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Dreaming in code

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"Even when you are sleeping, you will probably be dreaming in code," boasts the website for Coder Camps, a coding boot camp based in Houston that costs $11,900 for a nine-week course. Considering a software developer's median salary was $93,350 in 2012, it's not surprising people are willing to fork over serious cash for the opportunity to disturb their sleep with node.js.

The camps are becoming big business and a potential pipeline for public and private sector employers looking for tech talent.

Enrollment in coding boot camps -- where you eat, sleep and breathe programming for a few weeks -- is skyrocketing. A recent survey by Course Report, a website that helps prospective students research coding boot camp programs, estimates tuition revenue from qualifying U.S. schools will be $172 million in 2015, up from $52 million in 2014, excluding scholarships.

A student can expect to put in at least 60-80 hours a week learning new skills at Coder Camps. The Full Stack Net and Java Script immersive courses are taught at an intermediate level. According to the website, they each require three weeks online and nine weeks in person and about 80-100 hours per week coding.

Students run the gamut from newbies learning code from scratch to computer science grads looking for more hands-on experience. This year, coding boot camps are expected to graduate more than 16,000 students, up from 6,740 in 2014, according to a recent Course Report survey. That's about a third as many as the number of students -- 48,700 -- who graduated from U.S. universities with undergraduate computer science degrees in 2014.

'The Need Is So Huge'

David Graham worked for more than 15 years as a professional developer and mentor, starting his career at the University of Phoenix before becoming a Coder for Rent. Graham switched gears and started his own business, founding Coder Camps in July 2013.

From Houston, Coder Camps has spread to Seattle and Oakland, and Graham said the company plans to start a boot camp in Washington, D.C., by late 2015. "Most are hobbyists who know a little bit about programming and want to take it to the next level," Graham said of their students, though they offer a course called Coding from Scratch for beginners. "We have a path forward for everybody."

Most people enroll in coding boot camps to land a job. According to the Coder Camps' website, more than 90 percent of their graduates found a job within 90 days. The gap between the number of IT job openings and the smaller pool of qualified applicants to draw from poses a serious challenge to the tech industry and federal hiring managers. According to Robert Half Technology's "IT Hiring Forecast and Local Trend Report," released in December 2014, 87 percent of CIOs are planning to expand their staffs or fill vacant spots in 2015. Two thirds of the CIOs surveyed also said it is "somewhat or very challenging" to find skilled IT professionals.

"Because the gap is so wide, they're willing to bring them in and move them forward into a career." Graham said. "The need is so huge. It's crazy."

Graham said his students come from different backgrounds and walks of life and most can't take four years off from work to go back and get a computer science degree. Instead, they're opting for a nine-week immersive course. "I think it goes to the fast-paced world we live in," he said.

David Green from Santa Anna, Calif., enrolled in the Houston boot camp in January 2015. He had already earned an undergraduate degree in computer science, but he worried that a lot of the curriculum in college focused heavily on theory.

"The courses were good, but hands-on experience was lacking," Green said. Wanting more problem-solving experience, he signed up and learned the essentials of Microsoft programming, full-stack development and JavaScript. After graduating, he stayed on at Coder Camps as an intern to help others going through the program.

Green said part of the appeal of boot camps is that the courses are as up-to-date as possible. "A boot camp can change on a whim. They can teach it right away," said Green.

Coding boot camps aren't affiliated with a college or accredited institution, but they do provide hands-on, in-person teaching for at least 40 hours a week on a range of coding languages including Ruby, Python, and JavaScript. Most courses are 9-12 weeks long, and they aren't cheap. The average tuition according to one survey is $11,063, with one costing as much as $21,000. Ruby is the most popular language taught, used in 35 percent of courses. JavaScript accounts for 21 percent.

Are They Delivering?

Because they aren't fully accredited like colleges and universities, some regulators and lawmakers have expressed concerns about a lack of oversight in the boot-camp industry.

In January 2014, California consumer protection officials cracked down on coding boot camps, threatening to fine them up to $50,000 for not being licensed as private schools. The programs worked with the state's Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education to get licensing.

"We welcome appropriate oversight in our fledgling industry, and are in close discussions with the BPPE to define our classification and take appropriate next steps," a consortium of academies said in response, according to Venturebeat.

Gardner Campbell is the vice provost for learning innovation and student success at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. An English professor turned computational thinking expert, Campbell said coding boot camps are similar to language immersion programs, except instead of Spanish or French, students learn the language of programming. Campbell sees boot camps as useful supplements to a college degree, but he doesn't believe they should be touted as a replacement for a degree.

"I would never want to see immersive boot camps simply raise up a nation of programmers who have no larger context in which to do their work," said Campbell. "It's important to put coding within the context of a larger education. The bigger question of how these technologies are put to use should always be in our minds and hearts."

A majority of coding boot camp students are supplementing their college education. Seventy-one percent have a college degree, according to a Course Report survey. Most graduates report an increase in salary, with a $25,000 average increase in their first job after attending. The average salary in their first job after the program was $75, 965. Of the 432 graduates from the 48 qualifying schools surveyed, 63 percent reported getting a full-time job after their coding class.

Programming camps also tend to be more gender diverse than university computer science programs.

Course Report said 38 percent of coding boot camp students are women. That compares to 14 percent of bachelor's degrees awarded to women in computer science, according to the annual Taulbee survey of computer science grads released in May 2015. There is less ethnic diversity in boot camps, however. In camps, the majority of students – 63 percent -- are white, 18 percent are Asian and 1 percent are black. Of students with computer science bachelor's degrees in 2013-2014, 58 percent are white, 21 percent are Asian and 3 percent are black.

With so many options, it can be a challenge to find the right boot camp. Switchup.org, founded by an MIT grad in 2014, features more than 1,000 reviews of coding boot camps, and compiled a list of the top 33 camps worldwide. Course Report also has reviews for each school.

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