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The go-go years of coding boot camps may be gone-gone

In this file photo, Smashing Boxes coding academy students make a presentation in the Iron Yard coding academy classroom in The Underground at Durham’s American Tobacco Campus. The Iron Yard is shutting down its locations nationwide, including in Raleigh and Durham.
In this file photo, Smashing Boxes coding academy students make a presentation in the Iron Yard coding academy classroom in The Underground at Durham’s American Tobacco Campus. The Iron Yard is shutting down its locations nationwide, including in Raleigh and Durham. N&O File Photo

This week’s announcement that coding school The Iron Yard plans to shut down its 15 locations nationwide, including in Raleigh and Durham, is a sign that an industry that had been growing by leaps and bounds is hitting some speed bumps.

Earlier this month another coding boot camp, Dev Bootcamp, also announced that it would close its doors by the end of the year. Dev Bootcamp offers courses at a half-dozen sites across the country; none are in the Triangle.

The founder and CEO of Skills Fund, a company that provides student financing, said the number of coding boot camps across the country has grown so fast in recent years that not all of them can be profitable.

“It’s not surprising that not every school is going to make it,” said Rick O’Donnell.

But, O’Donnell added, overall enrollments in code schools continue to grow.

“Some schools are seeing surging enrollments,” he said.

Coding boot camps, which prepare students for careers as software developers, are a recent phenomenon.

The industry boasted just 2,178 graduates in 2013, but the number of grads mushroomed to 15,084 last year, according to Course Report, which offers an online directory of coding schools.

That boom has been fueled by the industry’s promise of a fast track entry into tech jobs without obtaining a four-year degree. Iron Yard courses cost as much as $13,900 for a full-time, 12-week web development course.

“Depending on which labor economist you talk to, there’s anywhere from 1 million to 4 million unfilled middle-skill (tech) jobs in this country that traditional universities aren’t doing a very good job filling,” O’Donnell said of the industry’s growth.

Betsy Hauser Idilbi, founder and CEO of Tech Talent South, a Charlotte-based coding school that offers courses in Raleigh and 10 other cities, said that from where she sits the market remains vibrant.

“We see an incredible amount of demand and it continues to grow,” she said.

Idilbi added that Iron Yard and Dev Bootcamp were industry pioneers that “really helped pave the way for a lot of these programs and provided an incredible amount of opportunity for a lot of people. That shouldn’t be lost.”

Iron Yard, which is headquartered in Greenville, S.C., isn’t shutting down immediately. It will finish up summer courses that were already under way.

“Students will be given the entire 12 weeks of instruction plus Demo Day and four weeks of career support,” spokeswoman Leila King wrote in an email. “The Iron Yard is fully committed to providing students the same quality educational experience that we’ve provided every other student in the past.”

In addition, King said, “if a student has already paid for a course that is no longer going to be offered, those payments will be refunded in full.”

Brooks Raiford, president and CEO of the N.C. Technology Association, noted in an email that the word from tech employers “is that there is continued demand for this sort of skill set. There are a number of nonprofit, for-profit, and educational providers of coding programs, and the availability of these offerings continues to grow in our region.”

Wake Technical Community College is launching a 15-week boot camp for web developers next week. UNC-Chapel Hill debuted a 24-week coding boot camp last year.

Iron Yard’s local boot camps have been operating at American Underground sites in Raleigh and in Durham. In 2015, American Underground, which offers inexpensive and flexible space for start-ups, forced 25 companies at its downtown Raleigh site to relocate to make way for Iron Yard.

Adam Klein, American Underground’s chief strategist, said via email that he isn’t yet ready to discuss future plans for the Iron Yard spaces.

“The American Underground is proud of the productive work Iron Yard has done in feeding the Triangle’s growing tech ecosystem – training and placing hundreds of people in good jobs,” Klein noted.

David Ranii: 919-829-4877, @dranii

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