Spate Of Dev School Closures Leaves A Hole For People From Underrepresented Groups

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Two national coding schools with multiple locations announced this summer that they plan to close their doors, and that means fewer diversity initiatives and fewer job placement options for minorities.

Founded in 2013 by CEO Peter Barth, the Iron Yard was the second major bootcamp shutdown announced in July. Dev Bootcamp, a Kaplan-owned coding bootcamp pioneer, said it will close in December.

The Iron Yard started as an accelerator program that invested in startups and evolved into a for-profit coding school owned by Apollo Education Group, which also owns the University of Phoenix and other institutions, according to the Upstate Business Journal.

Social media users and bloggers identified the closures as part of a trend, Edsurge reported:

“The closing of the chain schools shows that a national, cookie-cutter learner experience doesn’t work just yet. Software development is still predominantly a craft, as well as a skill,” wrote Steve Brownlee, an instructor at the Nashville Software School.

Adults looking to work in tech seek coding courses and camps as an avenue to help switch careers or increase their salary. Others pursue coding for a chance to launch startups. For career changers, coding camps provide quicker, more focused and affordable options than four-year colleges and universities.

The soon-to-be defunct Dev Bootcamp and the Iron Yard provided job placement options and diversity initiatives. Minorities had viable access to learn programming languages in physical training centers.

San Francisco-based Dev Bootcamp had locations in six cities for in-person training, The Iron Yard is in 15 cities, and said it will close its doors after classes end this summer. Both organizations were advocates for inclusion, and both say they helped thousands of students to advance in the tech industry. The Iron Yard had two campuses in Florida — Tampa Bay and Orlando.

In a statement on its website, The Iron Yard said that, “in considering the current environment,” it made the “difficult decision to cease operations at all campuses after teaching out remaining summer cohorts.”

There were 91 full-time coding bootcamps in the U.S. and Canada in 2016, with about 18,000 graduates, according to a Coding Boot Camp Market Sizing report by Course Report.

With more than 300 coding bootcamps worldwide, there is concern about a supply bubble in the continuing education sector, Austin Business Journal reported. A consolidation could leave students in a lurch.

Like traditional schools, The Iron Yard gave students the option to finance their education through loans and scholarships to help offset the cost of tuition. The scholarships were specifically for initiatives to increase diversity in race, gender and sexual orientation of the students enrolled along with help for military personnel to take courses.

Classes weren’t cheap, TampaBay.com reported. Students paid $13,900 for a 12-week Iron Yard course in 2016.

Jenell Pizarro is a past student of The Iron Yard’s Tampa Bay campus and a scholarship recipient now living in Orlando. She is a front-end developer and credits the organization with helping to advance her career.

“I didn’t have the most successful life as a bartender before The Iron Yard,” Pizarro said. “After The Iron Yard, I’ve been able to become financially stable, learn languages on the job site, help people learn to code, help the tech community in my area, and speak at tech conferences.”

Access to opportunities is what most minorities want in any field — an opportunity not just for education, but a place to network, grow and a find sense of community. It is this sense of community that Iron Yard created for its students and the cities they existed in — a hub for many tech groups for adults and kids.

Jonathan Hutson, another diversity scholarship recipient and full-stack developer, credits The Iron Yard Tampa Bay campus with his educational success and his sense of community in the local tech industry.

“The instructors were always very helpful even after graduating, and our campus director worked hard to help get us jobs,” he said. “What was a benefit for students at the Iron Yard is often a concern of many who attend short-term boot camps which are only offered online or not frequently.”

Pizarro and Hutson both say the location, price and length of program (12 weeks) are among the reasons they chose The Iron Yard over other programs at local colleges and universities.

The Iron Yard plans to stay open for its remaining current students. The impact of its closure will be felt in the workforce and startup community. Many companies turned to The Iron Yard for hiring qualified personnel.

Sandra Gadsden, a former student and graduate, was able to work independently as a startup providing improved services for companies using the skills she acquired through The Iron Yard’s programs.

With the closing of The Iron Yard, how does the tech community continue to foster the growth of minorities that code or launch startups?

We must, “make sure that the (coding) programs are in places and at price points that are accessible to minorities and a pathway exists for these new developers to get placed in quality jobs,” said Tara Reed, a TEDx speaker and founder of Apps Without Code.

Reed offers eight-week, self-paced online training courses for non-technical entrepreneurs who want to launch an app.

“Coding skills are incredibly valuable,” Reed said in a Moguldom interview. “But the decision to learn to code should be based on your personal goals. If you are looking to build your own app, then it may not be necessary. If you are looking to land a high-paying job at Microsoft or some other tech company, then maybe it is your path.”

Undoubtedly, The Iron Yard is not the only option for minorities, but the challenge is large for minorities to find affordable, quality programs where placement is just as important as signing up for the course or providing a sense of community.

Iron Yard had a seed-stage investing arm — Iron Yard Ventures. The firm has invested in more than 62 companies since 2012 that raised more than $100 million, according to its website. It’s not clear what will happen to the investing arm.

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About Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Ebony T. Grimsley-Vaz is an author and digital marketing and PR expert for consumer brands, retailers, causes and events. Based in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, she owns Above Promotions, a digital marketing, publicity and promotions company. She wrote the book, "Because You're Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation."

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