SILICON VALLEY (California) • It was a calamitous job interview two years ago that prompted Mr Jose Contreras to demand his money back from the coding school he attended.
A few months later, jobless, Mr Contreras asked for a refund of the US$14,400 (S$20,835) he had spent on tuition fees.
He is one of many students who said they felt duped by Coding House, a Silicon Valley school that advertises an average starting salary of US$91,000 for its graduates.
Last November, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE), the regulator that oversees coding schools in California, handed Mr Nicholas James, founder of Coding House, a US$50,000 fine and ordered the school to shut down.
When they first became prevalent a few years ago, coding schools were heralded as the answer to the technology industry's prayers... Coding boot camps, 12- or 14-week programmes that teach software engineering, sprang up. But the great promise of these schools training a new generation of skilled engineers has largely fallen flat.
The BPPE, which previously thrice denied Coding House's application to operate, told the school to give refunds to all students who attended since it opened its doors in 2014. Coding House has filed an appeal. In the meantime, it has suspended its programmes, students said.
The boot camp lists 21 companies in its Where Our Graduates Work Now section.
But the BPPE said its review showed only two graduates were hired by any of the 21.
The regulators also alleged that the school operated in a chaotic environment and had violated permit regulations, and also had one sexual assault complaint against a male student. Mr James said the programme was getting better with each group but did not directly address most of the BPPE allegations.
When they first became prevalent a few years ago, coding schools were heralded as the answer to the technology industry's prayers. "We can't get enough engineers because the field is growing so rapidly," said Mr Tony Fadell, former head of Google's Nest smart thermostat company.
Coding boot camps, 12- or 14-week programmes that teach software engineering, sprang up.
But the great promise of these schools training a new generation of skilled engineers has largely fallen flat. Coding House's spectacular fall is an extreme case but interviews with more than a dozen coding school graduates revealed that when they did land a job, often their engineering education did not cut it.
Many admitted they lacked the big-picture skills that employers wanted. Training them often required hours of hand-holding by more experienced staff.
The same holds true for graduates with computer science degrees but those employees generally have a better grasp of broader concepts and algorithms, recruiters said.
Mr Mark Dinan, a recruiter who works with Bay Area technology companies like Salesforce, said many companies told him they automatically disqualify coding school graduates.
He said: "My clients are looking for a solid CS (computer science) degree from a reputable university or relevant work experience."
Today, 91 full-time coding boot camps exist in the United States and Canada, according to Course Report, a research group that tracks the industry. Almost 18,000 people will graduate from them this year. This is an increase from 43 schools and about 6,000 graduates in 2014 .
Tuition averages more than US$11,000 at non-degree programmes that generally last around three months, but it can go up to US$21,000. Some schools opt to take a cut of the future salary.
Course Report's recent survey of boot camp graduates, a group of 1,143 students who completed studies before Aug 12 last year, showed that more than a quarter were not employed in a full-time coding job.
Only about half the respondents had a job within 60 days.
A third still did not have one within 90 days.
"Some come out with very basic skills," said Mr Quest Henkart, lead engineer at business software company LaunchPad and an alumnus of one of the schools. "Even as a boot camp grad, I'm very wary of someone just out of boot camp."