Tech Career Insights: Exploring Coding Bootcamps in South Africa

Exploring Coding Bootcamps in South Africa

By Tumi Sineke

Many people who might have the aptitude for a career in tech either can’t afford to study formally towards a qualification, or are unaware of the opportunities that are available to them: It’s also hard to get an overview of the coding bootcamps in South Africa and what they offer. That’s why I’ve assembled the most important facts on costs, time and opportunities of tech bootcamps offering the potential of a career in the tech industry.

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Enrolling at a bootcamp provides an opportunity to escape poverty by pivoting into a highly sought-after, well-paying career in a short space of time.

It makes sense, then, that the promise of the tech bootcamp has gained popularity in South Africa. But why is it important for people from underserved communities to enter the tech industry?

Inclusion is tightly linked to the question of diversity: Research has shown that diverse teams are more innovative, and ultimately help companies achieve better financial results. This is explained well in this TED talk by Rocío Lorenzo. While her study is focused on gender diversity, the message is clear:

Companies with teams of people from different backgrounds are able to tackle challenges in more creative ways, making it a cause that most people support.

As a starting point, I did some online research. However, because there was such a wide range of resources on learning how to code available, I realised that I needed to be more particular: I narrowed my focus to look at the coding programmes that specifically offered the potential of a career in the tech industry.

All of the programmes I am looking at in this article seem to be working towards solving two complex challenges, youth unemployment and the shortage of software skills in South Africa:

The table below is a summary of what I discovered. You can download it or print it out and use it as a reference guide when considering where you can learn to code:

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Be aware that while this information was correct when the article was released, it is subject to change. Unfortunately, at the time we published, CapaCiTi was unable to confirm that the information we took from their website was up to date.

For the most up-to-date information, it’s always best to contact the organisations themselves.

Let’s look deeper into these findings:

What are bootcamps in South Africa?

The concept of a coding bootcamp is said to have originated in the USA in late 2011. Since then, it has taken off across the world and now, bootcamps are largely paid-for programmes that offer people an intensive period of upskilling to help them move into tech careers.

In South Africa, bootcamps offer the same promise of setting students up for a successful move into a tech career. The thinking behind establishing bootcamps in South Africa seemingly aims to address the skills shortage that is described by companies in industry. You can read more about this here: Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering’s report that surveys ICT Skills shortage in South Africa.

Who are bootcamps aimed at?

Coding bootcamps in South Africa tend to attract young people from underserved communities. CodeX, for example, has an 87% black student enrollment rate. Their sell is a career in a high-paying, in-demand job, so this proposition seems like an attractive option to those who are interested in tech but don’t have the means to get into it through more formal streams.

What are the entry criteria?

Many of the bootcamps that I researched require students to have completed Matric. Students also need to show an aptitude for software programming, which is determined by an online assessment. Thereafter, their attitude and motivation for learning is assessed, with some programmes taking students through an in-person interview, or, in the case of WeThinkCode, a selection bootcamp from which the final cohort is selected.

Interestingly, Umuzi is working on new psychometric-based assessments that they believe will give them a better idea of whether an applicant will be successful in tech, strategy or creative careers.

How much do bootcamp courses cost?

Free courses

In most cases, attending coding bootcamps is free. This actively addresses the challenge of providing access to those who might have the aptitude for a career in tech but can’t afford the education, even at a price point lower than a formal university degree.

In the cases where the bootcamp programme is free to students, the cost of running it is sometimes covered by companies. These companies will often either sponsor students by covering tuition and living expenses, or host them as interns. Some companies also make a pledge to hire a number of students at the end of the programme.

Paid courses

Bootcamps that charge their students fees also exist. In most cases, though, payment plans have been worked out to keep these bootcamps as inclusive as possible. HyperionDev, as an example, accepts both monthly and upfront payments. They also make an effort to offer discounts where possible.

Pay-it-forward

CapaCiTi seems to be the go-between of the two options. While the bootcamp programme itself is free while you’re studying, their model is “pay-it-forward”. This means that students are required to pay back their tuition once they’ve found work. The amount students need to pay back is tiered, depending on their income. For example, if a student earns R12 000 per month, they could pay back 10% of what they owe per month.

How are bootcamps funded?

As mentioned before, bootcamp programmes often receive funding from companies. This may come in the form of donations or companies might opt to sponsor students throughout the programme. Alternatively, some bootcamps also receive grant money.

How do bootcamps work?

Many local bootcamps fall into the formal classification of a learnership. Learnerships are part of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) framework, which means that they are made up of theoretical and practical applications. In a coding bootcamp, this could mean being taught a Javascript framework, then working on a project where you use that framework practically.

Getting into the bootcamp

Typically, bootcamp programmes begin with an online assessment, which seems to look at reasoning ability and maths. This is then followed by an in-person, intensive pre-bootcamp, that tests skills, before the final student group is chosen to begin the formal programme. This is how WeThinkCode, Project CodeX and Umuzi operate.

Other programmes, such as HyperionDev, Quirky30 and CapaCiTi do not include an intensive selection pre-bootcamp before selecting their final cohort. The reason CapaCiTi and Quirky30 don’t include this session is to reduce barriers to entry for people who want to learn. HyperionDev is a for-profit company and so has more of a financial incentive to allow as many students as possible to enroll.

Teaching approaches at the bootcamp

Once the selected cohorts begin their programmes, different bootcamps approach teaching the skills in a variety of ways. For instance, Umuzi begins with teaching technical skills before placing students in cross-functional teams. Because Umuzi accepts students into web development, UX, UI, data and copywriting streams, the teams work together to create solutions that make use of this wide variety of skills.

Duration of bootcamp courses

In terms of duration, most programmes run for 3 - 9 months. There are exceptions, of course, such as WeThinkCode. Here, students embark on a 2-year long full stack development programme, which includes two internships. HyperionDev offers the shortest programme, where students spend 3 months working on a web development course.

How do bootcamps help set students up for employment?

Setup during the course

Partnerships

In terms of how they help guide students towards employment opportunities, many bootcamp programmes partner with technology providers, or other members of tech ecosystems. For example:

  • HyperionDev has, since launching, advertised their partnership with The Python Software Foundation, which helps give credibility to their Python course.
  • WeThinkCode has recently partnered with a range of organisations, including Harambee, Tshimologong Precinct, Explore Data Science Academy and CapaCiTi to focus on creating better opportunities for graduates to find work. You can read more about this here.

Work-readiness and interview prep

Learning how to code is not the only training that students receive at local bootcamps. All of the programmes that I looked at offer either work-readiness or interview prep as part of their courses. CodeSpace, for example, offers an extended programme that runs two weeks longer than their core programme to prepare students for the office environment.

Giving students opportunities to practice skills that companies find valuable, like communication and teamwork, is something that Project CodeX and Umuzi also offer:

  • Umuzi’s cross-functional product teams provide a good opportunity for their students to practice skills like collaboration and communication.
  • Project CodeX‘s students work in teams on a week-long hackathon at the end of each semester.

After graduation

Once students leave the programme, there are few options for the next steps.

Employment

For those who are looking for employment, a few programmes have industry partners who absorb interns from the programmes into full-time positions. These industry partners vary, from large corporates to SME’s. Umuzi, which offers programmes that are popular in creative agencies, have partnerships with the likes of King James, HelloComputer and VML.

Entrepreneurship

For those who want to use their skills to start their own businesses, bootcamps, like mLab, provide support for these ventures founded by their graduates.

How are employers encouraged to hire bootcamp alumni?

When bootcamps are SETA accredited, they provide the incentive for companies to sponsor students and have this sponsorship count as points towards their B-BBEE scorecard. While this benefit means that coding bootcamps are more likely to secure funding from companies, it doesn’t guarantee anything else for the student.

Conclusion

Having done this research, I’m struck by how many options there are for young people who are looking to enter the tech industry. What I’m also struck by is the magnitude of addressing the challenge of getting young people, specifically from underserved communities, to a place where they can succeed in the tech industry. While there are a lot of exciting programmes teaching tech skills, there is more work to be done to understand how we can improve access to full-time work opportunities to really help these young people reach their potential.

What still remains unanswered is how to encourage companies to employ graduates from these programmes:

Even though some companies may invite students to join them as part of an internship programme, they are not required to hire them on a permanent basis at the end of the course. This is part of the challenge with creating work opportunities: Companies are measured on the percentage of black people that they take through internships, learnerships or apprenticeship programmes. There are some bonus B-BBEE points for the number of black people absorbed into a company after a learnership programme, but what is not specified, it seems, is where those young people go within a company.

With this understanding, it seems that even though graduates from bootcamps have received some training in tech, there is still a gap that needs to be filled before someone can deliver real value in a tech team.


Tumi Sineke is part of the team at OfferZen. She’s worn many hats, including customer experience, account management, product training and implementation, as well as team coordination. The common thread in those roles is what motivates her every day: working closely with people to help them overcome a challenge. When she looks back on her career one day, she’ll know she has been successful when she’s led and implemented programs at scale that have made a positive impact on people’s lives.

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