More Bootcamp Misunderstanding

Every now and then another article pops up about the rise of the coding bootcamp. This month it’s the Times:

While skeptics say a few weeks at boot camp is not enough to produce a functioning developer, some employers disagree. Indiegogo, a San Francisco-based crowdfunding site, has hired six people straight from boot camps, and Victor Kovalev, the vice president for engineering, pronounced them “awesome.”
“It’s very impressive to put your life on pause and learn engineering in a boot camp,” he said. “The boot camp engineers tend to be very sharp, very driven, very excited to be engineers.

….and every time these articles pop up, the comments always amaze me:

These overpriced supposed fast-course-to-riches schools are nothing but Wall Street profit mills. They get corporate welfare – and BIG profit – from OUR hard-earned taxpayer dollars for the “education” courses, then overcharge students for more profit. Then they write off the costs of “recruiting” the same students. What a scam. Perhaps these quick-study programmers are why WE are under constant attack by hackers getting OUR personal information from BIG banks and businesses?

Outside of the tech world, coding bootcamps probably look a lot like DeVry and other for-profit universities, churning out credentials but leaving students unprepared for work. What outsiders don’t see, though, is that the graduates from these programs are for the most part leaving with real skills for working on production web applications. You’re not taking a junior dev straight from app academy and having them architect your next distributed system, but in any startup or tech company, there is plenty of valuable work to be done for somebody at any level (for specifics, I like to point people at this Quora answer to “What is expected of a junior developer?“). We’ve hired several developers from App Academy, and they’ve all hit the ground running, done great work on core pieces of PagerDuty, and had much more rapid and empowering career growth than they would have otherwise. For the graduates I’ve known and the companies I’ve worked for, these programs are win-win.

I do hope that we start to see some of the pedagogy of bootcamps come back to universities: project-based curricula, pairing, rapid feedback cycles. These are easiest to implement in CS, but have a lot of potential for other fields as well. Bootcamps may be disrupting universities in the moment, but if the four-year system can lose a bit of its ego, there’s an opportunity for colleges to deliver a rich liberal arts or science education alongside the practical CS, data science, and design skills to take that education and effect positive change in the world.