Interview with General Assembly co-founder Brad Hargreaves

What Brad thinks about coding bootcamps

General Assembly is perhaps the most successful coding bootcamp, with thousands of graduates every year, locations all over the world, and millions of dollars in funding.


Q: How long have you been involved in the programming scene?

A: I first got started programming my Ti-83 plus when I was bored in math class. I then built a couple of websites and before General Assembly, I got involved in designing a game studio. I have been involved in tech and entrepreneurship scene for a long time. I wanted to bring together the entrepreneurial and the tech scene. When I saw people looking for talent in New York in User Experience, digital marketing, and on the other hand saw a lot of people not enjoying their job, I thought that this was the opportunity. GA started offering a course that would offer a 12 week core skill training for the skills. The rest has been expanding the business.

Q: Has programming changed a lot since you first became involved, and if so in what ways?

A: Everything is now open source technologies – everything we teach, HTML, CSS, Postgres, Ruby, Rails, Ember... is all open source. Ten years ago that wasn’t the case. Companies that were teaching were teaching all proprietary Java, Oracle, Cisco networks, which meant that the companies that owned the technology also owned the certifications. The emergence of open source technologies has enables companies to teach technology in a new way because they don't have to pay money to large companies that “own” technologies. Furthermore, open source has enabled new libraries to develop...there is no company that owns JavaScript.

One experience that I had was when I learned Ruby on Rails. I was shocked at how easy it was to get a very simple site up and running. In open source you have such a lot of people contributing to the technology itself. Open source welcomes new participants – it's awesome! At GA we want all of our alumni to not just be taking from the community but also giving back.

Q: Why is the programming bootcamp possible?

A: We get our mission in empowering individuals to do work they love. There is a recent trend of graduates pursuing something where they have a craft. Given the progression of open source technologies it is not nearly as difficult to learn the fundamentals of program as it used to be. It's now possible to get a junior developer position after 12 weeks. Ninety percent of our students are employed after 90 days. It's possible because of frameworks like Rails. The job requirements are not as intense as they used to be. These companies don't need to deal with the billions of pages that Google deals with. There are a lot more use cases that have been created.

Q: How would you compare a programming bootcamp to a college education?

A: It's important to note that 98% of our incoming graduates already have a bachelor’s degree. This isn't something where people are choosing either one or the other. We are teaching a very different value proposition. A liberal arts degree will give you cultural contacts: how to think, make you a better citizen. I don't want to say that one is right or wrong...better or worse. I think you are seeing people come to GA instead of a traditional graduate program. Students might be coming to GA instead of going to law school. Clearly being a web/UX designer is a very high growth discipline. I'm specifically talking about the growth of certain disciplines – mobile apps, web development have projected high demand growth rates.

Q: What types of companies are hiring bootcamp graduates?

A: It's all across the board – there is a lot of diversity among companies that are hiring these graduates. As we grow, the companies that are hiring the graduates are getting larger. One of our single largest employers is American Express. They are very excited about our recent graduates, not just for skill but for the creative spirit they bring to our company. We tend to caution our graduates about joining startups, partly because startups don't have the learning resources that our graduates need to grow in their skill. We are seeing our students grow into senior positions within 3 years, especially in larger companies that can allocate mentors to students.

Q: What is the job market like for programmers currently?

A: It is incredibly hot! I mean, as I quoted the stats, over 90% of our graduates have jobs within 90 days. I think that one of the things leading to this is that more and more companies have realized the importance of their online presence. A lot of companies are looking for people to develop their web pages. I believe the trend will continue and increase. You're looking at more and more industries continuing to be transformed by the web. Businesses are realizing that web applications are increasingly important ...businesses need web applications. They are a great way to run the business. You're seeing this need for tech that will last for at least the 5-10 years, likely more. Minus a catastrophic event.

Q: Why is software eating the world?

A: You can look back to the first emergence of the internet in the late 90s when people were just trying to port offline business to online. Until 10 years ago people were figuring out what the net is good/not good at. You're now seeing, for the past 5 years, many of the trends from the 90’s reemerge and being effective. The majority of people with broadband are insane. You look at these numbers and you realize why a model like Blue Apron can work. This is one of the things that was tried in the late 90’s, only now it is working. You're seeing more and more traditional industries being disrupted. People are saying we need to hire our own dev teams.

you seen any changes in the ease of creating a tech startup in recent years?

A: The tools have gotten better across the board. You can look at technologies and see that they improved by an order of magnitude. All of these developer tools have gotten much better since the late 90’s. There is more clarity too; companies are no longer as easily taken advantage of by VC's; there are lots of industries, like law, which better understand the needs of startups. It has made the startup ecosystem much more fluid and easier to take part in.