Internet

Helpful Hackers vs. College Regulators

Why are state governments cracking down on innovative coding academies?

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No one has ever called Milwaukee "the Silicon Valley of the Midwest." Or even "the Silicon Valley of Wisconsin." And they're not likely to any time soon, especially if state regulators get their way.

In November 2014, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that the city would be getting its first intensive computer coding school, a.k.a. "computer boot camp" or "coding academy," at the beginning of 2015. That didn't happen. In January the Journal-Sentinel reported that the Global Entrepreneurship Collective, the nonprofit organizer behind the proposed Ward 5 Code Camp, would be postponing its debut to address regulatory requirements imposed by a state agency, the Educational Approval Board (EAB).

The EAB oversees private postsecondary education institutions in Wisconsin that are vocational in nature and not licensed or regulated by any other agency or public board. To comply with state regulations, Ward 5 must complete a lengthy application, pay the EAB a $2,000 fee, and buy a $25,000 surety bond. Unable to complete these tasks by its January start date, Ward 5 refunded tuition fees to students who had signed up for its $6,500 program, and said it would try to open at a later date.

What exactly is the EAB trying to protect the citizens of Wisconsin from—besides the possibility of obtaining a high-paying job in the tech industry?

Coding academies are a relatively new phenomenon. Typically, they offer immersive programs that teach students how to code in JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, and other in-demand languages in just 9 to 12 weeks. Classes are held on a daily basis, generally from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and many programs tell students they should expect to devote at least 20-40 more hours a week beyond classroom time to complete their assignments. Ward 5's $6,500 tuition is on the low end of the coding academy spectrum. Dev Bootcamp, located in San Francisco, charges $13,950; Hack Reactor, another San Francisco coding academy, charges $17,780.

For the sake of comparison, tuition for a 12-week quarter at Stanford University runs around $15,000 these days. But if these coding academy upstarts are charging as much as our most elite institutions of higher learning, they're also promising extremely favorable outcomes for students who complete the accelerated programs. On its website, Hack Reactor claims a "99 percent graduate hiring rate," with average starting salaries at $105,000. Zipfian Academy says that 91 percent of its graduates get jobs at companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Tesla within six months of completing the program, with an average base salary of $115,000. App Academy says that 98 percent of its graduates "have offers or are working in tech jobs," and that 2014 graduates from its San Francisco program "received an average salary of $105,000."

Regulators have shown an interest in these California-based academies as well. In January 2014, the state's Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) sent warning letters to at least a half dozen local coding programs. According to VentureBeat, which first reported on the letters, the coding academies were given two weeks to "start coming into compliance" with BPPE regulations. If they didn't, they risked $50,000 fines and forced closure.

Like the EAB, the BPPE operates under the mantle of consumer protection. On its website, it explains that California was known as the "diploma mill capital of the world" in the 1980s. And presumably its mandate is to weed out institutions that consist of little more than a charlatan with a post office box and a stack of fancy-looking certificates he's willing to dole out for a few thousand bucks. The BPPE demands that schools submit building plans and campus maps as part of their application process, as well as asking for evidence that all instructors have a college degree and at least three years of teaching experience. The regulators say they wants to make sure that any private postsecondary institution that is charging $2,500 or more in tuition to students, and promising some vocational benefit, is offering actual instruction. (Institutions that charge less than $2,500 total in tuition, or offer only avocational or recreational instruction, are exempt from the BPPE's purview.)

Yuri Yu. Samoilov/Flickr

But how can you be a diploma mill if you don't actually issue diplomas? Unlike the shady operations the BPPE is designed to prevent-or the thousands of accredited U.S. colleges and universities that grant degrees—the coding academies are not in the business of selling certification. All they offer students is instruction and a shot at a high-paying tech job. And in turn, that's all that students can buy from them.

If you graduate from Harvard, Stanford, or even some little-known state college and you are not crazy about the education you got, well, at least you've got a sheepskin that gets your foot in the door in situations where a bachelor's degree exists as the default filter. If you graduate from Hack Reactor or Dev Bootcamp, you better hope you've learned something about making calls to an API because your skills are all you leave with.

On the flipside, coding academies have a strong incentive to teach their students. By removing certification from their offerings and tying their value so closely to their ability to produce graduates who are able to find six-figure tech jobs with their new coding skills, the academies make themselves far more accountable than traditional universities. When was the last time that you saw even Harvard promising that 98 percent of its graduates emerge with an average starting salary of $105,000?

To make sure they can produce students who can help them achieve such high job placement rates, the coding academies don't just accept anyone who has the ability to pay tuition. Most are selective—Hack Reactor reportedly accepts fewer than 10 percent of its applicants. In addition, many require students to successfully complete preliminary programs remotely before they actually come to the boot camp portion of the curriculum. And some, like App Academy, defer payment until students complete the program and land a position.

The kind of oversight that regulatory agencies like the EAB and the BPPE want to exercise over coding academies has some value. Information about graduation rates and job placement rates can help aspiring students choose which programs to pursue.

But the supervision these agencies provide also comes with signification costs. More than a year after the BPPE sent letters to the coding academies, none of them are licensed yet. "Licensing is a lengthy process for schools," says Russ Heimerich, deputy director of communications for California's Department of Consumer Affairs. In addition to all the paperwork the academies must complete, there will be financial obligations as well: A $5,000 application fee, plus 0.75 percent of their annual tuition revenues, capped at $25,000.

General Assembly, one of the institutions the BPPE targeted last year, reports on its website that it submitted an application and is waiting to hear back. App Academy echoes this experience. "We do not have a license from the BPPE, but we are working toward it," an App Academy spokesperson says. "Unfortunately it is a multi-year process."

Of course, now that the Internet exists, oversight is a far more abundant commodity than it once was. While the BPPE has yet to post any information about these schools for the benefit of prospective students, Yelp.com has nearly 100 reviews of Hack Reactor alone. Quora.com has more than 50. And Course Report, a site that specifically bills itself as a resource for individuals in the process of choosing a coding academy, already has a placeholder page for Milwaukee's Ward 5. If the program ever makes it past the barriers imposed by 20th century regulators, the real scrutiny and assessment will begin.

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  1. I did not know this, but when I looked up online, I found out that coding is very popular nowadays. It is one of the most competing industries on our job market. For your information, we don’t really have many specialists, therefore companies hire people from overseas. I find it reasonable paying out guys instead. Yes, you will need to build academies, but it will be paid off in no time. With overseas students things aren’t than easy. They use Essay Services Review making this services so popular. Yes, you need to write some sort of assignments even when you study coding.

    1. Oh, go paint yourself purple and moo.

    2. I find it reasonable paying out guys

      ?

      1. He’s doing a pastiche of Agile Cyborg.

        1. Sounds more like a telemarketer who hasn;t learned how to add links.

  2. It strikes me that this is a textbooks case of taking something that isn’t great (spreading photos of your nude body around has lots of consequences, most of them at least annoying), adding the Government, and thereby making it a good deal worse.

    Government is a pungent spice. There are more recipes that need its absence then its presence.

  3. …and said it would try to open at a later date.

    And, if they’re smart, in a different state.

  4. On its website, Hack Reactor claims a “99 percent graduate hiring rate,” with average starting salaries at $105,000. Zipfian Academy says that 91 percent of its graduates get jobs at companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Tesla within six months of completing the program, with an average base salary of $115,000. App Academy says that 98 percent of its graduates “have offers or are working in tech jobs,” and that 2014 graduates from its San Francisco program “received an average salary of $105,000.”

    Six-figure starting salaries for a code monkey? I doubt that.

    1. One guy got a $4Million job from his cousin. The rest got $45K jobs.

      1. Exactly. “The figures don’t lie!”

    2. But my sister’s babysitter’s niece makes $323/hr just for a few hours on laptop. When I saw the draft cheque, I leiked it!

      http://www.cybersham.com

    3. I suspec a lot of them are actually management types who are just trying to get a little smarter at coding so they know what the hell the code monkeys they’re managing are talking about. Either that or people with other professional backgrounds looking to add another useful skill without having to go back to a traditional college.

      It’s not like they’re taking burger flippers and teaching them to code so they can go get tech jobs. They’re more likely taking managers, accountants, finance types, etc. and teaching them enough coding to make them dangerous.

      1. I don’t know too many managers who can take six to 12 weeks off for this type of intensive course.

    4. Like law schools’ stats, I imagine they only count respondents to voluntary surveys. It’s also impossible to tell who already had a job BEFORE going to these boot camps and just got a promotion for completing it or who had a job promised upon completion of the boot camp.

    5. Six-figure salaries for Left-coast coders with specific in-demand skills are not unusual, but nevertheless an average starting salary of $105,000 sounds quite high. On the other hand, I went to yelp and read the reviews for one of these schools (Hack Reactor in SF, CA) and there are pages and pages of glowing testimonials from students who insist it was the best investment they’ve ever made. Again and again students write about the depth of the knowledge they gain and the quality of the curriculum. I almost want to go myself, although $105,000 is not enough for me at this point in my career and besides I am probably too old for that program.

  5. “A $5,000 application fee, plus 0.75 percent of their annual tuition revenues, capped at $25,000.”

    The vigorish. I’m just shocked they put a “cap” on it.

  6. From my admittedly anecdotal evidence, the IT industry is about the least college degree driven field there is. The people I know in the field tell me that no employer cares about whether you went to college. They care if you have certifications to some degree, but only to the extent that it shows you can work with the system or language the job requires. I know two very highly paid people who work in IT and neither of them has a college degree or any interest in getting one.

    If there is a field where for profit certification based education is going to begin the process of ending the higher ed monopoly, it is certain IT and hopefully a lot of other fields to follow.

    1. For the most part, once you have some experience on your resume, no one cares where you went to school or even if you did. The first job is always the hardest to get. Helps to have a degree, but these code academies are starting to pop up everywhere and I think it is a good thing.

      When I started (mid 90’s) in the development biz, it wasn’t uncommon for employers to use the lack of a degree to fuck over people on their annual reviews. The thinking was, sure we took a chance on you, but do you really think that there is another company like us out there? And there was some truth to that.

      Now, the worm has turned and the developers have all the power. Fuck, I’m currently trying to woo (and yes I mean woo) a developer to come work for me. This guy is a decent programmer and can pretty much name his own price.

      1. Hookers Jimbo, hookers and good booze. It is the key to effective recruiting.

        1. Works for DEA and Secret Service, I’m sure.

  7. my neighbor’s aunt makes $86 every hour on the internet . She has been without work for 7 months but last month her paycheck was $15501 just working on the internet for a few hours
    …… ?????? http://www.netjob80.com

  8. Hack Reactor claims a “99 percent graduate hiring rate,” with average starting salaries at $105,000. Zipfian Academy says that 91 percent of its graduates get jobs at companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Tesla within six months of completing the program, with an average base salary of $115,000…

    To make sure they can produce students who can help them achieve such high job placement rates, the coding academies don’t just accept anyone who has the ability to pay tuition. Most are selective?Hack Reactor reportedly accepts fewer than 10 percent of its applicants.

    I suspect a lot of thier applicants are probably professionals who are looking for a career change from accounting or finance or something else and are looking to switch careers into a technical/ coding career. Still, seems like a pretty useful service for people who are looking for a change in careers and don’t want to have to deal with going back to school for another degree.

  9. Anyone living in Wisconsin can learn programming and linux command line. There’s no need to attend some code camp. All the necessary resources are there online. It’s vastly cheaper, too. There are 1000s of available tutorials free for the taking. There are also forums where experienced programmers offer helpful advice to those who seek it. (I switched from Debian based distros to Arch based largely on the strength of Arch’s excellent forums and documentation.)

    What’s missing from self-taught independent study is the guidance and broader point of view of an experienced teacher. Going alone requires a fair bit more dedication and discipline. These are necessary to overcome the feeling that one is groping in the dark, which is going to be true from time to time.

    The good news is that Wisconsiners can keep their money and start learning today. My advice: set up a dual-boot with the latest linux Mint (XFCE) – very stable and trouble free, and visit Python.org to download the necessary software and study materials for a good programming language to start with; popular enough and easy on the obscurantism.

  10. What mostly annoys me about these boot camps is that the graduates refer to themselves as “engineers”. Becoming relatively proficient in JavaScript =/= engineer!

    1. If some semi-literate train driver can call herself an engineer…

    2. Read the reviews on the boot camps. Apparently they are learning a lot more than javascript. I checked one out (Hack Reactor) and the reviews on yelp are pretty consistent. They all say it’s an academically rigorous program that is far superior to what universities offer.

      Ironically, I myself got a certificate in programming from a place similar to this in concept but that was in 1982! It was a 3-month program that launched my career. I don’t think it was anything close to what these coder boot camps offer with regards to intensity but it got me my first job which was in those days as today the hardest one to land. The place was called Computer Learning Center and it is now defunct, but these boot camps sound like an updated version of that type of institution.

  11. “Educational Approval Board (EAB)”

    The “right to teach” board. The vested interests always get their shakedown first.

  12. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

    ————- http://www.work-cash.com

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