July 26 #CodeNewbie Chat

Full disclosure for this chat… I was one of the people who was around in the very early days of the “code school” phenomenon. In fact, my own code school, Ruby Mendicant University may have been one of the very first and was created before both The Iron Yard and DevBootcamp opened, and alumni of my program have served as mentors and/or instructors in both of those schools.

But I stepped out of the code school world just as all these other programs were getting started. So my actual experience with and overlap with the ‘modern code school at scale’ is effectively zero. Anyway, I wanted to point this out before we got started because this is a topic of much internal conflict for me…

I’m surprised, but only that it happened so quickly. I personally think that the intense, short-term code school movement was a real(-ish) solution to a temporary problem rather than “the new normal” of how software developer education will work. What we really need are proper trade schools… two year programs with a path towards formal apprenticeships rather than the usual hiring schemes of bootcamps which is “Hire the people who probably could have made it on their own anyway.”

But I feel like proper trade schools will be something that will take many years to come together. They’ll start slow and grow slow… the opposite of what DevBootCamp and The Iron Yard have done. We need an alternative path other than computer science degrees, but programs from six weeks to six months aren’t it. And the pricing model needs to be closer to that of community college for it to really work at scale.

So much groundwork needs to be done in order to make this very ambitious idea a reality… in order for trade schools to work our industry needs to be ready for them, and frankly, we’re not there yet. The learning curve is still far too high… and our entire infrastructure and job market depends on an unproven and largely broken economic model. Those things will change in time, but the next five years will be rocky.

I write these #CodeNewbie posts in realtime and so don’t have the time to elaborate on that before the next question comes up, but feel free to use my Ask Me Anything repository if you want me to expand on my concerns for the future of the software development industry.

In the near term, I’d not be surprised to see more code schools close up shop, and that’s unfortunate for the students and alumni of those programs. But this was the fundamental problem that I always saw with code schools… you can scale the supply side of the curve by creating more teachers and locations (and moving online, etc.), but you can’t scale the support network on the demand side nearly as quickly without degrading the quality. In other words, building a network of excellent working environments that alumni can join who are hiring at the level of a bootcamp grad is no easy task… sustaining it indefinitely is infinitely harder.

So you can choose to either degrade the network, or to keep training people to higher levels so that they can keep accessing opportunities that were worth the cost of their time and money investment. But to train people at a higher level requires a much larger investment in curriculum and means going deep rather than wide, and that’s where the economics of it get really complicated.

This challenge would still exist if our field has been around for thousands of years and was relatively stable, but the extreme instability makes things that much harder. Software development is a field with a steep learning curve that just gets steeper and steeper at each successive level of career development. Too few people are honest about that point, and so a lot of people going into bootcamps don’t realize that the sole purpose is to get you up onto the first plateau.

The bright side though, is that I think for the schools that stick around… there may be some positive forces at work that will encourage them to build longer, more substantial programs. To grow more slowly, and set expectations better.

And others will have the chance to test and try new models. So it’s an opportunity for refinement and renewal, when looked at that way.

If anything, they confirm my view that the long term future of developer education needs more than what bootcamps can offer, and heighten my interest in founding a proper trade school of some sort!

But it’ll take me many years to get there. I may not ever get there. With that in mind, I just wish the students of these various code schools the best of luck.

Part of the solution to the developer education problem in the long run is for companies to do a better job of providing training themselves.

This is something I’ve got a ton of experience with. So if you have training needs for your own company… whether it’s for a brief monthly coaching session, or to help you design, build, and run an entire apprenticeship program, consider working with me.

(Or if you work for a company that you feel might benefit from better training, please do connect me with whoever makes decisions around that. 🙂 )