At Thinkful, we gauge student success in terms of tangible outcomes. Not just graduation or hire rates, but how many students achieve a significant income boost, get promoted, and kick-off long-term careers in a thriving industry. We believe these career milestones are the true measure of whether our courses are changing lives.
That’s why we were the first bootcamp ever to measure our long-term career outcomes of our students, over a year after students graduated. Check out the complete survey results here.
To get the full picture, we decided to sit down with our Co-founder and President, Dan Friedman, and get his take on the results. Here are his thoughts about Thinkful’s accomplishments so far, and plan for the road ahead.
Why was this survey meaningful for you?
The reason these results were so meaningful to me is because for years, we've talked about careers, not jobs. The distinction for me is that our graduates are not just getting a single job, or having one better year, as a result of what we're doing. Our graduates are on a fully different trajectory: a trajectory that lasts decades.
We're helping people turn the ambition that they already have, ambition that started well before we met them, into a whole arc. We've always known that getting people careers was our mission, but we didn't have the data to support our goals. Previously, there was little feedback to show us what changes we needed to make to fulfill our mission.
Now we know what we're actually delivering. Our graduates are in fact achieving true careers where they're continuing to see growth. Seeing career growth and promotions is exactly what we're after.
It's really hard to break into tech. But once you're in, you're in. Helping people break into the tech industry, where they don't just get a momentary impact, but rather support from their companies and an investment into their growth, is fundamentally a bigger change than we could have imagined.
Tell us about the time you realized you were going to build Thinkful. Why dedicate a large portion of your life to this?
I was working at a small product development studio and on the side I was playing around with a few ideas in education. A lot of my early ideas were around how to take MOOCs [massive open online courses] that were quickly becoming popular and make better learning experiences out of them. There were literally millions of people doing them overnight, but they were getting no support. People weren't finishing the programs.
So in the early days, I played around with how to add either community, mentorship, or human support to existing MOOCs. Then I met Darrell, we decided to work on it full-time, and that ultimately led to Thinkful.
In the true early days of Thinkful, we didn't have the perfectly crisp vision of knowing exactly where we wanted to be in the education field. What we knew was that adults needed a better, more efficient way to build skills that would let them succeed in their career. We also knew that the current solutions weren't cutting it.
The specific insight we used was the fact that there were great industry mentors out there, and people needed that kind of supportive mentorship to be successful. We saw that there was great growth in tech and there's great demand in learning these skills. This was before bootcamps even existed. We knew there had to be a better way to help people build these skills, and then apply them in their careers.
Fundamentally, we set out to teach people important tech skills, and then from there we quickly learned that what mattered was helping people get new jobs. That's what people wanted and that was the right way to measure success.
What has been the most dramatic change that you've witnessed in the tech industry since you decided to launch Thinkful eight years ago?
What stands out is the way that tech has become everything, or everything is tech. There's a far greater acceptance today, compared to when we first started, that technology can't be treated as a cost center. Technology is actually a core competency for every company and we've seen companies truly take that seriously.
When we first started Thinkful, a few companies started to pay lip service to that idea, but at the end of the day, you still saw them outsourcing or deprioritizing their technical needs. But now we see various companies, even the late adopters, taking tech seriously, and truly investing into it.
Thinkful is building the world's next workforce. As the president of Thinkful, what does that mean? What does that look like?
Building the world's next workforces means a couple of things. The first is that the skills are new and emerging. These technical skills were not things that people had 10 years ago. They're certainly not things that were mainstream even five years ago. The skills themselves are cutting edge.
Secondly, the way that we work is fundamentally different. The Thinkful learning experience is primarily remote. You can do it from anywhere, and you'll be working with someone who's maybe in a different state. Working remotely has flexibility built in. Even though only a few companies in the world are moving towards fully remote work environments, a lot of the world is allowing for flexibility in their workforce, and that's what we try to build into our course experience.
The third thing is that people in the world's next workforce are far more diverse, and come from a wider range of backgrounds than ever before. The initial wave of tech was built by the early adopters, which was a smaller and more homogenous community. But now, products are for everyone and have to be built by a representative sample. The world's next workforce won't think and operate in a homogenous way.
For us at Thinkful, it means cutting edge technologies, and working and collaborating in ways that are modern/just now starting to become mainstream. The world's next workforce includes everyone.
How does Thinkful approach building the curriculum? Why is it so strong and why does it make grads stand out?
We start with the tech industry. We do a tear down of job descriptions that we're helping grads target and break down what skills are coming up frequently in those job descriptions.
We also talk to industry advisors who inform us about how to read those job descriptions and how to put those insights into practice. We then have our instructional designers, the education experts, recruit a team of typically four or five subject matter experts who are deeply experienced in the actual field. The team collaborates in the form of what's considered in the education world as traditional backwards design. You start with the overall goal of helping the person get the job, and then you work backwards to the learning objectives, which are the competencies that the student must be able to demonstrate. Then you have big projects that the student has to do to complete the course. We work backwards using incremental milestones to see what content helps them get to the right objectives. The entire process ends up taking about six to nine months.
A year after graduation, 23% of grads are making over $100,000. As a benchmark of success, what does a $100,000 salary really mean for people who were never in the tech industry?
A lot of our grads were making under $40,000. I don't think they were truly on a trajectory to get over the six figure mark without a career accelerator like Thinkful.
What we hear from people is they're able to care for their families in ways that they had previously struggled with. A massive source of stress is removed. Graduates are able to think about their future in a way that they fundamentally weren't able to before. They're able to think, make plans, and operate on a long term horizon in a way that was previously completely out of the question.
What is the significance of 88% of Engineering Immersion graduates being employed full time, and 94% of grads still applying the skills that they learned at Thinkful?
The thing that resonated with me about the stat of 94% was that basically, people love their jobs. People are sticking with it, and people are persisting. Students didn't just try the course and not like it. They both love the material and they're succeeding. And our stats show it's happening consistently.
Do you have a favorite student success story?
Matthew Mbonu started off as a Marketing Associate for the non-profit Kid Chess.
He didn’t have a college degree, but he took advantage of our Living Stipend to take Thinkful’s Engineering Immersion course. 20 days before he even graduated, he was offered a job as a front end engineer at BlackRock, a global investment manager. He was hired through an in-person event in Atlanta, where he stood out from other bootcamp students, and even graduates of Georgia Tech’s computer science program.
For us, this is evidence that Thinkful students are learning the exact skills that employers need.
Why do you think larger companies are starting to hire more frequently from bootcamps?
Fundamentally, bootcamps teach the skills that companies want and we've always existed for that purpose. Every single hire is a big commitment. As an employer, I feel that way and I know it takes a while to get used to something new. I'm not ready to throw out old hiring practices because they work, but new practices can be risky.
We're showing that our grads are great individuals, they're ambitious, hungry, hardworking, well-trained, and they're appreciative of the opportunities they receive. Thinkful graduates actually have the skills that employers need. The required skills have changed while we've existed, but we continue to respond to changing needs of the industry.
We measure our place in the education sector by how much employers want our grads. We've designed the entire company to be responsive to what it is that employers want and I don't think colleges can say that.
Employers are seeing that our Thinkful graduates are succeeding in the workforce. In order to fill those jobs that are high value and high impact, we're a great source of talent. The people are great, they come to work the right skills, and that's kind of all there is to it.
These long-term student outcomes demonstrate that we’re achieving our goal. We’re not just helping students get a new job: we’re changing their career trajectory.
We’re dedicated to transparency, and encourage anyone who’s considering a bootcamp to explore more student stories, employment rates and salary data. This survey was just the beginning: we plan to continue measuring our success, and finding ways to impact even more lives.