How one bootcamp unbundled to empower the south—and beyond—with coding skills

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Nov 5, 2019

Bootcamps focused on coding and computer science have emerged as an important pipeline for tech talent. We conducted in-depth interviews with seven leading bootcamps to better understand their outcomes-focused business models. We are now sharing their stories, this being the sixth bootcamp profile. For more on these models’ disruptive potential, read our recent paper, Betting on Bootcamps.

Betsy Hauser had a steady career running a product development team in Charlotte, NC, that created physical prototypes for small businesses, an expensive, time- and resource-intensive process. When some entrepreneurs started coming in with ideas for digital products, a lightbulb went off for Hauser. In a coding environment, she realized, you can test as you go. “This made me want to empower people with coding skills, so they could tinker and iterate on their ideas.”

When her company merged with a competitor, she took the opportunity to sign up for a coding bootcamp in Chicago. While there, Hauser met Richard Simms, a fellow southerner. They recognized that the south could be fertile ground for the bootcamp model—there were only three bootcamps in the south at the time. With that in mind, Hauser and Simms decided to launch Tech Talent South (TTS) to empower the entire region with coding skills.

The unbundled bootcamp

Hauser describes TTS students, who typically come in with bachelor’s degrees, often in the liberal arts, as falling into three main buckets: those using TTS as a way into the development industry, those looking to upskill or reskill in their current employment context, and entrepreneurial types looking to build out their ideas. 

TTS structured its course offerings accordingly. Unlike the vast majority of bootcamps, where learners choose a single, bundled course that takes at least three months, TTS provides learners with unbundled offerings. The starting point for many students is an eight-week “Code Immersion” course that only covers the fundamentals of web development. “Many folks don’t really know where they want to land. We believe you need to learn the foundations and then pick your path after,” said Hauser. “Rather than a 20-week course to become an Android developer that you don’t know you like, you can start with the foundational course.”

The foundational course is enough for some graduates to leverage into an entry-level job. However, many graduates proceed to choose from a series of shorter, unbundled courses in more specific domains that they can tack onto the foundational course as they chart their desired professional path. TTS prices these additional specialization courses separately, so that students with prior coding skills can skip the foundational course and beef up their skills in a targeted fashion. For students that know beforehand that they will be taking the Code Immersion course and additional courses, TTS offers discounted course bundles. Roughly 40% of TTS students either bundle at initial registration or add courses after finishing their first one.

The additional courses vary considerably in duration, price, and subject matter. Some are four-to-eight week deeper dives into languages that arose in the foundational course (JavaScript 101, Next Level Rails), whereas others are more like entrepreneurial workshops that last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (Grow Your Brand, Startup Primer). TTS started adding these courses in late 2015, and has continued expanding its portfolio to over 20 offerings today, including free programs to help children and young adults develop coding skills. 

Learning by locale

Before launching a course, TTS sees what job openings exist in cities where it has a presence. The bootcamp then runs workshops and meetups for prospective students focused on the potential new topic, gauging interest and refining the curriculum. This results in TTS offering different courses to different markets, based on local needs. Employers help TTS identify roles that are in high demand for direct-to-consumer (D2C) programs, and play a more direct role in guiding the curriculum for corporate training courses.

True to her original intent, Hauser has led TTS through a rapid, light-footprint geographical expansion in the south. “We never wanted to make a real estate play. We wanted to move quickly,” said Hauser. Thus TTS partnered with coworking spaces, opening three locations throughout North Carolina within one year of launching their first cohort in Atlanta. By July of 2015, TTS had seven campuses, and they have since grown to 12, reaching beyond the south to add locations in Ohio and Arizona. TTS now reaches over 1,600 students at any given time.

Across all of its courses, TTS has chosen to stick with in-person instruction. “I’m a big believer in face-to-face,” said Hauser. “Everyone is overwhelmed in these courses, no matter their background. So there’s this amazing, vulnerable, open environment with in-person instruction.” 

Students either pay tuition upfront, with a discount, or they can spread tuition costs over multiple payments. While TTS does not work with third-party lenders and ISA providers, citing the difficulty of tracking financial data over time, the bootcamp is evaluating providing students with financing options. TTS also leverages employer sponsorships.

TTS cites a graduation rate that varies from 90% to 95% for its immersive courses. The bootcamp does not publish job placement rates, given the diversity of goals among its students and the short-form nature of many of its courses.

A corporate training future

Looking ahead, in addition to refining its labor market modeling capabilities to inform further geographic expansion, TTS is experimenting with a tutoring service and plans to grow its corporate training business, which is starting to outpace the D2C offering. The “Tech Talent Select” program taps into local talent and trains eligible learners to fill specific roles, giving corporate partners a tailored pipeline of potential employees. TTS describes continued expansion of its corporate offerings as an immediate goal that will diversify its revenue stream and create tighter integration with employers. 

Strengthening relationships with employers could also help TTS provide more robust career services to students in its direct-to-consumer courses. The bootcamp is looking for new ways to help learners network with employers. “We’re very focused on getting more folks in front of the right people early on,” explained Hauser. “We are very intentional about pushing our students into the tech ecosystem, where they can accomplish their various goals and make a meaningful difference along the way.”

Our previous bootcamp profiles:

As a research fellow on the Christensen Institute's higher education team, Richard helps investigate novel business models in postsecondary education, professional development, and lifelong learning.