By Louise Ann Lyon, PhD | February 28, 2018
Senior Research Associate, ETR
Why bother learning to write computer code? That’s a question I used to asked myself. I believe that many women are still asking this question. They don’t perceive the value of coding until they get into the workforce and discover a host of ways coding can increase the impact of their work.
This is just one more reason we should celebrate, support and advocate for the improvement of alternative computer science (CS) training grounds such as coding boot camps.
The current computer science landscape is dismal when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Many companies claim to have “seen the light” on the value of a diverse workforce. They recognize that diversity can lead to better products and greater organizational success.
Companies are also begging for more employees who know computer science. Many see an untapped pool of potential employees among women and underrepresented minorities. They know there is a lot of talent in these populations. Yet universities still have not found a clear-cut way to recruit and retain more women in their CS degree programs to fill these employment needs.
Enter the coding boot camp—an intensive training ground modeled on startup settings. Students learn cutting-edge programming languages, platforms and methodologies. Boot camps are specifically designed to teach the practical programming skills employers are looking for. They’re shorter than a 4-year college degree course, lasting for an average of 12 weeks. And women are more likely to pursue computer science learning through these programs than through standard university degree programs. (You can find an extensive listing of boot camps, along with student ratings, at Course Report.)
Fantastic! Now women who did not discover a passion for programming when they were in school have a quick way to learn the basics of what they need to know. They’ll be set up to continue to learn and grow on the job. As part of a research project I am leading, funded by the National Science Foundation, I’ve visited some boot camps in person, as well as interviewing administrators and students. They have made me a fan.
These programs are using the latest research and models about teaching and learning to create opportunities for their students to learn successfully. They help students increase their skills in finding answers to their own questions. They connect students with a community of others for mutual interaction and learning. Granted, the boot camps willing to participate in my study may well be the "better" boot camps, but these are encouraging signs.
There is a dark side to all of this, however. Currently, there is no foolproof way for potential students to figure out which of the boot camps are legitimate and worth the money spent, and which are fly-by-night, make-a-buck organizations. The next step in the evolution of these (and other, similar alternative training grounds) should be a formalized certification or accreditation process that boot camps go through to differentiate those that offer real value from those that offer only marginal training.
There is a caveat here as well. Boot camps are valuable in part because they are light on their feet. They can nimbly shift and change what they are teaching as technology and industry change. Discussions about who or what institutions should create formal certification and/or accreditation should allow for the continuation of ease of change. If not, boot camps will simply become the formal, slow-to-change organizations that universities can be now.
Louise Ann Lyon, PhD, is a Senior Research Associate at ETR. She brings industry experience in the software engineering workplace together with a research background to her focus on diversifying technology at postsecondary institutions and in the workplace. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.