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With a rising demand for coding skills in the job market, technical know-how has become one of the most sought-after resume-builders. And as the story of fifth-grader Nick Wald in Wednesday’s Journal showed, those who want to learn have a variety of new options. Even Nancy Pelosi has gotten in on the act.
Coding has a particular, if unexpected, allure among young professionals with degrees in the humanities. Offering high job placement rates, short curriculums of three to six months and flexible payment, a new crop of boot camps gives these job seekers a chance to find creatively fulfilling careers.
Ian Morrison graduated with a master’s with a concentration in film history, but he still struggled to achieve his goal of working as a curator or researcher at an art museum. Instead, Morrison, 30 years old, paid the bills through a combination of odd jobs such as selling museum memberships, conducting the U.S. census and installing art work.
“It was definitely becoming a very unrealistic idea,” said Morrison of his art dreams.
Last March, he enrolled in App Academy, a 12-week web development program with locations in San Francisco and New York, and found a job coding within three weeks of interviewing. In his new position as a web application engineer at Yola, a San Francisco-based website building company, Morrison says he earns considerably more than what he had made doing administrative work.
A robust knowledge of coding isn’t a prerequisite for entry to these schools, though the instructors have engineered some methods of testing emerging skills, for example asking candidates to explicitly write the rules to tic-tac-toe. Many also require pre-work before starting the program, such as completing online tutorials or reading books about programming.
That said, it can be difficult to get in. The Flatiron School in New York accepts about 8% of applicants for its 12-week web development program, and App Academy accepts about 5% of its applicants. It is also hard to gauge the long-term prospects of this new generation of coders who face a shifting technology landscape and may eventually have to compete for top-tier jobs against computer-science experts armed with more advanced degrees.
Still, having an English degree can translate well to the coding world. Victoria Friedman, 25, found work as a lead rails developer for MyRecipes.com at Time Inc. after enrolling in the Flatiron School.
Friedman received a full scholarship through the Flatiron School, which typically charges a $12,000 fee for its web program, but reimburses its students $4,000 if they accept a position with a partner company. The full scholarship is a rarity, says Avi Flombaum, dean of the school, but the Flatiron School, as well as DevPoint Labs, an 11-week program in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas and others, offers scholarships to women, who are minorities in the computer science field. Others don’t collect tuition upfront. App Academy collects a fee of 18% of a graduate’s first year salary if he or she finds a job as a developer.
Though she unsuccessfully applied to an estimated 75 editorial positions and briefly worked at a bakery before arriving at coding, Friedman says she doesn’t regret majoring in English. She says her communication skills help her explain work to less technical colleagues.
“I’m much more equipped to explain to them in layman’s terms what’s going on in the site,” Friedman said. She recalled a recent instance in which she was called upon to explain to executives at MyRecipes.com why a seemingly simple change to the website was taking a long time to materialize.
Some employers have learned to look for this combination of talents.
Dan Melton, deputy chief technology officer at Granicus, a San Francisco-based startup that puts government data in the cloud, has hired two students with humanities backgrounds from App Academy. He said he looks for those students because they’re able to work better with other programmers and clients and understand the larger meaning of the work.
“We already have a lot of software whiz kids,” Melton said. “We like to hire people who are interested in public affairs and civic engagement.”
After Stephanie Oh, 26, graduated from Duke University in 2009 with a double major in English and theater studies and a minor in music, she landed a job as an executive assistant at an independent music publisher and talent management agency. But she said she didn’t enjoy the mundane work. With tuition aid from her parents, Ms. Oh signed up for the Flatiron School and received two job offers after graduating. She now works at Splash, a New York startup that makes event websites, as a front-end developer—and makes $20,000 more per year than at her previous job.
She’s grateful for a chance to be creative again. “This job is allowing me that creative opportunity that I didn’t find in music,” Oh said.