Be a Hacker Or Just Look Like One: Programming Education Promises A Ticket To Six-Figure Salaries In Just Three Months

Hacker schools are intensive, time-consuming, and expensive. But their allegedly high success rates in landing grads well-paying tech jobs are making them an increasingly attractive alternative to a four-year degree.

If you’re looking to land a job at a hot Silicon Valley tech startup, you might work your way through a computer science degree at a four-year university. Or you might take the fast track and opt for one of the bootcamp-style hacker “schools” that are becoming an increasingly attractive alternative for aspiring developers with little programming experience.


One reason these ad hoc schools are attractive to potential students: They’re much cheaper and take less time to complete than a traditional CS degree, which can easily set you back hundreds of thousands of dollars and several years of study. Although there are numerous arguments for the greater value of college-level degrees, vocational programming schools will generally run for about three months and cost less than $20,000. That’s not cheap, but these schools boast of a perk universities often can’t: A near-guaranteed ticket to a six-figure salary job fresh out of school.

At Hack Reactor, an intensive, 12-week program in San Francisco, tuition runs $17,780, and students spend six days a week in class from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., leaving little opportunity to make income on the side. But Hack Reactor claims 100% of alumni are employed as software engineers at both small tech startups and large companies alike, with an average salary in the six-figures.

The Flatiron School, a year-old bootcamp-style school in New York City that promises to turn students with little-to-no programming experience into hirable, entry-level developers in 12 weeks, costs $12,000. But Flatiron’s grads can earn a $4,000 tuition refund upon receiving a job offer, because the school charges a fee from employers who hire its students. Although Flatiron doesn’t guarantee job offers upon completion, the 19 students in its inaugural class all took programming jobs after graduation.

Of course, not all hacker schools can tout graduating classes with 100% employment rates, and it’s not as though the job market for developers is especially attuned to recent grads with only three months’ experience. Some skeptics like Jeff Atwood, the software developer and author of the blog Coding Horror, criticize the bootcamp methodology because “they imply that there’s a thin, easily permeable membrane between learning to program and getting paid to program professionally.”

Atwood writes:

“While I love that programming is an egalitarian field where degrees and certifications are irrelevant in the face of experience, you still gotta put in your ten thousand hours like the rest of us.”

As the idea of the hacker school gains popularity, they could soon become more affordable. Hacker School, in New York City, requires students to have at least some programming experience under their belts, but is free because it charges an average $20,000 recruiting fee from startups who hire its grads. At the newly opened School For Poetic Computation in Brooklyn, tuition costs about $5,000 per 10-week course, but the founders say they hope to one day make the school free of fees. And the City of New York is currently offering 28 full scholarships to the Flatiron School’s New York City-based applicants.


The hacker school philosophy may also be extending into traditional classrooms. Treehouse, an online platform that offers classes in HTML, CSS, and other programming languages, has partnered with an Oregon school district where students will be able to elect to take programming courses as a part of schools’ curriculums this fall.

[Image: Flickr user Blyzz]

About the author

Christina is an associate editor at Fast Company, where she writes about technology, social media, and business.