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How Do Hiring Managers View Code School Graduates?

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Code schools are popping up all over the country, but that doesn't mean hiring managers know what to do with applicants fresh out of a bootcamp. Business writer Thursday Bram explains what hiring managers expect from code school grads.
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Recruiters and hiring managers are always on the lookout for programmers. In some areas, companies are so desperate to hire developers that they routinely poach talent from other organizations—there's no hope of enough applicants looking at a job listing to fill the existing positions.

That desperation, along with the high pay that even an inexperienced coder can command, is driving the code school movement. Code schools offer short, intense curriculums meant to get students up to the point where they can at least land a paying internship quickly. The classes can last anywhere between three and six months, with price tags anywhere from a few thousand dollars to closer to $20,000.

Those price tags are still far lower than the debt that a four-year degree in computer science requires, however—and that short time frame helps get new developers into the marketplaces far faster than a traditional college could hope to.

But code schools are problematic, at least from a human resources perspective. Hiring managers know about what to expect from any programmer walking in with a freshly minted bachelor's degree in computer science, just like they know what to expect from someone who has been writing Java for the last ten years. Many companies have long had difficulty with considering self-taught programmers, and adding code schools to the mix has made matters even more complicated.

Code Schools Are Unfamiliar to Some Hirers

For the typical hiring manager, a code school is an unfamiliar beast. Also known as hack schools, coding boot camps, and a variety of other names, code schools are a very new phenomenon.

While some schools make an effort to focus on the local startups and other tech companies in their area, there can be very little communication between code school organizers and the hiring mangers they're hoping to supply with job applicants. Sometimes, the first time a hiring manager may hear that there's a code school in town is when a resume arrives from a graduate who has already completed the program. The further you get from Silicon Valley or other big tech scenes, the more likely such situations are.

The concept of shorter programs to train entry-level computer programmers has filtered through startup culture in most cities. Hiring managers at technology companies that consider themselves part of their local startup scene are probably aware of the concept of a code school, whether or not they've seen actual job applicants with that sort of background. But if you're talking to human resources professionals outside of that culture, you may have less luck. More traditional technical companies, as well as web development agencies and other companies that hire developers outside of the startup scene, have less familiarity.

A lack of awareness means that hiring managers are more likely to make faulty assumptions about the capabilities of an applicant. Many code school graduates come out of their educational experience ready for an internship or another learning opportunity—not a full development position. Three months just isn't long enough to practice the skills necessary to write good code all day, every day. A few students may come into code schools with a little more experience, but they're unusual.

For companies looking to hire developers, taking on an intern or a junior developer is an investment—one that they have to be aware of before the hiring date. Usually, only large companies have the resources to do so, and even they will only take on a few newer developers at a time. Even those larger companies will prioritize hires that have already proven that they have a long-term commitment to a programming career.

As a result, many companies won't consider code school graduates for open jobs. Jon LeBlanc, head of developer evangelism at PayPal, said in a JavaWorld article, "Programming boot camps can't serve as a substitute for formal training or real-world experience. If you want to advance in your career, you need to have a complete understanding of languages and concepts that is developed far beyond the limits of a 12-week course."

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