Coding boot camps boost career potential

robinson-avila_kevin_sigKimberly Keller, a 27-year-old dual-major English and philosophy graduate from the University of New Mexico, is now earning $48,000 a year as a software developer with Zbyte Web in Albuquerque.

She took a 10-week crash course in fall 2015 through Central New Mexico Community College’s Deep Dive Coding boot camp at the college’s STEMulus Center Downtown. Then, she jumped ship last summer from her old marketing job at a local publishing company.

The boot camp opened up a whole new world of possibilities, she said.

“It put me on a completely different career path,” Keller said. “I made more in marketing than my new starting salary. But now I have a lot more room for growth with potential for much higher salaries because the software development field is growing so quickly.”

Keller’s experience is not unique. Scores of students are now graduating each year from Albuquerque’s two coding boot camps, Deep Dive and Cultivating Coders, and both are now expanding their offerings.

Deep Dive announced in March that it’s launching a 12-week boot camp for training in Java, Android and Salesforce programming. Demand for employees with those skills is rapidly growing, offering even higher-paying salaries than graduates from Deep Dive’s original boot camp, which teaches the basic front- and back-end development of a website.

Cultivating Coders, meanwhile, partnered last fall with the Rio Rancho-based coding company Pixegon to create a new Parallax Code Academy to turn working people with little or no coding experience into junior-level IOS developers for mobile apps on Apple and Mac devices. Its original boot camp, which also taught front-and back-end, or “full stack,” website development, is focused on training high school youth in under-served communities.

The boot camp expansions reflect an explosion in demand for software developers of all programming languages in the U.S. and elsewhere. More than 100 such full-time training camps now operate in the U.S. and Canada, and more than 400 if part-time offerings are included, said Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report, a research website that helps students rate schools.

“About three years ago, there were only 20 or 30 boot camps,” Eggleston said.

Boot camps started in traditional technology hubs like the Silicon Valley, but they’ve now expanded into 70 cities across the U.S., including smaller markets like Albuquerque, Eggleston said. And the smaller markets can offer more competitive tuition.

Deep Dive charges $6,495 for its full-stack program and $8,995 for its new offering. Parallax also charges $8,950 for its new IOS course.

That compares to a national average of about $12,000 for boot camps in general, Eggleston said.

The return on investment can be substantial. Starting salaries for full-stack developers in the Albuquerque area generally range from $45,000 to $55,000, and $50,000 to $60,000 or more for Java and other higher-demand programming languages such as Salesforce, said Renay Moya, senior vice president for Robert Half Technology in New Mexico. Once developers gain experience, those salaries can quickly grow to upwards of $80,000.

The job market is huge. The national unemployment rate for software developers is only 1.9 percent, Moya said.

“We don’t have local statistics, but I estimate the unemployment rate here is even lower because we have fewer software developers,” she said. “There’s a pretty extreme local supply-and-demand imbalance.”

Still, as in any career, graduates must work at finding jobs. Employers generally look to hire experienced developers, but that’s changing as boot camps grow and more graduates hit the market.

Deep Dive, which has graduated 160 people, boasts an 80 percent career-placement rate, including students who find direct jobs, start their own businesses or successfully launch freelance careers, said John Mierzwa, director of STEMulus Center initiatives.

“We offer a full-service experience with a full-time career coach and a robust professional development portion of the program to teach job and business skills,” Mierzwa said.

About $1.1 million in grants from the Kellogg Foundation, plus smaller assistance from Workforce Solutions and Vocational Rehabilitation, allow CNM to subsidize tuition and internships for many minority or low-income students, Mierzwa said. That’s important, because boot camps are not yet accredited, prohibiting access to traditional financial aid.

Deep Dive is contributing to Albuquerque’s burgeoning startup scene, with graduates launching about 10 businesses to date.

Four graduates, for example, are now partners in the local software startup 11Online. Four of their six employees are also from Deep Dive.

11Online CEO Alonso Indacochea, who launched his own post-Deep Dive startup Hermes Development with another boot camp graduate, said the two companies merged in January. Revenue this year is projected in the high six-figure range.

“We’re on track to double what both our companies combined earned in 2016,” Indacochea said. “The merger has made us better, bigger and stronger.

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