Junior tech workers can’t find jobs. Here’s why one coding boot camp hit the brakes

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Back in 2012, “learn to code” was an optimistic mantra. Born from a viral marketing campaign for one of the earliest coding boot camps, it promised recession-burned career-changers a future-proof option. But that was when the future looked somewhat different.

Recent cohorts of aspiring software developers are now looking for jobs in a post-pandemic tech sector riven by rampant layoffs. The Coding Bootcamp subreddit, a community with 48,000-plus members, is teeming with recent posts from graduates who are struggling to find work. Prospects have gotten so dire that one of the leading boot camps, Launch Academy, recently paused enrollment, citing a lack of “concrete job opportunities.” The move wasn’t meant to send doomsday signals about the future of tech workers altogether, however, but merely to acknowledge the reality of the moment.

“We saw placement numbers and enrollment numbers as a leading indicator of what’s happening more broadly in the market right now,” Launch Academy cofounder and CEO Dan Pickett tells Fast Company.

What’s happening, in short, is that the supply for able coders has, for the first time, dramatically outpaced demand. So far, nearly 84,600 tech workers have lost their jobs in 2024—after nearly 263,000 tech workers lost theirs last year. Postings for software-development roles on the jobs site Indeed have dropped 30% from pre-pandemic levels, according to The Wall Street Journal. The arrival of ongoing layoffs collided with a surplus of fresh tech-world job seekers, and now boot camp and university graduates are competing with experienced engineers for entry-level jobs.

The pause at Launch Academy follows a similar move in the adjacent entertainment industry earlier this month, when the Art Directors Guild suspended its training program, citing heavy unemployment rates among members. Although both industries are in similar states of upheaval, occasionally interlinked, the tech sector downturn has its own set of circumstances.

An early-pandemic hiring blitz—with Microsoft and Google bringing on thousands of new workers, and Meta nearly doubling its headcount—happened just before inflation set in, costs rose, and the market cooled. Persistently high interest rates have also made it more difficult for many tech companies to get funding. Plus, there’s the feverish expansion into artificial intelligence, which can involve commensurate budget-shrinking in other departments. Mark Zuckerberg outright admitted as much, telling The New York Times in February that Meta’s recent layoffs were part of a cost-cutting initiative, “so we can invest in these long-term, ambitious visions around AI.” There may even be a bit of a herding effect driving layoffs.

When coding boot camps first emerged amid fallout from the 2008 financial crash, they presented the tech world as a welcoming sanctuary of gainful employment and upward mobility—and themselves as its passport. Anyone willing to do the work, and able to afford the typically $15,000 to $20, 000 tuition, could technically become hire-ready in 18 weeks. While it’s a pretty hefty price tag, and some boot camps have been accused of being scams, the more reputable options with high-placement rates and career service resources offer a cheaper and faster alternative to a four-year computer science degree.

According to Pickett, the model worked as advertised for nearly an entire decade after Launch Academy opened its doors in 2013, with placement rates routinely topping 80% and 90%. (Sometimes even reaching 100%, Pickett claims, depending on the cohort.)  

Even in the early phase of the pandemic, Launch Academy still saw placement rates in line with the increase in speculative hiring at the time. Only recently did the tide begin to turn.

“We really started noticing increasing friction in fall of 2022,” Pickett says. “And then fall of 2023 is when we really started to recognize: There’s a shift here in the market that we need to pay attention to.”

At that point, the career services team began ramping up its placement efforts. They overhauled Launch Academy’s postgraduate curriculum, intensified the interview prep program, and essentially pulled every lever available to maximize the students’ chances of success. Direct partnerships with companies like National Grid helped some graduates transition from training into full-time roles, but not enough to offset the low placement rates.

Earlier in 2023, the metric-driven organization had set placement goals at 75%, a fair dip from previous standards. By December, rates for some recent graduating cohorts were hovering below 60%, suggesting more than just a market correction. With open notices for software engineering positions seeing upward of 70 to 120 applications per post, according to Pickett, the team at Launch Academy realized it would likely remain difficult for graduates to secure employment until the market absorbed the recent influx of experienced developers.

In January, Launch Academy internally started making plans to pause enrollment for the coding boot camp.

“It fundamentally comes down to a value proposition,” Pickett says. “We promise students that if they come to us and study hard the odds are in their favor to secure employment. Those odds have to be better than a coin flip. We can’t continue to sell something that doesn’t deliver the outcome that the student is paying us for.”

Reactions to Launch Academy’s decision, on Reddit and LinkedIn, have mainly applauded the company for putting ethics over profit, with some even questioning whether any universities will follow suit and cap their enrollment. So far, Launch Academy has been the only major coding boot camp to address the reality of the moment with a pause in enrollment. (San Antonio-based Codeup abruptly shut down for good last winter.) During the pause, the company will continue on as a consultancy, offering professional services and private training for already-employed developers looking for a leg up.

As for when Launch Academy will resume classes with a new cohort, that depends on a number of factors. The candidate pool will have to shrink significantly, with a lower number of applicants per open position. Geographically, more software jobs will have to open in tech hubs like New York and San Francisco, rather than the middle states, which currently have more openings. Generally, the team will be waiting to see companies begin struggling, once again, to find engineering talent.

As bleak as the job market may appear, though, Pickett is still optimistic about the future of the industry, urging struggling tech workers not to get despondent.

“We see these ebbs and flows in the market all the time, and once interest rates improve, we’ll be back on the ride up rather than the ride down,” he says. “With hard work and intention, there’s still opportunity out there, and if you apply yourself, you can still get the outcome you want. It’s just more of an uphill battle than it once was.”



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