How a culture shift will help more coding bootcamp grads get hired

To program leaders, it’s a matter of *when* not if.

MJ Slaby

Earlier this year, Sarah Peterson of Friendship made the transition from working in nonprofit communications to a career in coding.

She did that by completing a coding bootcamp at Academy Pittsburgh in May. While hunting for a job, Peterson said those hiring and at networking events were generally positive about that experience — and her lack of a bachelors in a related field.

In 12 weeks, coding bootcamp attendees learn the skills they need for professional reinvention and the opportunity for an economic leg up without going to school for a four-year degree, organizers boast.

But when it comes to hiring bootcamp grads, there needs to be a cultural shift to help them land jobs, especially at larger companies in the region like banks, retailers and hospitals. That’s according to leaders of TechHire Pittsburgh and Academy Pittsburgh, two bootcamps that focus on low-income and minority attendees.

It’s a change they are confident will happen and isn’t a matter of if, but when.

For the TechHire bootcamp, Vera Krofcheck, chief strategy officer of Partner4Work, an organizer of TechHire, said they asked company leaders for their thoughts. Many said the curriculum and hands-on experience was just as good as four-year degree programs, she said. But Krofcheck added that it’s still hard for bootcamp grads to get hired at bigger companies without those college degrees.

It’s a policy-level disconnect, Krofcheck said, adding that companies are hesitant to change and adjust to new market realities. 

Josh Lucas, an organizer of Academy Pittsburgh, agreed that it’s more difficult for bootcamp grads to get jobs at bigger companies, but added he’s not worried. Academy grads are getting jobs at small- and medium-sized companies — Peterson, who works at software company NuRelm in East Liberty, is one such example — and the change will happen with the bigger ones, he said.

Krofcheck echoed Lucas and said while the change will take time, she’s confident it will happen.

So what will make more companies change their hiring requirements? In short, labor supply and competition, per one expert.

Tech jobs are usually seen as highly skilled ones that could result in movement within the company, said James Craft, a University of Pittsburgh professor emeritus with expertise in human resources. He said that someone in HR would likely pick a candidate with a college degree over a bootcamp grad based on the job description.

But Craft added that if there is a shortage of workers, companies are going to be forced to redefine those requirements. Changing the way the job is defined and using selection tests as part of the hiring process so there is more focus on skills than background, are two ways that could help bootcamp grads get hired, he said.

It just makes economic sense to hire the bootcamp grads who are highly-skilled people and highly productive after 12-weeks, Lucas added. By not considering them, he said, companies are limiting their hiring pools due to one requirement. And the sooner that these large companies realize that, the more they can benefit, he said.