California Cracking Down On Coding Bootcamps For Teaching Coding Without A License

from the licensing-insanity dept

A couple years ago, we wrote about the nutty situation in which state regulators for all sorts of industries are really doing more to simply stop competition, rather than any sort of “consumer protection.” This is not to say that there isn’t a role for regulation in protecting consumers. There may well be, but the more you look at how it works, the more you realize how the system is almost inevitably gamed to be about blocking upstarts and competitors. In the example in that story, we talked about a woman who got in trouble for braiding people’s hair without a “cosmetology” license.

Now we’ve got something happening in California that is even more related to things we’re interested in, though no less ridiculous. The California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) has sent cease-and-desist letters to a bunch of organizations who run “learn to code” events, claiming that they’re teaching coding without a license and need to be shut down.

In mid-January, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) sent cease and desist letters to Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, App Academy, Zipfian Academy, and others. General Assembly confirmed that it began working with BPPE several months ago in order to achieve compliance.

BPPE, a unit in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is arguing that the bootcamps fall under its jurisdiction and are subject to regulation. BPPE is charged with licensing and regulating postsecondary education in California, including academic as well as vocational training programs. It was created in 2010 by the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009, a bill aimed at providing greater oversight of the more than 1,500 postsecondary schools operating in the state.

The intent here may be admirable. There are various scam “post secondary education” offerings that don’t really provide anyone anything of value and over promise what they’re offering. But coding bootcamps are something else entirely. The various groups are saying they’re interested in complying with whatever regulations are necessary, but are also worried about the cost and the time that it will take for this process to run its course. Bureaucracies aren’t known for their efficiency (or their inexpensiveness).

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Companies: app academy, hack reactor, hackbright academy, zipfian academy

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Comments on “California Cracking Down On Coding Bootcamps For Teaching Coding Without A License”

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Vidiot (profile) says:

Speaking of code...

… here’s a tip for the BPPE enforcers: Groups of gassy old men are teaching the code… the Morse code, that is… along with advanced electronics theory to anyone who’s seeking an Amateur Radio license. These villains hold clandestine meetings, use arcane jargon and communicate in an obscure binary code. Come to think of it, Homeland Security might want to help those BPPE’ers remove this plague from polite society.

DannyB (profile) says:

Is there a puppet master behind the scenes?

Stop people from learning to code. It’s a sure way to stop hacking and copyright infringement!

Oh, wait. It won’t stop copyright infringement. Any moron can download files with no special skills.

Here’s a free clue: The best way to stop copyright infringement would be to stop people from reproducing.

Matthew A. Sawtell (profile) says:

About time...

Not going to lie – I like seeing this, given how a good deal of these places are used to ‘train’/fleece H-1Bs who come over for one job, and wind up doing something else entirely. Since these folks can’t exactly ‘brush up’ their skills at public or other accredited schools – they usually wind up at places like this. They may or may not get the education they need, but they can’t necessarily complain if they feel they are getting ripped off. Dealt with a crew like this in the Chicagoland area, who attempted to recruit locals when there was a downturn in H-1Bs a few years ago – with very laughable results.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: About time...

A drop of reality in the libertarian dystopian fantasy of bureaucrats running rough shod over the sacred free market that solves all problems, even the ones it creates. I like this site and the ideas it promotes but the knee jerk reactions to all regulations is starting to sour me on it a little bit.

tionico says:

Re: About time...

Read much? The article was addressing KIDS’ camps to teach the younger ones interested in it how to code. I suppose anything can be abused, and this likely has. But how is it the public tax xupported “Institutes of Higher Learning” can charge many thousands of dollars per year to teach remedial maths (because the secondary schools utterly fail at this but graduate their inmates anyway) and “wimmins studies”? Fifteen grand to learn, uhm, WHAT was it now? And these kids camps are “dangerous”? One more instance of a government solution in desparate need of a problem to “solve”. And the universal solvent is always money, stolen at gunpoint under the classification” license fees”.

AricTheRed says:

"Liscencing" and "Regulating" modern code words for GUILD

“Licensing” and “Regulating” are presented to the people for their “Protection” when in reality all it is about is CONTROL and protecting entrenched interests.

I understand that in modern society it has its’ place (Doctors, Surgeons, Commercial Drivers and Pilots and such) however folks that already work in a field are generally for licensing requirements as it is a barrier to entry for other folks wanting to get in on the trade.

I’m normally loath to refer anyone to anything that has Nanny-Bloomberg’s’ name on it but this was the quickest reference I could find.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: "Liscencing" and "Regulating" modern code words for GUILD

folks that already work in a field are generally for licensing requirements

I think it’s the other way around; the people favoring licensing requirements are those already established in the field. I very much doubt most programmers, for example, would favor requiring a license to be a programmer. Maybe it’s different in other fields though.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

A better idea

Given that in no sane world should it be required for you to obtain a license simple to teach something to someone else, I have a better way to accomplish their “admirable intent”: official certifications.

Right now in the software engineering world, certifications in various things are acceptable as an alternative or addition to degrees. Think of the various Microsoft certifications as an example. These are useful for showing potential employers that you are competent in various particular skills.

The state should do this. And hack camps that want to offer certifications must be licensed by the state. Anyone can teach this stuff without a license, but can’t issue the certifications to the students.

Anyone who cares about the quality of the education (employers, for instance) can look at the certifications or lack thereof — or do what lots of employers do, and simply administer a test.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: A better idea

Think of the various Microsoft certifications as an example. These are useful for showing potential employers that you are competent in various particular skills.

This is how I know you’re not a programmer.

Microsoft certifications are infamous (at least among experienced coders) for being either useless or less than useless (there are some who claim, without irony, that such a certification is a negative indicator of competence). They might show “potential employers” something they want to see, but only if they’re the type of employer that a good programmer wouldn’t want to work for in the first place.

You know what does show a (halfway decent) potential employer that you’re a good programmer? Actual programming. Samples of code you’ve done before. Personal projects, open-source projects you’ve contributed to, etc.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: A better idea

Man, you’re hilarious. I’ve been a software engineer likely for longer than you’ve been alive. Odds are very good that you use some of my code every day, particularly if you’re a low-level programmer. Further, I’ve interviewed and tested literally hundreds of engineers over the decades.

In any case, you’re correct, and haven’t actually contradicted anything I said. To recap my comment: I said that such certification are looked at by employers, as you acknowledge. I also said that lots of employers test instead (code sample count as “testing”), as you acknowledge.

We aren’t actually in disagreement. You’re just choosing to take the conversation in a different direction.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: A better idea

Becasue most recruitment companies (and by extension Big firms) use the MS certification as a way to thin the herd of applicants.

The MS certification has no meaning in the grand scheme of things at all and is basically next to useless, especially since it has to be renewed often (read as “pay MS more money for a piece of useless paper”)

A better example of certification though (and ones that would probably suffice for both John and mason) would be CISCO certifications on networking (Generic for networks) and/or SANS certifications for Security protocols etc.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: A worse idea - certifications

I am very glad that the mostly stupid certifications in the software industry are all but dead now.

My direct experience with some certified people is that they are focused on test taking and not actual understanding. They know how to find and study the right guides that help get you ready for the actual test. They know all the book answers. They don’t know much in practice.

One that I know couldn’t code his way out of a paper bag.

I don’t know much about the Engineering world, but I must wonder; is the certifications for Engineering mostly an issue of liability as well as ensuring some minimum standards of competence? I assume the certification is not a measure of how outstanding one’s skills might be.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: A worse idea - certifications

From a hiring perspective, certifications only really count under certain special circumstances. For example, when hiring into an entry-level position and you’re faced with two equally inexperienced candidates without actual degrees, the one with a certification has a slight edge. They are also sometimes useful to show that a more experienced coder has been keeping his skillset current (in which case, the certification is less about demonstrating proficiency as about signalling that the candidate is putting some effort into things).

mudlock (profile) says:

Seems fair

The regulations, apparently, come down to “pay $3,500 +0.75% of revenue (max $25,000) in fees per year, provide proof that your finances are in order, provide proof that you accurately report your placement rate, don’t pay your recruiters per-recruit, have a refund policy, get students to sign a thing saying this is all clear to them.”

That does seem to slightly favor larger institutions, but it also doesn’t seem unreasonable. If I were considering going to one of these academies, I would like to be confident that those requirements were in place, and think those costs are quite fair to pay for enforcement.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Seems fair

Placement rate?

They are teaching people how to CODE. Today that’s the equivalent of teaching people how to read, or how to chew with their mouth closed.

Coding is not a profession for most people who do it – it’s something every literate person ought to know.

Should I be required to get a state license to teach reading? R/C airplane building? Writing? Photography?

I think there’s a 1st amendment issue here – people should be free to teach whatever they want without needing permission.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Seems fair

My guess is that the difference here is “teaching in return for money”.

It’s hard to say, however, whether these groups are charging money for the actual learning experience, or to cover the costs of setting up the events, etc.

I think this deserves some further attention from lawmakers to determine if they have unleashed unintended consequences upon a perfectly reasonable and otherwise lawful activity here.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Seems fair

What does money have to do with it?

Suppose I want to teach people how to play the piano – and charge $20/hour for it. I should need a license?

How is it the state’s business whether I teach piano for free or for $20? It’s my business and my student’s business.

I’m not issuing degrees or certifications – I’m just transferring knowledge. I shouldn’t need permission for that, whether there’s money involved or not.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Seems fair

Part of it’s a string of high-profile problems in California where private schools took in payments and then closed their doors, leaving students out the money and not getting any of the classes they paid for. One of the highest-profile was Silver State Helicopters in El Cajon (San Diego area) that closed it’s doors abruptly after students had paid $70K each in tuition. Around the same time a private business college here did the same, the tuition wasn’t as high but it hit a lot more people. A large part of the regulation was simply to make sure that private schools didn’t keep doing this, that if they weren’t able to provide the courses students had paid for they had a mechanism in place to insure students got their money back or at the very least could get their classes at another institution without having to pay again.

If you think the BPPE isn’t necessary, I find it interesting that the problematic closures happened in the 2007-2009 timeframe. That’s the time between when the previous regulatory body, the BPPVE, ceased to exist because the previous laws governing private postsecondary schools expired, and when the new law formed the BPPE to take over the regulatory role. I have a hard time crediting that as mere coincidence.

Tionico says:

Re: Re: Re: Seems fair

of COURSE they are unleashing unintended consequences upon a perfectly reasonable and otherwise lawful activity. That’s what government DO, is it not? Someone invents a solution, proposes it to government bureaucrats, who go on the hunt for an imagined problem at which they can throw thos solution, figure out how to extract money at gunpoint from those who otherwise would not pay it, and make it all so. Then they go home, or to the “club”, pat themselves on their backs and congratulate themselves on what a great job they are doing in protecting the public.. from itself.

Never ever in their long-legged lives could them imagine a Free Market taking care of the imagined “problem” all on its own.

mudlock (profile) says:

Re: Re: Seems fair

Yes, placement rate. Bootcamps already advertise their placement rates, EXTENSIVELY. Their whole existence is based around “We will get you a job, or the skills to get a job,” and they’re often primarily funded by businesses hoping to hire people straight out of the programs. Maybe you think most people-who-code aren’t doing in professionally (I’d disagree on that being currently true, but that’s beside the point) but these organizations are certainly advertising that you will be doing so after you complete their program.

Your piano teacher? Your free adult literacy meetings at the public library? Completely different. Not covered by the statute. A completely irrelevant comparison.

mudlock (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Seems fair

Maybe. But, as a previous commenter mentioned, CA had a couple of high-profile incidents where schools closed overnight and run off with the tuition. A big part of BPPE is guaranteeing tuition re-reimbursement. Cost * customers is typically a LOT higher when it comes to schools than with your run-of-the-mill deceptive advertising claim.

Tionico says:

Re: Re: Seems fair

Case in point: California’s Crackerjax Box Bureau of Automotive Repair. Anyone with the fee and a physical location (a dirt floor single car garage at my residence worked for me…..) can get the stupid piece of paper. NO qualification or skill necessary. And the “advantage”? You get a new state burocracy breathing down your neck. The consumer “protection” feature: you can now sue in your local Small Claims Court. Oh, wait, I could do that BEFORE this scam was invented. Typical of the Golden (more correctly: “Federal Reserve Note”) State.

Kalvan (profile) says:

California did the same thing to the San Francisco Baking Institute, a world famous baking school. It was touch and go if they’d be able to stay open. I thought it was outrageous. Mostly because of the sudden and heavy-handed way the state handled it. “You’re shut down. Now.” was pretty much the way it went down. They had to jump through hoops and make the rivers run backwards to stay open.

On the other hand, they, and the coding academies mentioned, are charging for their services. I don’t have a problem with the state of California trying to make sure that the schools are legit. In many cases, the students are paying with funds the state provided, so the question of “is the state getting their money’s worth?” is a valid question.

@b says:

Scopes. Monkey. Trial.

Talking about scope creep.

I see commenter AC #17 already gets it.

Probably those “bootcamps” apply for gov tax breaks by claiming to be educational facilities, albeit clearly not as deservingly as your Ivy Leagues.

Thus not 100% “coding bootcamps” stay outside scope of BPPE.

Does the TD community object to BPPE’s official scope being overreaching? or to BPPE overreaching their official scope?

Your gov is trying to protect your under-educated from scams.

Yes any damn Dunning-Kruger remains free to make $ off the equally uneducated masses –with grand fictions about “how to code apps, improve your lot in life”– but at some point that business-model approaches a scam causing harm enough that it’s crossed over today’s jagged line of “consumer protection” Laws.

And thanks to biology, no primate –upright or otherwise– is so clever their life can’t be quickly cut down by what at first glance to the novice seems at most “mostly harmless” misinformation, found published under the banner of information (for-wellmeaning-cum-greedy-profiteering).

Exhibit A:

AC17 Fan says:

on a lighter note? still too dark??

Coding is addictive.

Just because we can’t call to mind anybody starving to death after wasting too much money on a coding cult, dont mean it aint worth We The People protecting against this happening to OOTB.

At some point, slowly leaking all one’s $ into the stock market, or into bitcoins on speculation, is called irresponsible gambling… and we’re lucky our gov tries to block digital casinos from legally fleecing a few addicts “just trying to make a buck in this competitive market / world”.

s7 says:

YouTubes' Next

I hope they don’t go after YouTubers….

They’re teaching Cooking without a license and need to be shut down
They’re teaching Auto Repair without a license and need to be shut down
They’re teaching Coding without a license and need to be shut down
They’re teaching Sewing without a license and need to be shut down
They’re teaching Music without a license and need to be shut down
They’re teaching Gaming without a license and need to be shut down
They’re teaching Crafts without a license and need to be shut down

It’s become my go to place to quickly learn a skill that can be learned by a 3 minute video.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

They still very much push Certs DannyB.
Want to be a Database admin? better have some type of cert.
Want to be any type of network engineer? The Cisco systems cert/training is all but mandated by all(and that training/cert is about $10k base line)
Hell the base line entry level tech job at my place requires a bachelors degree OR an associates with A+ or other certs.
Maybe some of the BS certs have been pushed aside, but just go browse a few job listing cites and you will see them asking for all sorts of different certs still.

Votre (profile) says:


Considering some of the bootcamps named are charging fees in the $15K range, I could see where some oversight might be justified. Whether or not the CA government is the best choice to provide said oversight is another matter.

Right now, I think the cost might be a bigger impediment to a would-be coder than anything the government is currently doing.

steve says:

coding education

America promised land ??? Turbo Capitalistically exploit one first !
Now what ? Paying a fee if i learn to code on my own ??? The State says who will gain knowledge and how ??? No wonder you losing tech game in compare to others so you must do industrial espionage trough NSA and others ! Newer in my life i go to America – stupid and outrageous laws – where is freedom there when being spy-ed monitored recorded non stop i even avoid to use Americans proxy services ! And British are even worse also Ireland ! And tech that we use is more reliable and stable made in EU ! Even MS OS is crap as NSA actively supported involved and even financial backup-ed development of MS OS ! No wonder that smart hackers discover so many holes in it ! This as to day is common knowledge ! Why do you think why so many problems with MS OS if they were so good having so much people resources and IQ employed ! We in EU will build our own network sub Internet if you like encrypted and secure, where privacy of user is in the first place ! We will push and Brusel must aplay otherwise national wide will be protests and demands ! So EU is not America here is privacy respected free to speach and no censure from ISP, if then so i go to my IPS provider that sit very near and drag him in to my dojo club and teach him what privacy means the very martial arts way, privacy will be in great respect to user otherwise they will wonder what happens next ! We are not dumb ! We have ways to enforce our rights on various ways ! When politicians are too arrogant and wont listen to people (last year they want to ”privatize” water rights what is common good, they have resign under huge civil pressure and protests), we people are waiting for them at home address if we must, it has happen before and will happen again if they go too far with our nerves and rights ! Turbo capitalism and greed is the root of all problems there !!! We should enforce trading economy where all people will earn enough for living ! Remember governments want to have people stupid so they can rule and do what ever they want, be smart and gain knowledge on your own as much you can, no one can take that from you and before you die pass it to the next generation !

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