Issue #9: Tracking 100 bootcamp graduates from 2015
In all my research on bootcamps, I have yet to find any long-term studies of how graduates progress when they are in the workplace.
This feels like an oversight for an industry that places so much value on future-proofing people's skills.
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I was listening to a podcast the other week, and a bootcamp founder was asked if they track job outcomes in the long term. Their answer was a bit vague. They said, "we empower people to track their own careers." Nice swerve!
Right now, there are more than 100,000 bootcamp graduates, with no industry standard or governing body assessing outcomes; who is tracking how all these students are progressing?
Graduates are the main product that a bootcamp sends out into the world, so the lack of investment in their long-term prospects is puzzling. I have yet to find one bootcamp that tracks long-term outcomes for its students.
Or, at least, not one that makes this data public (please correct me if I'm wrong).
But this industry has been around for ten years, so I did some rough research to create a quick snapshot and see what the trends look like.
For this quick study, I was interested in how graduates progressed in their careers, not whether they got a job immediately after a bootcamp [there is plenty of research around this topic, and most bootcamps release annual outcomes reports].
I selected a combination of the largest bootcamps in 2015 (Dev Bootcamp, Flatiron School, General Assembly) and the bootcamps with the highest barrier to entry (App Academy & Hack Reactor) at the time. I’ve anonymized the bootcamps in the data below.
I chose to look at graduates from 2015 for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as I wrote about in Issue #4, 2015 is at the start of the maturation period for bootcamps. This period is characterized by greater consistency in curriculum, instructional training and admissions across these group of bootcamps.
Using 2015 as the graduation date means these people have been in the job market for 7 years. Given most senior level software engineer roles ask for 5+ years’ of experience, this felt like a good time period to gauge how these students had progressed in their careers. These are subjective categories, I know, but I needed somewhere to start.
I used LinkedIn Insights to pull 100 graduates from these 5 bootcamps into a dataset. I filtered for the bootcamp name, and searched for graduation dates listed under “school” or “work” in 2015.
My approach has obvious limitations, mainly that it self-selects for people who list the school they went to and biases towards people who have been successful in the industry; if you took a bootcamp and didn't get a job or got a role in a non-developer role, you are less likely to list the fact you attended a bootcamp.
This approach also disregards the before and after experience of graduates. Some learners came into the bootcamp with basic technical ability (although there is evidence to suggest this doesn’t have an impact on whether you get that all-important first job).
Using this approach also disregards what graduates learn on the job, after they graduate. There are a number of different factors (team, manager, market conditions) that impacts how a graduate progresses in their career.
Still, despite these limitations there are some useful trends that came out of this. Let’s take a look.
Attrition out of technical roles
The first place I started was to look at the percentage of self-declared graduates doing a job in 2022 that required going to a bootcamp. In each case, I asked: Would this person have been able to get the job they are currently doing without going to a bootcamp?
I discounted founders, CEOs, and anyone in a sales role. Product management was trickier, and I made a judgment call here based on whether the person had done a technical role before becoming a product manager. If they had not, but the role they were currently in was technical, I counted it. If they had remained in technical roles either side of the bootcamp, I didn't.
Of this total, 68% of the graduates surveyed in 2022 were doing roles where the bootcamp was necessary for them to work in that role. What I found fascinating, though, was that this figure varied wildly depending on the bootcamp they attended.
On the lowest end, just 50% of graduates from Bootcamp A were doing jobs in 2022 that required having gone to a bootcamp. Conversely, 90% of Bootcamp D graduates were working in technical roles seven years after graduating.
What is more, the percentage of bootcamp graduates in technical roles at 7 years after graduation has gone done by 15%. The average immediately after graduation was 82% working in a technical role.
Again, this varied substantially between bootcamps, with just 70% of Bootcamp C graduates taking technical roles after graduating, compared to 95% from Bootcamp B and D graduates.
Source: Track Changes
Without looking at the admissions criteria for each bootcamp in more detail it’s hard to tell where this variation comes from. One explanation could be in the marketing, in this middle period a lot of bootcamps still targeted people looking to become entrepreneurs or product managers in their marketing. It could also indicate a lower admissions barrier to entry.
This is an area that would benefit from a longer-term study over multiple-years, to see if this trend was consistent.
To progress quickly, teach
Perhaps unsurprisingly, software was the largest employment area for bootcamp graduates; 38% of graduates took a job in the software industry as their first role. By 2022, 29 of these people had reached a senior position.
Staying on to work at the bootcamp you graduated from is a well-worn path for many graduates and it represents an excellent first move for many graduates. 14% of graduates across the cohort worked at a bootcamp as their first role.
This had dropped to 4% by 2022 as most people left to take a more technical job. Of this group, 12% were senior engineers or managers by 2022. This was the most robust route from the first job post-graduation to a senior position, with the highest percentage of graduates who went this route reaching senior software positions.
This makes a lot of sense. Bootcamps generally select the strongest students to stay on and teach after graduating (they want the best students teaching the next class), so these graduates are more likely to progress quickly into senior roles when they enter the industry.
It’s also likely they pick up additional expertise in a teaching role, which makes them more attractive to employers when they go onto the job market e.g. problem-solving, mentoring, more up-to-date industry knowledge.
Progression is a slow burn, as it should be
By 2022, the number of graduates working for software companies had risen by 14% to 51 graduates, with 9 graduates now working at FAANG companies. By comparison, only 2 people had jobs at FAANG companies as their first job post-graduation.
My takeaway here is, be careful about the logos you see on bootcamp landing pages. While there is a route into FAANG companies after a bootcamp, the numbers are small to start.
46% of the total graduating cohort were working as senior software developers or as managers or leads by 2022. Most students required three or four roles to progress from a software developer into a senior position.
What can we draw from all this? It certainly made me want to gather a much larger dataset and cross-reference these outcomes against other variables (e.g., prior technical ability before enrolling, languages taught).
This would answer questions like “which bootcamps had the best long-term job outcomes?” and “how do different bootcamp graduates compare against computer science graduates?”
Overall, it's clear that bootcamp graduates who land a job soon after graduating can use their technical skills to reach a senior level within seven years, with most needing to work in three or four roles to get there.
But there are a lot of assumptions built in and even more questions left unanswered!
For example, to what extent are these graduates "using" what they learnt at bootcamps in their senior roles? Or is the only relevant data point whether a graduate gets a job after completing a bootcamp? From there, whether they progress or not, is dependent on their experience in the role?
Why do less than half of graduates reach senior roles? What about people who don't publish their bootcamp participation? Why are the outcomes of the different bootcamps apparently so different?
However, even among the bootcamps selected for this study, there is a wide variation in long-term job outcomes. Going to a bootcamp is still no guarantee of long-term success, and more needs to be done to ensure that alumni have the support they need to reach their goals.
Feels like we’re just scratching the surface with this one…