CodeBoxx, a coding bootcamp with a presence in Canada and Florida’s Tampa Bay area, has plans to expand into Philadelphia later this year. It’s the most recent of several tech skills training orgs to announce plans to open a local outpost in the past few months.
A native of Quebec, CodeBoxx CEO Nicolas Genest has spent his entire life in tech after his godfather gave him his first computer in 1985. Over a decorated career during which he’s worked at companies like Microsoft and Pfizer, he learned that people are the biggest asset in determining professional success.
“You only succeed with high-performing, culture-driven teams in tech,” he told Technical.ly. “It doesn’t matter what stack you picked or the cloud you’re hosted in. What matters is if the people operating those stacks are dedicated to the business.”
As he navigated Silicon Valley, Genest was turned off by the elitism of its tech culture, which led him to create CodeBoxx. He believes that greater things are achievable with Uber drivers, baristas and other professionals with great work ethics seeking new skills than the Ivy League graduates he frequently ran into in Silicon Valley.
CodeBoxx is expanding to Philadelphia, Genest said, because he believes its tech market is about to experience a boom — what he calls its “Pittsburgh moment” (though, it should be noted, that Western Pennsylvania city’s recent tech prowess has been earned over decades, and the Greater Philly region has a slightly higher share of employment in the computer and information systems industry than Pittsburgh). He has monitored the steady exodus of tech professionals out of Silicon Valley and sees Philadelphia as becoming one of tech’s next big hotspots.
“I want to turn them into coders,” he said. “It’s about people being left behind. We believe a career in tech should be based on potential and never privilege.”
CodeBoxx will ask for a $2,000 security deposit from participants, and they will be considered graduates only if they are able to land a job after the bootcamp. Only after participants land their first jobs will they be expected to pay back 20% of their first year’s salary in what Genest called deferred tuition. Participants without computers to conduct their training can borrow them from the bootcamp.
CodeBoxx is supported by the OneTen Coalition, a group of CEOs aiming to create a million careers over 10 years for Black Americans. With its help, Genest is aiming to launch CodeBoxx by the end of 2021 with a cohort of 35 to 40 participants. Genest’s current plan is to guide three cohorts a year, creating 100 bootcamp graduates in the Philadelphia region. And there will be a “hyperlocal” focus on connecting grad to Philly tech-enabled businesses as opposed to Big Tech companies based elsewhere, he said.
CodeBoxx will also bring its CodeBoxx Ventures program, which will connect startups with tech professionals who can help execute their business plans.
As of earlier this month, the org was looking for a physical space in the Navy Yard.
In less than two years, Philadelphia’s steadily growing tech community has seen the entrance of five bootcamps: General Assembly, LaunchCode, Resilient Coders, Tech Elevator and now CodeBoxx. That’s in addition to a few already active here. It begs the question: What makes for a successful bootcamp?
All tech training programs are not created equal, and it can be hard to tell which are doing good work. There’s the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting that publishes data on grads’ employment outcomes and review-based sites like Course Report that allow prospective students to read direct feedback to judge a school’s quality. But they don’t tell the full story of each participant’s experience, or later success.
Software engineer, tech meetup organizer and bootcamp grad Domitrius Clark believes that bootcamps need to have adequate support for their graduates and a cogent understanding of the tech job market. When he was in a bootcamp in 2016, he remembers there being a handful of bootcamps on the local scene, including Launch Academy and New York Code + Design Academy (NYCDA), which he attended.
“My bootcamp taught me Ruby on Rails,” said the outspoken 2019 RealLIST Engineers honoree and current developer experience engineer at Cloudinary. “That was and is a stale job market that just doesn’t exist [here]. That works usually for senior developers and you aren’t really looking to hire on new engineers with expertise in it.”
I remember how much my bootcamp bullshit me along the way. Getting advice about how to find a job from someone who never had to go through a grueling tech interview.
I shut my ears to all of it and worked on the one thing I could control. My network.
— Domitrius (@domitriusclark) February 11, 2021
Without regulations or better practices, bootcamps often became opportunities for companies to see how much money they could drain from their participants, Clark said. The metrics of bootcamp success can be a bit dubious. When considering programs that have shut down, he found that many reported successful employment of their graduates, but with a caveat: Those numbers sometimes included self-employment, or TAs hired for their own courses.
“There’s still merit in hiring teaching assistants, but at the same time, that’s not giving them the true job marketing credibility you need,” Clark said. “Philly is still on the edge of trusting bootcamps because they haven’t [historically] done well.”
Clark considers Zip Code Wilmington, which builds its curriculum to reflect the needs of employers, and Resilient Coders, which provides free tuition and living stipends for its participants, as examples of good bootcamps. Lately, he is also more optimistic about the promises bootcamps make to their participants in Philadelphia, and says the city is now more accepting of bootcamp graduates in the five years since he was in a training program himself. But he still believes an intentional effort to create diversity and inclusion is still missing from many bootcamps and companies overall.
“A bootcamp that speaks to me is one that works in the community,” he said. “Tech Philly loves to be the white knight and have a bunch of white people on their team spouting diversity. But it just doesn’t exist.”
Have you attended or worked for a coding bootcamp in Philadelphia? Have thoughts on what makes a successful program? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-