Programming is a hot career path to well-paying jobs. Unless, of course, you don't know how to program. But such people as Rose Auravide and Tyler Benjamin have found that, with a lot of effort and an intensive course called App Academy, they were able to learn to write code in three months and land jobs in the high five-figures -- guaranteed.
Specifically, 24-year-old Auravide traded a $12 an hour part-time job with no benefits for a position in Web programming with customer service software vendor Zendesk in San Francisco at $70,000 a year and full benefits. Benjamin, who's 23, gave up delivering Domino's pizzas for about $25,000 a year (after car repairs and gas) and now makes $80,000 at Lovely, an online apartment rental marketplace.
App Academy is an example of a new area in professional education: intensive courses in areas of business that once required a college degree. Dev Bootcamp is another type of immersive programming course, with a 9-week training in programming. General Assembly has a broader variety of courses, including mobile app development, data analysis, product design, and digital marketing. What makes App Academy unusual is that other than a $3,000 deposit, students don't have to pay until after they finish the course and get a job.
Sound like a fast track to Easy Street? Not in the least. According to the school, the course requires between 80 and 100 hours a week, which can be grueling. Also, between 10 and 15 percent of the participants drop out during the "intense" experience. A person named Ben who was blogging about his experience at App Academy ultimately left after the fifth week. He suggested to others that they find a way to live near the course so they didn't lose too much time in commuting, recognize whether they could think clearly on short amounts of sleep, and understand that the intense exposure to using a particular programming language isn't for everyone.
In other words, going through the experience just to make more money might not be enough to sustain you. Although the increase in pay was significant, it wasn't the real motivating factor for Auravide. "It was probably a couple of years ago that someone showed me how to write some Java," she said in an interview with AOL Jobs. "I was enthralled by it; I knew that was what I wanted to do."
Benjamin had graduated with a degree in psychology and found that while his education was good, it wasn't "marketable." A contract job doing research paid the bills, but little else. When that ended, he wound up at Domino's -- literally a financial step up -- until a friend posted on Facebook a Wired article about App Academy.
Not that personal finances play no part in applying. According to App Academy co-founder Kush Patel, almost three-quarters of their students are unemployed when they come to the courses. The rest come from average salaries of $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
"What sets us apart from traditional for-profit education is the tuition model," says Patel. Students put down a $3,000 deposit (although App Academy has waived it at times) that is refundable if students don't find a job. After the course, which can take place in either San Francisco or New York City, App Academy has to place a student in a job that pays at least $60,000 a year. Patel claims that average salary for graduates is between $95,000 and $100,000 in San Francisco and $80,000 and $90,000 in New York.
App Academy gets 18 percent of a student's first year's gross salary, less the initial $3,000, to be paid off over six months. That works out to more than a third of the salary over the half year. But that can work out financially. Even paying 36 percent of their salary over six months leaves average students with significantly more income than they typically had before.
"I had saved up enough delivering pizzas to pay the up-front deposit as well as my living expenses while I was in San Francisco," said Benjamin, who only had to pay 15 percent of his first year's salary. (The amount jumped to 18 percent for subsequent students.) "It's a small percentage of your salary and it's not like you'll need all of what you'll be making afterwards. Finding a cheap place to live in San Francisco is harder than paying."
Getting in was no snap. App Academy only takes 5 percent of applicants because they have to show themselves capable of learning the concepts in a social environment (students pair off to do work) in a very short time. "It was kind of high pressure," Auravide said, with tests and interviews. And then the course itself was "grueling and amazingly difficult" with many 12-hour days and work through the weekends, "but equally fun."
"It sounded too good to be true, but turned out to be even better than I expected," Benjamin said.