Can Coding Bootcamps Solve the Big-Tech Talent Gap?

In the new era of remote working and distance learning, coding bootcamps are an educational alternative for current and aspiring tech workers alike.

By Jacob Gedetsis

By Jacob Gedetsis February 11, 2021

When Ruben Spruijt joined the IT workforce in the late 1990s, most kept their knowledge close to the vest.

“It was very rare to share knowledge publicly,” Spruijt said. He pointed to technical papers, industry events and books as the primary sources for technology insights.

“Colleagues looked at me strangely when I started sharing deep technical knowledge with customers, partners, colleagues and, yes, even with competitors. Technical marketing and personal brand development in the 2000s wasn't common ground for many.”

Spruijt is a senior technologist at Nutanix. He is a market analyst, author, speaker and self-proclaimed End User Computing geek who enjoys leading virtual IT bootcamps. He said it’s a growing medium that offers both new and veteran IT professionals an accelerated path to high-quality education, training and development.

“For me, the willingness to share information is one of the biggest changes in the profession over time, and that … is seen directly in the increase of masterclasses and bootcamps.”

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Education bootcamps over the last decade have grown into a $309 million industry producing more than 23,000 graduates, according to a study by Course Report. And because it completely upended the traditional college experience, COVID-19 has only perpetuated that growth, with online training and certificate programs across industries reporting massive increases in traffic and inquiries at the start of the pandemic.

But there’s not just interest in IT bootcamps. There also is a need for them, suggests a Brookings Institute study, which found that nearly two-thirds of all new jobs created this decade require at least medium-level digital skills.

Although some of those jobs have been lost to the coronavirus, many remain, especially in IT.

“Demand for IT talent has been affected [by the pandemic], but opportunities remain,” Alan Warr, chair of the BCS Consultancy Specialist Group, told Computer Weekly in a 2020 interview. “The pandemic and associated recession have affected IT hiring massively for sure, but … IT professionals are faring better than most overall.”

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One reason for that, according to Warr, is that IT employers already were experiencing a major talent deficit before the pandemic, especially in growing areas like cloud computing, data science and artificial intelligence. Add to that the new reality of a work-from-home economy, which has only accelerated the demand for a more tech-savvy labor force. It’s evident that large tech companies need new, non-traditional talent pools in which to fish for the skilled employees that they need. IT bootcamps, it seems, are poised to be one of them.

Easy Upskilling

Spruijt said he’s seen IT professionals enroll in his bootcamps in the interest of upskilling at all stages of their careers. For some, it’s an introduction to a new topic. For others, it's a deeper dive into familiar territory. In both cases, it’s an expedient option for gaining and sharpening skills – and, ultimately, advancing one’s career. After all, today’s hottest tech trend is tomorrow’s old standby.

So says 24-year-old Rahul Singh, an engineer for a large IT consulting company.

“I think it’s important to keep refining yourself,” Singh told The Forecast in a 2020 interview. “Technology is evolving continuously. Yesterday, we had a version of something, and two days later, we have a new version. If you’re not updated, you might miss out. So I think learning new things is very important.”

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A recipient of the Nutanix Hybrid Cloud Scholarship, Singh enrolled in the Hybrid Cloud Nanodegree Program. Offered by Nutanix in partnership with Udacity, the three-course program gives students a chance to learn concrete skills by completing several practical projects. Graduates receive a foundation in setting up and running a private cloud, layering in automation and incorporating a public cloud to create a hybrid cloud environment.

“If you’re able to master public cloud skills and end-user computer technology skills, and you’re able to communicate well, that isn’t common,” Spruijt said. “It helps set you apart. Bootcamps, generally, can equip students with emerging skills to better market themselves.”

Knowledge Over College

College remains an important pathway to a professional career. Tech companies continue to mine universities for top talent. Given the rising cost of a traditional four-year college degree, some high school graduates are looking for alternatives. Many find coding bootcamps viable for learning valuable technical skills quickly and affordably.

But are coding bootcamps worth it? Research from Course Report suggests they might be – if you choose the right program. Graduates of longer, more intensive bootcamps typically see a salary increase of about 51%, it reports, while 81% of graduates are hired into full-time jobs within 120 days of graduation.

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Tech companies like Apple, IBM and Google are investing in tech bootcamps and certificate programs to nurture the development of in-demand tech skills among workers at all levels. Apple CEO Tim Cook expressed support for coding bootcamps and coding-based curriculums as alternatives to college degrees at a 2019 meeting of the Workforce Policy Advisory Board. During the meeting, he cited evidence from programs like Apple’s “Everyone Can Code,” which supports integrating the coding curriculum at K-12 schools.

“We’ve never really thought that a college degree was the thing that you had to have to do well,” Cook said during the meeting. “We’ve always tried to expand our horizons ... About half of our U.S. employment last year were people that did not have a four-year degree. We’ve looked at the … mismatch between the skills that are coming out of colleges and what the skills are that we believe we need in the future.”

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Apple launched its K-12 coding curriculum in 2016. More recently, Google, in response to the pandemic, launched a new suite of Google Career Certificates and $10 million in job training grants for high-growth tech fields like data analytics, user experience design and project management. The July 2020 announcement underscored that college degrees are “out of reach for many Americans.” It highlighted parent company Alphabet’s commitment to online education programs that do not require a college degree.

“Of course, for some roles, you’re going to want someone with a bachelor’s or university degree,” said Spruijt. “But if you ask me, from a hiring perspective, I am more interested in a person’s attitude, their soft skills, their work ethic – that’s more important than just the knowledge or diploma itself.”

Fad or Future?

Thanks to COVID-19, which necessitated learning and working from home, people are more comfortable than ever with online education.

“I think people are much more familiar with online learning now than they were before,” Simeen Mohsen, managing director of Harvard Business School Online, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. “Words like ‘synchronous’ and ‘asynchronous’ weren’t part of everybody’s vernacular. Now I hear those terms tossed about on local news.”

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Spruijt made similar observations: People who resisted remote learning and training before the pandemic were forced by circumstances to embrace it. He predicts that the result will be a post-pandemic world wherein online learning channels are fully integrated into pre- and post-employment learning – although he said he is looking forward to the days where bootcamps can once again convene in person.

“In the future, I expect more and more bootcamps and masterclasses,” he said. “I envision that bootcamps and masterclasses are a part of creating new communities. Bootcamps and masterclasses can ignite to create new and extend existing community groups; they bring people together and give a chance for people to share knowledge—something we all benefit from.

Jacob Gedetsis is a contributing writer. His work has appeared in The Kansas City Star, The Post Standard and The Plain Dealer, among others. Find him on Twitter at @JacobGedetsis.

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