Developer boot camps have taken off across the world as a viable way for people to quickly learn the skills needed to begin their career as a software developer.
Yet while these boot camps have become ubiquitous overseas, they are still relatively misunderstood in South Africa.
The idea of fast-tracking skills acquisition is relatively common on the hardware side of the tech industry, but the idea of teaching software development, in the same way, is still comparatively new.
The stereotypical Hollywood developer sitting staring at screens filled with inscrutable code and pounding red bulls has often made software development feel more like an art or gift than a set of skills that can be taught.
We spoke to Codespace’s Emma Dicks about how boot camps are changing the options available to young people as well as what exactly one can expect from their boot camp experience.
Would you describe CodeSpace as a boot camp and what are your opinions of the global rise of these boot camps as a viable alternative to Universities?
Internationally the term “boot camp” has come to refer to intensive 8-36 week web and software development courses offered either in-person or online. By this definition, yes, we are a boot camp.
We have seen a rapid proliferation of coding schools or “boot camps” because of traditional tertiary institutions not reacting fast enough to be able to keep up with the dramatic increase in demand for software developers.
A coding boot camp can be an extremely effective and efficient way of upskilling as a developer. That said, it’s essential to evaluate a coding boot camp very carefully to make sure it is going to give you the outcomes you are looking for.
We recommend that anyone considering enrolling in a “boot camp” takes the following things into careful consideration:
- Assess if you are suited to working as a developer. If your chosen boot camp has an admissions process that includes psychometric tests and pseudo-coding that is a good sign that they are genuinely assessing your chance of success.
- Assess the longevity of the coding skills you will learn. While mastering the latest framework may seem like an excellent route to success, a junior developer should focus on developing their skills in problem-solving and computational thinking. Furthermore, you need to be learning how to learn. Technology is changing so rapidly, that your most important skill is the ability to learn something new.
- Assess the team running the course for a combination of both technical and educational expertise. To be able to create a genuinely useful educational experience, the organisation running the boot camp needs a mix both of experience in the tech industry as well as a solid educational background.
- Investigate if the learning environment suits you. Bootcamp class formats vary greatly in the amount of lecture time and coaching/practicals. Make sure that your chosen boot camp will give you the support and learning environment you need to be both challenged and supported in your learning path.
- Don’t take the incredible employment statistics quoted on a boot camp’s website at face value. The stats that a coding boot camp chooses to quote on its page are unaudited and self-proclaimed. Rather than presuming you will have the quoted chance of employment, investigate what kind of portfolio you will be building, which is what hiring managers will be looking at.
What is the secret sauce that allows CodeSpace to take someone with no previous experience to hireable in the 4-5 months?
A large part of our success rests on our admissions process. Before enrolling a student, we go through a stringent process to assess what their desired outcome of the course is, and what their chance is of meeting that outcome.
In the admissions process, we’re looking at questions like:
- Does this person like to code?
- Can they learn fast?
- How will they cope in a fast-paced, collaborative learning environment?
- Will learning to code really take their career in the direction they want to go?
All this is quantified, and plugged into an algorithm that helps us predict the likeliness of someone reaching their desired career outcome.
If I were a parent with a degree and a nice comfortable job and my child was considering CodeSpace over 3 years at a University, why should I be taking CodeSpace seriously as compared to the more traditional route that’s worked for decades?
Times are changing, and it’s quite clearly necessary that alternatives to university education are explored to address the growing need for hard and soft skills in industries that are often moving faster than academia at large can keep up with, and to make education more accessible while maintaining stringent standards.
A boot camp-style model of learning can be a part of this, but they’re not a panacea: different students need different kinds of support to become contributing members of the working world and society at large.
Universities used to be the only option for tertiary education, but this is no longer the case – particularly in relatively ‘new’ industries where a fresh approach is needed to keep pace with fast-changing technologies.
It’s understandable that some parents struggle to shrug off the idea that there’s no substitute for a university education because it’s been an ideal for hundreds of years – and some students do really thrive in a university environment.
But, some don’t. A broader concern is that as the fourth industrial revolution becomes a reality and the workplace changes drastically, our ideas about education have got to keep up.
Top tech companies like Google no longer list a college degree as a requirement to be employed there, which will likely only lead the way for others to follow suit.
What we offer at CodeSpace is an alternative to university that is both cheaper and faster. For students who already know that they’re interested in programming as a career we provide a fast-track into the industry – so, for brilliant, impatient students, we’re an excellent option to allow the acquisition of skills before boredom sets in, whether or not the money is a consideration for parents.
We’ve even seen cases in which students don’t meet the entrance requirements set by universities computer science departments, despite having high potential as a programmer.
As we use a series of psychometric admissions tests to judge whether a student will be accepted, we’re able to take in learners based on their current knowledge and logical skills, as opposed to their matric exam marks and a broader entrance test, which can be misleading when it comes to gauging potential in a specific field.
What would a typical day be like on campus? In terms of intensity, what should a prospective student expect?
The academy learning environment is structured to imitate the working environment as closely as possible. Students are taught to communicate with their teaching team in the same way they would be expected to communicate with colleagues in a tech environment. This makes the gap between the learning and working environment much smaller.
A typical day is made up of a blend of lectures, project work with the aid of a coach, peer to peer learning and self-study.
The crux of the course is getting students able to work on increasingly complex coding projects. Projects increase in technical complexity and slowly integrate the complexity of teamwork and client needs.
Lectures are all about gaining a deep understanding of foundational concepts. Outside of lectures, students cover lesson content on CodeSpace’s online learning platform.
The primary outcome is for students to become more and more “autodidactic” — able to drive their own learning. This is a tough feat and is what makes our course “intense”.
To become autodidactic the focus is not just on the technical skills, but a complex set of “soft skills” which are taught through our modules “Leading Your Learning”, “Leading Your Career”, “Leading Change” and “Leading Self”.
CodeSpace boasts placement of 81% of your graduates – what has the response been within the corporate space to your graduates? Are corporates embracing the idea of hiring people with practical skills from non-traditional schools or are you finding that the demand in the startup and SME space is creating the demand for capable developers?
Employers are incredibly receptive of students who are trained in industry-ready skills and who are used to working with up-to-date technology and workflows.
Corporates, start-ups and SMEs are hungry for tech talent and are very open to hiring based on tangible proof of technical skills as opposed to a university qualification.
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