The future of coding bootcamps, according to the president of one that is shutting down

A sign for Dev Bootcamp is shown at their office in San Francisco, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. Dev Bootcamp is one of a new breed…
A sign for Dev Bootcamp is shown at their office in San Francisco, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. Dev Bootcamp is one of a new breed…
Image: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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When Dev Bootcamp, a 19-week coding course, launched in 2012, it was at the beginning of what would become a huge trend in tech education. To assuage tech’s demand for entry-level coders, the company promised it could prepare anyone for a career as a programmer.

Today, about 100 different programs offer similar courses, according to CourseReport, which keeps a database of coding bootcamps. But Dev Bootcamp itself, which operates in six cities and has 3,000 graduates, will shut down later this year.

The company, which was acquired by Kaplan in 2014, broke the news to students earlier this month in an email.

“Despite tremendous efforts from a lot of talented people,” the email said, “we’ve determined that we simply cannot reach a sustainable business model without compromising our mission of delivering a high-quality coding education that remains accessible to a diverse population of students.”

Quartz interviewed Dev Bootcamp’s president, Tarlin Ray, about why Dev Bootcamp failed as a business and how he expects the quickly growing industry to evolve.

Quartz: What effect did low barriers to entry have on the industry?

Ray: As of 2016, the industry included nearly 100 full-time bootcamps across the country, contributing to a crowded landscape that continues to grow. Exponential growth over the past five years has meant that a number of the existing players haven’t taken the steps they should to get licensed or meet regulations of the states in which they operate, which has made it particularly difficult for prospective students to identify quality programs.

Why is it hard to differentiate between bootcamps?

There has been tremendous growth in this market since 2012, but the overall size of the market is still relatively tiny in comparison to other industries (this does not include students training solely online or through university affiliated schools). With an influx of more bootcamps each year, often concentrated in similar geographic locations it becomes challenging to break through the clutter. We do think the market will evolve towards specialization, in which bootcamps can figure out how they can better support specific skills development from QA to front-end and back-end to DevOps. This will help in differentiation and evolution of a valuable industry and way to help students get access to the jobs of today and tomorrow.

That sounds like there were courses of varying quality that all looked the same. Was that the case?

Yes, as with any new industry with a rapid influx of new players mimicking the original, it takes time for customers to differentiate quality programs from those looking to take their money. And, as in Dev Bootcamp’s case, certain programs sunset not due to the poor quality of their product but because of other circumstances. [Earlier this year, 17 coding schools created reporting standards, including audited job placement results.]

In the email you sent to students, you said you were unwilling to compromise on quality. How could you have made the business profitable? 

One alum noted that the Dev Bootcamp staff has always gone to great lengths to support our students, and that the program’s price point couldn’t possibly compensate for the amount of extra love and care that went into it. Certainly great talent comes, as it well should, at a cost. We could have taken steps to compromise on this type of support. Limiting our staff to only part-time instructors and career developers and scaling back the number of DevBootcamp-funded and community partner scholarships for underrepresented communities in tech that would limit access for a greater number of people to start technical careers are all ways we could have compromised on our values for the sake of revenue.

Do you think anybody could make this business work without compromising the quality of the education?

What we couldn’t reconcile with a viable model were our dual priorities of quality AND access. To us, access meant finding ways to support broader groups of diverse people who otherwise might not have the opportunity to find a meaningful tech career. We did this through scholarships, keeping tuition at a certain level, and also making the program available in different markets. It was this mission that allowed us to successfully graduate and support career development for more than 3,000 alumni during our tenure, by far one of the largest communities in the industry.

What do you expect to change in the industry, will more bootcamps shut down? Will non-profit models become more common? 

The concept of a “bootcamp” has become too narrow. We’re starting to see an evolution of this education model – both on the student and employer sides. The biggest changes are being seen on the employer side as the relationships between companies and bootcamps are becoming stronger. The remaining bootcamps must work to continue strengthening that relationship because the need for more diverse, non-traditional tech talent isn’t going away anytime soon. As more employers become open to hiring and training bootcamp grads through programs like apprenticeships, they will become more transparent with their hiring and training needs allowing bootcamps to tailor their programs more specifically, leading to greater specialization within the industry.

Also to date, bootcamps have been leveraged mainly for recruiting, serving solely as new talent pipelines to supplement the dwindling number of CS grads and small percentage of diverse CS grads. We suspect that bootcamps will start playing a bigger role in how employers are retraining employees with outdated skills, adopting more of a B2B business model.