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This Is What Coding Bootcamps Need To Do To Beat The Backlash

With two major bootcamps shutting down this summer, some are questioning the future of the model. Here’s what it will take for bootcamps to stay relevant.

This Is What Coding Bootcamps Need To Do To Beat The Backlash
[Photo: Flickr user Dev Bootcamp]

Coding bootcamps, which offer short-term, intensive training in software development, data science, cybersecurity, and UX design, are hitting the downward curve of the hype cycle. With two recent high-profile closures, of Dev Bootcamp and the Iron Yard,  many are questioning whether these programs are still capable of turning out high-quality graduates.

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But the fact is that this market is still growing fast, a sign of high demand, not only for students looking to boost their tech skills, but also for employers on the hunt for talent. At SwitchUp, the coding bootcamp review site I founded in 2014, we’ve gathered lots of data and feedback from our students about what works and what doesn’t. To meet those needs and prove their long-term value despite a rising chorus of skeptics, here are a few things coding bootcamps will need to do.


Point-Counterpoint:

1. Don’t Scale Up At The Cost Of Quality

If opening a new bootcamp location means reducing your ability to deliver the educational value that originally put you on the map, don’t do it. This should be obvious, but plenty of bootcamps are backed by investors eager to see growth, which can add tremendous pressure to scale up prematurely. But while the desire to expand may be tempting, the long-term damage to your brand as a result of bad reviews or low job placements can be irreversible. Every bootcamp’s top priority should be exceptional training–no excuses.

2. Reflect The Needs Of Local Markets

If your bootcamp has multiple locations, the most efficient thing to do is cut and paste your curriculum; after all, offering the same courses everywhere might seem like the consistent, equitable thing to do. Don’t make this mistake. Bootcamps that don’t offer coursework that reflects the unique needs of local employers will suffer in the long run.

Top-rated bootcamps like Hack Reactor, Metis, and Fullstack Academy establish close partnerships with the prospective employers of their grads in every location where they have a presence, and rely on industry feedback to influence curricula. These partners–which include Uber, Facebook, and Google–help bootcamps better understand the ins and outs of local hiring demands, and respond in kind.

3. Keep Your  Offerings Current And Relevant

While it’s a cliché that the tech industry is in a constant state of flux, it also happens to be true. Bootcamps need to acknowledge this fluidity by adapting their curricula to the rapidly changing demands of employers. After all, those needs may be much different in just six months from now.

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For example, since Javascript is still popular among many employers, it’s the primary coding language that bootcamp students typically learn first. But forward-thinking bootcamps can then supplement their students’ skills by teaching them multiple languages alongside other engineering basics. The result is a technically well-rounded graduate who’s prepared to solve complex programming challenges, rather than just write code in one language.

4. Compete On Credibility Above All Else

Students attend bootcamps because they want the skills that will get them hired at startups and established tech companies. If your program isn’t superb, your grads won’t find jobs, and employers won’t hesitate to spread the word that your offerings are inferior. You want your graduates and their employers to rave about your school in order to stimulate new enrollment. While cost matters, you don’t want students flocking to you just because you’re the cheapest bootcamp in town.

Savvy bootcamps have found some smart ways to enhance their marketplace credibility. For example, many have embraced new third-party reporting initiatives (like the nonprofit Council on Integrity in Results Reporting) to make their job-placement data more honest. Others, like App Academy, build trust through unique tuition-financing offers; instead of paying up front, App Academy students pay a percentage of their salary to the school after they’ve landed a high-paying job. So far, students seem to love this approach, which has led to many high-quality reviews: On SwitchUp, App Academy has 242 reviews, with 4.79 out of 5 stars.

5. Embrace Feedback From The Marketplace

Student feedback is typically the most honest, powerful, and useful barometer of your program to which you have access. If your bootcamp doesn’t deliver a high-caliber education, this deficiency will be reflected in your reviews and job-placement metrics. Ignore those two measurements at your peril–they’re your bootcamp’s lifebood. Unlike many colleges and universities, bootcamps attract students with their reviews and job-placement data rather than with brand-name recognition.

Schools that deliver on their promise should encourage satisfied graduates to share their success stories on review sites, in blog posts, and on social media. The accessibility and transparency of this positive content will build trust among prospective students, reduce their hesitation, and convince them on good authority to sign up. Top-tier programs typically earn greater visibility on search engines and aggregators than their competitors with comparatively poor reviews and weak hiring data. So if your feedback isn’t good, change your approach–don’t just double down on marketing.

With more than a half million open tech positions in the U.S., there’s still an inarguable need for well-run bootcamps that can consistently turn out competent grads. Schools that know how to do that well won’t just survive the backlash some coding bootcamps have weathered, but will position themselves for intelligent, long-term growth that serves not just them but their graduates and employers, too.

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Jonathan Lau is a serial entrepreneur, coding bootcamp alum, and founder of coding bootcamp review site SwitchUp.org. He enjoys working in the technology education industry and helping students find the best courses that meet their career goals.