Learn to code for less than $2,000? New bootcamp offers study-from-home training

Nucamp students in Seattle meeting up on a weekend with their instructor before coronavirus put a temporary halt to public meetings. All instruction is for now offered online. (Nucamp Photo)

From Ludo Fourrage’s point of view, the tech bootcamp model was too narrow.

Fourrage, who worked for 18 years at Microsoft in roles that included leading a digital learning program, saw numerous problems. The training was expensive and often full time, which meant many students had to quit their jobs and take on debt. The programs were focused on bigger cities, cutting out people in suburbs and rural areas eager to break into the technology sector. And the instruction was mostly or entirely in person.

So in 2017 he launched Nucamp, a bootcamp based on a different business model with its own underlying technology and curriculum.

“Rather than cost optimizing the existing model, we have built a completely different approach,” said Nucamp CEO Karim El Naggar.

With the coronavirus pandemic leading to widespread job loss and requirements that people stay home, the Bellevue, Wash.-based Nucamp offers a more affordable, online bootcamp.

“People are more than ever interested in changing careers, as they see their current jobs being impacted while web developers are not and can work from home easily,” El Naggar said.

Before the coronavirus crisis, Nucamp used a hybrid instructional model, with a mix of online learning and in-person, weekend meetups in co-working spaces that were underutilized outside of the work week.

With the outbreak of the virus, the startup moved entirely online in one week in the 30 cities where it’s operating.

The instructors are working professionals who don’t rely on Nucamp for their primary income and often see Nucamp’s social mission as a way to give back to the community, El Naggar said, so they will accept lower wages. Students rate the instructors on a weekly basis and Nucamp intervenes to provide support if problems come up.

The tech bootcamp space has plenty of competition. Last year there were 110 full-time bootcamps that cost $13,600 on average, while there were 14 online bootcamps with a tuition of $12,900 on average. A total of 23,000 students graduated from the bootcamps, according to Course Report, which tracks the sector. Bellevue, Wash.-based Coding Dojo also just moved its coursework online.

By comparison, Nucamp offers its classes for less than $2,000 for sessions lasting 17-to-22 weeks. Students can stop and restart classes as needed and retake a bootcamp at a steep discount.

Nucamp founders CEO Karim El Naggar (left), and Ludo Fourrage, chief product and learning officer. (Nucamp Photo)

“We want to give people the best chances of completing the program,” El Naggar said.

Nucamp doesn’t yet have data to demonstrate the success of the training, and El Naggar said that because it’s designed for students to take while keeping their existing jobs, they might not transition to tech careers as quickly upon completing the course.

Fourrage initially launched Nucamp with a six-month pilot bootcamp in Tacoma, south of Seattle. Building on that success, he opened in three additional cities in Washington in 2018. At that point, Fourrage convinced El Naggar to quit his job and lead the new company. (The two originally met through their wives.)

Last year the Nucamp team, which now numbers 10 employees and contractors, grew from 70 students to 700 enrollees. The plan this year is to expand 10-fold again.

We caught up with El Naggar for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

What does your company do? Nucamp’s mission is to help those who have been left out of the digital economy and are aspiring to shift careers to learn to code. We do this with the industry’s only truly affordable 22-week coding bootcamp for under $2,000, a huge shift from traditional bootcamps that cost $10,000-$20,000. With Nucamp, whether you live in a big city, a suburb, or a rural area, you can conveniently get the coding skills you need without quitting your job, going into debt, or having to share your future income.

Inspiration hit us when: Both of us have been on the other side of trying to hire software developers into good paying jobs, but there just aren’t enough of them. It’s no wonder because our university system only graduates 65,000 computer science degrees a year, yet there are far more job openings. We knew from the beginning that we could help people gain access to these jobs.

The obsession with making Nucamp happen at scale was after meeting many aspiring developers showing heart and potential during our first coding bootcamp in Tacoma. They helped us understand the millions of people left out of the digital economy just because of where they live or their economic status. That’s when the inspiration hit us to make Nucamp affordable to everyone and everywhere, but especially to those without college degrees, with lower incomes, or lacking previous job experience in technology.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We’ve been involved in early stage startups and with large companies at scale. We really wanted to bootstrap the business for as long as possible. Bootstrapping aligns very well with our business model: It forced us to be frugal and efficient, and to rethink the way traditional coding bootcamps operate entirely. It also allowed us to focus first on building a quality experience that would scale before expanding and growing more aggressively, but without losing sight of our social mission.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: The software platform, definitely. It allows us to deliver a consistent small-group student experience at scale. It covers everything from student registration to class scheduling, workshop logistics, instructor hiring and classroom operations. And because it’s so easy to use by instructors, it attracts passionate developers who join as instructors to give back to their local communities.

The platform is the enabler, but at the end of the day, Nucamp’s success relies on the scalability of our business model and the quality of our instructors.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Making sure any new idea or initiative can be executed at scale. We had many ideas generated or brought to us, but no matter how appealing they were, we always tested them first by asking: Can we do this with 1,000 classes? If we initially felt we couldn’t, we worked on them until it we felt they could be delivered at scale.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Initially, we were adamant about Saturday workshops only being in person versus also offering video conference options. We didn’t want Nucamp to be yet another online ed-tech company.

However, in-person classes in some smaller cities, especially in rural areas, were sometimes hard to fill with enough students to build a viable business. We found ourselves having to cancel classes in these towns, which went against our social mission to open the opportunity to learn to code to all.

So we adapted our platform to offer hybrid and video conference options to our students when needed, while keeping them grouped together with a regional instructor to support them. With stay-at-home requirements triggered by the coronavirus, we are for now offering our instruction entirely online.

Nucamp students and instructor meeting in Tacoma, Wash. before the coronavirus put in-person sessions on hold. (Nucamp Photo)

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? We like Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of Airbnb, for the way he built a platform connecting hosts with guests while focusing on the personal experience on both sides. Our products are coding bootcamps, but our platform is key to connect talented instructors with motivated students and co-working spaces in a smooth and effortless way. Having Nathan in our corner would be great as we look to bring Nucamp in every city around the world, just like Airbnb.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Before the onset of the coronavirus, it was Friday evening dinner with our spouses. We’ve been going to the same place in downtown Bellevue, Wash. since the start of the company! We tend to not talk too much about work — it’s a way to stay connected at a personal level outside of work. When it comes down to it, a startup is a family commitment and without the buy-in and support of our wives and kids, this startup journey would not be possible.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion and a deep caring for students, especially when we hire instructors to teach students locally. Our instructors don’t provide lectures — our platform does — so our instructor’s role is to support students individually. We’ve already hired and trained over 200 instructors who are primarily driven by a passion to give back and authentically share their knowledge. They are usually the most inspirational for students and receive the best ratings.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Pick the right moment before going all in. Ludo developed Nucamp for about a year as a moonlight project while working at Microsoft. He first did a small, four-week pilot, tweaked the approach, and then delivered the first 6-month cohort in Tacoma. He knew he had “product market fit” before going all in.

But don’t wait too long! At some point it’s just good enough. You’ll often learn more by launching and adjusting than by planning one more month.

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