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sfs talk by Prof. Maria Garrido from Washington University: Coding Bootcamps - a strategy for youth employment in developing countries

On Monday June 20th, sfs hosted a research conversation on coding bootcamps and their potential to advance employability outcomes for young people in less developed countries led by Maria Garrido, the current foreign visiting researcher here at the Center. Maria presented the findings of a recently published study funded by the United Nations International Communications Union that maps the emergence of this form of training in middle and low-income countries and identifies the primary coding bootcamp models in operation and how they could contribute to the employment path for youth in these socio-economic settings.



Maria started the conversation by giving an overview of the increased demand for tech talent in many countries of the world and how businesses struggle to find qualified workers with programming skills to fill in jobs. Using few of the statistics available on the specific number of jobs that require this type of skills, she painted the landscape of the skills demand in different regions of the world outlining the main programming languages that are currently most sought after in the technology industry - Ruby, Phyton, and Java to name a few. In this context, she discussed the importance of different alternative learning spaces beyond the walls of a traditional classroom for people with non-technical background to gain programming skills at a faster pace introducing coding bootcamps as the newest addition to the marketplace of spaces for learning how to code. These are in person or blended learning training programs that last between 3-6 months specifically designed for people with no prior experience to learn programming skills and find work as junior developers.


She briefly discussed the development of this form of rapid skills training through the lens of social innovation as an adapted model from bootcamp-style training very prevalent among software programmers in the IT industry that emerged as a response to social demands not currently address in a timely manner by formal academic institutions. In few words, two and four year academic degrees are not graduating enough students to keep up with the demand in the labor market for software developers. It is precisely at this intersection where governments and international organizations are exploring the integration of coding bootcamps as part of their employability strategy and public policy efforts. However, Maria emphasized the importance of scoping coding bootcamps appropriately for any employability strategy since they vary significantly in length, training format and content resulting in different career and employment outcomes. She added that the potential of bootcamps to prepare youth to work in the domestic market hinges on the existence of a strong technology ecosystem, which is more prevalently found in urban rather than in rural settings. 


With these considerations in mind, Maria described the four coding bootcamp models currently operating in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the different training program elements, employment services and business models that characterize each of the models:

  • Ready-to-work bootcamps: intensive 12-20 weeks full or part-time rapid skills training programs that prepare people to find employment shortly after the training ends (usually 3 months)
  • Bootcamp+ Model: longer training programs that range between 1-2 years that equip students with are broader range of sustainable income-generation in addition to coding competences. This model is more prevalent in Africa
  • Mini-bootcamps: short-term training programs ranging in length from two days to a month designed to spark interest in learning the basics of programming.
  • Early-education model: encompasses efforts to trigger interest in programming at an early age usually through schools integrating coding skills into their curriculum


Maria stressed the importance of placing each of these models along an employability strategy continuum identifying their potential for employment outcomes at the short, medium, and long term. Each model plays an important, although distinct, role in this continuum and identifying the combination of training program elements in each of the models could increase the likelihood of impacting employment outcomes for a wider variety of target groups. Following up on target groups, the audience posed very compelling questions regarding the opportunities that this form of training could provide for women and young girls to consider entering a technology career and the factors that could foster or hinder their participation (for example, provision of day care services at the training center, the design of programs that consider women’s homecare responsibilities, etc.). The audience and Maria agreed that this innovative training design could potentially entice more women to follow a new professional path transforming them from technology users to technology creators. 


Lastly, the audience and Maria discussed some of the challenges for this form of training to significantly impact employment outcomes and some potential negative effects derived from the quality of education provided through these bootcamps. Given the fact that regardless of the type of organization – commercial, social enterprise, or non-for profit - none of the programs offered are officially certified. The legitimacy of the coding bootcamp provider as well as the quality of the training programs hinges on its ability to employ its graduates right after the training is completed. The higher the employment rate the provider reports, the higher the legitimacy of the organization and the demand for its training. Although not necessarily unique of coding bootcamps since many government programs in Germany, for example, also measure their success based on employment rates achieved, there is no motivation for providers to follow-up on its graduates once they become employed. This impedes our ability for assessing the quality of employment young people measured not only by the salary level but also, and perhaps most importantly, by the benefits, opportunities for further training and professional development. This consideration is critical for any government policy that is integrating coding bootcamps as part of its employability strategy to avoid creating an environment where, for economic reasons, youth are employed in jobs under substandard labor conditions.



Maria Garrido is Research Assistant Professor, Technology & Social Change Group at the Information School of Washington University, USA. She is visiting researcher at sfs April-July 2016. More on Maria Garrido... 

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