Announcements, NewsBy Tribeca Venture Partners
Darrell Silver is a unlikely critic of coding bootcamps, the 9- to 12-week intensive courses in computer science and programming skills. “Bootcamps as an entity aren’t working,” he tells EdSurge.
His stance isn’t uncommon. In 2017, two of the earliest and most established coding bootcamps, Dev Bootcamp and The Iron Yard, shut down, leaving advocates of the model with questions and critics with fuel for their case.
What makes Silver’s position particularly ironic, however, is that he actually runs a coding bootcamp, Thinkful, which today announced it has raised $9.6 million in Series A funding from Owl Ventures and Tribeca Venture Partners. To date, the New York-based company has raised nearly $16 million.
To be sure, Silver’s critique of the bootcamp industry centers around the fact that other providers have tried to expand brick-and-mortar locations to provide in-person training. That’s a model that he thinks has has dragged some bootcamps down financially, and limits their student base to wealthy coastal elites. It’s why he and co-founder Daniel Friedman took a different route when starting their company in 2012: making Thinkful coding courses completely online.
While coding bootcamps have been hailed by some champions as a way to train adults for careers in tech—in particular those for whom a four-year bachelor’s degree is out of reach—their tuition can be prohibitively expensive. Bootcamps often cost more than $10,000 for a three-month course, not to mention living expenses and loss of income due to taking time off to complete a bootcamp.
Silver’s theory about why some bootcamps shut down last year has to do with those barriers. “It seems like there should be a lot of students, but when you quit your job and take on $40,000 worth of debt, your [market is limited to] people who can afford to do that,” he says.
And, he adds, those who can pay for bootcamp programs gravitate towards large cities. “You can serve a number of wealthy students in New York and San Francisco, but you can’t do that at scale or to the degree that everyone was hoping for.”
After four years of offering coding courses online, however, the company decided to try bringing some students and alumni in Atlanta together in-person for a networking and mentorship event in October 2016. According to Silver, the meetup was a hit. So they tried it another time, and again, students showed up.
After hearing repeated positive responses of the optional in-person component, Thinkful has since expanded to offer similar meetups in five other cities: Washington D.C., Portland, Phoenix, San Diego and Los Angeles. The events range from a lunchtime meeting on web developmentto info sessions on how to become a data scientist.
“The core idea is you can deliver a great experience for a student and employer when some parts are online and some parts are in person,” says Silver. The idea is also to meet new customers: “These attract existing students and prospective students.”
Thinkful has no plans to bring its courses offline. But the company hopes to find a sweet spot that will satisfy students desire to meet with alumni and potential employers in-person, while keeping the flexibility of taking courses online. With its latest fundraise, Thinkful plans to increase its in-person gatherings to become a cornerstone of the learning experience, and foster the company’s new local hubs.
Avoiding costs for real estate is still a priority, though, so Thinkful partners with local organizations or venues, such as co-working spaces, to host the events.
The company currently has 53 employees, with 22 working from its headquarters in New York and the remaining work remotely in Thinkful’s six regional bases.
The cost-saving, classroom-less model may be ridiculed by those who believe that learning requires in-person human interaction (and not just networking or volunteer workshops). But, financially speaking, the plan has so far worked for the company, which claims it was profitable until early 2017, before hiring for its physical expansion and recent acquisition of the online Viking Code School.
While geography may not be the same kind of barrier as it for brick-and-mortar bootcamps, Thinkful’s tuition prices still aren’t far from industry competitors. For students who can’t afford to pay $8,000 or $14,000 upfront, Thinkful—along with a handful of other bootcamps—offers a financing option known as income share agreements, where students pay back a portion of their salary after graduating and landing a job. The company claims 92 percent of its graduates land jobs in product or programming largely within 6 months of completing the course.
And to help students get that job, the curriculum incorporates 1:1 advising with career counselors and industry experts—and offers a full refund for those who complete the program and don’t get hired.
Along with the recent fundraise, Thinkful also announced the addition of two new board members: Amit Patel of Owl Ventures, and Brian Hirsch of Tribeca Venture Partners.