"Ethics aren’t just important in business. They are the whole point of business. We’re in business to make things. And when you decide what to make, that is an ethical decision."
— Richard Branson
From chatting with lots of alumni and going through a bootcamp myself, I’ve found that the way bootcamps market themselves is often quite misleading. The high placement rates and salaries, brand name hiring partners, and alumni testimonials all make bootcamps sound amazing! That dream job is within reach — all you need to do is apply and pay for a bootcamp!
That’s simply not the reality. The job market for junior developers is very competitive and just because a company is a “hiring partner” does not mean they will definitely hire from that bootcamp. Students still need to win that job and fight for it.
What’s interesting to me is the concept of “placement rates" — I’m not sure that this is right way to phrase it. "Graduate outcomes" or "employment outcomes" seem more appropriate terms. The word "placement" suggests that the student doesn't need to put any effort into the job hunting process. Without fully disclosing the sources behind the calculation of placement rates, it makes it extremely difficult to trust bootcamps.
Here's a few thoughts on this:
1. It's misleading for the consumer.
When students read 95% hiring rates, they sometimes think: “I must have a good chance of getting a job if I attend this program”. That's false. Simply attending the school does not give you a 95% chance of getting a job.
Why is this important? Everyday, I get a dozen emails from financially strapped students looking for loans to attend a programming bootcamp. They think if they can just get into this program, it'll help lift them out of their current financial situation to reach the promised land of earning $75,000 a year.
Programming bootcamps are in danger of becoming the next ITT tech — making claims that aren't very accurate. And this makes me sad, because immersive education is a wonderful thing, especially for learning programming. We shouldn’t endanger our industry by falling into the trap of false or misleading advertising.
2. Past placement rates are not a good indicator of future placement rates.
Even if these placement rates are all truthful and accurate, it is not a good indication of what the job market will be like, even in a few months. It’s especially ironic when data science courses use this number as a marketing tool.
The job market is continually shifting. Without doing any formal analysis — and I welcome someone to do it! — I've talked to multiple tech professionals in Boston, NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin. They all tell me that they see a huge supply of junior Rails developers that have flooded the market because of programming bootcamps. For every job opening, it seems they get at least several bootcamp alums applying.
CourseReport’s 2014 graduate survey showed only 63% of bootcamp graduates are employed full time. Two years ago, a really strong student going into a weak Ruby on Rails program might still get a job, because they could figure things out on their own. Now in late 2014, this is not the case — the job market is becoming saturated for junior web developers.
3. The wording of “placement rate” isn't even always right.
Why are we calling it placement when in reality bootcamps don’t really place students? Students still have to WIN the jobs themselves. The word placement make people think that they’re entitled to a job — and this is clearly not the case.
As the job market gets more and more competitive, these so called placement rates will likely continue to go down. Would this mean the bootcamps are doing a worse job educating? Nope, it just means the job market is getting more competitive.
4. How do we know it’s real?
Without being totally open and transparent about how these numbers are arrived at - aren’t they a little meaningless and misleading? If I were a consumer, I wouldn’t trust any of these numbers without access to full disclosure of the data. In fact, as a consumer, I DEMAND full transparency, which is what we all deserve.
I challenge every bootcamp who markets their alumni placement rates and salaries to make public all their alumni and employment outcomes. This way, alumni can verify their info is correct. Transparent placement rates can then be calculated from this information.
In an unregulated industry like ours, it’s important that we SELF-regulate. We have to be better.