“The minute I wrote something about Ada on my LinkedIn profile, the messages from recruiters started coming in," says a Seattle woman who left a Ph.D. program to learn programming at Ada Developers Academy.

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Audrey Davis, of Seattle, quit her Ph.D. program in biophysics to join Ada Developers Academy, a one-year programming course for women that offers free tuition and includes a five-month internship with a local tech company.

“Before making that decision, I was trying to teach myself to code in my spare time and tried to choose projects at school that involved coding,” says Davis. “Ultimately, the ‘spare time’ approach was a little frustrating, and I decided I was willing to give up my scientific pursuits to focus on coding full time.”

Billed as fast tracks into the lucrative world of programming, coding camps or “boot camps” such as Ada are short-term, intensive schools that teach computer languages such as CSS, JavaScript and HTML to students hoping to become job-ready as programmers — without a traditional four-year degree.

Considering the hiring hunger for tech talent at Northwest companies, coding camps are becoming a popular way for would-be developers to shift careers or improve their programming knowledge.

Unlike Ada, most boot camps aren’t free, but they boast a high return on investment when it comes to future salary, says Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report, a service that evaluates and rates coding camps.

“In short, these boot camps are achieving their goals,” she says. “The majority of graduates get placed in jobs as developers and see an average salary lift of 38 percent or $18,000.”

Crystal Hess, a program manager at Ada, says that Davis is typical of a code camp student — someone who is tech-adjacent through close friends or a significant other. “Or perhaps they work at a company like Microsoft or Amazon, but in non-programming roles,” she says.

That helps to explain why Seattle is one of the top cities offering courses, along with San Francisco, New York, Chicago and Portland.

Beyond the paycheck

The prospect of companies lining up to hire shiny new programmers when they finish a boot camp is appealing to prospective students.

“The job market was part of it, for sure,” says Davis. “The minute I wrote something about Ada on my LinkedIn profile, the messages from recruiters started coming in. It’s nice to know there are companies just waiting for our cohort to graduate so they can hire us.

“That being said, I was cautious about jumping into this for the sake of getting a higher-paying job.”

That’s a good idea, says Dave Parker, CEO of Code Fellows, a school that offers classes in Seattle, Portland and Chicago. “Definitely, the salary is a big draw, but you need to figure out first what you like about it. Will you like this as a vocation?”

To filter applicants, Code Fellows offer a one-day screening class for $99 to determine whether prospective students have the basic skills to handle the coursework.

‘Intense’ weeks

There’s a reason schools are often called boot camps: They’re rigorous and designed to submerge students in the coding lifestyle for months at a time.

“It was the most intense weeks of my life by far,” says Kate Fleming, of West Seattle. “I spent probably close to 80 hours a week on lectures, homework and related learning to my course at Code Fellows.”

She says she went from not really understanding what a browser does to knowing how to identically mirror browser windows, and now works as a solutions architect at Pointmarc.

Nationwide, coding camps are booming, says Eggleston, with an estimated 16,056 graduates in 2015 — up from 6,740 the year before.

“When we started Course Report in 2014, there were 40 schools in our directory; today there are over 250,” she says.

Last year, coding camps accounted for about a quarter of all new developers hitting the job market, Eggleston says.

Do employers care that applicants don’t have full-blown university degrees in information technology or computer engineering? Some do, says Eggleston. But hiring managers are quickly learning that code-camp graduates are a good way to fill jobs, she says.

“Ultimately, it boils down to, ‘Can you do the work?’” says Fellows. “It doesn’t matter if you have a certificate. You’re basically going to get a code test or a white board test when you apply for a job.”