The rise of Silicon Valley-style coding bootcamps promises cure for skills crisis

The rise of Silicon Valley-style coding bootcamps promises cure for skills crisis

Is it really possible to produce a fully-fledged developer in a matter of weeks?

Australian businesses need employees with coding skills yesterday. Every sector is searching for suitable candidates and the traditional pipelines are running dry.

According to the Government's Cyber Security Strategy the number of people taking up information and communications technology degrees has halved over the last decade. Meanwhile, the changes to 457 visas are likely to make hiring from overseas yet more complex and costly.

The crisis shows no signs of abating. A recent report, from the NBN and Regional Australia Institute, forecast that half of all Australian workers will be in roles requiring high-level programming by 2030.

Stepping into Australia’s gaping skills gap is a small number of providers of Silicon Valley-style ‘coding bootcamps’ which promise to produce job-ready graduates with proficiency in the most popular programming languages.

The providers say they are the solution Australia has been looking for, citing high employment rates among their graduates. A new US survey suggests employers are pleased with them too.

But is it really possible to produce a fully-fledged developer in a matter of weeks?

Sticking the boot in

The coding bootcamp concept originated in Silicon Valley around five years ago. With tech companies there unable to hire engineers quickly enough and job-seekers lacking the necessary training for desired roles, bootcamps stepped into the fray.

“In the US they were feeling an acute lack of available talent, so there was a real poaching war going on across different companies,” explains Raman Nambiar managing director of Coder Factory Academy which runs bootcamps in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. “It's really aggressive and really competitive. In Australia we haven't yet reached that stage but we will.”

The concept has really taken off. By last year around 18,000 Americans graduated from 91 bootcamps, according to Course Report, close to double the number that did so in 2015.

In the US, students typically pay US$11,451 for a 13 week crash course in software engineering. Some schools however charge more than US$20,000 for courses and many allow students to defer upfront payment by taking a cut of future earnings. Tuition revenue across US camps totalled an estimated $199m in 2016.

Coding bootcamps are only beginning to gain a foothold in Australia, offered by three main providers: Coder Factory Academy, General Assembly (GA) and Academy Xi.

Coder Factory’s bootcamp – which costs $19,700 – runs for 25-weeks, during which candidates work from 9am to 6pm, five days a week, learning how to become an “employable Junior Developer” and taking an industry internship. The provider took on its first cohort of students in 2016.

Academy Xi – based in Sydney – doesn’t offer a coding specific course but does have a 10-week full-time User Experience Design course for $10,000.

GA – the more established of the three which started in New York in 2011 and now has campuses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – offers a number of full-time 12-week development courses for $15,500.

"It’s technical training that helps to set people up for a successful career in tech, without them having to commit years of their time," says Ryan Meyer, GA's senior regional director in APAC. "Our programs are appealing because they send students down the most efficient path to achieve their career goals."

The bootcamps' continuing rise in Australia is inevitable, adds Nambiar.

“There's only really three ways to get those skills,” he explains. “One, from overseas, number two is universities and there are only so many of those grads being pumped out each year; and number three is an alternate education model like a bootcamp.”

Nambiar added that he was aware of a number of US providers that were eyeing the local opportunity.

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