Apr 302022

So a (semi-) local coding boot camp is going to be trying something that I really hope works out – partnering with a local company to sponsor and ultimately hire the graduates. I love this idea because of the way it shifts the financial risks in training people for future careers, the direct contrast it puts colleges in, and the fact that a set up like this is inherently designed to make the “graduating class” more successful, and not just because a higher percentage of them got their first job quickly.

To really appreciate the potential of this move, let’s think about how the whole “get trained in skills you’ll need for a good job” process works with colleges now. The way it stands, students pay to go to school, where they pick a major, often with minimal or no inclination for what businesses that are going to require this degree actually want or need, then have to go out and apply for jobs hoping they didn’t “(choose)…poorly” (to paraphrase Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). What makes this process worse is that we’re telling kids, and have been for years, that you have to go to college if you want a good job (while writing off traditional trade school jobs as “not good”). With just about every office job requiring a bachelors degree, we’re in a situation where students assume all the financial risk of skills training, and businesses reap the benefits (students may be getting higher-paying jobs, but the money they paid for college merely bought them the “privilege” for applying to work at those jobs, not the jobs themselves)

For the record, the current system isn’t completely unreasonable – students are the people on campus taking classes, which requires paying people to teach the classes and consumes other resources (labs, computer equipment, useful buildings like dorms or libraries, etc.). Obviously, the cost of what’s being consumed should be borne by whoever’s doing the consuming. My main complaint is how effectively uninformed people going to college are when they pick their majors. And that’s assuming the students are making a concerted effort to pick a major in demand with employers. I saw a lot of hype being put into why getting a traditional liberal arts degree (also known as “a degree that isn’t explicitly tied to a white-collar profession”) was a big plus when you went to apply for jobs. And maybe it was – for people applying for positions that traditionally drew the generic business degree. In my personal experience though, that isn’t really the case. I work in software development, an industry that at least tries to be more open to non-bachelors degrees, and I can still count on 1 hand the number of times I encountered someone in the profession that didn’t have a traditional computer science degree.

So what makes the Momentum announcement so interesting? Like I mentioned earlier, it moves the financial risk of skills acquisition from people hoping to get jobs later to the companies wanting these skills as a condition of employment. This seems fair, the point of coding boot camps is to make people more attractive to employers like insightsoftware. The biggest benefit of this is that there’s no ambiguity about what positions or skills are in demand by employers. They’re not going to pay for skills and training they can’t use. So thanks to this system, there’s no “useless training” (or “useless degree” to make the college analogy). The way things work now is that people looking to acquire these skills pay to get the training or education, and hopes that lines up with company hiring plans. That left people susceptible to acquiring skills that employers had no interest in whatsoever, or skills that are generally valuable, but for which the hiring market was already saturated (e.g. “Yes, companies need people with a {insert your major here} degree, but there’s a ton of people with that degree so most of those openings were filled already”).

Moving the financial risk to the hiring company also reduces the friction for people in lower-paying jobs to pursuing this sort of, for lack of a better term, “after market” skills acquisition. Remember, most jobs list educational requirements in terms of college degrees, boot camps don’t count. There’s a very real financial risk for people paying for these services that they’re going to spend a lot of money trying to transition to a new career (or really a first career depending on their work/education experience before this), and it not go anywhere, either because nobody trusts the new credentials coming from these things or the demand for whatever skills they trained in was overblown.

Another benefit of companies sponsoring non-college education paths is that it’s a good control on the quality of the program. I want the boot camp concept to succeed, and expand outside of programming, But right now, we’re trying to cram the bulk of what people learn during a 4-year degree into 12 weeks. That’s…intense, even assuming you stripped out everything that most software engineers don’t need for basic B2B or B2C applications. Based on what I’ve heard second-hand from people who have done practice tech interviews with graduates, boot camps are doing their best, but haven’t completely earned their spot as a degree replacement yet. Having companies sponsoring students in programs like these not only tightens the feedback loop on program quality, and gives boot camps a strong incentive to make sure the program content is thorough. If not, the companies paying for these cohorts are in the best position to demand the changes needed to get quality improvements.

College as an accreditation system needs a viable alternative. The biggest issue is finding an option that employers will accept as being an acceptable substitution. Seeing insightsoftware sponsor a class through a boot camp is a great vote of legitimacy, at least for Momentum. The link between graduating and a full-time job certainly seems nice, but the devil with that will be in the details – the article only mentioned a potential full-time job. I’d like a version of this with more assurances for the graduates, and I think that’s something achievable, but it’s going to require boot camps giving up control and instead functioning largely as matchmakers and middlemen. The important thing with this step, is that we’re taking steps to offer people a path to white collar jobs that’s cheaper than the traditional 4-year degree, and that’s the type of thing worth rooting for.

 Posted by at 11:45 AM