Evolution of bootcamps

Tech bootcamps have been around for a while, but today's bootcamp looks much different than the first bootcamps in the early 2010s. Moving from largely in-person to online, to a shift in focus, and a rapidly-changing job market, we trace the history of tech bootcamps to where we are today and where bootcamps could possibly go in the future.

The rapid growth of bootcamps

Bootcamps have exploded in popularity over the past few years. Given how they’re targeted at those looking to switch careers and get into the job market quickly, it's no surprise that the pandemic drove up enrollment. Those in the airline and hotel, restaurant, and leisure industries were most impacted by the pandemic, leading many to look for a role with more long-term stability. Although not every person impacted by layoffs made the jump to tech, it became a landing pad for many. From the summer of 2020 to the spring of 2022, Lighthouse Labs alone saw a 45% increase in applications.

The onset of the pandemic also pushed everything online. While many bootcamps previously offered in-person courses, online bootcamps became the norm. This shift to remote learning also made quality tech education more accessible, removing geographical barriers since a lot of in-person bootcamps were concentrated in major metropolitan cities.

My, how the bootcamp education model has changed

Bootcamps have a long history, so we sat down with Lighthouse Labs' Director of Admissions, Josh Shaman, to get the full scoop.

Bootcamps began to spring up around North America in the 2010s. Some earlier bootcamps, like Lighthouse Labs, HR, and General Assembly, battled it out, trying to establish market control in tech hubs like New York City, San Francisco, and Toronto. Most of these bootcamps heavily focused on coding, and their success grew from there.

In 2015, Hack Reactor Remote Beta (HRRB) became the first online bootcamp. Launched as an initiative to cater to students who couldn't attend in-person programs, interest in this model quickly grew. "I joined HRRB in May 2015 and took cohorts from around 15 to 40 students by mid-2016, starting every seven weeks", says Shaman.

Prep courses became a significant growth factor for bootcamps. Shaman explains that as bootcamps focused on growing their enrollment numbers, they began creating content to help applicants build enough skills to be ready for their first day. "These prep courses like Hack Reactor Prep and Metis Admissions Prep created a structured study path for applicants to learn the fundamentals, get a taste of the bootcamp experience and join a community of like-minded students.”

The evolution of the bootcamp student

One thing that sets early bootcamp participants apart from today's typical student is experience. Generally, past bootcamp candidates had some coding experience, dabbling in programming in their spare time. It was also chalked full of men in their 20s. Today, bootcamps are more diverse with certain bootcamps and organizations like Black Boys Code and Grace Hopper Fullstack Academy helping underrepresented groups break into the tech world. Bootcamps are also more varied in terms of educational backgrounds. Some students come from tech-adjacent industries like engineering or statistics, while some are turning over a new leaf with marketing, retail, or human resources backgrounds.

New subjects emerge

With new tech roles being added everyday and not enough skilled professionals to fill them, the need for bootcamps beyond web development arose. While other web development-related bootcamps like UX/UI Design have emerged, data and cyber security bootcamps have begun making their entrance into the market.

Data science and data analytics make their debut

Shaman explains that data-centric bootcamps grew exponentially between 2010 and 2020 with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The need for more data professionals with relevant skills (read: AI and ML abilities) became clear and bootcamps became one way to answer that need.

That’s one of the reasons that Lighthouse Labs launched the Data Science Program in 2020. Emma Cuddy, Sr. Manager of Education Operations at Lighthouse Labs, explains that the Data Science Program was initially aimed at masters and Ph.D. students. However, it soon became clear that the program could be adapted to suit anyone from any background.

In 2022, the program was expanded to include data analytics when insights showed 47% of Lighthouse Labs Data Science Bootcamp graduates landed work as data analysts. The Data Analytics Program then, was launched to help fill a noticeable gap in the job market.

Cyber security becomes a top priority

The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) reports that Canada is short 25,000 workers, which is expected to increase in the coming years. As with data roles, cyber security bootcamps are one viable solution to this problem. As the CSIS states, “Companies should hire cybersecurity applicants with non-traditional backgrounds—like those graduating from short-term, intensive cyber reskilling programs—as a way to fill critical workforce needs.”

Launching our own reskilling program in 2021, Lighthouse Labs' first batch of cyber security graduates completed the bootcamp on December 3 of that year, hired as cyber security analysts, penetration testers, and incident responders. Many other bootcamp providers launched cyber-focused programs and some higher education institutions have also followed suit.

Industry-relevant programs

Each program launched, from Web Development through to Data Analytics aims to equip graduates with the in-demand technical and soft skills employers are looking for. Tech trends come and go, so we teach our students to be adaptable to the market and unafraid to take on new challenges. Graduates also have lifelong access to Career Services, meaning that they can return for relevant advice at any point in their career.

Investing in talent

Another niche area many bootcamps have included in their offerings is "upskilling." Upskilling is internal language for when a company pays fully or in part for their employees to learn new skills to help them flourish in their roles and keep up with industry trends. This is a viable option for employers as they can save on hiring costs and build employee loyalty.

Bootcamps have a positive impact on students

Beyond filling market gaps and helping to meet job demands, what do bootcamps offer students? Bootcamps are a viable alternative to a 2-4 year college or university degree for those who need a career change. They're also significantly cheaper - coming in at around $12K-$14K instead of the $6K-$7K per year for university (or $36K per year for international students!).

Megan Hein lost her job in the pandemic. Looking for more stability, she completed the Web Development Bootcamp. Megan landed a job at a tech startup with the help of the Career Services team, something she now has access to for life. "The learning curve to jump into a new industry was obviously quite steep, but it's been really rewarding," she said. "I feel like I have a lot more job security now."

It’s also a massive time-saver. Although the bootcamp period itself is intense, being able to start the job search in a matter of months instead of a few years is life-changing.

Russell Yearwood, a graduate of our 12-week Data Science Bootcamp, found the learning environment was better suited to him as it was more hands-on than his university experience. He now works as a private technical consultant on data science projects.

Tech bootcamp grads bring a fresh perspective into the workplace. As Shaman points out, grads offer "Loads of excitement, energy, enthusiasm for a new field they just spent a ton of time building skills in." They're determined to prove themselves outside the bootcamp environment where they were instilled with a desire to continually learn and grow.

Many bootcamp graduates come from non-technical backgrounds and can offer fresh insights into user behaviour and preferences from their former industries. Imagine what a former barista can bring to your café, finding an app that someone who has only been on the purchasing side of the counter could not.

Bootcamps help fill talent gaps

Bootcamp students are also helping to fill major tech job gaps. Between December 2019 and December 2021, tech jobs had increased 19 percent. Unfortunately, Canada is heading for a tech worker shortage (in fact, we're already there), especially in cyber security. With a lack of people specialized in keeping digital safeguards in place, malicious actors will be more likely to invade systems. One in five businesses are already affected by attacks, including the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, which holds thousands of highly sensitive medical records on children and their families.

Between 2013 and 2020, 108,949 students graduated from online bootcamps in North America alone, with the biggest jump between 2019 and 2020. Since our beginning, over 5,300 grads have completed a bootcamp program at Lighthouse Labs. With tech shortages projected to grow due to a "tech brain drain" and insufficient skilled workers, bootcamps are poised to play a big role in solving this problem.

Where bootcamps go from here

It's no secret that times are tough. The job market is a roller coaster with no operator to end the ride, and critics might question if putting your life on hold to take a bootcamp is worth the risk. Firstly, tech jobs tend to be more resistant to economic downturns, especially in cyber security.

As our 800 hiring partners can attest, bootcamp graduates hit the ground running from their first day. This is thanks to a killer Learning Design team and dedicated instructors who keep up with industry trends and adjust the programs accordingly.

Industry trends: AI and machine learning

Now making their way to the stage are AI and machine learning bootcamps, separate from data science where they were tucked in before. There's no question that this trend will continue as AI becomes more relevant to nearly every industry.

Industry trends: online learning

Online learning isn't going anywhere. It's accessible and flexible, and the online learning environment mimics the often remote nature of tech jobs.

Industry trends: changing priorities with coding languages

Not all programming languages are created equal, and for good reason. Most tech professionals, no matter their specialty, will use Python; not everyone needs Ruby or C++. While Java and JavaScript consistently reign as preferred languages of coders, Objective C and Ruby have fallen in popularity. It doesn't mean that these languages are no longer relevant; it just means that course designers will need to watch them to ensure they're still the most pertinent and adjust accordingly.

While programs adapt and delivery methods fluctuate according to trends, bootcamps will continue transforming tech enthusiasts into passionate and determined tech workers. As the tech industry grows, employers will seek people with the right skills to fill the gaps. If you're considering a tech career, check out our programs.