[Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of commentaries sparked by the post, Coding bootcamps question the need for computer science degrees, by Jeff Meyerson of Software Engineering Daily, published on GeekWire earlier this week.]
Yesterday computer science professor Ed Lazowska argued against bootcamps, writing that “adults seeking to re-direct their careers shouldn’t kid themselves about what sort of preparation is most likely to lead to a career as a software engineer.”
Unfortunately, Prof. Lazowska’s argument was fact-free, and outdated. Here’s the truth about computer science education and coding bootcamps.
First, major tech companies are learning to look past the college degree to find programming talent. Google’s Senior VP of People Operations, Lazlo Block revealed that a growing number of Google employees do not hold any college degree: “The proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.”
Why the shift? Block’s team crunched years of internal data and found a surprise – there’s no correlation between achievement in college and eventual job performance at Google: “After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different,“ Block reported.
Prof. Lazowska is the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, so he should be familiar with the story of how the Microsoft founder learned computer programming.
A young Bill Gates and his friends fortuitously scored free time at the local Computer Center Corporation. Gates largely credits it with why he became a programmer, as noted in the book Outliers. “In one seven-month period in 1971, Gates and his cohorts ran up 1,575 hours of computer time…which averages out to eight hours a day, seven days a week.”
That sounds like what most students experience at a coding bootcamp. Gates and his friends learned programming thorough immersive, intense practice – exactly what most coding bootcamps offer.
Famously Gates dropped out of college and started Microsoft, one of the companies Prof. Lazowska cited as unwilling to hire non-Computer Science degree holders.
A recent study found that two-thirds of bootcamp students get a job within four months of graduation, and receive an average bump of $18k in salary. Yet, most of them never worked as a programmer before attending a bootcamp, according to the report.
Contrast that with findings from the Dept. of Education’s new College Scorecard, which exposed the poor return-on-investment students are receiving from traditional education. For example, graduates from the Prof Lazowska’s university make just $17K more than people with only a high school degree. And that’s a full 10 years after graduation!
The facts are clear. Coding bootcamps are now a viable alternative to earning a computer science degree. Students have come to that conclusion, and so have the most discerning employers.
When will educators like Prof. Lazowska catch up?