Dev Bootcamp demise ‘not the canary’ for Aussie coding course providers

US pioneer of intensive coding courses bids farewell, but local industry resolute

As recently as last month, Dev Bootcamp was posting virtual tour videos of its trendy San Francisco facility, featuring interviews with students on its $16,000, 18-week intensive coding course.

Then last week came the shock announcement that Dev’s latest cohort of wannabe developers – who started on Monday – would be its last. The reason: “Ultimately, we have been unable to find a sustainable model,” the company said.

Dev was a pioneer of the immersive coding and skills programs when it was founded in 2012. While coding bootcamps have not been established for as long in Australia, they are hugely popular with individuals seeking a career change and employers wanting to reskill their staff.

Despite Dev’s swift demise, the local bootcamp industry is confident their place in Australia is not at risk.

“It is not a canary in the coal mine,” said Ryan Meyer from global course provider General Assembly. “It’s absolutely not that.”

Short course, long struggle

From company statements made since Dev’s announcement, it appears the academy had been struggling from some time.

That sustainable model had been sought “since the very beginning”, a spokesperson said.

In 2014, the program provider (which admitted to being unprofitable at the time) was acquired for an undisclosed sum by Kaplan, a global private education company with a significant presence in Australia.

Read more: Australian startup snapshot: WeTeachMe

The acquisition “offered us the financial support” to serve students “for as long as we did”, a spokesperson added.

“In the end, Dev Bootcamp needed to balance quality, access, and financial viability. We weren't going to compromise on the first two,” they said.

The bootcamp market in the US has changed significantly since Dev was founded. Despite booming demand – the industry has grown from around 2,000 bootcamp graduates in 2013 to almost 18,000 graduates in 2016, according to data from Course Report – Dev faced competition from more than 90 available bootcamps and universities which are increasingly making coding part of their curriculums.

In Australia there are only a handful of providers, chiefly General Assembly (GA), Coder Academy (previously Coder Factory Academy), and Academy Xi. Speaking in April, Raman Nambiar, managing director of Coder Academy said that he was aware of a number of US providers that were eyeing expansion into Australia.

Meyer, senior regional director for General Assembly in APAC, said he expected a number of US providers to “go the same way” as Dev in the next few years. He expects course providers will continue to consolidate, the survivors growing larger in size and fewer in number.

“I think it points to the problem of scale and diversification that plague many bootcamps in the market,” Meyer said. “While there are low barriers to entry in this industry, generating consistent student outcomes while maintaining sterling instructional quality is quite complex, especially when the only path to success is to achieve a certain scale.”

However, the Australian situation was different he added. The skills gap is more apparent, companies are more inclined to up-skill staff and there were fewer providers.

“It’s always sad when you see a well-meaning start-up has to shutter,” Meyer said. “But it doesn’t have a meaningful effect on courses in Australia. I think this is more to do with a bad business decision."

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