The rise of Hack Schools

Saturday, November 1st 2014, 2:42 pm

The future for people who work in Software Development seems rosy. The United State Department of Labor, as mentioned in its Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012), projects a year on year growth of 22% for software development related jobs. This is much higher than the 11% average for all other occupations. There is a clear demand for people knowledgeable in Software Development and great opportunities for the ones that chose to follow that career path.

The giants of the IT industry: Google, Microsoft and others, being the main employers of Software Development professionals, go so far as to claim that the demand for these professionals has now outstripped their supply. A white paper sponsored by Microsoft, for example, argues that in Cloud Computing alone there will be a need for 2.7 million cloud related software experts in the following years (Anderson & Gatz, 2012). The subtext to these companies' claims is that American universities are not able to produce Software Development professionals fast enough.

Students attending a Hack Reactor Lecture
A picture Students attending a Hack Reactor Lecture

Retrieved Oct 24, 2014 from: http://www.hackreactor.com/program/

There is a growing group of people that argue that going to a university is not necessary to produce Software Development professionals. Instead they have created what are known as "Hack Schools", in essence Software Development boot camps. Hack Reactor, one example of a Hack School, offers a 12 week program that will teach you how to "think like a software engineer", no previous programming experience required (2014). By the time a person completes this program, Hack Reactor expects to have taught them all they need to know to build production-grade web applications. Hack Reactor essentially offers a 12 week fast track that teaches all the skils that are needed to become a Software Development professional.

The question of what skills are really needed for a person to be a Software Development professional has been in the minds of researchers for a long time. Lee and Han, in "Analysis of Skills Requirement for Entry-Level Programmer/Analysts in Fortune 500 Corporations" sought to answer that question through empirical research. Lee and Han found that targeted programming experience seems to be the most important factor for entry-level Software Development professionals, followed by general knowledge of software development (2008). Their findings seem to echo the principle behind Hack Schools: short, targeted education on practical programming is all that is needed.

Frequency of a skill being mentioned in an job requirement
A table of requirements for software development professionals

Journal of Information Systems Education, p.21 by Lee & Han 2008.

Interestingly enough, the research also showed that so-called soft skills: general knowledge of business, interpersonal skills, general problems solving and organizational skills, are just as important to employers as programming skills. These soft skills are usually addressed by a four-year program in a university. The short duration of the programs in Hack Reactor might have more difficulty fulfilling that need. Is that definitive proof that Hack Schools are not really what the industry needs?

The field of Software Development is incredibly large. Software affects most aspects of our modern lives, from entertainment, to safety, to health. The expertise needed to create software in each of these categories varies, with each category having different reliability, speed and correctness requirements. It should follow that the knowledge and skill necessary to write software in each of these categories should also vary.

The rise of Hack Schools is a reflection of the variation in requirements for Software Development. I believe that as Software Development matures, Software Development education will diversify. Different education paths will be needed for different kinds of Software Development. There will be a place for Hacker School's graduates, and another one for PhDs. The future for Software Development seems to be rosy indeed.


References:

  1. Anderson, C., & Gantz, F. (2012). Climate Change: Cloud's Impact on IT Organizations and Staffing. Retrieved from: http://news.microsoft.com/download/presskits/learning/docs/IDC.pdf
  2. Lee, C. K., & Han, H. (2008). Analysis of skills requirement for entry-level programmer/analysts in Fortune 500 corporations. Journal of Information Systems Education, 19(1), 17.
  3. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Librarians. Occupational outlook handbook, 2014-15. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm
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