Coding Bootcamp Warning Signs

Podcast Description

There’ve been many raising questions recently about the real value of bootcamps, their impact on students and the community at large, and this new crop of businesses using Income Sharing Agreements (ISAs) to target the vulnerable.

My hope is that this is only the beginning of a much overdue conversation.

Transcription

00:30

Kim Crayton: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene podcast. Today’s guest is someone—you will not know their name—this is an anonymous person who reached out to me and saw all the kerfuffle about the bootcamp issues and ethical…  you know, you remember that crap on Twitter? So this individual reached out to me because he has a unique perspective and he’s gonna talk about that, but he wanted to be anonymous.

And this is why—and I appreciate you for doing this, ’cause I kinda had to talk him into this part of it—because we need to have these conversations. I’m not here to get people fired. I’m not here to harm people. But the whisper networks have to stop, and we have to start callin’ things out, so I wanted you to see what it was like to come on the show, to be anonymous, and tell your stories because we really need to start telling these stories.

And so I’m going to start the show as I always do. Guest, could you please tell me why it is important to cause a scene, and how are you causing a scene?

Anonymous Guest: Sure. Yeah, I guess it’s important because the way things are doesn’t work for everybody and causing a scene is one of the only ways to really effect change. I don’t feel like I’m doing anything super drastic at the moment but I’m trying to do work like starting conversations and talking about policy and stuff at the places that I work and communities that I’m a part of and then hoping that is having some positive impact on the sort of spaces that I participate in, I guess.

02:15

Kim: OK, that’s something. [Both laugh] I’m gonna let you drive this horse. I don’t know if that’s the term. I’m…

Anonymous: Sure!

Kim: Yeah, OK, so I’m gonna [Laughs] because I wanna let you tell your story. And so I’m gonna let you lead this, and then I will engage with you. So tell your story. You could start with why you reached out or what you’re seeing, what you’ve seen. However you want to tell it, and we’ll go from there.

Anonymous: OK, sounds good. Yeah, I guess I reached out initially because a lot of people were having what I thought were really good conversations about the bootcamp industry and the issues with it and some of the sort of shenanigans that have been going on with various bootcamps, and having worked specifically in the bootcamp industry myself for a while, I’ve seen a fair amount of the inside of that and figured I might have some information that might be useful to some people, hopefully in navigating it and then talking about getting more details about how things work and what works and doesn’t work. And yeah—is that helpful?

03:42

Kim: That’s fine. OK, so what we’ll start with—so this is how, I’m listening, this is how we’ll put it in buckets. I wanna talk about, because you’re—have been in the industry—what learners should be looking for. We’ll start there, and then we’ll talk about some warning signs.

Anonymous: OK. Yeah.

Kim: OK? So let’s start with: if I’m a person who’s transitioning into tech and I am desiring to go to bootcamp, what are the things that I should be looking for?

Anonymous: Gotcha. The first thing that I’ll say is I think it is genuinely really hard to tell which ones will be most effective and which ones won’t, for a combination of different reasons. I have for pretty much the entire time I’ve been in it, I think, been really skeptical of—I think one of the biggest issues with the industry is the job numbers that everyone posts, because it’s one of the things that I think you see and can be incredibly reassuring to look at an information page and see something that says, “80, 90, whatever, percent of our graduates go on to get jobs in tech.” And different ones of them are worded in different ways, but from my perspective I don’t think I’ve ever seen numbers published by a place that I really trusted.

05:32

And it’s not that I necessarily think that places are making them up, but it’s in that I think job numbers tend to—I think when you go to a site and you look at a job number as someone who wants to break into tech, you know, someone says like, “90-some percent of our students get jobs,” the thought is, “OK, if I enrol in this program, I have a 90-something percent chance of getting a job in tech.” And that is, I think, basically never the case, for a combination of reasons.

And some of it, I mean the sort of most straightforward reason is just that I think pretty much all of those numbers are the percentage of our graduates who get jobs. So the first place that there’s wiggle room is OK well, who actually ends up being able to graduate, right? Because not everyone who enrols actually graduates from bootcamps, and there are bootcamps that are known for really—I don’t even know what the word—really harshly shaving people off as they go through the program.

06:52

And… yeah, let’s see. And then there’s also a certain amount of, a lot of the numbers that get published will be something like this is the percent of quote “job-seeking graduates” who get jobs. And that’s also something that could be kind of fuzzy, right? And something that can be done honestly as well; I worked in a place once that had a student who graduated and was almost immediately called in for military service, I think? So they literally couldn’t be looking for a job. And so I don’t think they were counted in the numbers that that place was putting out. And I think that instance of doing this is basically perfectly fine because here’s someone who it’s basically impossible for them to get a job right now for reasons that have nothing to do with the program.

But I have heard about other places where “job-seeking” means you’ve applied to X number of jobs every week. And you get into requirements like that and if someone has a family emergency or something one week then suddenly that 90% doesn’t count them anymore. And then there’s just the question of what do you count? Most people also when they see those numbers are thinking specifically that these are jobs in tech. And you hear sometimes that there are also places where people are encouraged to take just about any job, whether it’s really tech or tech adjacent or not.

08:45

Kim: OK, so while you do that, I wanna jump in here because you’ve mentioned a lot of things and I wanna tease them out, ’cause this reminds me so much—I was a high school teacher—and this reminds me so much about graduation rates, when two weeks before school is out and these young people realize and they’re not about to graduate, and all the shenanigans that happens because schools have to be—for accreditation, federal-wise—you need to have so many graduation rates and everything else.

But my first question is—and this is where I need people to… because again, what I find is, we need to be—you and I could have the same set of data and we can read it differently; we can interpret it differently, we could communicate it very differently. So when you say “jobs in tech” that means shit to me because I don’t know what the hell that means. So that should be the first red flag. Because if I’m spending 15, 20 thousand dollars on a coding bootcamp, it needs to be jobs as a programmer, not anything else. That’s what I’m going to school for, and that’s what they’re not telling people.

09:54

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with QA, there’s nothing wrong with Support, but that’s not what the hell I’m spending all this money on. So if I’m spending my time learning the programming languages, that’s the job that I need to see numbers on.

Also, graduation rates; you’re absolutely right, because if I started with a class of 100 and only 10 finish, that—nope—that is not an accurate number. [Laughs] That is not an accurate number. I need to know—you’re discounting the 90 people who’re no longer there for whatever reasons, and that speaks to the same thing about the job search. So granted, this person went into the military, but they should still, should be counted as somebody—you don’t just discount that, because that’s data. You give an explanation why that person is not there.

And this is the issue I have with the Stack Overflow survey up until this past year. You give numbers; I need to see what’s the meaning behind these numbers. Don’t just say this thing and you put it out as blanket fact without any background. So this individual goes into the military, he is still counted as jobs—’cause he didn’t get that tech job, but then you put in the addendum, you put in the appendix, “Left because of military duty.” [Laughs]

11:18

You know, so that right there is huge. So I need individuals who are vetting these places, you need to ask more questions, because a website is a PR marketing tool. That is what it is. Even mine. Although I know I’m good at what I do, I have a website for marketing purposes. That’s what my website is for. So, I am gonna put the clients on there who—I’m gonna put all my clients on there, ’cause I’m really just starting out, and you may think that I have hundreds—I don’t have hundreds—but there are a lot of people who are gonna make it seem like, “some of my clients.” You know what I’m saying? So if I put some of my clients it’s because the WordPress theme that I’m using only allows me to put so many things on there. It’s not that I have hundreds of clients.

We really need to be careful and mindful when we’re doing this because you’re giving out money. You need to know what those numbers mean. You cannot take—this is the same—I was having a conversation about jobs. People, your employer is not your friend. It is a job. And so when you go to these, they’re trying to get—this is an exchange, this is capitalism—there is an exchange of value of something. And they’re gonna say what they can to get you to exchange your value for what they find valuable. And it’s gonna be up to you to do the homework.

OK, so we talked about that. That’s great. Oh my god, that was good. So what’s next? So they’re playin’ with these fuckin’ numbers on the website? And what else are they doin’?

13:02

Anonymous: So actually the one other thing just with respect to the numbers that I wanted to talk about, the last question mark is just how they get the numbers in the first place. Because numbers on how many people have actually gotten jobs out of a bootcamp are genuinely not easy to get, even if you’re trying to report them accurately, because what you have to do is either you can follow your students’ LinkedIn or whatever and see what happens but I imagine it’s more common to send out surveys, right? To just send out an email to alumni and be like, “Hey, what’s your current situation? Have you got that job in tech or have you not?”

Kim: Or wait for somebody to self report, which is not accurate at all. [Laughs]

Anonymous: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and then the question is your 90%, 90% of the people who responded to the email? And if that’s the case, how many people—you know, it feels crappy to not get a job so how much of that number is because the people who don’t have jobs yet don’t want to hit send on something that says, “So far, I haven’t succeeded at this”?

14:18

Kim: Yes, and that’s one of the things that—and that’s why this bootcamp thing is so… it aggravates me so much. Because I know that there are success stories out there, I absolutely know there are success stories out there, but this is what has been my experience watching people, is the people who are most successful at bootcamps have an engineering or programming background already. So they’ve been programming on their own, and I’m not talking about taking a class or two, but it’s a hobby they’ve had and now they’re deciding they wanna, you know, go into this, or they’ve been an engineer or something like that in a past life and they’re using bootcamp as a way to focus and brush up on their skills so they can get a programming job.

Those are the people I have seen overwhelmingly do well in bootcamps, and for them that makes sense. What I have a problem with the model is, that does not scale ’cause there’s not enough of those individuals. So then you do have some other individuals who take to coding naturally, you have those, and you have those other individuals who have people in their lives who helped them through the program. So they’re getting something other than the one size, fits all model that most, if not every bootcamp has, which is a problem as a educator because everybody doesn’t learn the same way, everybody doesn’t take in the information the same way, and I do not like one size, fits all education.

15:52

If I learned anything as an educator, we were evaluated on differentiated instruction, differentiated instruction. And I was a Special Ed teacher so every one of my students had to have a different approach. Every last one of them. And that’s absolutely impossible to do with a curriculum—so I’m kind of going all over the place here—with a curriculum that’s not designed by educators or designed by people who understand learning theory. It’s people who—you’re lucky, you’re lucky if you get someone who’s a programmer who has a teaching background. So they work at a consultancy, and what their consultancy does is go into companies and teach, so you’re lucky if you have that.

But most times what you have is somebody who’s transitioning a job, was a programmer and got a job because they knew Ruby, JavaScript, or whatever. And they have absolutely no education experience whatsoever. They don’t even know how to evaluate a curriculum. They don’t know how to differentiate it. They don’t know any of those things. So that’s a sticking point for me right there.

And so when you have that, and then they don’t have the supports for those people who fall behind or those people who go ahead – because again it’s one size, fit all – I’m paying you $15,000, there’s no fucking leaving me behind. No, no, no, no. You’re gonna figure this out. And then I don’t like, they put it all on the student. Passing and failing, success is all on the student. It’s never about the curriculum. It’s never about the instructor. It’s never about the TA who just came out of the last class who doesn’t know anything.

17:33

So when you have that and because that model doesn’t scale because you don’t have enough people with that background, what you do is you bring in your marketing people. You bring in your sales people. And then you pitch this to everybody as a solution for everybody. And that is where I have a huge problem because it’s not a solution for everybody. Most people, if your pre-work is you learning a variable, you should not be spending money on a bootcamp. You need to be doing something like freeCodeCamp, a low-cost class, or Udacity—something! Coursera—anything that’s free so you can at least start understanding what a loop is.

All these basics before you go and spend your money because you have what, 12? 16? Now there’s one thing they moved from six months to nine months because—OK, there’s another thing, they’re fudging them numbers, but that’s a whole nother thing—and you don’t get a chance to study. Every day, every two days, every three days is something totally different. That’s not how learning works. That’s so not how learning works. But if you have no idea, you’re always playing catch up.

So I’m gonna get off my soapbox because [both laugh] that was the part I really wanted to get out front because you spoke to that. This is not a solution for every—and that’s what gets on my nerves.

Anonymous: Totally.

18:59

Kim: That’s why some people are diehard Nike fans. Some people are diehard Puma fans. Some people are diehard Adidas fans because they’re all gym shoes. They all have rubber bottoms. They have some kind of stripe on them. They have laces on them usually. But one size does not fit all for everybody. And education is so much more complex than damn gym shoes, and yet we want to do one size fits all model. That’s crazy. OK, go ahead. [Both laugh]

Anonymous: Yeah, no, totally. I think also one of the things that’s tricky is, I think one of the things that is a big determiner of how well someone’s experience at a particular bootcamp is, is just whether or not the actual teachers or instructors who are there teach in a style that works for them.

Kim: Exactly. [Laughs]

Anonymous: And that can be totally unrelated to if the curriculum itself is well-written. And also it’s not—teacher turnover is like a real serious issue at basically every place that I’ve worked.

[Interlude]

20:52

Anonymous: …a real serious issue at basically every place that I’ve worked.

Kim: That shit is stressful. I’ve seen ’em. Oh my god!

Anonymous: Yeah, no, teachers…

Kim: It’s stressful in the K through 12. It’s stressful in regular public schools. Can you imagine somebody who’s spending $20,000 on education, I don’t know what the hell I’m teaching them?

Anonymous: Yeah, no, it’s a serious—and I’ve heard people… it seems like years ago, but I remember some people I was talking to at a meetup talking about how some local bootcamp had, there was a teacher who had been working there who left for some reason and this person that I was talking to, she was very like, “Yeah, so I don’t know if I could recommend it anymore ’cause I really think this person was sort of holding the whole place up.”

Kim: Yeah, they have that one rock star teacher who does… yeah, mhm. Yeah.

Anonymous: So that, yeah, like that, it’s…

Kim: And you see that—but again I’m gonna draw parallels back to—you see that in schools where parents are tryna get their kids in this particular teacher’s class because they know that teacher is good, has definite positive outcomes.

Anonymous: Yeah. Yeah. Another thing that I think is just generally that I have always found weird is the places that advertise that they have really low acceptance rates, because I feel like that also speaks to what you’re saying about how the people would do the best are people who already have some of the knowledge, right?

22:31

And so it’s just always seemed very strange to me that there were places that talk about how they are very selective. But it’s like if you’re very selective for people who don’t really need the teaching then what are you providing, you know? I don’t know.

Kim: Oh, yeah. There are so many questions. [Anonymous laughs] First of all—I guess when I think of bootcamps, when I first came in this space, you think of military bootcamps. And so I guess that’s the model. But there’s a difference in military bootcamps. Military bootcamps, everybody needs to be the same. I mean you’re trying to get everybody to the same place. And they have very strong, “We don’t leave anybody behind. You’re coming. Your cohort is going to be punished or whatever but we all getting there together,” so I don’t believe in that.

But there is no way—and again I’ve been in classrooms, I’ve been with students aged three to age 90. I’ve taught curriculums in public schools. I’ve taught curriculums in private schools. I’ve taught GED. I’ve taught on the college level. I’ve taught at learning annexes. So I’ve taught very—all kinds of learners. I have a Masters in Training and Development, which means I write curriculums. This is what I do.

24:01

So, to have someone in a class for eight hours plus, being lectured to, or on a timeline for a project? It’s un-health-y! The brain needs time to absorb, to connect dots, to have “Ah ha!” moments, for any learning to stick. And this is why you find people go to bootcamps, they’re successful, and if they’re looking for a job for a month, the things that they may have been great—and I hate whiteboarding and all that but if it’s one of these bootcamps that they test you on that—after a few weeks, the skills get… because they haven’t connected the dots. That’s why people who cram on tests can get through that test but they do not know the material like a week later.

Anonymous: Yeah, yeah. And that’s something that I think almost everyone experiences some degree, right? That if you sort of take a break for a week or two when you go back and sort of feel like, “How do I even..?” And it takes a lot of work, I think, post-graduation just to sort of keep up what was picked up in the course.

25:24

Kim: And I’m glad you brought that up ’cause no one talks about post-graduation. And that’s how I first got started in tech. I was watching people learn to code—cause everybody was like, “Oh, it’s so easy! It’s so easy!” And then I started learning to code and I was like, “OK I need y’all to stop saying this shit, ’cause as an educator, this is not easy.” And what you’re doing is, learners are internalizing, because if everybody else is around them and sayin’ it’s easy, if I can’t figure out then there’s something wrong with me and I’m gonna leave. Learning is hard, and learning a language is even harder.

So one of the things I talked about a lot was mentoring. And that’s something I definitely have not seen enough of in bootcamps. How do you get—so there’s this de facto default belief that if I go through this program for how many weeks, give them this money, that on day of graduation, I got a job. That rarely, rarely happens. So now you have people between bootcamp graduation and their first job. What supports are you providing in those places?

Anonymous: Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s a really good question. Because it’s definitely, it’s incredibly rare for someone to get a job instantly after graduation. I have seen people get jobs before or around graduation, but it is not normal. At least, the last time I looked seriously at numbers, I felt like the assumption that I generally felt comfortable making was that most numbers were like, six months out.

27:08

Kim: Yes, yes. So what do you do with those people for six months? Most bootcamps do not have anything for them and the things they do have are not continuing education. It is not about, “Hey, let’s get back in this classroom,” and, “Have you worked on a project?” It’s about turning these numbers out and, “Did you get a job? What job did you get?” Like you said. “How many interviews you have this week?” That is not helping solidify knowledge.

Anonymous: Yeah.

Kim: So I’m gonna pivot because I wanna ask about—what has your experience been? Has it been for for-profit bootcamps, nonprofit bootcamps, or both?

Anonymous: Both, although the majority of it has been for-profit bootcamps.

Kim: OK, is there a difference? I’m asking a specific question. We’ll get to it. Is there a difference in approaches between nonprofit and for-profit bootcamps? That you—this is your lived experience.

Anonymous: Sure. Huh. [Pauses] Not a real clear one to me at least. Granted my experience with nonprofit bootcamps is really limited.

28:31

But I think the way the incentives line up is—at least at the ones that I’ve seen—has been not super dissimilar, because one way or another getting people in and/or getting them into jobs is the thing that most needs to happen. Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s it.

Kim: OK, so now you just hit something for me. So now I’m gonna tease out nonprofit, ’cause there’s two models that I’m thinking of for nonprofit. There’s a nonprofit model that is free for students and then there’s a nonprofit model that is a part of “pay us back.”

Anonymous: Right. [Pause] Sorry, is there a question that I… ?

Kim: No, no. I’m sorry. I’m still teasing this out because—so was the nonprofit that you were involved in, which model was that? The free one or the…

Anonymous: It was free.

Kim: OK. All right. OK, so now we’ve addressed that because what I want to see is if you had any experience—’cause I’m gonna tell you a truth there, unless it’s an affinity bootcamp, [Sighs] I just have a hard time with the curriculums being enough to…

30:08

So I’ve seen ones that are specifically geared to military individuals. There’s one actually—this may have been free—and was in the Appalachian Trail area, and it was actually in the news recently where they brought this bootcamp in, told these people that they were gonna get these jobs and just siphoned off all this money.

I just think, again, I could see the value for some people and I’m saying this ’cause I’m—and then we’re gonna get on the funding of this other bullshit—but the reason I asked that question, ’cause I really want to know; is there a model out there that can take somebody from 0 to 60, from knowing nothing about code to understanding code enough to get a first job? Is there a model out there? I have not seen it consistently. Again, I’ve seen these outliers or where these certain individuals do it. But I have not seen a place where 50% of the class is successful and I’m talking about 50% when you end with the same 100% you started with. [Laughs]

31:32

Anonymous: I should say, by the way, real quick. I have worked in a place that did what I think you were talking about with a “pay it back.” I have worked at a place that did that income share agreement style of—I think it was for-profit but that was the payment model.

Kim: Oh, we’re gonna get on that because that was the wholllllle issue I have. I’m leading up to this because when I’m—the conversation I’m having is with someone who reached out to me who has worked in these industries—Kim’s opinion doesn’t just matter and what I’m trying to show is—and I’m gonna ask individuals who listen to this podcast, bring me data that proves otherwise—but what I’m going to say right now is, I have not consistently seen one model of a bootcamp that consistently gets somebody from 0 to 60. I have not seen that. Consistently. I’ve seen individuals do it.

And the reason I’m going to say this is because again in K through 12 public schools, all my students aren’t going to make it. I already know that. Everybody’s not gonna get there, some people gonna have to be retained, they’re gonna have to take the information over because they just didn’t get it that time. But I’m honest about that. I know that.

32:59

Because in public schools you have to show those numbers. You may not like ’em and they try to fudge around ’em, but you gotta show those numbers. How many people matriculated to the next level? How many people got held back? How many people had to go backwards? Those are things that we have to report on, particularly for special needs students. We have to report on that because the data already shows over summer break, students lose parts, most of what they learned from the year before.

My problem is, is that when people in these organizations don’t talk about that, then you’re doing disservice and you’re lying. And so I need transparency. Tell me that I had a class of 30. Tell me out of that class of 30, 15 dropped out. Tell me why they dropped out. Tell me of those last 15 that graduated, how many got jobs within 30 days, 60 days, 90 days. And I’m not talking about jobs. I’m talking about jobs in programming where they went to school for.

Anonymous: Yup, yeah.

Kim: And if you can’t tell me that then I can’t trust this market—I just really can’t trust this—because now I’m going to get into the income sharing thing, because what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing is—and I’m hoping this is not with the nonprofits—but I’m definitely saying this with the for-profits is—and if you don’t know what income sharing [is], let me break this down to everybody.

34:30

So these are the bootcamps that say, “Hey, you can pay this amount up front, or if you don’t have this amount, you can go to school for…” I can’t even say, they can’t say it’s free—it’s a deferment, but you end up paying more on the backhand, so you don’t have to pay to start. And what they’re saying is, “Oh, once you get your first job, we’re gonna take a part of your income if you’re at $50,000 minimum or at this minimum, we’re gonna take this amount, I’m gonna do this percentage, and you’re gonna pay it back.” All right.

Whew, I have a problem with this because one of the things—and I’m just going to say the big thing first and then I’m gonna go backwards. The more research I’ve done about this, this reminds me so much of the subprime mortgage loan industry, because what some of these companies are doing is bundling up these—they call it ISAs—bundling ’em up into financial instruments and selling them to hedge funds.

Anonymous: Huh. I did not know that.

Kim: Yes. And they’re targeting the most vulnerable in the community because the people who can pay up front, you don’t make any additional money off them. It’s the people who less able to pay, who think they’re getting a great deal who end up—and so the argument is, if they drop out before a certain point in the school, they don’t have to pay.

36:12

I’ve heard people from this particular school say that’s not true. Or if they don’t get a job within so many years, they don’t have to pay. I heard that’s not true. You don’t know how much you’re gonna—so it’s basically they keep saying it’s not a loan. It is a loan because I’m paying interest on this. If you’re telling me that I can go up front for $10,000, but if I choose to do the income sharing, I have to pay you $20,000, that is a loan, I don’t have the income yet. I’m making a promise to pay you back. That’s what a loan is—a promise to repay.

And so yes, what they’re doing is bundling—then they’re saying, “Well, that’s what’s in the agreement.” What they’re not saying is, once they sell these agreements, the people who buy them do not have to go by those rules that I signed that piece of paper for. You sold my debt. That’s with any loan, so if I have a debt with American Express, and I go into default and they charge it off as a lack of payment on my part, if American Express sells that to a collection agency, the rules I had with American Express no longer apply, ’cause I defaulted on that and they sold it.

37:39

So what they’re doing is, they’re getting the money up front. So they’re bundling these things. They’re getting money up front, so they’re getting paid, and then they’re going and garnishing people’s wages.

Anonymous: Mhm.

Kim: This is the shit about these bootcamps that is really pissing me off.

Anonymous: Yeah.

Kim: Because now you’re going after brown and Black people, people with disabilities, people who are gonna be least—’cause we’re already discriminated against, so we’re gonna be least likely to get a job anyway. [Pause] And to go to a bootcamp, I had to quit my job because again, this is all-day shit, mostly.

Anonymous: Mhm.

Kim: I had to quit my job. Where am I gonna get—if I get a job, I gotta pay back the shit… I’m behind.

Anonymous: Mhm.

Kim: There’s so many things about this I just don’t like.

Anonymous: Yeah. So another thing—also I don’t want to interrupt if there’s more that you’re…

Kim: No. This is a conversation. Keep going.

38:50

Anonymous: Ok. Yeah, another thing that really would not have occurred to me, until I got to know people who were participating in these bootcamps, is even a lot of the ones that do ISAs will also do stipends so that students can relocate to attend the bootcamp,  and have expenses paid while they don’t have a job, and all that kinda thing. And that sounds really good on the surface, and I think there are ways in which it absolutely can be good for the accessibility of the program. But, the flip side of that is, there is in some ways an even larger power dynamic that that sets up…

Kim: Yes.

Anonymous: …versus the ones that you pay for up front, because if you end up unable to graduate or have to drop out for some reason, it’s possible that that stipend will end immediately and you’re in a situation where you’ve relocated somewhere and you rely on that for rent.

Kim: Exactly. Exactly.

Anonymous: Yeah, and at the same time, knowing that there are bootcamps that respond really badly to negative feedback, right? [Kim laughs] There are definitely stories of people getting terminated, like students getting terminated from bootcamps, for expressing reasonable concerns about the program.

[Interlude]

42:24

Anonymous: …for expressing reasonable concerns about the program.

Kim: Oh, I have someone who reached out to me, and she’s definitely afraid to talk, but she was a head of a program and she—and this is why I don’t like whisper networks—they wouldn’t give her her last check if she didn’t sign this thing, and her case for the EEOC was rejected.

Anonymous: Huh.

Kim: So she was bringing up very serious issues about students.

Anonymous: Mhm.

Kim: And this is the shit that pisses me off ’cause they continue to silence people and so other people get harmed. It’s like a Ponzi scheme. You get this money and then you have to pay back, but you burn those people—you don’t care about them anymore—it’s the new people who bringin’ in the money that you start catering to.

Yeah, I totally understand that power dynamic stuff. You—I see it on Twitter with people who are actively defending bootcamps where people are telling them they have been harmed. I’m telling you, “This place has harmed me,” and because you haven’t had the same experience or because they giving you a stipend or whatever it is, you come champion them instead of listening to—”Hm, my experience is different, let me listen to their experience.”

43:58

Anonymous: Mhm. Yeah. Yeah, and I think that there’s another side of it too, which is a lot of these places also have many of the same issues as the broader software industry is dealing with, like workers are starting to try and unionize and stuff, because of all the forced arbitration and having to waive your right to sue to get your severance, and…

Kim: Yes, it’s crazy!

Anonymous: Yeah. No, there are so many things that I have had to learn, just navigating working at various places and negotiating contracts where I read these things and I’m like, “Does this really say…?” [Both laugh]

Kim: Yeah, yeah.

Anonymous: Y’know? Sometimes it’s in the initial contract that you have to sign with a place, and sometimes it’s if you get terminated or the place shuts down or something, it’s in severance agreements, and so there’s a whole nother side of that, which is that for people that worked at these various places, it is genuinely scary to talk about problems in any way because a lot of them in various different ways have provisions in the contract that are effectively legal threats.

45:29

Kim: Exactly, exactly. And if they don’t know their rights and know that they—it’s, you’re holding somebody’s pay check that they’ve earned, and saying, “I dare you to say anything bad about me, even though I know you know, you have proof that this is a shit show.” That is what has to stop because, as you said, it’s broader than bootcamps. We’ve adopted this from Fortune 500 companies, tech has adopted this.

Tech always tries to be as innovative as they think they can, but they don’t have any process. You go into these companies, they have no processes in place, but they have that shit. They have those documents. They have nothing in place for how they’re gonna hire, they have nothing in place for anything of substance that’s about inclusion and diversity—they have nothing in place for that, but they have those documents ready to give you when you when they realize or when you say, “Yeah, I can’t do this no more.”

Anonymous: Mhm, yep.

Kim: And that is what has to change. And that is why I’m so happy—again, I’m gonna tell you, and I don’t give white dudes much credit at all. [Anonymous laughs] If you follow me, you know, I just don’t ’cause people are patting y’all on the back for the smallest shit every damn day. But I really appreciate you getting out of your comfort zone and coming on here and talking about this.

47:00

And this is what I was telling you when we spoke briefly—having this conversation on the phone does not scale. Because people are still being harmed. I need people to start looking at what’s going on, but it’s so hard because tech is so foreign to so many people, they don’t think to use the same skills they have from other spaces to this. So when they come into this space, they just believe everything tech says. So they don’t think about researching, and turning up rocks. They don’t think about that because, “The website says this”, and I want…

So, in this last part of this conversation, I really want you to speak to, if your job was to—I’m your friend and I said I want to go to a bootcamp, what are the things that I should be looking for?

Anonymous: Huh. Umm. That is a really good question.

Kim: Exactly! [Anonymous laughs] And that’s the part that gets me because no one can answer that question for me.

Anonymous: Yeah. I mean, I think…

Kim: There is no consistency to that. I need that question answered because that’s what education is about. You cannot tell me you’re an educational institution, and you can’t tell me what best practices I need to be looking for. Period.

48:29

Anonymous: Yeah.

Kim: Yeah, that’s frightening to me, because people are coming out like, “Oh, this is a great substitution for a college degree.” No hell it’s not!  [Anonymous laughs]

Anonymous: I mean, I… I…

Kim: No, not without best practices and not without you being able to tell me what I’m supposed to get out the other end. Nuh-uh. With a college degree, I can go get a job. I might not like it, but I can go get a job. If I got an education degree. I can go get a job teaching. If I went to culinary school, I can go get a job cooking. If I, hell, medical transcription, if they even do that shit now with computers, but I can start my own little business with that.

I need to know—and this is for the broader community—I need you to communicate to me, ’cause I need to see a list of best practices, what someone who’s entering this field and wants to transition into programming—not a “job in tech,” people, [Anonymous laughs] because that’s what I’m spending my money on, is a programming job—what are the things I need to be looking for, for success?

50:03

And if you can’t tell me that, because again, I write curriculums. That’s the first thing I talk about. When I’m doing a workshop or training people—what are my outcomes, what are my expected outcomes? We’re going to start here, this is where you expect to be at the end. That’s what I’m missing with all this. All this shit is hog shit if I don’t have that. This is pie in the sky, and you’re expecting people to finance their lives on this. At least with a student loan, I could call them, Sallie Mae, and say, “Hey, I ain’t got a job right now, can I get a deferment?”

Anonymous: Mhm.

Kim: “Hey, can we base this on my income? I could pay you $25 a month.” I can do that with Sallie Mae. [Sallie Mae is the main education loan provider in the US] I hate Sallie Mae—’cause I personify Sallie Mae—[Anonymous laughs] yeah, because she is like the [sound of disgust]. But Sallie Mae, at least I have some recourse with Sallie Mae. If I go back to school, Sallie Mae’ll put my loans on hold until I get back out. I have some recourse with that.

Anonymous: Yeah.

Kim: I might not want to take out these loans. I hate the fact that I have as many loans as I have right now, but I can tell you I could negotiate with my loan holder.

Anonymous: Mm.

Kim: You can’t do that with a ISA.

51:19

Anonymous: Mhm. Yeah. I think for me at least, a big part of the reason that I got into it in the first place is I think, done well it’s the sort of—like working on projects and working with people and having gone through the normal university way of learning myself, I felt very unprepared for the practical work when I was done with college.

Kim: Oh, most definitely. I totally believe that. But tell me what bootcamp is doing anything different?

Anonymous: I guess for me, at least, I feel like some of the places I have worked have been much better about one-on-one time solving specific problems versus the experience I had in college…

Kim: I get that and I’m going to stop you right there.

Anonymous: OK.

Kim: My thing is my outcome. Your one-on-one help, if it doesn’t lead to my outcome, is that helpful?

Anonymous: Probably not.

Kim: Exactly. So this is what I’m gonna tell you what I’m looking for in a bootcamp. All right?

Anonymous: OK.

Kim: So what I’m looking for in a bootcamp is a organization that understands—first of all this can’t be scaled—learning can’t be scaled how… VC money. You shouldn’t be doing this with VC money, learning can’t be scaled that way, that’s the first problem. I think you can do this in a for-profit model, but it can’t be VC money unless the VC has a different model. Maybe angel investing.

53:15

But it has to be where students understand, you test them—that’s how we do—where are you, in the curriculum? Where are you? If you know a little bit more, if you work with variables and you’ve done some programming—OK, we’re gonna put you over here, this where you gonna be, and you’re gonna work with these individuals. And if you know a little bit—OK, we’re gonna put you right here. If you know absolutely nothing—we’re gonna put you over here, all right?

I’m gonna take these approaches differently. So I may say yes, the end goal for the people who know nothing is to get a job in programming, but your program’s gonna look totally different, it’s gonna be paced totally different than everybody else’s. We got to take baby steps, ’cause what we’re gonna do is scaffold—which means I learn—because this is what I don’t understand.

How did you learn to read? You learn your ABCs, right? You sang that stupid song, and then—oh, my god—you could put letters together to make words—oh, my god—I now know words. Hm! What’s the next step? I put those words together to make sentences. OK! Now I’ve made sentences. Oh, my god! To make paragraphs, I need to understand punctuation. So let me stop and let’s talk about punctuation. We’re gonna talk about punctuation. And now with my sentences, with my words that could make sentences with punctuation, I can make paragraphs.

54:48

Am I a writer yet? No! I’m not a writer yet because I don’t know how to make essays [Anonymous laughs]. So now I need to talk about essays—your beginning, your ending, your three paragraphs and your whatever. Once I get comfortable with that, then I’m gonna go long form. And then once I do that, then I could do some other things.

This is my problem with this model. It is totally counter to how teaching and learning works. And that takes time. So you might have somebody who was in the first group who thought they knew something, but they got to fall back, so they need support in that middle group. They realized, “Oh, yeah, this is going too fast for me. I need to fall back.” Or you might have somebody who’s in that last group who didn’t even know variables, “Oh, now I got this, can I move up?” Yes! So then you have a staggered graduation, and people finish when they finish.

Anonymous: Totally.

55:50

Kim: Then you provide, all through that time, you’re providing mentorship. You’re teaching them about the industry, the various programming jobs—not the other ones, because that’s not what I’m going to school for—the various programming jobs, the different environments that I could be programming in, so that when I come out, I’m not…

Because what happens is—another reason these people can’t get jobs is—they spent all day long working on these projects and whatnot that they haven’t had no time to network, to build their—nothing. So they come out of school hitting the ground running at zero. They have nothing. So now we’re gonna make sure all while that’s happening, we’re going to go to these things, we’re connecting you with people, we’re bringing—all that stuff.

But I still need you to know that it may take you a while to get this job. So until you get that job, this is what we have in place for you to keep your skills up. If you’re not doing all that, eh, I’m not impressed. And again there’re gonna be people who gonna say, “But Kim, I learned…” I’m not talking about you. You’re not the majority.

57:03

Anonymous: Mhm.

Kim: And that’s how education works. You don’t lump everybody in together. You don’t treat them the same. You break these groups up. You scaffold. All kinds of thing. You have the people in the highest group come back and teach the people in the lowest group—just one concept—because I told my students, I never believed they could do it until they could demonstrate it. So if you could teach something to somebody else, I know you know it. But I’m not gonna put a TA in the class and make them teach a whole curriculum—no, a concept!

Anonymous: Yeah. Actually, I think that brings up a really good question to ask places too, which is—what resources do you have available for people who have trouble keeping up with the curriculum?

Kim: Ah. Yes. Most definitely. And I have yet to see anything that does not look the same as what’s in classroom. So when you’re saying one-on-one, if I didn’t get your lecture or whatever during a class—maybe it’s like you say the learning style, maybe it’s your approach—so you giving me one-on-one may not help me, ’cause that’s not how I take in information. Or how you’re giving it to me just doesn’t work.

58:29

There’s so many variables and you cannot distil education. Every time I see some novel new education model, eventually it fails because you cannot scale learning that way. That’s not how the brain works. That’s just not how the freakin’ brain works.

Anonymous: Yeah, yeah. No, I definitely think that the whole software industry is super obsessed with scaling things, and I totally agree that one way or another, you need enough time with the material, and you need enough time with the teachers and…

Kim: And practice and real world experience, all kinds of things, just to make stuff click. Because I know that there’re students I had, I would spend all year, and it didn’t click until that last month.

Anonymous: Huh.

Kim: Because all the pieces started… finally, in their way, they were able to finally connect the dots. And you have to allow students that space. Some people don’t test well, you know, that’s another thing. So there’s so much to that.

Well, I want to thank you—this has been an enlightening conversation. Anything you want to say before we close out?

59:52

Anonymous: Gosh, let’s see, I’ve been trying to just think about the question of how to be discerning in the places that you go and it’s a really hard question. I think asking about resources that are available for people who have trouble keeping up is definitely a really good question. Asking about all of the stuff about numbers and—actually, something that we didn’t touch on also, is the online reviews of bootcamps. [Kim laughs] I mean, it’s very much…

Kim: Subjective.

Anonymous: Yeah, and also the stories that have come out about Glassdoor and other places that do reviews—everything that you’re a little bit suspicious about about reviews in any other context, is going to be exactly the same.

Kim: Exactly, exactly. And especially if they get to pick and choose what reviews get seen.

Anonymous: Yep, yeah. One of the things—I don’t actually know if this effective—one of the things I started to do more and more with reading reviews of things online generally of late is try and go and look at the three star ones and see what the actual, specific bad things people are mentioning are.

Kim: Oh, yeah, I do that too. [Both laugh] Because nothing we create—my grandfather told me this a long time ago, something broke and he said anything manmade is gonna break down.

1:01:28

Anonymous: Yeah.

Kim: There’s no perfect solution, but we want to get as close to minimizing harm and solving problems as we possibly can.

Anonymous: Totally.

Kim: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation with me. I really appreciate it. It has been really enlightenin’. I hope, I hope, I hope this continues or catapults this conversation, ’cause I have had some real challenges with this bootcamp model.

I know people want to get these jobs ’cause it could really change people’s lives, particularly marginalized groups, but what I’m seeing is too many of these people being taken advantage of, and you’re causing financial problems that they didn’t have in the beginning and that’s a burden which continues with the wealth gap, you know? That’s something they have to deal with.

So thank you so much and have a wonderful day.

Anonymous: You too.

Coding Bootcamp Warning Signs

Become a #causeascene Podcast sponsor because disruption and innovation are products of individuals who take bold steps in order to shift the collective and challenge the status quo.

Learn more >

All music for the #causeascene podcast is composed and produced by Chaos, Chao Pack, and Listen on SoundCloud.

Listen to more great #causeascene podcasts