Matt Jensen had a plan to land a job as a coding developer in the computer industry. He would first earn a bachelor's degree in information systems, which would immerse him in business management, coding language and computer security.
But things didn't turn out as he hoped. Despite the time and expense of a four-year degree from the University of Utah, he still didn't feel qualified.
"I was working full-time while I was attending school," Jensen said. "I didn’t have the opportunity to do an internship. Because of that, I thought I needed to get some more hands-on experience because I want to become a Web developer. That experience that you get in the university just doesn’t give you enough of that hands-on experience that you need."
Jensen is among many in his generation finding themselves either underemployed after college or unprepared to perform in jobs that they studied for in school. The New York Federal Reserve Bank reported that 44 percent of college grads are underemployed, working at jobs they could have landed without their education.
But Jensen hasn't given up. He will achieve his goal of becoming a Web developer by attending one of the growing number of coding boot camps springing up around the country to fill the gap a traditional college education doesn't provide. Following the model of a trade school, the boot camp teaches skills through a curriculum developed through input from employers. But what sets these schools apart is they guarantee graduates a job that can pay a livable wage.
“You don’t necessarily have to go to college to become a good programmer," said Perfect Pitch’s CTO Greg Doermann. “Not all programmers who go through college are good programmers. What we really look for is someone who’s smart and gets things done. They need to be self-starters, they need to be hard workers and they need to be intelligent. If they fit it doesn’t matter if they went to college or not. I actually didn’t go to school for computer science.”
According to SkilledUp.com, there are over 70 coding boot camps nationwide. Most of them are found in the western United States with a few in Canada and Europe. Coding boot camp coursework can last anywhere between six and 12 weeks and cost around $5,000 to $10,000 to complete.
The best-selling point of these boot camps, however, is their job placement.
Coding Campus — a newer boot camp in Provo, Utah, with smaller class sizes of five to 10 students — claims a 93 percent job placement of graduates. According to Coding Campus’ program director, Sariah Masterson, the prospect of employment is what motivates students to get into the program and finish.
“These people are really passionate about learning to code; they’re really passionate about the new industry and frontier technology,” Masterson said. “So they’re doing all they can to get into that industry because they love it.”
The coding languages that coding boot camps focus on are programming languages that are in high demand.
“We picked Python because that’s what employees know,” Masterson said.
Coding Campus arranges field trips and meetings for its students and recruiters for such companies as BlueHost, Ancestry.com, Overstock, Ebay and many Utah tech companies.
Jobs after Coding Campus have an average annual salary of $50,000, where the low end of the pay scale is at $30,000 and the high end is $70,000, according to Masterson. The Deseret News called three companies that hire from Coding Campus and confirmed the starting salaries range, which depends on skill level and experience.
Davis Applied Technology College, a technical college just 60 miles away from Coding Campus, has higher placement numbers for its technology program graduates. At the same time, the program takes 13 months.
According to DATC’s website, a graduate with an information technology degree can expect to make between $12.26 and $33.08 an hour, which roughly translates to an annual salary between $23,500 and $63,500. These salary numbers are slightly lower than Coding Campus' numbers, yet they require an additional 10 months of training.
DATC's tuition is slightly more expensive that Coding Campus. However, DATC students have access to state and federal grants and loans to help finance their education, which could bring the cost down for those who qualify.
While coding boot camp students can get financing through commercial financial institutions, Masterson said Coding Campus does offer subsidies for women and minority students.
Career or job
Bob Clawson, a former wildland firefighter and a Coding Campus graduate, picked coding camp over a traditional college education. He and his wife cut back on expenses by taking out loans to pay for the program and relying on friends and family to purchase groceries.
He has completed the coursework and now has a job at Perfect Pitch Tech to help support his growing family. But he's worried about whether his extensive training in one aspect of his career will limit his ability to move up the career ladder without a traditional college degree.
“If you’re going to go the route of not going to college and not getting a degree for anything, then of course you’ll have to be prepared to find a lot of ways to study yourself which can be its own challenge,” Clawson said. “So I guess that has to be the type of thing that you have to weigh or consider for which path you want to go.”
That's a dilemma college career counselors like to point out to students making the decision between a traditional higher education and alternatives that may land a job quicker in high-demand industries. Many college counselors are saying that a bachelor's degree is only one step in gaining the necessary education for a long-term career.
“One of the reasons for that is our environment, our culture, our technology is changing so fast," said Lisa Severy, University of Colorado Boulder's assistant of student affairs and director of career services. "If you went through a similar training program 10 years ago and you didn’t do anything since then, you’re totally obsolete.”
According to Severy, education after high school can be seen on a spectrum. On one side are trade programs that are designed to get their graduates into a job as quickly and as efficiently as possible. On the other side are college programs that are focused on getting students a general skill set applicable in many different circumstances.
But Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson said today's workplace doesn't buy the thinking that trade schools are for jobs and universities are for careers.
“I think that attitude, that you go to college or you have a dead-end job, is a horrible thing to be telling our high school and even our junior high and elementary school students,” Johnson said. “There are lots of avenues, different than college, that I think not only lead to getting jobs but lead to full and satisfying careers.”
Johnson says that Overstock, which is looking into coding boot camps as a hiring resource, was built up as a meritocracy, and he points to its President Stormy D. Simon as an example. She doesn't have a college degree and started at Overstock in an entry-level sales position.
After all is said and done, the most important thing to Johnson is that someone can do the job, not what's on someone's resume.
“A resume or an educational pedigree is a nice start, but at the end of the day we want people who can do work, can write good code and get the projects done when we need them done," he said. “Those that do good work succeed, and they come up the chain. There’s no ceiling for progress for what’s on your resume.”
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