The Facts of the Case
Coding bootcamps are among the hottest and most polarizing topics in education right now. Demand for enrollment is booming and there has been a steady increase in the number of graduates and the rate of growth that shows no signs of diminishing (10x increase from 2012 to 2017).
The bootcamp market is also gaining in maturity. We’ve recently seen 2 major exits (Adecco acquiring General Assembly for $412.5M and WeWork acquiring FlatIron), we saw 1 merger/rebrand (MakerSquare + MobileMakers + Telegraph Academy officially subsumed into HackReactor), 1 acquisition (of Starter League, by Fullstack Academy)… but also 6 closings, including those of two organizations that were once considered paragons of excellence in the field (Dev Bootcamp and Ironyard). How do we reconcile the rising demand for one of the most sought-after skills in today’s job market with the failure of several institutions that are meant to develop that very skill? & what can we learn about the space in the process?
Anatomy of a Bootcamp
To understand more, let’s take a closer look at the role, structure, and attendees of a typical bootcamp.
Purpose : answer to the skill gap, train qualified programmers
Duration: 14 weeks
Average Age of Attendee: 30
It would seem, then, that the typical bootcamp-goer is university-educated and/or in a fairly comfortable financial position, as the ability to afford $11,500 tuition and 3 months of rigorous, full-time study would otherwise be impossible to manage.
Probably, none of these people are attending a bootcamp simply for personal enrichment. Probably, all of these people are attending out of a desire to change careers (jobs), to make themselves more attractive candidates for promotion (Jobs), or to keep their skillset current in order to maintain job security (JOBS!).
Best Practices for Building a Winning Bootcamp
In a recent interview with FastCompany, bootcamp expert Jonathan Lau offered the following four pieces of advice on how existing and future bootcamps can avoid the fate of Dev Bootcamp and Ironyard:
1) Build a brand. Focus on providing top-of-the-line educational experiences that deliver what your students are looking for: jobs.
3) Ensure your students are flexible to volatile demand for coding skills by teaching them foundational Computer Science (CS) concepts. Part of bootcamps’ value proposition is the ability to rapidly reskill students through project-based pedagogy that is similar to how coding works in industry. One feedback from employers has been that bootcamp graduates are often lack basic conceptual understanding of computer science, some bootcamps are offering free, online webdev fundamentals courses and/or adding 2–3 weeks of CS basics to the beginning of many tracks without altering the cost.
4) Compete on credibility above all else. Bootcamp attendees want jobs, plain and simple. If you do not follow-through on your ability to provide a quality, 360-degree learning experience from prepwork-to-employment, students will be dissatisfied and your reputation will suffer.
As the novelty of the bootcamp model fades and the space becomes increasingly competitive, the characteristics that separate winners from losers are quality, reliability, and employability. Bootcamps must maintain a tricky balance between school and startup, where scaling without maintaining a good product can be a fatal mistake. Some bootcamps are moving away from fixed-based cost models as they look to create space in their budgets to meet the market demand for increased mentorship and career services. One way of doing this is by rightsizing, or even eliminating, brick-and-mortar locations. Online-only bootcamps like Bloc and Thinkful (which recently acquired another online bootcamp, Viking Code School) are examples of this strategy at play.
Trends & Possible Futures
Success in the next phase of bootcamp development will be determined by the extent to which bootcamps develop meaningful accreditation and explore blue ocean customer markets. There are six trends of note:
1) Partnership with universities. The most interesting things happening in the push towards credentialing involve universities developing their own bootcamp offers or extending their accredited status to existing bootcamps through partnership. The case of Trilogy Education, a company that recently received a $30M round to sell “bootcampified” coding curricula to universities despite having zero outcomes reporting on the effectiveness of their product, proves the demand for this type of arrangement.
2) Credentials. Most bootcamps have developed their own credentials on top of career services and try to align their curriculum to market needs. However, the credentials value are not yet fully recognized by the whole market the way university degrees are nor are they fully verifiable by recruiting companies: it will take time for bootcamps to build brands and gain in “respectability” in the eyes of mainstream recruiters
3) Partnerships with corporate customers. For the third case, B2B, the value of a bootcamp will be in the ability to rapidly develop tailored trainings and to deliver them in-person. Bootcamps like General Assembly or Iron Hack are building B2B trainings and compete with learning platforms such as Pluralsight or Udacity as well as traditional training firms
4) Consolidation. A fascinating recent development is the recent acquisition of General Assembly by Adecco as well as the acquisition of Flatiron by WeWork. WeWork has made it a stated priority that they want to be able to house full departments of companies in their coworking spaces and have built out an enticing suite of services to this end whereas Adecco, the n°1 temp staffing company in the world is strengthening its staff training division. With the number of bootcamps growing, we may see the market move towards consolidation in the near future.
5) New educational experiences tailored for minority students. The bootcamp market seems to be rather responsive to questions of inclusion on the basis of class, gender, and race. Programs like TechHire & HackBright Academy (all-female) that focus on diversifying the STEM are tapping into previously un(der)explored student markets. Likewise, Fullstack Academy offers free tuition to select students and Hack Reactor has a track in which underrepresented students receive 70+ hours of dedicated mentoring.
In brief, the better a bootcamp demonstrates its ability to secure jobs for its clients, the better its chances to survive. The best bootcamps are those which understand that the current demand for their services is coming from people who are looking to learn skills that will help them to find or keep a job. The clearer it is to students that their investment of time and money will be ROI-positive, the more comfortable they will feel attending a given bootcamp
At Educapital, we believe there’s a market opportunity in bootcamps as a training ground for 21st century skills. While the challenges associated with building a brand and scaling up are significant, our perspective is that bootcamps will succeed in the short and long term if they focus on maximizing the employment rate of graduates through strong career services and industry-aligned curricula.
Anoopdeep Bal - Intern