The lure of a month-long bootcamp to teach you the basic skills required of a high-paying job just begging to be filled is so strong that even this humanities-heavy writer considered applying not too long ago. And as I sat there reading the seemingly straight-forward requirements of said bootcamps, never once did it cross my mind that I could be falling into a trap.
Now, multiply that mindset by every job-hungry, ambitious student today, along with well-meaning institutions looking to give their graduates an extra advantage, and you’ve got a problem; specifically, a bootcamp fraud problem.
A Worst Nightmare Scenario
As the STEM rhetoric began to build almost ten years ago, and was then coupled with the Great Recession and Millennial debt crisis, bootcamps aimed at teaching specific high-demand skills from industries desperate for trained employees were offered like magic beans; and, for the most part, seemed to deliver on their promises.
According to switchup —an online resource for tech bootcamps touted by the likes of Wired, TechCrunch, and VentureBeat—a comprehensive 2014 to 2016 survey of bootcamp graduates reported that 80 percent of bootcamp alumni surveyed were satisfied with their education, 63 percent of alumni received a $22,700 salary increase just 6 months after graduation, and 68 percent of bootcamp grads were working in IT within 6 months of graduating.
So far, so good…until it wasn’t just students looking for an opportunity.
From the beginning, some bootcamps had seasoned techies scratching their heads. According to a post written a few years ago by a hacker known simply as “dpg,” there were several reasons why some bootcamp pipelines seemed like a bad idea. “The bootcamp model gives you an ‘intensive’ course good enough so that you’re able to build a [crappy] web app, and then they hopefully place you in a job needing a code monkey. In return, they get a recruiter’s cut when you’re hired. They make money off of people up front and in back (sort of genius on their part, eh?).” dpg goes on to write that this scenario could lead to high employee turnover rate due to burnout or replacement.
Techspiration also wrote a piece in 2015 attempting to bust what it said are the big myths of some tech bootcamps, including learning dense technical skills in just a few short weeks to prepare for a lifelong career in IT.
Despite these posts written by tech professionals with veteran industry knowledge, bootcamps picked up in popularity, with a whole new crop developing recently in an even newer market, data science.
Then, late September last year, a major bootcamp revealed major fraud. According to a report from Inc. magazine, the founder of Devschool, Jim O’Kelly, vanished, taking with him roughly $100,000 in student tuition. After some student-led sleuthing, it turned out that Jim O’Kelly was really Eric James O’Kelly–a man on the Most Wanted List in Clackamas County, Oregon for charges of assault, menacing and criminal mischief.
Many students part of Devschool do not believe they’ll recoup their money, even after reporting the incident to a variety of authorities, including the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, their respective state attorneys general, the FBI’s Cyber Division, and the tip line of the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. They have also contacted their respective credit card companies, notes Inc.