Exploring the Labor Market Value of Coding Bootcamps

Data are from the 2016 Stack Overflow Developer Survey.  Students, retirees, people with missing data, and those who don’t fit into one of these 11 education groups were dropped from the data set. The light blue represents only the developers located in the United States, while the dark blue represents all developers outside of the United States.The tuition for a four-year college degree has been steadily rising and student loan debt has been dutifully rising with it. But as the price of traditional education has grown, a number of cheaper alternatives have become increasingly popular. I’ve been particularly interested in the rise of coding bootcamps. These are intensive and full-time programs meant to prepare students for entry-level software developer roles. Some coding bootcamp providers promise extraordinary results, like App Academy, which claims a placement rate of 98% and an average salary of $105,00 for alumni in San Francisco. At the same time, some are dubious that these claims represent the actual labor market value of coding bootcamps.

So I wanted to find out how much attending a coding camp actually affects a software developer’s salary and likelihood of being employed (if at all). I used data from the 2016 Stack Overflow Developer Survey. The raw data for the 2016 survey and previous Stack Overflow surveys are available here. The survey asked respondents for any programming-related education they have received. The choices ranged from traditional, like a masters degree in computer science, to non-traditional options like an online course (Coursera) or full-time intensive program (coding bootamp). All of the data cleaning and analysis was done in R.

count_dev_2
Data are from the 2016 Stack Overflow Developer Survey.  Students, retirees, people with missing data, and those who don’t fit into one of these 11 education groups were dropped from the data set. The light blue represents only the developers located in the United States, while the dark blue represents all developers outside of the United States.

This graph shows that in both the United States and the world as a whole, a B.S. in computer science is the most popular education choice. At least to me, a B.A. in computer science is a surprisingly unpopular option, with there being considerably more developers that are completely self-taught. So far, bootcamps seem to be functioning as a supplement to, rather than as a substitute for college, as most of the developers who have attended a bootcamp also have some other kind of programming-related education.

salary_dev

 

Unsurprisingly, developers with a PhD have the highest average salary. Furthermore, at least in the United States, PhD holders get a nice salary bump after attending a bootcamp. But for every other education level, there is virtually no difference in salary between developers who have and who haven’t attended a bootcamp.  Even worse for bootcamps, developers who have only attended a bootcamp make less on average than developers who are completely self-taught. Taking all of this into account, coding bootcamps seem to have a negligible effect on salary.

So what about employment?

employed_dev

 

Overall, unemployment among developers in this data set is only 1.26%, and the graph shows that it doesn’t seem to vary much by education level. The main takeaway seems to be that it’s actually difficult for a developer to not be employed (or that employed developers were more likely to take the survey). Regardless, the results for employment are much the same as those for salary. Attending a coding bootcamp has no appreciable effect.

Caveats!

There are a few. First, these graphs only show comparisons of averages, which don’t control for important variables like age, gender, and experience. Also, even though Stack Overflow is the most popular online community of software developers, the respondents to the survey are not representative of all developers. For example, a 2016 survey of coding bootcamp alumni conducted by Course Report found that 12% had professional programming experience before the bootcamp. However, the 2017 Stack Overflow Devloper Survey found that 46% of alumni were already employed as developers before the program. So Stack Overflow seems to have an overrepresentation of career software developers, while coding bootcamp alumni as a whole tend to be career changers.

Consequently, these results suggest that for developers who are looking for a salary or employability bump, attending a coding bootcamp may not be the best option. At the same time, bootcamps may still be worthwhile for people who are making a significant career change by entering the software industry.

 

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