible and responsive applications quickly and effectively with a team of developers. Build and deliver. If you can do that, any sensible hiring manager on the planet will give you a job. If you can’t do that, good luck.
What’s the difference? Don’t you have to know the theory and science behind the practice? It’s the difference in knowing how to swing a hammer and knowing how to build a house. Building a house requires you to learn how to swing a hammer and a hundred other things that are really critical.
Yes, if you were hiring a carpenter you would want to know if they have good tools, but what you really need to know is how good she is at building houses. A carpenter not good at building houses is just a nail thumper.
At Sabio, we build software as a team. We work to deliver a large, real-world project to a client. We train in many of the day-to-day and week-to-week activities of a software development team which includes a great deal more than code. We code a ton, but we don’t just code because coding is just the hammer.
This is probably one of the sneakiest techniques used by bootcamps to increase profits by way of keeping costs down. What is pair programming? As the name implies, it involves two programmers who are programming. If there is only one programmer in the pair, then what you have is a programmer teaching a person. If you have zero programmers, then what you have is two people in front of a computer with a coding interface open — that is not pair programming. At best it is two people helping teaching other and at worst it is the blind leading the blind.
Bootcamps love this setup as it allows them to run cohorts with high student-to-teacher ratios. They tell their students that this is what developers do and in doing so, they are learning to be programmers. While there is some truth in this, it is misleading. It’s implementation in bootcamps is used to keep you busy with other students, freeing up the instructor’s time to do whatever they do. The implementation pretty much forces you to learn from each other and not the instructor and while that sounds fine as long as you learning, did you need to pay $17,000 to learn from your carpool buddy? The answer is no, you did not have to do that because MeetUps cost at most 20 bucks a night.
At Sabio, the instructor is your primary source of knowledge. You are there to learn from them, and they are there to spend a ton of time with you. We have very low student to teacher ratios of ten-to-one. While we absolutely encourage collaboration, communication and pair programming, it is not the primary source of knowledge and training. The amount of time you spend with a seasoned professional at Sabio is second to no other bootcamp in the country.
The Staff & Costs
The single most critical aspect of any immersive training program is the staff. The staff is what takes you from “zero-to-hero”. It’s what should drive the high-cost of a great training program but many coding bootcamp CFOs would disagree with me.
But if it is not the staff, then what justifies the big cost? Some will tell you it’s the community, but we are not talking about a Harvard, MIT or Stanford alumni network. It is no secret that building a great professional network is critical for success, but a network that is less than 12-to-24 months old, started by an organization that is still in the midst of proving itself is no comparison to the Ivy League.
Is it the curriculum? Absolutely, categorically no. You can find almost every aspect of a bootcamps’ curriculum online. You can find all the materials, papers, videos, tutorials online for free or for small monthly subscriptions. I refer to this academic pedagogy as majoring in Google.edu with a minor is StackOverflow. It is how I and my programming peers educate ourselves daily. No curriculum is more updated and relevant than what you can find on the internet.
The facilities? That notion is comical for an industry that is built on the premise that anyone working out of their garage can become a billionaire.
If you did not go to college let me break down for you how large, popular classes are run:
- One Instructor lectures to you and a few hundred of your friends for a few hours a week.
- This one instructor will usually have office hours that you, your hundred friends and other sections full of students will fight tooth and nail just so you can get some time with said professor.
- TAs (Teaching Assistants) fill in where they can and are often the person you talk to because the instructor is MIA.
- TAs are basically students that are just ahead of you in the learning process.
- You end up creating study groups with friends and end up teaching each other.
- You can’t wait to hit the “real world” so that you can get some practical experience.
In other words, the person with the most knowledge is not accessible, you end up learning more from peers, you do little practical work while you focus on exercises and to top it off you are out tens of thousands of dollars. When you get a chance to interview, no one wants to hire you because you do not have practical experience.
So in summary, the wrong way to do it:
- Spend little to no time with subject matter experts
- Focus on lectures with way too many people
- Learn mostly from other students who are just above your level
- Poor instruction provided by poor instructors with little experience
- Obtain no practical experience
- Don’t calculate the Return on Investment
Many bootcamps are guilty of these same mistakes. Here is how that happens:
- Like everyone looking for qualified staff they can’t find any so they compromise. They hire unqualified instructors with little to no experience.
- They prioritize revenue and profits so they pack the room full students.
- The try to balance out the high student to teacher ratio by hiring TAs.
- Their TAs are also overwhelmed so they “team” you up with other students.
- In an attempt to alleviate their overwhelmed staff, they sit you in front of lecturers, often times video lectures akin to elementary substitute teacher.
- They focus on exercises, “toy problems” and a curriculum that is designed and developed by someone else often times someone you never meet.
- You get little to no exposure to real world scenarios.
- You get little to no experience working with developers with actual industry experience.
It’s a very different story at Sabio:
- Our #1 priority is the value we provide to our Fellows, not company revenue.
- You will spend a ton of time with subject matter experts with real world, industry experience.
- Our instructors are seasoned with 13+ years of experience.
- The majority of our time is spent with 1-on-1 training.
- We have low student to teacher ratios of 10:1.
- We focus on current, relevant and practical skills.
- 100% Return on Investment is usually reached within 12 months.
While we do perform lectures during our training, they are not the focus of our training. They are not an everyday thing because lectures do not hold anyone accountable. In contrast, focusing on high quality product delivery imposes accountability on everyone, the instructors and students alike.
Collaboration is very much encouraged in our cohorts but it is not the primary way we plan to have you learn. Your primary source of knowledge is the instructor via the 1-on-1 sessions we have throughout the day. Our instructors also act as coaches who will push you and guide you throughout the process.
Curriculum materials should support the instructor and not the other way around. Any online materials we have including videos are there to supplement the training NOT to take its place. We lean on our instructors to deliver great support to our Fellows and our curriculum materials are there to help instructors. Just as owning a cookbook does not make you a Chef, following a coding curriculum is not going to be make you a software developer.
Staff Hiring Positions
Have you seen the open jobs being advertised by your bootcamp? If you have not, take a look by going to Cragislist or by doing some Googling. It’s literally the writing on the wall that you have not been reading. Bootcamps are hiring for instructors with only 1–3 years of professional experience, if any. That’s junior or mid-level developer level talent at best. Some of our Sabio graduates have been offered jobs by other coding programs. Combine that with claims of coming out as senior level developers and you will see that it makes no sense. How are they able to produce senior level developers with mid-level instructors? That’s like adding 1+2 and getting 4. I found one bootcamp hiring for staff whose responsibility was to ensure instructors arrived on time. What does that say about the instructors? And these instructor postings are just the start.
Many are hiring for outcomes managers/directors but few require prior technical, hiring, or recruitment experience. How do you manage outcomes and job placement when you have no experience in any field that would provide relevant know-how?
Engineer in Residence aka Teacher Assistant
These are usually one of two different profiles. The first profile is that of students that just graduated and could not find work or as one organizations puts it:
The best developers we graduate….. that don’t get jobs.
The organizations will hire these students to beef-up their resumes and to inflate their outcomes. That’s a win-win, for the bootcamp; however, this is a straight-up, unequivocal loss for you. By the way, if you figure out who is the worst developer, let me know. Hopefully, it is not you.
The second profile is that of a recent graduate of a Computer Science degree program that also could not find work and so they came to the organization to collect a paycheck and beef-up their resume. The industry would not accept them, but they are good enough to teach you how to code. Again, win-win for them, loss for you.
Marketing, Operations, Sales, Finance, Revenue, Legal and Executives of All Types
There are a boatload of positions in some of these organizations. All of these being full-time roles. Truth be told, I can understand why some organizations need full time legal counsel, but let’s just consider the other roles. And before I lose you on the bottom line, your $17,000 tuition is going towards these people’s salaries and not your training, because as we established earlier most coding bootcamps do not hire senior-level talent.
Does a National Admissions Director really do that much more than a Regional Admissions Director? What does a VP of schools pick up and what a Head of Curriculum puts down? When a Chief Revenue Office looks to maximize profit are they thinking of maximizing the value they deliver to you? Does an Inside Sales position care about what goes on inside the walls of their school?
What do you think a Chief Strategy Officer does? Isn’t the strategy to educate people as best as possible? That is our strategy. We figure if we do that and a great many things that are part of the business will work out. What do you think they get paid? Holy Cow!
Sabio has four full-time employees and five part-time employees. They are:
- One Full time CEO who moonlights as the Community Manager and is the main point of contact for all incoming fellows and hiring managers. She works a ton of hours and many times, six days per week.
- One part-time person that seems to be able to do whatever we need her to do so I am not sure what her title is right now.
- I am the one Full time CTO/Head Instructor/Head of Curriculum and suspected vampire since I never sleep. I work six days per week often. I have done so for many years because I love startups and love software startups as proven by 15 year track record.
- 2 Other full-time instructors that are responsible for training no more than 10 people at a time. They have been in software a combined total over over 34 years.
- Four part-time instructors that run our part-time programs, professional development coding meetups and pre-work training. They are seasoned developers as well.
And. That. Is. It.
For Profit — Lackluster Education Redux
Does any of the above sound familiar? It should. It sounds just like the education system that is pretty much failing America today. So much money dumped into just about anything but your actual education. If you are like most bootcamp students, you would have already been through that system or one very like it. Isn’t one time through that wringer enough?
Last But Not Least, You!
Let’s not forget one of the most important pieces to this puzzle, you. It’s not about us. It is not about how wonderful we are and how exclusive we are. The achievement is not you getting into our program. It is about you getting what you need and want from us.
So you must consider, is this bootcamp right for you? Is it welcoming of your background. Is it accepting of your English Major or your Political Science background. What kind of track record does the bootcamp have with people who fit your profile, background and technical expertise?
Many bootcamps focus on recruiting former CS majors, Engineers, Physics Majors and otherwise technical students. If this is not you, you have to ask yourself and them if they are going to be able to present you the materials in a way that you will be able to learn them. Do they have the support system in place to help you today and tomorrow?
Sabio can train any highly-motivated individual to be an exceptional software engineer. We have the track record to back this up. We optimize our business to deliver the most value to you not us. We provide the most high-contact training experience in the nation.
No matter your background, our low student-to-teacher ratios allows us to give everyone a unique experience tailored to their needs and skills.
If you happen to have a technical background including a CS degree, then you will find our program to be the most challenging, rewarding and fun training experience in the country.
Third party sites for your research:
Originally published at www.researchcodingbootcamps.com.