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Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Watch out, business schools? The rise of 'boot camps'

Source: General Assembly

Ash Kamel wanted to expand his skills and be more marketable in the corporate world. But he didn't choose to do it by enrolling in an expensive and time-consuming business school program.

Kamel, who graduated with an electrical engineering degree nearly a decade ago and became an entrepreneur, enrolled instead in a three-month, classroom-based "boot camp" at General Assembly, a four-year-old startup that offers short-term intensive courses in design, business and computer programming. He saw it as the quickest and most efficient and inexpensive way to learn coding—a skill which has become vital to multiple industries.

"In retrospect, this was quite a gamble," said Kamel. "[But] it turned out great for me."

He credits the program with helping him secure a full-time software engineer position at DegreeCast, a startup search engine company in New York City.

Boot camps like the one Kamel chose have become increasingly popular over the past few years, as students weigh the cost and time involved in going back to school—particularly for skills like coding that are immediately marketable and don't require a graduate degree.

General Assembly, which has 14 campuses around the world, was founded by Wharton School graduate Jake Schwartz in 2011. The full-time, 12-week course costs about $12,000.

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"Every company has become a tech company in the past few years. So our students go on to all different kinds of jobs in all kinds of organizations," said Schwartz, who was inspired by his time at Wharton to start the boot camp. "This is really about learning a brand new skill and learning it well enough to get a brand new job."

Wall Street has been valuing technology skills more than ever and Schwartz notes that a lot of the firms will pay top money to get the right people. He said General Assembly's graduates, who are mostly millennials, have been hired at companies, including American Express, Apple, Google and Uber. (General Assembly has raised $49.5 million in funding to date.)

But whether boot camps focused on specific skills can replace traditional business schools, which offer wide-ranging courses and a degree at completion, is another question.

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"In a way, the founder—and the founding—of General Assembly is the best argument for the value of an MBA. Presumably the founder is using the skills he learned in business school to manage, market, finance, develop strategy, generate profits, staff and, generally, build the company," said Rich D'Amato, spokesman for the Graduate Management Admission Council, which represents business schools, in a statement to "These are two very different educational and career journeys and skills development opportunities being compared to each other and it's likely they lead to two very different career paths in the long run."

Boot camps like the one Schwartz operates have been gaining acceptance as a credible way to learn specific skills like coding and computer programming, however. And skills associated with web desig, digital marketing, data science and data analytics are in demand in this job market, according to Glassdoor, an online jobs and career online site.

"Established employees who don't have harder technology skills have an uphill battle," There is a huge skills gap when it comes to those who are up to speed on technology said Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain.Chamberlain said. "But you don't need a degree. There are bootcamps and online ways you can learn basic coding."

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General Assembly isn't the only startup offering such programs. Others like Udacity and The Flatiron School, both launched in 2012, also offer boot camps or "nanodegrees" that focus on practical, in-demand skills like computer programming.

The Firehose Project may be the newest entrant. After teaching hundreds of students how to code at places such as Harvard Business School and Carnegie Mellon, Marco Morawec decided to start the boot camp in 2013. It costs $4,000 for a 15-week long course to learn how to code and build web applications.

"Nothing beats the confidence that comes from demonstrating the real world coding skills that one learns from building an advanced web application as part of a team," said Morawec, who also serves as CEO.

Unlike General Assembly, the Firehose boot camp is done entirely online and offers virtual weekly office hours with students over video conference. But Morawec argues the online model is useful for the workforce too.

"Going through an online program has the added side benefits of preparing you for that remote side of the developer job as well," he said.