Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Women & STEM: College Vs. Coding Boot Camps

By By Louise Ann Lyon, PhD
Senior Research Associate, ETR

February 4, 2016 — Scotts Valley, CA

Louise Ann Lyon, a Senior Research Associate at ETR in Scotts Valley, is interested in diversity in STEM fields. (Contributed)

Louise Ann Lyon, a Senior Research Associate at ETR in Scotts Valley, is interested in diversity in STEM fields. (Contributed)

All my family, friends and colleagues know I’m a researcher interested in diversifying STEM. This means that I’m constantly receiving articles from them about all kinds of efforts being made to entice more girls/women and minorities to study or work in STEM fields—computer science in particular, as that has been my focus.

I have fortuitously entered the research world at a time when great attention is being paid to the subject that happens to be my area of research interest. Indeed, many of the articles sent to me address the dismal lack of diversity in computer science fields. Or they point out the ever-growing demand for more skilled software coders. Or they emphasize the fact that improving the first helps the second.

About Coding Boot Camps

Recently a number of articles have been sent my way that debate the merits of so-called “coding boot camps.” In these increasingly popular settings, students devote intensive hours over a number of weeks learning to write computer code. The cost is significantly less than a four-year college degree would be.

The rise of coding boot camps brings up several important issues. For example, a much higher proportion of women choose the boot camp route over completing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Why aren’t more women majoring in computer science in college? What are some of the consequences of these choices? What types of jobs do alternative settings such as boot camps prepare students for?

Fortunately, I work at an organization where I can pursue answers to these types of questions. At ETR, we are interested in carrying out research to answer some of the essential “nuts and bolts” questions about bringing greater diversity to computer science learning and career paths.

College Vs. Boot Camp: More Questions

We are interested in finding out what distinctive learning opportunities are offered by undergraduate programs and boot camps—how are the two similar and different? We would also like to know what kinds of learners are attracted to these different learning opportunities and why. How do the educational foci of these settings align with the needs of the software development industry?

Clearly, each setting offers unique benefits as well as drawbacks. The questions we are asking here feed into a larger current debate about the purpose of higher education in the modern world. The benefits of a computer science degree include mastery of theoretical foundations, practice in critical thinking and the opportunity to build learning over time.

Is this what we desire for our populace in general? Or is higher education meant to be a training ground for the workplace that should learn from the approach of boot camps—practical and intensive hands-on work that results in fast and less expensive job training?

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