Beyond Boot Camps

Boot camps have become increasingly popular way for folks in the community to get started in Data Science. It’s understandable why. Data Science can be pretty overwhelming at first, so getting a concentrated dose with lots of support can be invaluable.

I have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who make data science boot camps happen, and they have made a huge difference in the lives of some of the people who have gone through them. But I think we are at the point where we are hitting the limits of boot camps.

First, most boot camps cost more money than many people can afford. A number of programs aimed at increasing the diversity of Data Science offer scholarships for some or all of their participants. But given how much boot camps cost to run, they can only reach a limited number of people. As a model, it just doesn’t scale – and given how many data science jobs there are out there, that’s a serious problem.

Similarly, most boot camps take far more time than many people can afford. Again, boot camps that try to increase the diversity of data science work very hard to help folks overcome this barrier. But for single working parents and many other people, a model built on one very concentrated dose of learning over several months just isn’t going to work.

Finally, most boot camps simply can’t afford to provide real support once the boot camp is over. This is an issue for a lot of folks who go through boot camps. Because no matter how dedicated the instructors are, many folks can only absorb so much info at one time. That’s a problem even if you’re just learning one programming language or skill. But to retain even a basic mastery of the array of skills many data science jobs require, boot camps don’t offer a good answer.

So in addition to boot camps, we need another approach that can scale up. That’s why Data Chefs argues for creating a continuum of tools and smooth the the learning curve among these tools . Part of the reason we need boot camps is that learning these tools is way too hard. Many of these tools are open source, and of the tools that aren’t they are very interested in growing their markets. There is no reason why a movement couldn’t change the trajectory of these tools to make it far easier to get started and far easier to make progress.

Similarly, there’s no reason we couldn’t create a more robust, community-centered ecosystem around learning and using these tools so a much wider range of folks could get exposed to them, get their feet wet, and begin to make progress at a pace that their lives could handle.

But won’t this take a lot of work? Yes, it will. But so do boot camps.

Boot camps require a staggering amount of time and energy – one of the many reasons I have so much respect for the people who make them happen. For all the time and energy that go into boot camps, they can only reach a limited number of people. And for the most part, each boot camp – or school of boot camps – is an island unto itself. As a result, they never get the payoff of having many people across many communities working together towards a common goal.

So maybe it’s time to think about taking some of the considerable energy going into boot camps right now and use it to build a solution that can reach a lot more people.

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