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Coding boot camps promise to launch tech careers

SAN FRANCISCO — Looking for a career change, Ken Shimizu decided he wanted to be a software developer, but he didn’t want to go back to college to study computer science.

Instead, he quit his job and spent his savings to enroll at Dev Bootcamp, a new San Francisco school that teaches students how to write software in nine weeks. The $11,000 gamble paid off: A week after he finished the program last summer, he landed an engineering job that paid more than twice his previous salary.

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‘‘It’s the best decision I’ve made in my life,’’ said Shimizu, 24, who worked in marketing and public relations after graduating from the University of California Berkeley in 2010.

Dev Bootcamp, which calls itself an ‘‘apprenticeship on steroids,’’ is one of a new breed of computer-programming school that’s proliferating in San Francisco and other US tech hubs. These ‘‘hacker boot camps’’ promise to teach students how to write code in two or three months and help them get hired as Web developers, with starting salaries between $80,000 and $100,000, often within days or weeks of graduation.

These intensive training programs are not cheap — charging $10,000 to $15,000 for programs running nine to 12 weeks — and they’re highly selective, typically only admitting 10 to 20 percent of applicants. And they’re called boot camps for a reason. Students can expect to work 80 to 100 hours a week, mostly writing code in teams under the guidance of experienced software developers.

‘‘It’s quite grueling. They push you very hard,’’ said Eno Compton, 31, who finished Dev Bootcamp in late March. Compton is finishing his doctorate in Japanese literature at Princeton University, but decided he wants to be a software engineer instead of a professor.

‘‘For people who are looking to get involved in software in a big way and don’t want to set aside four years for a computer-science degree, this nine-week program is a terrific alternative,’’ Compton said.

One San Francisco school called App Academy doesn’t charge tuition. Instead, it asks for a 15 percent cut of the student’s first-year salary. Graduates who can’t find jobs don’t have to pay, but so far nearly all of them have.

‘‘When I started it, people thought we were crazy. Why would you do something like that? But in practice it’s worked out well so far,’’ said Ned Ruggeri, who helped found App Academy last summer.

Over the past year, more than two dozen computer-coding schools have opened or started recruiting students in cities such as New York, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, D.C., and Cambridge, Mass. The programs are attracting students from a wide range of backgrounds, from college dropouts to middle-aged career changers. Most students haven’t formally studied computer science, but have tried to learn to code on their own.

Alyssa Ravasio, who graduated from UCLA with a liberal arts degree in 2010, worked at tech start-ups but was frustrated because she didn’t know how to write software, so she signed up for Dev Bootcamp.

‘‘What we’ve learned in the last nine weeks would have taken at least a year, if not years, on my own,’’ Ravasio said. ‘‘I knew I wanted to learn how to code, and I tried to on my own before, and it was really hard and really frustrating.’’

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