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So You Want to Be a Coder

Coding schools are the new trend in the tech world—but are they worth the sticker shock?

 The spring 2013 class at Hackbright Academy. 

Last year, four new “trade” schools opened in San Francisco to offer intensive training in a hot field: coding. In sessions ranging from 9 to 12 weeks, students at Dev Bootcamp, App Academy, Hackbright Academy (which is just for women), and Hack Reactor spend hours upon hours coding and building programs under the direction of industry experts. They don’t live onsite the way students do at the University of Heroes, but at the end of the program, they, too, are introduced to prospective employers. The schools cost anywhere from a cool $7,500 to a frosty $17,850.

So, is this your quick ticket to a $100,000-a-year job? A third of Hack Reactor students received six-figure offers before they graduated, but one longtime Silicon Valley techie is skeptical. “Someone who could be a hotshot in this field doesn’t really need these schools,” he says. That’s because most coders tend to be geeks who can teach themselves via any number of websites and online training courses.

That may be true, says Shereef Bishay, founder of Dev Bootcamp, but learning in the privacy of one’s home doesn’t come with the benefits of socialization and teamwork. The courses focus heavily on how to work in groups, and students are encouraged to help each other whenever possible. And it’s not as if the programs accept anyone who can pay: Applicants have to pass a test or go through an interview process to get in. The schools don’t promise instant success, either. Most graduates get entry-level slots and internships at companies that are open to teaching on the job.

Coding schools, says Douglas Calhoun, cofounder of Hack Reactor, are particularly good for career changers who may not have the time or money for a four-year program and just want to get their foot in the door—that is, non-geeks with some computer chops who didn’t spend their high school years locked in their bedroom learning JavaScript or Ruby on Rails.

 

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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