Home Bootcamps Bootcamps fix coder shortage in India

Bootcamps fix coder shortage in India

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The gap has been documented time and time again, starting with a Nasscom-McKinsey report a decade ago which pointed out that only a quarter of graduating engineers were employable. Aspiring Minds, which conducts an annual employability test in engineering schools, says less than 5% of those tested met the minimum requirements for a programming job. Employability has declined in proportion to the increase in the number of technical colleges.

Attempts to fix the problem in the past have had limited success. IT services companies would hire en masse on campuses, train in-house or on the job. But that’s hard to do in a startup that deals with developing and testing software products.

Change of scene

One of the first startups to tackle this problem was Venturesity, founded in Bangalore in 2013 to recruit instructors from the tech industry to impart relevant IT skills. But he struggled to monetize the business with fees of 10,000-20,000 for 30 hour courses. The startup pivoted to focus on recruiting through coding challenges or hackathons, changing its name to Skillenza. “Parents were unwilling to pay higher fees for job-oriented courses after they had already shelled out money for private colleges,” recalls Subhendu Panigrahi, founder of Venturesity and Skillenza.

But now it’s launching SkillDojo, a coding bootcamp that promises tech work after a semester-long course “at no upfront cost.” A lot has changed since the days of Venturesity, says Panigrahi.

Connectivity and tools for online coding courses have improved. Covid has increased the acceptance of online learning. But the main hook is “no upfront cost”. This has become an option with the growing adoption of revenue-sharing agreements, which allow students to defer payment of fees as a reduction in wages when hired. American colleges offered them as alternatives to loans, and they became an onboarding vehicle for coding bootcamps like Lambda and General Assembly.

“A lot of people with no coding experience, who didn’t know if they could become coders, were willing to join bootcamps because the companies selling them were willing to take on the employability risk,” says Panigrahi.

“You have to have skin in the game,” says Prateek Shukla, co-founder and CEO of Masai School, which started coding bootcamps in June 2019. It has campuses in Bengaluru and Patna apart from online operations . Last week, it announced a $2.5 million funding round led by Unitus Ventures.

Masai promises placement with a “minimum CTC” of 5 lakh per year for its basic course which requires no prior coding skills. Students learn full web development or Android development for mobile devices on a “military diet” from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week for 24 to 30 weeks. It costs 2.5 lakh plus GST under revenue sharing agreement. Those who choose to pay the bill in advance pay 1,000,000 less.

There is an advanced track that offers an annual CTC of 8 lakh and fresh 3 lakh plus GST in deferred payment option. This is for professionals or students who are familiar with algorithms and data structures.

It’s still early days to code bootcamps like these with gray areas in regulation as well as the quality of guidance they can offer at scale. Masai takes students’ undated checks as security against any violation of the Revenue Sharing Agreement. So far in its fourth batch, there’s been no reason to use them, Shukla says.

The hardest part is finding instructors who have both the software development experience and the mindset to deal with learning challenges in bootcamps that go all out to prepare students for the employment in six to eight months. The first Masai teachers were the three co-founders.

Shukla, whose startup Grabhouse was acquired by Quikr, helped build the program with CTO, Nrupul Dev, who was his senior at IIT Kanpur. The third co-founder, Yogesh Bhat of IIM-Bangalore, who worked earlier in sales training, handles soft skills like communication that are increasingly a prerequisite for jobs in the age remote work. Over time, professors were hired and alumni participated. Visiting professors have come from established startups like GreyOrange and ShareChat who want an assembly line of coders.

An innovation at Masai is the admissions process which focuses on the ability to learn coding rather than the student’s background. Those who want to join receive material on topics like probability, statistics, and logic that are fundamental to programming. Then they do the admission test.

“More than half of our students have no computer training and more than two-thirds come from economically weaker sectors. We first train them in the basics and then we test them on those for admission. That way we know we’re selecting people who are highly motivated to learn,” says Shukla.

Learning by doing

The pedagogy also varies from one platform to another. The Mumbai-based School of Accelerated Learning (SOAL), which runs coding bootcamps in Mumbai and Hyderabad as well as online, believes in challenging students and letting them find their own pathways to solutions using guides.

“If I’m creating a Sudoku puzzle with JavaScript, I should probably use the concept of functions rather than the concept of arrays. To make this choice, I would have to explore two or three concepts together. Then I develop the ability to understand which computational principles to use in which context,” says Varsha Bhambhani, co-founder of SOAL, who previously worked on learning methodologies as a researcher at the RN Podar School in Mumbai and responsible for project for the UN. World Schools Program.

“We don’t provide a step-by-step manual. We give learners a brief overview of concepts they might explore to find ways to build something. By the end of the session, they would know that there may be 20 or even 100 ways and none of them are perfect. It depends on the context. They realize that they could use one concept or a combination of several concepts.”

The biggest shortcoming in classrooms, whether physical or digital in MOOCs like Coursera, is the low level of engagement of learners listening to the lessons, which explains the high dropout rate. For SOAL, which started with bootcamps in co-working spaces, the challenge is to manage a transition to a fully online mode after covid-19. He had already started creating the digital infrastructure to reach more learners, but Covid gave him a boost.

Malavika Velayanikal is a consulting writer at Mint. She tweets @vmalu.

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