August 10, 2020 / Social Mobility

Are Coding Academies the Answer?


The skills shortage is just as real as ever. With tech talent in high demand and not enough to go around, we've had a look at what code academies and bootcamps have to offer, and if they can really solve all our tech hiring problems.

Firstly, why's hiring so hard?

Worrying, isn’t it? You’ve spent a lot of money, time and effort getting to this point…

…but there’s a question nagging at the back of your mind, and it won’t go away.

Have you hired the right person?

It’s notoriously difficult to find and hire the best tech talent. And with the average cost of hiring a new employee skyrocketing, there’s never been a worse time to make a bad hiring decision. What’s more, the wrong decision could set your project back months while your team productivity drops off, morale falls, and recruitment costs rise.

But why is it so hard? What are the factors that get in the way of making good hiring decisions, and how can they be mitigated?

Too many variables, not enough time

OK, let’s address the elephant in the room.

The single biggest issue with tech recruitment is the skills shortage. Simply put, the need for high quality, experienced tech and IT professionals exceeds the number of people who actually fit this description.

As far as difficulties go, that’s a pretty major one… and it only becomes more acute if you’re looking for software developers. With most professions, the route through education and into employment is well known and easily understandable.

Coding is different.

There are hundreds of technologies in use at the moment, and nobody can be fluent in all of them. Worse, the rate of change is so great that colleges and universities simply can’t keep up. By the time a two- or three-year course has been completed, the industry has changed so much that most of what was learned is no longer valid.

And that’s not all.

With some professions, employers can assume a certain level of competence based on past experience. With coding, the rapid rate of change and difficulty in gauging the quality of past experience render this metric almost completely useless.

And before we start thinking about some potential solutions to this problem, there’s one final thing to consider.

As a tech recruiter, you might not have the same level of technical expertise as the people you need to hire. You know what you need, and you certainly have technical knowledge, but ultimately you’re trying to hire people for a specialised role, requiring a particular set of skills. The chances are good that you’ll be assessing candidates with significantly more current and relevant experience than you personally possess.

Add all these factors together, and you have a recipe for hundreds of hours spent in the interview room, and worse, a sky high risk of making bad hiring decisions.

Coding Bootcamps... the solution?

With a demand this high, it’s no surprise that some enterprise companies have tried to solve the skills shortage problem by developing training courses.

These quickly grew into fully-fledged academies, offering bootcamp-style certifications in place of traditional college and university level qualifications. Not only could some be completed from the comfort of your own home, these certifications came with the promise of being snapped up by top tech companies.

Unlike traditional education routes, these certifications could be completed very quickly. Within 10-16 weeks anyone could be certified in highly marketable programming, development and computer science skills… something colleges and universities could only dream of.

Fast-paced education for a fast-moving industry. Unsurprising, then, that these academy certifications boomed during 2014, and have dramatically changed the face of tech hiring ever since.

And on the face of it, you’d think these coding bootcamps had gone a long way towards solving the tech-hiring conundrum. After all, the accessibility and short duration of the courses are ideally suited to such a fast-paced industry, and the certifications seem tailor-made to address the problems faced by hiring managers and tech recruiters.

But could it really be that easy? Sadly not.

Too much of a good thing

Beyond all others, there is one overriding problem with coding certifications: Lack of standardisation.

There is simply no way to be fully conversant with the content of a certification without taking the course yourself. Worse, there are so many certifications available that completing all of them would be functionally impossible.

What, then, is the value of a certification? Unlike degree courses, which are governed by legislation, code academy certifications can include anything. That may change in the future, but right now it raises serious questions for recruiters.

Which certifications should be taken seriously? All of them? None of them? …Just a few?

Now we have lots of coders, developers, engineers with academy certifications applying for positions, but are we really any better off? There might be more coders out there than there used to be, but the demand has continued to skyrocket. The skills shortage is just as real as ever.

Of course, this is not to say that coding bootcamps are a waste of time. Quite the opposite, in fact. For a person looking to learn coding, development and/or computer science skills, they’re tremendously beneficial. They usually start from the very basics, negating the need for prior experience or knowledge, and in some cases even offer courses for free. The barriers to entry simply couldn’t be any lower.

Likewise, for an industry desperately craving new blood, coding bootcamps are doing wonders to provide young people and career-changers a solid basis in desperately needed tech skills. Some companies even work with code academies/bootcamps to develop courses specifically for their entry-level needs. But what about those who don’t get hired by their code academy clients upon course completion?

The problem is with the certifications. How can a recruiter navigate the ever-increasing laundry list of available certifications to select the right candidate for their post? If they can’t easily be compared or evaluated, what’s the point? Just like an applicant’s past experience, their code academy certifications are less than helpful to recruiters.

Ability, the only thing that really matters

Ultimately, when you get down to it, there’s only one thing you should really care about when hiring a coder. Can they do the job you need them to do?

If the answer is yes, who cares what their background is? Or where they studied? Or how old they are? Or how long they’ve been in the industry?

There’s a long-standing elitism problem in the tech industry, with many recruiters believing it takes at least 5-10 years for a coder to ‘mature’ before they can be considered for high-level positions.

But as we’ve already mentioned, years of experience is a poor metric by itself for identifying talented individuals. And since traditional education routes are too slow, and academies too variable, where does that leave us?

Some recruiters settle for interviewing far more candidates than they’d really like to, but that still doesn’t address the problem. How can you truly gauge an applicant’s coding skills in a face-to-face interview?

What we really want is to find a handful of applicants with the tech skills you're looking for, and use the interview process to identify which will be most suited to your organisation.

Technical assessments...

In order to do this, you must cut straight to the core of the issue. By testing candidates technical skills against the criteria of the roles you’re hiring for, you can identify the handful best suited to them. Pre-interview skills assessments give you more insight into your candidates skills and ability before you meet them. Never mind their experience, education, or which of the multitude of coding bootcamps they came through. Your screening process must be able to answer the most important question: Would I want this person working for me?

By successfully assessing this question prior to interviewing candidates, the vast majority of hours with candidates that aren't right for your business (and all the headaches and financial loss associated with them) can be avoided altogether.

And in the end, what else really matters?

Our ShowTech tech assessments platform can help by screening candidates on their actual ability, not their CV. Our anonymised testing allows you to effectively shortlist the best possible candidates for the job. Find out how our online skills assessments can help improve your tech recruitment process by getting in touch.

Alex Adams
Marketing Executive

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