Private Code Academies Stake Their Claims in San Diego

Private “coding academies”—vocational schools that provide accelerated training for software development jobs—have begun to sprout in San Diego.

The newest arrival, Origin Code Academy, is recruiting students for its first class on Sept. 21, and says it is the first coding education provider in San Diego “to guarantee its students a software development job within 90 days of graduating.”

Actually, that’s not saying that much. At a time when code schools have been proliferating in tech hubs like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York (San Francisco has over 30), Origin Code Academy is only the second software-focused school to open in San Diego.

In the Bay Area, some programming bootcamps, such as the San Francisco-based App Academy, require no up-front tuition. But the job prospects are so good that App Academy asks students to pay 15 percent of what they earn during their first year on the job. That works out to $15,000 for a job that pays $80,000 a year.

In San Diego, Origin is focused mostly on teaching students programming languages related to Microsoft’s .NET framework, including C#, Javascript, CSS, and HTML, with courses ranging from $3,500 to $12,000.

Origin Code Academy founder Jeff Winkler

Jeff Winkler

Origin founder Jeff Winkler says he moved to San Diego earlier this year from Raleigh, NC, where he had developed and sold a mobile app called GymXchange—and where “there are five different code schools just in one building.”

Winkler said he chose San Diego partly because he already had some business contacts here, and partly because there was so little competition. “I looked around and asked myself, ‘How is there only one code school in San Diego? It’s a big market… Every young person wants to move to San Diego.”

It’s a good question.

A survey of local businesses in 2011 found there were as many as 6,000 unfilled openings in IT jobs throughout San Diego County. Even today, “If you look at the high-tech sector in San Diego, the shortage [of skilled employees] is most acute in software engineers,” said Kevin Carroll, executive director of the industry group Software San Diego.

“There’s a big perception outside of San Diego that San Diego is just about biotech,” said Neal Bloom, a San Diego tech entrepreneur who joined Hired, the San Francisco-based job matching service, almost three months ago. But “there are a lot of software jobs in San Diego,” he said.

In a recent e-mail, Winkler said the higher cost of doing business in California could be a factor in the scarcity of code academies in San Diego. “It’s tough to overcome the perception that moving to California is a tough place to do business to the outside world,” he wrote. “If you do choose California and have to pay the price, people want the benefit of access to capital in San Francisco.”

A shortage of Web developers in San Diego prompted Rob Kaufman of Notch8, a Portland, OR-based Web development firm, to start Learn, a subsidiary that last year became the first coding school in San Diego. Learn focuses mostly on teaching the Web programming languages Ruby on Rails and JavaScript.

Kaufman said he established an outpost for Notch8 in San Diego to provide Web development services for local businesses—but they had trouble hiring enough developers. “Learn was born out of a Ruby on Rails consultancy—and we needed developers,” Kaufman said. In retrospect, he added, “We see very much a synergy between the code school and [IT] consulting.”

After starting Learn late last year, Kaufman and his wife Chelsea recently graduated their second class from their Learn coding bootcamp in North Park. Their third class begins Sept. 8, and it’s already over-subscribed, with 22 students willing to pay $9,000 each for a program that consists of three months of classroom instruction and a one-month internship. (Such internships often lead to job offers, the Kaufmans said, but there is no job guarantee at Learn.)

The bootcamp has been so successful, Kaufman said they are moving to separate the Learn business from Notch8.

Origin Code Academy is providing its 12-week course at Co-Merge, a shared workspace in downtown San Diego. Before moving to San Diego, Winkler said he attended a coding bootcamp in Orlando, FL, and was underwhelmed by the support it provided for placing students in programming jobs. Of eight people in the class, which ended March 15th, only one has a programming job today, Winkler said.

“People weren’t job-ready,” Winkler said, explaining that the program was focused on all the wrong things. “Our only focus should be on getting people jobs,” he said. As a result, Winkler said he’s made job placement a priority at Origin.

“We’ve developed our curriculum in very close partnership with a number of tech employers from the San Diego area,” he said. “So we’re teaching the programming skills that are currently in high demand—and putting our students in a position to quickly obtain a software or app development job.”

In a statement, Origin says, “graduates are guaranteed a software development job within 90 days of graduation—or the tuition will be fully refunded.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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