Hamilton Forth’s Josh Moreland discusses the emergence of coding bootcamps across the UK and asks if they are really the answer to the UK’s software engineer shortage.
In the last 10 years or so the UK has seen an emergence of IT development bootcamps aimed at delivering short, intensive, classroom-based software engineering courses. The organisations that run the camps advertise their success in educating students quickly and efficiently – familiarising them with end-to-end software engineering frameworks, techniques, tools, and languages.
The technology market in the UK is currently facing its biggest ever ‘war for talent’ with demand for technologists far outstripping the availability of candidates. Various studies have suggested that software engineering roles have increased by around 33% and on a global scale, it is suggested that by 2030, there will be the need for a staggering 45 million programmers.
It follows that the coding bootcamp model is one which addresses a major labour issue in the market right now. The ability to quickly nurture and produce skilled, enthusiastic software engineers makes sense both commercially and altruistically. However, it’s worth considering the various strengths and weaknesses of the accelerated model and whether the calibre of engineer at the end of the course rival that of a university-educated graduate?
In creating this blog, I spoke with a number of relevant professionals – including the CTO and founder of a tech-start-up, a graduate from one of the code camps, and a senior manager from one of the most successful bootcamps across UK and Europe. We discussed a number of topics, the first of which, in homage to Simon Sinek, is ‘start with why’.
Why…do Coding Camps Exist?
Le Wagon is currently ranked as the world’s best coding bootcamp. It operates in 23 countries and has enabled thousands of people to change their careers or enter the world of software engineering for the first time. When the above question was put to Rebecca Christophersen, Communications and Engagement lead at Le Wagon, some acute observations were made.
Firstly, there was a belief system that current tech education was broken. A number of university computer science courses continue to teach outdated languages which, although robust in their principles of IT engineering, may not be as well aligned to the entrepreneurial market that a number of software engineers wanted to work in.
More than this, however, Le Wagon’s ethos is on trying to get students having more of a product-build focus, as opposed to learning every piece of syntax or every computer science theory. This tends to stand up well in interviews when businesses are asking applicants to ‘show me something you have built from scratch.’
In addition, it was pointed out that access to university education is a challenge for a number of people. Focussing on the female demographic, various studies have shown that at school-level, the appetite for girls to pursue computing as a career has been dwindling for some time. Therefore they may be less likely to enrol in a computer science degree. However, a nimble 12 or 16 week camp offers the opportunity to provide access to tech education without sacrificing years of your life to do so.
The Inside Track
PropEco is a technology start-up business aimed at improving the climate resilience and energy efficiency of domestic properties. The founder and CTO of the organisation Chris Hardman, a graduate of a coding bootcamp himself, believes the model satisfies a major gap in the market right now.
His view is that many of those who enrol in these camps may have had a career or education in a different field – finance, business operations, or sales. If people are going to retrain in technology and computing they may not have the time or money to enrol in a multi-year university degree. However, they may be able to commit to paying for an intensive and interactive short course.
Chris added that even if a bootcamp graduate may have less of a grounding the fundamentals of computer science (compared to a university student), the demand for junior engineers with a willingness to learn may be more favourable to potential employers than graduates without any practical coding experience.
The main opposition to bootcamps seems to be around two areas:
- Price / cost model
- Lack of guarantee of work after course has been completed
Pricing structure for camps vary by organisation but can be in the thousands of pounds for a 12-16 week course. Some camps will offer financing options whilst others expect a lump sum to be paid.
The cost of enrolling in a camp is not just the outlay of the coursework but also, if you are changing career, there is a possibility that your salary will drop at first to become a junior developer. In real terms you could be ten, fifteen, even twenty thousand pounds worse off in your first year of retraining. Not insignificant when considering the current economic climate.
Chris Skinner, a graduate of CodeClan and a ‘career switcher’ countered the cost argument a little by commenting that although there is an expense in partaking in the studies, that there are many benefits to coding bootcamps.
You learn how to ‘code the right way’, and because a lot of the camps adopt the ‘mentor model’ – you are always able to work with someone who can guide you, help you overcome technical barriers and keep you focussing on your goal. Although there may be cheaper (even free) online resources available, Chris believes that the set-up at the camps promotes accelerated learning compared to something that an individual could research on their own. Moreover, he found the careers support, mentorship and sense of community invaluable in landing his dream role.
Many of the camps have good relationships with local and international businesses who may wish to eventually hire some of the graduates. The camps typically employ relationship managers to ensure that their students can start to plan what their (new) career journey may look like and who it may be with.
However, the camps remain adamant that they cannot guarantee employment upon completion of the courses, highlighting that it would still be the prerogative of any business to decide to assess, interview, hire or reject any candidates. Something which may help a student in deciding which camp to enrol in is the emergence of comparison sites – which help to layout the various strengths and drawbacks of different organisations.
This can be a slightly controversial topic for the critics of the camps who often combine this viewpoint with the fact that in many organisations demonstrable, commercial experience is seen as outweighing academic prowess. So even having undertaken an intensive course in a software language may not put you ahead of the game compared to other applicants for IT roles who possess a couple of years of industry experience.
Early indications suggest that with over 100 camps already in operation across USA and Canada, the UK and Europe scene is likely to also swell with regards to new camps and offerings to students. The general consensus seems to be that benefits of the camps seem to outweigh some of the criticisms – but perhaps the most appropriate parallel to draw is that the set-up of the learning within the camps (whether intentional or not) actually mimics the agile, iterative style of software engineering principles.
Perhaps businesses are more likely to be drawn to graduates and candidates who already understand nimble, flexible methodologies than those who can recite what they have memorised from a textbook? Food for thought.
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