For aspiring programmers eager to enter the workforce, bootcamps may have cracked the code.

Source: (Re)Launch Your Career |

After spending three years working in environmental science, Chris Cerami was ready for something new. Computer programming appealed to him for its intellectual challenges, its career flexibility, and–no small thing–its higher pay and abundant job openings.

But he had already earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and didn’t relish the thought of returning to college to study computer science.

It’s a dilemma faced by many people interested in technical careers: the cost and time required to earn a four-year college degree are simply too daunting.

There are a number of alternative approaches, of course, from college-based certificate programs to free online courses to taking the DIY route. In fact, Cerami had tried to teach himself some coding but found it was not easy to learn in a vacuum. Still, he was committed to making a career change, so when he learned about Launch Academy, a Boston-based coding “bootcamp,” he was instantly intrigued.

“A friend of mine had moved to Boston to attend a start-up accelerator program,” Cerami says, “and I decided to move there, too. I was looking around at options for learning how to code, and I found out about bootcamps.”

Launch Academy is one of a number of bootcamps (others include CodeUp, Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, DevMountain, and RefactorU) that are popping up around the country, usually with the goal of solving two interrelated problems: the supply/demand imbalance that leaves many companies struggling to fill tech jobs, and the tricky business of educating students on technologies that are evolving too rapidly for college programs to keep pace with.

Bootcamps tend to share some common DNA, most notably an intense immersion in the languages and platforms that are most in-demand today, strong collaboration among students, and an emphasis on job placement following graduation.  A recent survey found that U.S. and Canadian coding bootcamps graduated more than 16,000 students in 2015, more than double the year before.

” To be honest, I was skeptical that the bootcamp approach could work,” Cerami says. “I didn’t see how a few months of training could get me where I needed to be in order to find a job. But it’s a unique way to learn, especially in the way that you work so closely with other committed students. It’s intense, but fun, and not like college at all.”

Learning How to Learn

Cerami began by taking an 8-week online pre-learning session, which serves as what Launch Academy co-founder Dan Pickett describes as a “proving ground” for the on-campus program. Between 85 and 90 percent of the students who participate in the pre-learning session enter the full-time program, and of those about 90 percent graduate.*

The curriculum immerses students in today’s most relevant computer languages, including JavaScript, Ruby, HTML, and CSS. Students also learn about how those languages are applied within programming frameworks such as Rails, Sinatra, Capybara, and others.

Equally important, Cerami says, “is an emphasis on learning how to learn–you develop core skills and a knowledge base that helps you solve new problems, and you discover where to go for additional information that builds on what you already know, so that you stay current with the latest technology.”

The Academy Goes Virtual

Cerami had the flexibility to move from Pennsylvania to Boston, but many other aspiring programmers can’t pick up and relocate, even to attend a program that lasts only a few months.  That’s a big reason why online options have become a driving force in technical education, although course completion rates for many MOOCs (massive online open enrollment courses) can be as low as 15 percent.

Building on what it learned developing its online pre-learning program, Launch Academy has recently made its full program available online, structured to combine the best aspects of both in-person and Web-based education.  By incorporating one-on-one instruction within chat rooms, as well as Web-based “live” sections, the program offers, as Pickett says, “the flexibility to study at your own pace while still being part of a cohort of fellow students who have direct access to our instructors.”

Whether a student attends in person or online, Cerami says the key to making a bootcamp work is “to understand that you get out of it what you put into it. You have to be committed to the program while you’re in it, and to your job search once you’re out. I was, and it worked out really well for me.”  Shortly after graduating Cerami was hired by RBM Technologies in Boston, where he is now a junior software engineer developing cloud-based apps and visual merchandising solutions for the retail industry.

* 94% of Launch Academy students who graduated between May 1, 2013 and April 24, 2015, obtained full-time, non-temporary jobs in their field of study.