The Growth of the Tech Bootcamp
A New Way of Educating Gen Z Engineers
Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst
A new form of education
Software development bootcamps emerged as 2-6 week crash courses to rapidly train software engineers and programmers. This insight brief explains how these bootcamps became popular in the United States with younger Gen Z students, including how they emerged, what they offer, and potential pitfalls students should consider before enrollment. It concludes with a discussion of these bootcamps' impact on higher education in the US.
The initial idea
The tech bootcamp emerged as an idea on YCombinator, the US's best-known startup incubator, in November 2011. Kabuks, a user and entrepreneur, noted the demand for skilled programmers in the US and promised to train an aspiring web developer in six months. This proposal required payment only if the student secured a job and outlined a novel income-sharing agreement where the student would pay Kabuks a portion of their tuition once they found a job.
Figure 1: First Post on YCombinator Regarding The Idea for a Tech Bootcamp
Hungry Academy - the first bootcamp
A month after that initial post on YCombinator, LivingSocial launched Hungry Academy in December 2011. Hungry Academy, now defunct, promised students an intensive, rapid academic experience where they would learn Ruby on Rails, a then-popular web framework. While Hungry Academy did not last long, other early bootcamps like App Academy and General Assembly emerged to take its place.
Figure 2: Word cloud showing early 2012 terms relating to Hungry Academy, the first software development bootcamp
Why not college? College is expensive and time consuming
US education was ripe for disruption due to higher education costs ballooning over the last few decades. Additionally, a traditional bachelor's degree takes four years, whereas tech bootcamps promise a higher salary after a few months of training.
More information on the rising cost of college is available in our Gen Z technical report.
Figure 2: Word cloud showing terms relating to student loans and cost of college
Explosive growth of the tech bootcamps: graduates
US students have begun to move away from expensive and time consuming college degrees.
In 2013, US bootcamp graduates numbered 2,178 students. By 2020, that number ballooned to 24,975, representing a 1,146.7% growth rate.
Figure 4: Graph showing the growing number of tech bootcamp graduates from 2013 through 2020
Explosive growth of the tech bootcamps: post volume
The benefits of tech bootcamps made them popular with US students. Infegy Atlas shows post volume relating to software bootcamps grew from 62,194 in 2012 to 464,817 in 2021, meaning the idea of rapidly obtaining a technical education took up more and more social media conversational space.
Figure 5: Trend graph showing 178% Bootcamp Post Growth from 2012 through present
Potential bootcamp drawbacks: the cost
Despite their explosive growth, bootcamps have their drawbacks.
While they are generally less expensive than US college tuition, bootcamps are not cheap. The median bootcamp cost is $10,000, potentially more.
Figure 6: Graph showing the distribution of bootcamp tuition
Potential bootcamp drawbacks: the income sharing agreement (ISA)
Bootcamps have turned to Income Sharing Agreements (ISA) to finance these growing costs. ISAs are contracts where the graduate pays the bootcamp a percentage of their salary until tuition is paid in full. While this sounds promising, ISAs can trap students into fixed payments as they start their careers. Additionally, many see them as another form of student loans.
Figure 6: Word Cloud showing negative terms around Boot Camp Income Sharing Agreements
Tech bootcamps have disrupted US science and engineering education by providing students with an opportunity for a high-paying career without investing in a four-year college degree. Additionally, they allow students with non-technical degrees to pivot into a technical profession. Despite the potential benefits surrounding tech bootcamps, they cost a lot and can trap students into years-long loan repayment agreements.
The greater question is whether students can receive same knowledge found in a four-year degree in a few months. So far, the need for software engineers in the US has driven companies to hire quickly. It remains to be seen whether bootcamp graduates will be in demand as more and more software engineers graduate from traditional universities.