The Gap Bridged by Dev Bootcamps

I’m sad, but not surprised, that some students found the CS classes at my alma mater intimidating:

She graduated in 2012 from the University of California at Berkeley, which has a top-ranked computer-science program, but she found the programming classes there forbidding. Instead of comp sci, she majored in comp lit. “I think it’s clear that there was something missing at Berkeley,” she says.

The software industry has told colleges for decades that their curricula should incorporate more coding, but the recent flux in the demand has finally caused the market to respond by creating dev bootcamps. They’re the vocational schools of the software field: tailored to a particular skill set, focused on training students to be minimally hirable for a profession with a bright future. The anomaly may be that most of these programs don’t require the same commitments1 as those from nursing schools or apprenticeships.

Of course, tech companies famously value academic concepts as a measure of intelligence, even when day-to-day work remains far removed from data structure implementations. There is some acknowledgement of hands-on experience (e.g., internships), but precious few schools have co-op/residency programs that are common in medical fields. Even then, the additional work experience is regarded as a nice bonus to the underlying school’s (academic) credentials.

This bias places graduates from dev bootcamps at a huge disadvantage, though there’s an legitimate argument that a semester’s worth of intense development training still pales in comparison to the learnings from a four-year degree. The implication is that someone who can pick up JavaScript/Rails in a few weeks may never internalize core computing concepts when they come across problems that need that level of understanding, whereas a CS graduate can apply their knowledge and should be able to pick up the coding end. Sadly, it’s an assumption that evades self-reflection, though Google has made steps to eradicate the bias.

If coding is indeed becoming the new literacy and demand keeps up, the market will produce more bootcamps, self-taught online courses, beginner tutorials, and easier-to-understand programming languages and frameworks and apps. The vast gap between having and not having a CS degree will be filled with folks with all manners of skills in between. Much like writing, if everybody can reach a baseline programming ability, the difference will lie in quality.

  1. Lack of degree aside, I suspect the real reason these programs are short – with longer programs having overlapping cohorts – is that it’s simply more profitable to have higher student throughput.

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