Are coding academies a valid shortcut to IT employment?

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Are coding academies a valuable shortcut or a mirage?Last year I wrote an article for the most recent issue of Certification Magazine regarding the heated discussion surrounding college degrees vs. industry certifications. As this neck-and-neck horse race continues, a new contestant is joining the fray: the coding academy.

In a Nov. 19, 2014, article for The Indianapolis Star, Leisa Richardson defined a coding academy as “fast-track training in the lucrative field of software development.” Similar to boot camps, coding academies take programming-savvy students and turn them into balls of fire who can “create, design, and write code using various software languages.” This is done in a short amount of time, so that students can secure high-paying jobs, purportedly without a college degree or any type of business training.

The Richardson article focused on Eleven Fifty, a coding academy located in the Indianapolis, Indiana, suburb of Carmel. Eleven Fifty charges $3,500 for one of its seven-day face-to-face courses. According to the Eleven Fifty website, a student can complete a seven-day course (84 contact hours) in Android app programming for $2,495 plus six nights in a nearby hotel. Meals are included in the price. There are “no textbooks, video instructions, or FAQs” in this “real world code” course.

Courses through Eleven Fifty are not accredited by any agency and do not offer continuing education units (CEUs) that can be applied to a licensed profession. There are also no certification vouchers included in the course cost, nor even a guarantee of passing a certification exam upon completion. This is not a criticism, for these goals should not be expected to appear within a mission statement for a coding academy.

Let’s get back to that article I wrote regarding college degrees vs. certifications. Although readers may disagree with my conclusions in that article, they will concur that both the college degree and the certification require a rigorous vetting process that makes these career milestones valuable in the field of I.T. Colleges use accreditation as a measure of excellence while certifications are valued for the rigor of the exam sponsor, such as CompTIA for the Network+ certification or Microsoft for the MCSE. Who is vetting the coding academy?

Are coding academies a valuable shortcut or a mirage?A job candidate could place Eleven Fifty’s 84-hour Android app course on a résumé, but how valuable is that to the prospective employer when the course that was taken in 2015 doesn’t resemble the course Eleven Fifty offers in 2016? The instructors are different from year to year as well, which adds another dimension to the “drink from a fire hose” standard that Eleven Fifty boasts on its web site. This is a you-get-whatever-we-want-to-give-you-at-the-time way of learning which is similar to an 84-hour study session with your Uncle Fred who is really, really, REALLY good at programming. Honest.

When asked if its courses are easy, Eleven Fifty’s answer is emphatic. “Absolutely not. Unless you’re a programming prodigy (which we hope you are) or have a lot of experience already, these classes will likely be very challenging for you, which is why we have very experienced and seasoned instructors to help guide you through successful completion of each course.”

The Richardson article on coding academies mentioned Willie Pritchett who “is a Purdue man.” According to Richardson, Pritchett graduated in 2000 [from Purdue] with an undergraduate degree in organizational leadership with minors in communications and computer science. He also earned an MBA from Indiana Tech. In the Richardson article, Pritchett claims that if he had it to do all over again, he would forego the expensive college and race to the nearest coding academy instead:

“Pritchett, an entrepreneur and software developer, is convinced that the $3,500 he spent on an immersive seven-day class did more to accelerate his skill and change the course of his business than any formal college program.”

Undeniably, changes in business can happen in 84 hours or even in one hour. September 11, 2001, is a prime example. But what built those buildings and built Mr. Pritchett’s success were long hours of commitment and fortitude. It was Mr. Pritchett’s formal education that gave him the wherewithal to hire Eleven Fifty when he realized he needed some help with coding to build his business.

I believe Mr. Pritchett is underestimating his value and his knowledge. I challenge Mr. Pritchett to rely on an 84-hour coding class to replace the experiential, situational, diversifying, broadening, character-altering, and disciplinary education he received while earning his formal education at Purdue and Indiana Tech. No one can take those degrees from him. No one. They are a part of who he is today.

The fact that he took a lively and beneficial programming course at a coding academy merely tells me that he is a busy man without much time for continuing education. I’m glad he learned so much at Eleven Fifty. But the statement Eleven Fifty = degrees from Purdue and Indiana Tech is nowhere close to reality; Eleven Fifty < Purdue + Indiana Tech might be a tad closer, but only because there’s no math symbol yet that means “a whole lot less than.”

Are coding academies a valuable shortcut or a mirage?Would I attend a coding academy? Yes, and I have—three different times in my professional life, in fact. But, like Willie Pritchett, I attended these because I was busy building a business and could only eke out a week in my busy calendar to get myself up to speed in my weak areas. My fingers were in a dam at the time, and I was looking for a way to fill the gaps in my otherwise substantial understanding of the topics.

If I had had an Uncle Fred for each topic, I would have locked us up in a hotel room for a week and saved the $10,500 for the three topics. My imaginary hotel stay with Uncle Fred never happened, and according to my résumé, the coding academies never happened either. I went on to pass certification exams in each of those three areas, and those certifications appear prominently and proudly on my résumé.

So, we’re back to Square One and the debate on College vs. Certification. Don’t ask the coding academy guy for his opinion. He’s out this week doing … I don’t know … something.

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April Miller Cripliver

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

April Miller Cripliver holds a doctorate in Management Information Systems and has earned more than 25 computer certifications in networking, security, hardware and operating systems. She is a Subject Matter Expert for CompTIA and owns USER FRIENDLY CONNECTIONS, a computer consulting firm in northwest Indiana. Contact Dr. Cripliver at Info (at) UserFriendlyConnections (dot) com.

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