Next-level bootcamps pre-qualify their grads for real jobs

With an average entry-level salary of more than $70k in the United States, it has never been a better time to switch out of a job in retail, academia, or finance for a career as a software developer. Bootcamp programs all over the country offer 3-to-9-month full-time enrollment, pumping out cohort after cohort of fresh grads hungry to take on their first role in the tech economy. These bootcamps, like General Assembly or App Academy, teach students immediately relevant skills and the tools they need to get the job done. For the most part, a graduate will leave the bootcamp as a brand new “junior developer”: someone who has learned a baseline of skills but still doesn’t have industry experience.

This presents a problem. Right now, it’s hard for junior devs to find work. Most companies aren’t comfortable with hiring anyone who needs training. They claim that they need more senior talent. Those organizations who are open to junior dev roles are saturated with applicants who have learned about the open-minded company culture.

Because of this fact, some educators are strongly opinionated against the idea of marketing yourself as a junior dev:

When you do that, this is what recruiters and companies see: “Hi, I’m desperately looking to get hired as a developer. I’m still new at this, but can you please please please place a bet on me and hope that I turn out to be an asset and not a liability for your company. Oh, and I’m also going to need a lot of help from your staff for the first 6 months!”

Even if you have access to a career advisor, it can still be a long haul from graduation day to the first day on the job. I jumped into reviews for all of the popular bootcamp programs and found that while bootcamps have found a new way to teach skills, they still subject students to the old, blunt way of finding work.

I found comments like this one

The “job search” is a 1 year commitment. They require you to apply to 40 jobs a week, and keep doing so for at least 6 months during this time.  [source]

and this one

I was assigned a career coach to touch base weekly. She helped me build a resume, a cover letter, gave me tons of advice on how to speak to recruiters and employers and provided moral support all the way though my job search. [source]

and also this one

I completed Hack Reactor in July 2016 and took almost 3 months before accepting an offer with Radius Intelligence. I applied to 291 companies, did 32 phone screens, 16 technical screens, 13 coding challenges, 11 on-sites, and received 8 offers. [source]

I’m noticing two major focus areas here:

  1. Grads are forced to learn effective self-advertising skills and find a large number of employers (which gives extroverted students an advantage), and
  2. Employers assume that bootcampers aren’t experienced enough to hire but also won’t train them on the job.

What if bootcamps were able to innovate their career services approach the same way that they have innovated their educational one? It turns out that some already are.

Leveling up the bootcamp-company partnership

Bootcamps have an opportunity to provide not only candidates but screening services to companies looking to hire.

Recruiters spend hundreds of hours reading resumes, re-reading shortlisted resumes, phone screening, and scheduling interviews. Hiring managers get pulled away from their work to review take-home tests and conduct interviews. Many employers pay big money to consulting companies to find and screen talent. Bootcamps, which grow a pool of candidates instead of finding them, have the opportunity to maximize placements by acting more like a boutique consulting company.

Think about it. Recruiters have to screen out unfit candidates through multiple rounds of resume-skimming and phone-calling. When a bootcamp creates a partnership with a hiring company, the bootcamp team can drastically shorten the pipeline by pre-qualifying candidates for open jobs.

Is a company going to be sending candidates a take-home test? Do that same test up front before graduation! Pipe the results into a list view and let the hiring manager browse every student that passed. As Jeff Atwood said more than 10 years ago: “Maybe it’s foolish to begin interviewing a programmer without looking at their code first.”

As an added bonus, knowing so much about what it takes to land a job at partner companies means that bootcamps can expose students to the necessary benchmark from the beginning and show objective progress month over month. (For example, imagine if your dream job is at Google, and you fail the Google test on your first day, but almost pass a few months later. That’s incredibly motivating to see.)

The challenge for bootcamps is squarely on the career side. They need to get really good at understanding what each partner company puts candidates through. They also need to own the relationship between students and companies, treating each application like a trusted referral. The job search can turn out to be just as intense as the curriculum, but with the right system in place it doesn’t have to be.

One bootcamp that comes to mind as a leading innovator with this new model is Michigan’s Grand Circus. Senior Marketing Manager Jennifer Cline says:

“We’ve partnered with some of the state’s most rapidly growing employers, and are dedicated to understanding what type of talent they need to effectively expand their businesses.

Our admissions process is designed to select students that are truly committed to what it takes to earn a career in tech, and we’ll support their growth even before the bootcamp to ensure their success.”

Instead of blowing up mountains to find little specks of diamond in the earth, this model is more like partnering with a materials lab that can make diamonds in a tube. You’ll always get diamonds, you’re now just picking out best-looking ones. Each company will feel confident that the bootcamp is addressing their hiring needs directly. Students will have real exposure to the expectations of each company and, most importantly, will have an easier time finding work.