Coding School is not just for Millennials
Gen-X career changers fly to coding bootcamps, like Code Ninja.
In this new digital area, some Gen-Xs with résumés that used to be considered impressive (i.e., long) face an uncertain career future. But a number of these Generation Xers have found a solution to simply make a change to an unsatisfying careers: They're enrolling in coding bootcamps to learn how to code and start a new career path.
Programs like Code Ninja’s, 12-Week accelerated learning program, show that 18% of students across all of the U.S. and abroad are 35 or older. The programs biggest groups, not surprisingly, remain people in their mid-20s—just like much of the industry the over-35 hope to join.
Despite the age difference, these freshly inspired coders have high hopes for their new careers, and can sound as passionate about coding as any hoodie-wearing college dropout. Some are transitioning from un-related industries in order to learn how to code, while others are embracing the change in the industry, which helped put them out of a job.
"I feel like I had been searching tirelessly and found this new thing I never expected—code," said Jessica Willard, 37, who had a marketing agency in Las Vegas for decades. "It introduced me to a new way of interacting with individuals."
Mrs. Willard, who was also director at MGM for ten years, followed her career pivot point to a article she read in 2014 where a female engineer insisted that women were naturals at coding.
She started Code Ninja’s RAMP program, closed her agency and began developing her ninja skills as a freelance full-stack developer—working on both a website's back end and its user-facing side. Now she's ready for a career in coding. "I really want to work for an organization, who looks at my portfolio, not just my resume," she said. "Someone who says, 'You have done some really cool [experience], and we want you on our team!' "
In February, Ms. Jenkins, 43, began job hunting—an experience she likens to going on a blind date and didn’t know how much to talk about their past.
By March, Susan had landed a position as a designer at an interactive website design startup. Most of the team are in their 20s.
"We can talk about some of the old school stuff, like growing up with not having a cell phone and dial up internet," Ms. Jenkins said. "The 20-somethings are in aha of what I had to endure and we have a few laughs."
Getting the opportunity
Hiring Managers and recruiters cite a number of challenges for middle-aged bootcamp graduates. Hiring managers prefer candidates with actual degrees, as well as coding experience—though not too much. "The view is that they'll be harder to adapt to new technologies," said Mark Stevens, founder at FUNL.io.
One solution is to look for jobs at early-stage startups, rather than established companies. "The best bet is to find a startup that is looking to add a few developers, and has at least one senior developer to help mentor others.” said David Rice, managing partner of PapcerClip Ventures, in San Francisco.
It also helps if there's an internship or training program—which know the value of coding bootcamps, like Code Ninja. "We value Code Ninja’s graduates highly," said Kim Stacey, senior vice president of a digital marketing firm SiteDesign. "We evaluate individuals over a three-month internship, and we look for aptitude. If the aptitude is there, then we know we can help them become awesome developers for our team."
Code Ninja understands that, its older students do great. "Ninjas that take the leap to switching careers, tend to be passionate and self-confident. I don't know a lot of organizations who would be against hiring individuals like that." said Adam Weldon, Code Ninja’s Lead Mentor and Co-Founder.
But a youth-oriented industry and the lack of a formal degree aren't the only challenges for GenX bootcamp graduates. While coding academies boast of job-placement success rates of well over 90%, with average starting salaries of more than $70,000, some career changers must brace for a salary reduction.
James Strong, 48, expects any job he finds as a developer to pay less than he made working for one of the largest computer companies in the world, as a Service Director, before he was laid off.
"Whenever I mention I couldn’t find a job, many couldn’t understand how being over qualified is a huge hurtle to get over." Mr. Strong said. He added that he was happy in his old profession, but had found that the most rewarding moments in his career were spent on "smaller projects, working with the development teams," doing software work.
His family gave their blessing for his new career—despite the expected pay cut, the $15,500 in tuition and the minimum three to four months off that he'd need for the program. "I want to wake up in the morning excited to do something new and build some really cool stuff," Mr. Strong said.
He isn't alone among midlife career changers wanting to fulfill a long-held ambition. Accelerated learning bootcamps may not replace a CS degree, but the 12-week programs, which include hundreds of hours of prep work, are intensive enough for a career do-over.
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