6 bootcamps that cost little to nothing upfront, teach students crucial tech skills, and help them land roles at Google and Spotify

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Software developers Build your tech skills without breaking the bank.

  • If you’re looking to work in tech but can’t afford the upfront costs to earn a degree, you might want to consider income share agreement (ISA) bootcamps.
  • These programs can help you earn the experience you need in less than a year without having to pay tuition until you land a new job with a minimum annual income. 
  • Many graduates have gone on to land lucrative positions at Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon, or find jobs after being laid off during the pandemic.
  • Business Insider spoke with alumni and leadership from six notable tech bootcamps that offer these agreements for insights on how they work and why they recommend them.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Software developers typically bring in a solid six figures, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BOL) reporting that their median annual income in 2019 was nearly $108,000. Similar earning potential exists for roles in related fields, like information security

The payoff can be high, but so can the upfront investment, with entry-level roles in both software development and information security usually requiring four-year degrees, per the BOL.

Top undergraduate computer engineering programs like Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country by US News and World Report, charge almost $60,000 per year — or nearly $200,000 for the full four-year degree. And that’s just on tuition and fees.

If spending an extensive amount of time and money to launch a tech career doesn’t fit your budget or timeframe, there’s another option: income share agreement (ISA) bootcamps.

While there’s no set definition or criteria for what’s involved in bootcamps that offer income share agreements, they’re generally short (think: less than a year), non-accredited certificate programs geared toward launching careers in fields such as data science, cybersecurity, project and product management, and software engineering. The most important part: Students don’t have to pay for their tuition until they land a new job where they earn a minimum annual income, usually $40,000 a year or higher. And most of these tech bootcamps can be completed online, on either a full-time or part-time basis.

There are several caveats to this: Business Insider’s Rosalie Chan previously reported that ISAs, while an attractive model for Silicon Valley, aren’t regulated and enforced by federal laws, resulting in a legal gray area for all parties involved. Senator Elizabeth Warren and other congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have warned that ISAs could have the same pitfalls as student loans “with the added danger of deceptive rhetoric and marketing that obscure their true nature,” in a 2019 letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Read more: 8 accelerated MBAs offered by top business schools that allow you to get a degree quicker than at a traditional program

Business Insider reached out to some of the most notable tech bootcamps that currently offer income share agreements to learn from the program leadership and alumni about their experiences.

1. Thinkful, pay $0 upfront and start paying tuition once you begin making a minimum of $40,000 annually

How much you pay after graduation: 15% of your monthly income for a set number of months or until you reach the company’s payment cap, which is as low as $4,000

Of the programs included on this list, Thinkful offers the widest range of courses — from software engineering and data science to project and product management, UX/UI design, and digital marketing — with many offered on a full-time or part-time basis, all fully online. To apply, students must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED. In addition to offering an ISA, the program also offers living stipends — $1,500 per month to help cover the cost of food and rent — to eligible students.

Thinkful graduates have gone on to land jobs at Google, IBM, and Amazon, and the program currently has an 86% hire rate, with students earning a median pay of $60,000, according to the school’s website. Students receive a career coach to help them with their post-graduation search, offering assistance with cover letters, networking, salary negotiation, and more, for up to six months or until they’re hired. 

“Right now, the average debt for Americans 24 to 39 years old is nearly $80,000, the highest of any age group,” said Dan Friedman, vice president of learning services at Thinkful. That’s why Thinkful offers an ISA, to help students “bet on themselves and launch high-growth careers” without having to invest upfront, he added.

Francisco Escobar, who graduated from Thinkful this year and has since earned a role as a data scientist at Silicon Valley startup MOLOCO, decided to try out an ISA to be able to switch from a “distressed” industry — petroleum engineering — to a “booming” one, he told Business Insider.

Francisco Escobar Francisco Escobar.

“The income share agreement allowed me to focus on my studies and job search by postponing my repayment plan until I had a job,” he said.

Read more: A 32-year-old software engineer went through a ‘super stressful’ interview process at Amazon — but turned down the $167,006 offer. Here’s how she decided other things were more important than money, without burning any bridges.

2. General Assembly, pay $250 upfront and start paying once you begin making a minimum of $40,000 annually

How much you pay after graduation: 10% of your monthly income for 48 months or until you hit a payment cap of 1.5 times the program’s tuition.

General Assembly’s “Catalyst” ISA offering is available to any US citizen or permanent resident age 18 or older enrolled in the school’s data science, user experience design, or software engineering tracks. More than 11,000 graduates of General Assembly’s bootcamps have found employment in the tech field, including for brands like Twitter, Adobe, IBM, and Google.

More than 90% of those who have completed General Assembly’s career services program, available to students, receive a job within their field within 180 days of graduating, according to the company website.

“There is a growing need for digital skills in today’s workforce, but one of the biggest barriers to getting people in the door for these jobs is that workers don’t have the upfront capital to invest in the kind of training they need to pivot into these new careers,” said Tom Ogletree, senior director of social impact and external affairs at General Assembly. “This supply and demand issue existed long before COVID-19, but it’s become especially relevant now that temporary furloughs and layoffs have transformed into permanent job losses for millions of workers around the globe.”

With General Assembly’s ISA, students can stop making payments if they lose or have to leave their job for any reason, he added.

Angil Tate Angil Tate.

“I’ve had so much more confidence in myself as a designer, gained an expansive network of people, and most importantly I’ve landed some roles,” said Angil Tate, who graduated from General Assembly’s user experience design course in the spring of this year and found a UX designer apprentice role at the full-service design agency Viget Labs after completing the program. 

3. App Academy, pay $0 upfront for select programs and start paying once you begin making a minimum of $50,000 annually

How much you pay after graduation: 15% of your monthly income over three years until you reach a maximum payment of $31,000.

Within five years, App Academy has had more than 3,800 students graduate from its program, 3,000 through an ISA, with students finding employment at Facebook, Slack, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon. The school’s ISA offering is open to all students 20 years and older who are US citizens or permanent residents.

App Academy provides students with a career advisor to help with the job-search process. Students can choose from two course offerings — bootcamp prep, which covers the basics for the more advanced second track, and software engineering.

“App Academy pioneered the ISA in the coding bootcamp industry in 2012,” said Kush Patel, CEO of App Academy. “We are underwriting grit, their problem solving skills, their ability to be a programmer, not their credit score.”

Phelipe Fernandes graduated from the program in November 2019, and, within a few months, received a job offer as a software engineer at Google

Phelipe Fernandes Phelipe Fernandes.

“The income share option gave me the freedom to study while holding onto the little bit of savings I had in order to afford my cost of living,” he said. “Had I needed to pay upfront, it would have been almost impossible to sustain my lifestyle for upwards of a year.”

4. Grace Hopper Fullstack Academy, pay a $3,000 deposit upfront and the rest once you begin working as a developer

How much you pay after graduation: $19,910 in nine monthly installments ($16,910 after the $3,000 deposit)

Designed specifically to help close the tech employment gap for women, trans, and nonbinary individuals, Grace Hopper Fullstack Academy offers a fullstack JavaScript course. Since 2015, nearly 700 engineers have graduated from the program, securing employment at Google, Facebook, Spotify, Etsy, and more. If students don’t receive a job within one year of graduating from the program, they’ll receive a full refund of their $3,000 deposit. 

The median starting salary of its students is $72,000 and $90,000, at the Chicago and New York City campuses, respectively, according to the company’s website. Due to the pandemic, the school has expanded its program to students who live outside New York City and Chicago through offering online, immersive courses.

“I don’t know that it would have been possible for me to pay tuition upfront and also take three full months off to study software development if the deferred tuition wasn’t an option,” said Chloé Jandsten, who worked in marketing before joining Grace Hopper Fullstack Academy. “Job searches are, almost by definition, never fun, but by using both the Grace Hopper alumni community and the truly supportive career success team, mine was a surprisingly positive experience.”

Chloé Jandsten Chloé Jandsten.

Upon graduating in February 2020, she accepted a fellowship with Grace Hopper before receiving multiple offers and ultimately securing a position as a fullstack software engineer at Ibotta.

Read more: Google wants to train you to become a UX designer in 6 months — without a college degree. Here’s how to make the most of the certificate program and potentially make $84,000 a year.

5. Flatiron School, pay $2,000 upfront and start paying 6 months after graduating and begin making a minimum of $40,000 annually

How much you pay after graduation: 10% of your monthly income during months where you earn at least $3,333.34 per month ($40,000 per year), up to 48 monthly payments or 1.5 times the tuition amount.

Offering courses in data science, cybersecurity analytics, cybersecurity engineering, software engineering, and coding bootcamp prep, Flatiron School reports a 93% employment rate for its students, who earn $76,000 as an average starting salary, according to the company’s website.

Most of the program’s students find a job within two months of searching and 100% of the roles accepted were within the tech field. Alumni have gone on to find work at Microsoft, Citi, Pandora, and more. Flatiron School offers students a career coach to help with personal branding, the job search process, and interview skills.

Business Insider’s Meghan Morris and Alex Nicoll previously reported in May that the WeWork-owned company had laid off more than 100 employees and was permanently shuttering some campuses.

Recent alum Madison Goerend said she opted for an ISA — which is open to US citizens and permanent residents ages 18 and up — because, “If I did the hard work in the program and could land a good job from it, then the ISA would be worth it.” 

Madison Goerend Madison Goerend.

Graduating in March 2020 meant she was job searching at the start of the pandemic, “which was tough,” she said. 

“But with the support of my career coach, Alison, I was able to land my dream job as a designer with HR Block on their mobile team,” Goerend said. “It’s a dream switch from being a hair stylist and struggling to make ends meet to doing something I love and no longer struggling.”

6. Lambda School, pay $0 upfront and start paying once you begin making a minimum of $50,000 annually

How much you pay after graduation: 17% of your monthly income for 24 months or until you reach a maximum payment of $30,000

Lambda School offers two fully online tracks of study — data science and fullstack web — with the option to attend full time or part time. As part of the application process, prospective students must show proof of education, such as college transcripts, a high school diploma, or a GED, or pass a basic skills test.

Lambda School graduates have a 71% job placement rate and have gone on to work for Amazon, eBay, Cisco, and more, according to the company’s website. (Business Insider previously reported that the company’s placement rate could be much lower.)

If your income ever dips below the repayment threshold of $50,000, payments are automatically paused, said Caleb Hicks, president at Lambda School. 

Lola Heffernan joined Lambda School one month after completing a bachelor’s in a program she no longer wanted to pursue: health sciences. 

Lola Heffernan Lola Heffernan.

“I had about $15,000 of student loan debt and didn’t want to burden my parents with any further educational costs,” she said. “Without a career, I wasn’t going to be able to save up for tuition.”

Within a month of finishing the fullstack web track in 2019, she received a job as a software engineer at information analytics company Elsevier

Business Insider previously reported that some former students of Lambda School said the program falls short of expectations and described it like a “cult.”

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