In the middle of her sophomore year, 20-year-old Ashton Sullivan knew she was done with college for good.
“I pulled the plug,” Sullivan says. “I dropped out of school.”
She notified The Ohio State University, and then braced herself for a difficult call. Sullivan knew she had to tell her mother and father, and that it wouldn’t be an easy thing for them to hear.
“It was quite the scene when I called and I said, ‘Hey guys, I dropped outta school,’” she recalls.
“And my dad said, ‘No. You don’t drop out of college, you have the funding - why not do it?’”
Ashton’s parents were blindsided by the news. Up until that point, she’d gone through the motions and was set to finish out the semester on scholarship.
“I had been following my parents plans for so long and never disagreed with them,” she says. “I thought they were reasonable and logical and there was no reason why I shouldn’t.”
On the four-year college path, though, Sullivan felt directionless, with no guidance or idea of a career after college. She made a different plan - one involving a coding bootcamp.
The idea is that, with 14 weeks of training, coding bootcamps can prepare you for an entirely new job. And they continue to grow in number. According to one industry report, there are nine times as many coding bootcamps now than there were in 2013.
Sullivan enrolled in the coding bootcamp Tech Elevator. (Full disclosure, Tech Elevator is an underwriter for WOSU.)
Katie DeTore, the campus director of Tech Elevator Columbus, is responsible for all its operations. She explains it’s called a “bootcamp” for a reason.
“Although we’re not making you do push ups, what we like to say on our orientation day is that we’re going to be testing you in every other category from an intellectual standpoint, and really throwing you into an all immersive time intensive program for 14 weeks,” DeTore says. “Our students are not allowed to work, this is your full time job, and we call it your favorite hobby for 14 weeks. You’re putting in between 40-70 hours a week and every single day is new material.”
This isn’t your typical one class per week model - these are intensive courses, and they aren’t for everyone. The average student is between 25-35 years old. Sullivan, at 20 years old, was on the younger side.
She remembers when a particular warning came up when attending an information session.
“The comment was, ‘This is not just a summer hobby for mommy and daddy to throw money at,’” she recalls.
For sure, coding bootcamps aren’t cheap. Tech Elevator is around $15,000 for the 14-week session. Its competitor, We Can Code It, is a little under $14,000, closer to the average cost of these bootcamps.
Yet, there’s proof there are good jobs that justify these camp costs, even in the Midwest. In Central Ohio, DeTore says that university programs can’t keep up with the demand for tech workers.
“There were over 10,000 developer positions in 2018,” DeTore says. “The two major university pumping out graduates here in town, they’re just hitting over 400 graduates a year - which is really a drop in the bucket compared to what the community needs. And then, to take into consideration that a number of the OSU computer science degree grads don’t stay in Columbus.”
Many tech workers are flocking to the coasts, but Columbus has its own burgeoning tech scene with companies like Cover My Meds and Root Insurance. Starting a billion-dollar business in Columbus is possible.
Tech Elevator says that graduates can look forward to a 94% job placement rate and an average salary of around $60,000.
For Sullivan, the camp was worth the expense and difficult conversations with her parents. She now works for Drive Capital, a venture capital firm, as a software developer. She couldn’t imagine still being at Ohio State.
“I mean, if I was still at OSU now, I would be a senior. I imagine I still wouldn't know what I would want to do and I would have another five years ahead of me. I would also be in a major amount of student debt.”
When reflecting on her decision, Sullivan recalls a quote by inspirational scholar Brene Brown: “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, you cannot choose both.” Her choice to leave college and go to a coding bootcamp was the courageous thing to do.
“The choice of courage has benefitted me not only in a career, and professionally, and developmentally, but also socially and within a family structure that was already tight but is so much tighter now because I made that tough choice,” she says.
Sullivan says this particular decision signified for her a moment of growing up, of discovering herself – of becoming an adult.