Boom or bust: The lowdown on code academies

Programming boot camps are on the rise, but can a crash course in coding truly pay off for students and employers alike?

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The students: Jump-starting a career change

A wide variety of students are attracted to these kinds of programs, says Adam Enbar, co-founder of The Flatiron School in New York City, which offers 12-week programs in iOS and Ruby. Some are experienced programmers who want to master a new skill set. Some work in nontechnical jobs and want to add coding skills to make them more valuable to their current employers. Some are entrepreneurs who want to build their own products.

But the majority of enrollees at code schools tend to have little or no programming experience; for them, these boot camps are the fastest way to jump-start a career change.

Baylee Feore is one of the latter. After she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with multiple degrees in business and public policy and international studies, she went to work as a management consultant for Booz & Co. in New York City.

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"I have wonderful co-workers and I really enjoy where I work. But sometimes I can't believe they hired me, as I have such limited experience compared to my team members. I have to remind myself that I am just starting out and they have been in the business for years."

--Zoe Kay, software developer, New Relic

After two and a half years, though, Feore felt it was time for a change, so she moved 3,000 miles to San Francisco to enroll in General Assembly, one of the larger coding academies with schools in nine locations worldwide. For three months Feore learned the principles of Rails, logging 70 hours a week in class time and project work. Despite the fact she had no programming experience prior to attending General Assembly, within two weeks of graduating last August Feore had a job with Yeti, a small mobile and Web apps development and design shop in San Francisco.

"The biggest reason was I wanted to make things," she says. "And I really love tech. I know a lot of people who want jobs with startups because they like the idea of wearing jeans to work and getting their lunches for free. But I just like solving problems analytically and making cool stuff."

Zoe Kay had a degree in social science and was working as a temp at a hospital before she decided to become a programmer. Encouraged by her developer boyfriend, Kay spent several months at the free online Code Academy learning programming fundamentals before enrolling at Hackbright, a small San Francisco school that caters exclusively to women. She also completed a three-month post-graduate internship at New Relic before joining the application-performance monitoring firm as a full-time employee in January 2013.

Sometimes, though, Kay says feels like she's suffering from "imposter syndrome."

"I have wonderful co-workers, and I really enjoy where I work," she says. "But sometimes I can't believe they hired me, as I have such limited experience compared to my team members. I have to remind myself that I am just starting out and they have been in the business for years. Being in a male-dominated field just accentuates the pressure to learn quickly, since in some ways I am representing women who are entering the programming field just by being here."

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