For many, the word hacker evokes cybercrime and piracy. But when Manuel "Eme" Morato is asked about the term, his answer paints a far less sinister picture.
"Just as there are bad hackers, there are also the good ones – people who learn to use technology and software to solve problems and build things that benefit society," he says.
Morato is co-founder and director of Dev.F, the first hacker school in Mexico. In 2014, he and his partners Elias Shuchleib and Enrique Díaz realized that they knew many people who wanted to do innovative and useful things with technology, but without much of an idea of where to start. They also considered how difficult it was for companies to find software developers. The idea for Dev.F was born – a school with the soul of a (good) hacker, where people of any level can learn in a compressed time frame the principles of digital technologies such as programming, data science, digital marketing, interface design and user experience.
The school is one of a new crop of technology “bootcamps” that have emerged around the world to address the shortage of workers with digital skills.
“This format is an innovative solution to the main obstacle to modernizing and digitizing the economy – the skills gap," says Juan Carlos Navarro, lead specialist in the IDB's Division of Science, Technology and Innovation.
In a survey of 1,000 U.S. business recruiters who have hired bootcamp graduates, 72% did not notice a difference between those employees and university graduates. Twelve percent said they preferred bootcamp graduates.
Hacking the Digital Gap
Today, companies around the world are working against the clock to avoid being left behind in a market where digital tools and technologies – programming, big data, cybersecurity, internet of things (IoT), mobile applications, blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and more – are increasingly present.
Netflix, a brand that has become nearly synonymous with watching series and movies online, was once a system for renting DVDs through the mail. Its success riding the digital wave has, in part, led to its current presence in more than 190 countries and more than $4.5 billion in revenue. There are many more examples of business success fueled by digital adaptation – and many examples of fatal failure to adapt.
The speed of digital change has also been a challenge to formal education systems, as technology may be obsolete by the time it is taught. A 2015 Manpower survey of more than 40,000 recruiters in 40 countries found that the three most difficult positions to fill are related to programming and computer systems.
In the search for a solution, tech bootcamps first emerged in the United States in 2011. By 2018, there were some 300 worldwide, according to estimates by LinkedIn and SwitchUp. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the phenomenon is only beginning to take shape.
What Is a Bootcamp?
They are intensive training programs, lasting between three and six months.
They feature a practical learning environment, in which real work situations are introduced.
Schools work closely with companies to identify the needs of the industry, adjusting teaching to the latest trends and practices.
Training in digital skills is mixed with socio-emotional skills such as teamwork, learning to learn and problem solving.
Most schools offer job-placement assistance for graduates.
Boots for All
While bootcamps can help close the digital-skills gap, they can also be an opportunity to promote social inclusion.
In 2015, the IDB’s innovation arm, IDB Lab, supported Laboratoria, the first programming bootcamp that works exclusively with women. The project has become a model for projects around the world.
In Guatemala, the IDB supports the Valentina program, which focuses on digital skills for unemployed and underemployed youth. In Uruguay, as part of the government’s digital education strategy, the Bank supports Youth to Program, an initiative that supports training and labor insertion in the information technology sector.
“We really like bootcamps because they solve many of the problems that technical education has in the region: relevant knowledge for the labor market, continuous updating of programs, a focus on results and placement of graduates,” says IDB Lab’s Elena Heredero.
At the beginning of 2019, IDB Lab issued a call for innovative bootcamp models, especially those with an inclusive approach.
"We were looking for projects that were already established and in the process of climbing, and also those that work with vulnerable populations," Heredero notes.
Among the 57 proposals received, two Mexican enterprises were selected, Dev.F and HolaCode.
Dev.F stands out for its educational offerings and affordable cost. Already operating in Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Colombia, it will receive support from the IDB to continue expanding.
HolaCode works with refugees and forced and returned migrants from Mexico, Central America and Venezuela, for whom the price of a bootcamp is usually out of reach. The program offers deferred-payment financing, allowing students to pay when they start work.
“For a country like Mexico, where social mobility is almost a myth, it is quite noteworthy that this can be achieved,” says Marcela Torres, HolaCode’s founder.
“New paths open up for those who have the skills. The important thing is to make these skills accessible to those who do not normally have access.”
To learn more about bootcamps in Latin America, including new models, download our publication here.