Why tech students might choose ‘boot camp’ over academia

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Photo: studentsImagine going to college with a money-back guarantee that you’ll get a job when you graduate. Plus, you can take classes right outside the offices of your potential employers.

That’s the deal at a boot camp called gSchool, a six-month immersion course run by Galvanize, an incubator for startups with campuses in Denver, Boulder and San Francisco. The organization recently received $18 million in venture capital funds to expand its educational programming.

Just like the workaday world, classes run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and the curriculum is light on lectures and heavy on group assignments. Throughout the day, teachers introduce software problems and then students team up to solve them. There are no grades or class rankings.

“It’s more like the real world," says 30-year-old student Graham McBain. "When you’re at a job, if you don’t do something they don’t go, 'Sorry, you got a "B," but come back tomorrow.' You just get fired.”

When Graham McBain decided to switch careers, he didn’t even consider going back to college for a computer science degree.

“If I can get into a job and get learning now and in six months then why do it in four years?" says McBain.

Mcbain says a boot camp made sense for where he was in his life. He’s recently married, and he just bought a house. Plus, like many millennials, he’s already tried several careers. When he finishes gSchool, he hopes to land a job with one of the more than 100 digital startup companies at Galvanize.

Chris Onan, a co-founder of Galvanize, says one of the reasons that students choose gSchool is because they'll have the opportunity to network with big names.

“I had someone say, 'I want to meet Luke Beatty.' Because Luke built Associated Content here in Denver, sold it to Yahoo for a hundred million dollars and he's just like a really great mentor, entrepreneur and investor," says McBain. "I go, 'Well, it's funny that you asked that because Luke is sitting over there. Do you want me to walk you over there and introduce you?'"

Onan says graduates of gSchool are filling a need gap for companies who can't find talented workers.

“Tech talent, you cannot find," says Onan. He points out that there are more than 80,000 software development job postings on the job search engine Dice.com today.

The demand for developers is likely to stay in high demand. The Labor Department projects more than a 20 percent job growth in coming years, and the average salary for developers is more than $90,000 a year.

Experts say boot camps -- like gSchool -- are increasing.

David Burstein, a consultant who has written extensively about alternative education models says they’re popping up all over the country because there's a disconnect between what the knowledge universities are imparting and the expertise employers demand. But, Burstein doesn’t expect boot camps to replace academia, rather he predicts that more and more universities will partner with places like Galvanize to bridge the skills gap.