The Somerville office where John Schnelle just started his new job selling 3-D printers has everything you’d expect for a start-up: a ping-pong table, climbing wall, and beer on tap. Schnelle isn't here for the perks, though; he's here for something he says was missing in his former career as a music teacher — potential.
“In six months, I’m going to be in a different role and in a different role (in another six months), which is very different from being a teacher at the end of the corridor where I’m going to be Mr. Schnelle the music teacher in 2017 and 2018 and 2019 and 2020 and going forward," Schnelle said.
Schnelle made the switch from teaching to tech quickly. Instead of investing the time and money it would take to earn another degree, he enrolled in boot camp. For-profit tech boot camps are cropping up across the country, especially in cities like Boston, where the tech industry is booming. Schnelle paid just under $10,000 for a two-month program at the Startup Institute.
“You have to crunch a lot of stuff into a short amount of time,” explained Rich DiTieri, CEO of the Startup Institute. “So, to get a lot out of a two-month program — it is intense, it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.”
DiTieri runs the Startup Institute from a shared office space in a downtown Boston high-rise. The classroom offers dramatic views of the city, but students focus on either a lecture, their laptops or each other. Boot camp is about building a network and connections. Local companies help develop the curriculum and even provide instructors, for everything from web design, to digital marketing, to coding, to sales.
You have to crunch a lot of stuff into a short amount of time. So, to get a lot out of a two-month program — it is intense, it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.
The average age for students is 30 years old. Most have a college degree, but it’s not required. DiTieri says tech is creating an economy where tangible skills are more important than traditional credentials.
“We talk a lot about meritocracy in tech," said DiTieri. “Like if you can show you can do the work, a lot of time you can get the job.”
At Massachusetts High Technology Council, Chris Anderson says boot camp training can get people in the door, but he says the programs are not for everyone. He says the most successful students are also college grads.
“Ninety-eight percent of postings for software coders still require a four-year degree,” said Anderson. “I think that becomes a little more flexible in a tight labor market like this, but that’s where boot camp can augment somebody who has requisite math skills, critical thinking skills, or what we call career skills.”
Ninety-eight percent of postings for software coders still require a four-year degree. I think that becomes a little more flexible in a tight labor market like this, but that’s where boot camp can augment somebody who has requisite math skills, critical thinking skills or what we call career skills.
John Schnelle, the former music teacher, says tech boot camp gave him something traditional schools never did. “I didn’t know how to brand myself, that was a big part of it, too. Identifying what are the skills that I’m going to need for this world that I know nothing about,” he said.
He gravitated to sales during boot camp because it seemed doable. What seemed less realistic was getting enough training to become competitive in a more technical area, like coding.
“In an eight-week intensive program, if I’m going to be learning all these coding skills, there are people around the world who have been coding for five, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years,” said Schnelle. “What am I going to have on those people?”
I didn’t know how to brand myself, that was a big part of it, too. Identifying what are the skills that I’m going to need for this world that I know nothing about.
Rich Ditieri from the Startup Institute says a boot camp can’t provide the same kind of training as, for instance, a four-year degree in computer science. But he says it can open doors in tech.
“If your outcome goal is to get into a career that you’re excited about, if it's grow a network and a have a launching point, it works," said DiTieri.
Startup Institute claims most workers have a job six months after graduation, but Chris Anderson of the Massachusetts High Tech Council says the real measure of boot camps will take time, to see if grads stay on the job and advance. He says it’s an outcome local companies want as much as boot camp students.