As code schools gain in popularity, the University of Texas hopes to mimic their success

Posted October 13th, 2017

A few months ago, Patrick Holtzman was slinging drinks at Lucy’s Friend Chicken as a bartender.

But with a baby on the way, Holtzman, 29, started searching for a new career, something that would offer more stability and allow him to use his creative side.

He decided to enroll in a coding boot camp. After researching the options in Austin, Holtzman settled on a school with a lot of name-recognition: the University of Texas. The university’s continuing education program started offering tech boot camps two years ago.

Holtzman said he picked this program in part because of the UT brand. “It gave me a lot of confidence in them,” he said.

Coding boot camps have exploded in popularity in the past decade, and there are a half-dozen code schools operating in Austin. Course Report says 18,000 students took classes at a code school in 2016, which is up 700 percent since 2013

These schools usually teach technical skills, such as learning different programming languages, but increasingly are also offering classes in “softer” tech skills, such as user experience design and product management. 

Private companies pioneered the code school concept, but in the past few years traditional universities and community colleges have started offering their own coding boot camps. 


The University of Texas offers part-time and full-time boot camps that teach coding and data analytics. And Austin Community College also teaches coding skills and recently launched a new program to teach Apple’s Swift programming language. 

“We saw a need out there,” said David Berlad, who helps manage the program for Texas Extended Campus. “When we started the coding boot camp, which we started as a pilot program, we were surprised to get a lot of interest.”

But UT is not without competition. Though two coding schools have closed this year in Austin, there are still about a half-dozen operating here, including Galvanize, General Assembly, Hack Reactor and Austin Coding Academy.  

One feature that sets UT’s programs apart is that the school offers a part-time boot camp that takes place over six months, allowing students to have jobs while they go to school. Recently, UT also started offering full-time programs that take three months to complete.

Technically, the UT program is not all that different from the boot camps run by private companies. That’s because UT contracts with private companies to run their tech boot camps.

A company called Trilogy Education Services is in charge of the coding boot camp that Holtzman signed up for, and any of the “boot camp” programs that UT offers that involve classroom instruction. (UT contracts with a different company for online-only courses.)

Nick Wagner/American-StatesmanStephen Walsh explains his team's project during a demo day for coding boot camp students at the Thompson Conference Center on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin on Oct. 4, 2017. 

Trilogy was founded by Dan Sommer in 2015. Trilogy partners with universities or colleges to offer coding boot camps. 

“What we can do is we come in and provide some services to universities to help them develop skills-based training programs,” Sommer said. “There was a lot of interest from universities across the country.” 

Trilogy makes money through revenue-sharing agreements with universities. Neither the University of Texas nor Trilogy would disclose the details of this agreement, other than to say they split both the revenue and expenses.

The University of Texas charges $11,995 for its coding boot camp and $11,500 for the data analytics classroom courses. Their online-only versions are about half the price.

Trilogy is in charge of hiring the teachers, finding and screening the students, developing the curriculum and providing career support services. Kathleen Mabley, director of marketing for Texas Extended Campus, said that UT has oversight over all these decisions. 

“UT and Trilogy meet on a regular basis to review student and course metrics, discuss marketing, program activities and student sentiment related to the course and instructors,” Mabley said in a written statement. 

Trilogy said they don’t release job placement data. In a statement, a Trilogy spokeswoman said they have a “multitude of success stories” on educational outcomes, and that it has internal data for tracking students post-graduation. 

In Austin, Trilogy does have an on-site “student success manager” whose job entails helping students connect with tech recruiters. And Trilogy said some of the companies that have hired their students include Bazaarvoice, BigCommerce, Home Depot and SolarWinds. 

In early October, Holtzman’s coding class held an “open house” to show off their portfolios. Their six-month program had come to an end and this was a chance for students to meet recruiters and showcase the websites, games or other platforms they had built. 

Nick Wagner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFDaniel Turner, an engineering manager with Accruent, reads a line of code during a demo day for coding boot camp students at the Thompson Conference Center on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin, Texas.

The students came from diverse backgrounds. There was a forklift driver, a nurse, an employee of a global intelligence firm, and two women who came from the pharmaceutical industry. All said they had no prior programming experience. 

Of the six students interviewed during the open house, each said they chose this program because of the University of Texas brand. It meant something to have that name on their certificate, even if the classes were run by Trilogy. 

Students don’t get college credit for these courses, but they do get a certificate showing they have completed the coursework.

Holtzman rattled off seven different programming languages he learned during UT’s boot camp, such as JavaScript, CSS and React, and said part of the value of the class was they teach you “how to learn new technologies on your own.” 

Sitting on a folding chair with his laptop in front of him, Holtzman clicked through his site to show the different web sites he built in the past few months. One was a food truck online ordering system, and another was designed around helping people find adoptable pets in their area.

“I started with zero programming experience before the course,” Holtzman said. “And now, full-site development, I have a pretty good grip on it.”  He quit his bartending job midway through and took out a small loan to pay for it, he said.

His goal is to get a job at an established company,  not a startup that pays in equity, because Holtzman became a father during the boot camp. Though he doesn’t have a job already lined up like some of his classmates, Holtzman said he’s optimistic.

“Austin is great because there is so much tech moving here,” he said.