Coding bootcamps: diversifying California’s tech workforce

Hack Reactor Student & Mission Bit Alumni Abel Regalado — Resident of East Oakland

The Need for Increasing Access: Coding bootcamps provide training that is currently in demand and will be for the foreseeable future. There will be an unmet demand for over 1.4 million software engineering jobs that are being created in the next four years, according to one source. Kerr, Dara, Silicon Valley Investors offer $10M to boost diversity in tech, CNET, March 1, 2017. In the Bay Area in 2013–14, the Information and Communication Technologies sector constituted nearly 12% of the region’s workforce, a larger percentage than any other sector. Regional Economic Analysis Profile — San Francisco Bay Area Economic Market, Employment Development Department, State of California, February 2015. In June 2017, there were 40,000 tech job postings for the San Francisco Bay Area. Swartz, Jon, Where the tech jobs are: Seattle, S.F., D.C., August 7, 2017. One study showed that the most in-demand position at tech companies is a software engineer.

Low-income students, particularly students of color and girls, have historically had limited access to computer science (CS) training. Until recently, there have been few efforts to recruit these students for CS courses or to otherwise reach out to them to spark their interest in CS. There are few people of color and women in CS; these groups have few role models or potential mentors who understand their challenges. This is a problem because “providing access to CS is a critical step for ensuring that our nation remains competitive in the global economy…” In 2015, “there were over 600,000 tech jobs open across the U.S, and by 2018, 51% of all STEM jobs are projected to be in CS-related fields….Ensuring a sufficient supply of workers with the appropriate skills and credentials and addressing the lack of diversity among high tech workers have become central public policy concerns.” (“Fact Sheet: President Obama Announces Computer Science For All Initiative,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 1.30.16.)(Emphasis added.)

Coding bootcamps provide intensive full-time training in high-demand coding languages, over a period of months. Many offer career coaching and industry connections to support their graduates’ job search. Depending on the market, graduates can earn six-figure salaries in their first position following bootcamp. For low-income individuals, this can represent a significant boost to their and their families’ economic wellbeing, security and quality of life.

Low-income applicants, however, often face a significant financial barrier to enrolling in coding bootcamps. Tuition ranges from $11,000 to $20,000 and the time demand can make it nearly impossible to hold a job while enrolled. Unless a bootcamp is affiliated with a college or university, federal financial aid isn’t available. Though students could ostensibly pursue other sources for loans, it’s likely they would then shoulder the burden of paying off that debt for years to come. Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category — behind only mortgage debt — and higher than both credit cards and auto loans. Friedman, Zack, Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2018: A $1.5 Trillion Crisis, Forbes, June 13, 2018. The average student in the Class of 2016 had $37,172 in student loan debt. Id. Borrowers in the Gen X age group (39–53 yrs. old) had the highest average outstanding student loan debt in 2017, with almost $40,000 in student loans. Millennials (24–38 yrs. old) have nearly $34,000 in student loan debt. Irby, Latoya, Breakdown of Student Loan Debt in the U.S., the balance, August 1, 2018.

Without a substantial financial investment, the tech sector will remain overwhelmingly homogenous, and thus not representative, especially in California, of the diverse customers they want to reach. The sector will also continue its struggle to find qualified applicants, while the state will continue grapple with growing income inequality, especially in tech-dominant regions of the state, including the Bay Area.

How California Can Support Workforce Diversity: California has a long history of supporting education serving as a fast-track to careers. From the Regional Occupational Centers and Programs in the 1960s to the Strong Workforce program created in FY 2016–17 to expand “the availability of high-quality, industry-valued career technical education and workforce development courses, programs, pathways credentials, certificates, and degrees.” The Evolution of Career Technical Education in California, Edsource Brief, June 2005; Ortiz, Edward, Implications of California’s 2018–19 Budget for Career and Technical Education, Social Policy Research Associates, June 29, 2018. As well, the Cal Grants program provides postsecondary education financial support for low-income students.

Many coding bootcamps offer financial aid in the form of a limited number of scholarships, funding by the private sector. The need, however, far outpaces the availability of this form of support, which many scholarships providing only partial tuition coverage.

California has the opportunity to fill the need for diversifying the computer science workforce in the state by allocating funds to cover the cost of coding bootcamp for promising underrepresented students. As these students graduate and enter the tech workforce earning high salaries, they will garner a more secure financial future for themselves and their families. The state will realize a return on its investment in the form of a stronger economy, higher tax revenue, and reduced demand for income supports.