What Hacker Apprenticeships Tell Us About the Future of Education

More
hackerschool.jpg

Three very similar compressed software development training programs have emerged in the last few months: Code Academy (not to be confused with the startup Codecademy) in Chicago, Dev Bootcamp in the Bay Area, and Hacker School in New York City. All offer a short (two or three month), project-based learning program geared toward acquiring real-world development skills. Hacker School is free and aimed at proficient programmers trying to advance their skills, while Dev Bootcamp and Code Academy are aimed at motivated students in a broad range of skill levels, including beginners. All three involve placement of graduating students at software companies as a revenue source.

As the historical model of education continues to come into contact with disruptive technologies, those technologies strike increasingly close to the heart of education's basic value proposition. Institutions like University of Phoenix leverage the internet to provide students with degrees more flexibly and inexpensively. This means lower profit margins per student for Phoenix, but much greater scalability than the traditional university model. Khan Academy and similar online learning programs ignore the degree/certification aspect. Instead, they aim a level deeper--at the actual provision of knowledge and learning--as the target of their technological optimization.

Code Academy, Dev Bootcamp, and Hacker School aim yet another level deeper. They offer the most direct proposition: the means and opportunity for lucrative employment. While many "ed-tech" startups are making attempts at broad innovations for education, these programs aim at a problem of narrow scope: the dearth of available, high-quality programming talent. They do this by combining the roles of recruiter and trainer and tightly aligning the incentives of everyone involved. Access to literature and materials is no longer the bottleneck for students, so they instead optimize on the new bottleneck and offer direct, personal access to an instructor, with close guidance through projects, and a community of peers and mentors.  Zoomed out, this arrangement starts to resolve into what looks like a hacker apprenticeship. The master role is taken on by the trainer/recruiter, who gets paid (eventually) by an employer, and the apprentice works for the employer on completion of training. 

The programs make an implicit rejection of the conventional wisdom that a profession (especially one as cerebral as programming) requires a base of abstract, academic study. While programming has always had a distinct strain of autodidacticism, this trend extends and formalizes the long-standing hacker ethic of valuing ability and accomplishments over certifications and titles. Perhaps in some sense it hardens the distinction between programming as a trade and computer science as an academic field. And the hacker apprenticeship represents another step toward a more general disaggregation of academia and practice in the education system.

Image: flickr/Breyten

Jump to comments
Presented by

Joe Moon is a combat veteran with a literature degree. He writes about technology on his blog.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In