Coding ‘boot camps’ promise fast, rewarding career in tech – for a price

It’s estimated that the North American coding bootcamp market will grow by 138 per cent this year to more than 16,000 graduates, up from just 6,740 graduates in 2014. David Hills/Getty Images

A growing number of young professionals are turning to intensive coding “boot camps” in order to get a speedy education in computer programming, with hopes of landing a career in Canada’s growing tech sector.

These so-called boot camps prepare graduates for promising careers in tech – from video game development, to user experience design and digital marketing – in just a matter of months, taught by industry pioneers from major tech companies.

And while these programs are ideal for those looking for a career shift – or university grad looking to capitalize on the sheer volume of tech-oriented jobs out there – they cost a pretty penny.

Tuition for a nine-week full-time course in web development, for example, can cost up to $10,000.

To make matters more complicated, these programs aren’t recognized by government loan programs, such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program, which means students are left paying out-of-pocket – some leaving behind a steady income to take full-time courses.

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But Craig Hunter, CEO of Canada’s leading web development school Bitmaker Labs, believes these types of programs are vital to the tech sector, which is why the Toronto-based institution has teamed up with financing company Financeit to take the financial burden off students.

“More and more traditional industries – from banking, to PR – realize the importance of having someone technical in-house. So as more traditional companies step up and the start-up industry grows, the number of jobs to fill gets bigger and bigger,” Hunter told Global News.

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“It’s estimated that there will be a million person job gap for software developers in North America by 2020. We think it’s our job to try to step on that and bring that number down as much as possible.”

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Bitmaker Labs currently offers seven different full and part time courses in what Hunter describes as the most “in demand” or market driven technology skills. Each course ranges from around $2,000 to $9,000.

Though expensive, Hunter said 90 per cent of students land a job with a tech company upon completion.

Using Financeit’s platform, Bitmaker is able to offer students zero per cent interest loans for 12, 18 or 14 months, or students have the option to defer the loan for three to six months.

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Casper Wong, COO of Financeit, said the partnership with Bitmaker made sense because the company would be investing in the kind of talent pool it needs to further its business.

“People who are already in careers that are looking for a switch to something more creative, or maybe want to work at a start-up, these boot camps offer what I would say is really good value in terms of time,” said Wong.

“The Canadian tech scene has also grown to a point where the ecosystem is there – there are a lot of employment opportunities and a lot of companies are looking to grow really quickly. The timing is right.”

Why do coding boot camps cost so much?

It’s estimated that the North American coding boot camp market will grow by 138 per cent this year to more than 16,000 graduates, up from just 6,740 graduates in 2014.

But, like Bitmaker Labs, many boot camp programs can costs tens of thousands for those hoping to build a wide skill set.

So what exactly makes these programs so expensive?

Simply put – “Talent isn’t cheap,” according to Hunter.

Bitmaker in particular boasts teaching staff from companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Canada’s own Shopify. Hunter himself was one of the first Uber employees in Canada before coming to Bitmaker.

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“We have to compete with a lot of these successful businesses. And the reason our intense programs are able to pull of such amazing promises is that the instruction talent is top tier – these are senior developers that have been spending years honing their craft,” he said.

The classroom environment is also unlike anything students would receive in a traditional computer engineering course at a university or college.

At Bitmaker classrooms usually have a student-teacher ratio of seven to one. The space is also designed to mimic that of a startup – complete with foosball tables, ping pong tournaments and “the best coffee and beer” you can buy (according to Hunter).

“We run a unique education company that sits in a weird spot in terms of the traditional education landscape and because of that we don’t have access to things university or colleges do,” Hunter said.

“Having an option for our students to be more flexible is amazing.”

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