Jeremy Sklarsky

The World Wide Web is My Oyster.

Buyer Beware?

Since starting Flatiron School, I’ve seen an increasing number of articles about coding schools and bootcamps. Most of the coverage is pretty positive - generally people support the idea that a) learning to code is a valuable skill and b) education should as a general rule prepare people to enter the workforce.

But one article in the Washington Post that was recently sent my way bothered me a great deal. While it talks about some of the success stories from my coding school, the author isn’t all positive.

The bigger challenge, I fear, is how well these kinds of programs will scale. Unlike most training programs, Flatiron is extraordinarily selective. Its admissions rate of 6 percent rivals Harvard’s. All admits must go through interviews with both co-founders and jump through other hoops such as coding a tic-tac-toe game (even if they have no background in programming). It’s no wonder, then, that employers return again and again to Flatiron for high-quality hires: Flatiron has not only trained these students, but has also pre-screened them to make sure it ends up offering only the most perseverant, passionate, marketable workers around.

I’m encouraged by the success stories. I really did my research to try to get into the right school and hope to have the same success. But when the authors says that Flation is successful because it is so selective and “The bigger challenge, I fear, is how well these kinds of programs will scale” - this bothers me.

Doesn’t everybody know the reason Harvard graduates are so successful is because Harvard is so selective? It’s not the education - its the pre-screened candidates getting to build a life long professional network with other pre-screened students. Why is nobody asking that question about a liberal arts college education?

It is literally insane that we not only encourage but de facto require teenagers to virtually mortgage their futures to spend four years doing something that prepares them to enter an economy that existed in 1985 but has changed drastically today.

Part of the backlash, I wonder, is an entrenched workforce - both within tech and in other industries - who might somehow feel as if coding schools are “cheating” and not playing by a set of unspoken rules: pay your dues, do your time, and only then are you allowed to get a job. We sometimes have a tendency to put down another’s route to make ourselves feel better about the fact that we took the scenic route.

So while yes - buyer beware of these coding programs and do your research as I did - but if someone wants to spend 10 or 15 thousand dollars learning to code people start to freak out, but an 18 year old can study creative writing at a small liberal arts college for 4 years of their life, spend $160,000 or be in debt for years with no immediate job prospects and no one bats an eye. Maybe policy makers do need to keep an eye on these new schools, but I wish that logic were applied to college too.

If it is incumbent on a professional school to put up high job placement numbers, why don’t we hold college to the same standard? If Flatiron and similar schools are successful I don’t think the end result will necessarily be that everyone will skip college for technical training - my hope is that their success will force colleges to take a look what they are doing to prepare students to enter the world.