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Online coding school Treehouse lays off most of its staff (oregonlive.com)
97 points by fantunes 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

I have to say this doesn't come as a surprise.

Bootcamps have failed one after another. The most well known, Lambda, is even desperate enough they will "loan" you a new "grad" for free to try to get you to hire one [0]. And that's not even scratching the surface of what's wrong with bootcamps in general, like having instructors barely a few months ahead of students giving out lectures and grading assignments [1].

I can't say I've seen anyone out of a bootcamp that was a great hire. I guess these online coding schools might cater to motivated teenagers that are interesting in trying out CS before enrolling in a proper degree. But there's no money to be made there.

[0] https://lambdaschool.com/the-commons/announcing-lambda-fello...

[1] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/02/lambda-schools-job-p...

> I can't say I've seen anyone out of a bootcamp that was a great hire.

My own experience has been that there's no correlation between where the dev graduated from and how productive/valuable/etc they've been at work. I've seen just as many rock-star bootcamp grads as I have complete wastes of space from Stanford/CMU/MIT.

I don't know what it is about Waterloo though, but everyone I've worked with who came through there was a significant asset to whatever team they were on.

There could be some filtering function here like the pool of grads who made a significant effort to come to the US afterwards, but yeah. 100% rockstars every time.

Don't just take my word for it -- from the lips of pg himself: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6655271

You haven't met me yet. I'm not that great. :-)

Waterloo internships last 3.5 months. 16-18 weeks. That's ~150-200% longer than some other schools summer internships.

Computer science students graduate with roughly 2 full years of work experience at 6 different orgs. Not including any extra curriculars.

Waterloo load balances internships across the entire year. Each class of CS is split into four schedules. Students will study in the summer and they will do internships in the fall and winter.

Many, many big companies offer internships to Waterloo coops students in the fall and winter. I'm not sure if other students are ever available at these times.

At Waterloo, computer science is a math degree and they teach students how to prove things. It's one of the first things they learn.

Also, we learn lisp as a first course in programming.

Kicking people that can't land an internship is a pretty good way to filter out students that won't perform well in the workplace.

> Many, many big companies offer internships to Waterloo coops students in the fall and winter. I'm not sure if other students are ever available at these times.

From my experience hiring, most target schools don't offer every classes at every semester (they are just too small). So taking a fall/winter internship can delay graduation by a whole year.

So I used to get flooded by resumes from Waterloo for the fall and winter because they were the only ones to apply (coupled with the school being larger than my usual target schools combined together!).

> Kicking people that can't land an internship is a pretty good way to filter out students that won't perform well in the workplace.

Humour me! At Waterloo, nobody gets kicked out of school for not doing co-op. It is an optional program. You must be talking about something else.

> From my experience hiring, most target schools don't offer every classes at every semester (they are just too small). So taking a fall/winter internship can delay graduation by a whole year.

At Waterloo some specialized upper-year courses are only offered once a year, but the first 2 years of courses are usually available year round.

My first internship was Sept - Dec 2013. They liked me enough that they asked me to stay an extra 4 months. I was able to say Yes immediately. I just took all my 2B ("second half of sophomore year") courses in the summer after working until May.

> nobody gets kicked out of school for not doing co-op

But you'll get kicked out of co-op for not having internships right? I meant someone can't graduate co-op without working in industry.

True, but here's the thing. By the time a Waterloo student has had 3-4 co-ops, the co-op program needs them more than they need the co-op program.

It's trivial to switch to non-co-op Computer Science. The co-op program admins try to guilt you out of it, but there isn't any real penalty.

The admins want to keep upper year students in the program to attract companies, since companies often want to hire more experienced interns.

Why do students drop co-op in later years? The co-op program costs extra (~$1500/year). There's some more or less useless professional development courses you must take, as well as reports you must write after 5/6 terms. In other words it can be a somewhat expensive hassle.

Maybe the one thing the co-op program can provide is they help with J1 visa to the USA. And tax incentives for Canadian companies to hire interns. Those benefits often aren't enough of a draw for someone who has 1+ years professional experience at 3-4 companies.

Hence, what often happens is that upper year students drop co-op or go outside the program to find internships. They find their own jobs, in some cases the company arranges the J1 for them.

For example this term, a bunch of Waterloo coops wanted to go to SF, but the coop program wasn't offering positions which required travel to the USA due to covid. They just made arrangements with the companies directly.

re: reports, I typo'd. I meant for 5/6 internships, you must write a report

> I don't know what it is about Waterloo though

I have also had extremely positive experiences with Waterloo grads (and student interns), and I kinda wish that I had done a program structured in the same way. In particular, the program requires that students do several "co-op" work terms, so by the time they graduate, they've worked in multiple organizations and have the equivalent of more than a year's work experience. They have a better idea of what kind of work is a good fit for them, they know they can be productive in real projects, and they have some exposure to the organizational/communication/process portion of getting stuff done as well.

We complain sometimes about the disconnect between software engineering and the "computer science" curriculum -- and it turns out that actually having a thoughtfully composed "software engineering" program is a pretty good and natural solution.

I can't explain it.

I think they Astroturf a lot. At least on this site. Any thread about a class at Stanford/MIT/CMU (often because they posted the textbook for free) and someone from Waterloo will post what they teach, no matter if it's relevant.

It's also a giant school (36,000 undergrads and 6,000 postgrads) and from what alumni told me, undergrads are incentivized to apply everywhere and especially during the off-cycles (winter) for internships when they are effectively the only ones looking.

Contrast that with Stanford that's barely 7,000 undergrads and 10,000 grad students).

I think they also have to get internships to even stay in the program (it's coop) so I guess that weeds out the unemployable.

Everything about Waterloo's curriculum weeds out the weak.

The coop program is probably their biggest strength. Working with coop interns is fantastic and almost always leads to a job post graduation.

Did you attend?

I've had long conversations about the curriculum with a few dozen grads I've worked with or hired over the years because they're obviously a special bunch.

Shhhh don't let the secret out.

Lambda isn't even the most well known bootcamp[1], just the most well-known failure.

Nearly everyone in my AppAcademy cohort was already a STEM grad and some from top schools. Also that didn't correlate with performance as the person with the most advanced degree was unhirable and the degreeless folks are among the most successful. More than half a decade on, we're still at like 98% of our cohort with long and successful careers. The few cohorts ahead of and behind me have similar results. More than half of my cohort are senior ICs at this point as well (staff engineers, architects, startup CTOs, etc).

Most of us didn't even need the bootcamp, per-se, but were there for the helpful aspects of building a portfolio in a short time and the psychological benefits of being coached through the interview process.

_YOU_ may not have seen successful bootcamp grads, but you also might not be in any of the places where they're looking for work. Or you have a very strong bias.

[1]: Dev Bootcamp, GA, AppAcademy and Flatiron School are/were easily more well-known than Lambda School ever was.

> Nearly everyone in my AppAcademy cohort was already a STEM grad and some from top schools.

> Most of us didn't even need the bootcamp, per-se

I think you hit the nail on this one. Today kids take https://missing.csail.mit.edu/ instead of doing a bootcamp. "Intro to CS" classes are also more prevalent (and sometimes mandatory) for everyone in STEM nowadays.

My bootcamp experience built my confidence which helped during interviews.

This is such an underrated part of the experience.

I think we all felt that way. Is that worth the high cost of tuition? Debatable. We're just about all working though.

I was changing careers after a decade plus of low-level grunt IT jobs when I was capable of doing so much more. It took probably 3-5 years just to build my confidence enough to do the bootcamp -- I had developer friends who were telling me for years I was more than qualified and capable but I'd found it so hard just to start.

A huge part of the lack of confidence has to do with growing up always being poor. The idea of a stable, high-paying job that's rewarding is almost unimaginable from that position.

> Bootcamps have failed one after another.

Crowded space and the businesses were service oriented (not infinitely scaling like software) so very different success & risk profiles.

For the students... Most were lied to about the outcome statistics, but many people were able to leverage it into new career.

> I can't say I've seen anyone out of a bootcamp that was a great hire.

Most people aren't going to brand themselves as boot camp grads if they don't have to.

The only bootcamp graduate I have had to work with was a complete drag on team productivity.

I've known at least a half-dozen superb bootcamp grads, but the quality is definitely uneven.

Sad news. I remember finishing the HTML, CSS and PHP courses on there back in 2014. They really paid attention to details and made video-based learning less boring. It's a pretty stark contrast to Udemy, where I don't think I've ever finished a single course.

They had (at the time), really good teachers, and the forums were a great source of knowledge.

Similarly, I remember taking a handful of courses there many years ago. They were very high quality relative to what was available then.

I wonder if their particular niche of online education is tougher nowadays. There seems to be a wealth of online platforms tailored towards the "professional skills" edge of the market—if I ever need a course on migrating to Azure using only a TI-86 calculator while respecting HIPAA, I'm sure Pluralsight has a course—but when I think of the more general "learn to code" style courses, I don't think of Treehouse anymore.

In particular, having watched multiple family members/friends transition into software development (coming from no real background in code) over the last couple years, I've noticed they swing between two extremes:

1. Completely free resources, like FreeCodeCamp, CodeAcademy's free plan, or App Academy Open. 2. Going all-in on an immersive bootcamp, typically with some kind of job placement assistance program at the end.

I wonder if more middle-of-the-road premium options like Treehouse are losing marketshare to this. Though obviously, this is big time anecdata.

I know that not all remote learning companies are doing great, Khan Academy which was booming in the mid teens had layoffs as well. In addition Udacity has also had multiple rounds of layoffs as they are struggling with profitability. Those 2 mentioned are very prominent and if they are doing bad then smaller players like treehouse probably are not doing great also.

I don't agree with the no management change they did but thought the 4 day workweek was a smart idea. Microsoft japan reported that a 4 day workweek increased productivity by 40% - https://www.npr.org/2019/11/04/776163853/microsoft-japan-say...

The 4 day work week was great. It was just a convenient scape goat for failed business initiatives at the time.

100% and the CEO blamed his own lack of work ethic, it's been mistranslated over the years, but this was not due to any real "study".

Do not attribute 32 hour work week to not being successful, it was incredible and allowed for a ton of creative work to come to life.

Do you have a source on the Khan Academy layoffs? My impression was that they've grown a lot since the pandemic started.

"Treehouse rolled back the no-boss workplace in 2015, saying employees felt they were 'lonely islands with no support' without a management structure."

How this works in practice is that there are informal bosses and political infighting to determine who is the informal boss on a team. You can have pretty flat hierarchies where many teams share 1 director-type person as their boss and it works pretty well though.

It seems like the solution isn't to abolish bosses or hierarchy, but to simply make them more accountable and subject to scrutiny or replacement.

Perhaps a business that makes money from educational content needs something that provides additional value (over and above what you'd get from a folder of videos), e.g.

A. Interactive features (scrimba.com)

B. Mentors (demandcurve.com)

C. Credentials (Udacity, Coursera)

D. Community/cohort

E. Convenient access to frequent updates (blinkist, shortform, getabstract)

There are scalable bits of Education - courses, books, practice questions (look at leetcode), and lectures. I think that is why a lot of ed-tech fails. Information really does want to be free, and anything that can be broadcast is usually better free. Youtube has seen an influx of high quality content IMO.

There are also non-scalable parts - access to expert, prestige, and all the bits you've mentioned. I think that's probably where the future of ed-tech is going.

(CoLab - https://joincolab.io)

Is one that's doing Community/Cohort style learning by pairing Devs, PMs and Designers together to learn.

Treehouse was the very first online learning platform I ever paid for when I started to entertain the idea of learning to code.

Back in 2012-2013 it was amazing. I sunk countless hours into the videos and thought it was a great value.

After building some basic sites I decided to take the plunge and enroll in a bootcamp. Fast forward to today and I’m incredibly thankful for taking these steps.

This is a bummer. I met a few of the Treehouse folks as well as a couple students at a private social thing some years ago. They made a strong impression of being both passionate and competent, a real contrast to the bulk of the online class companies imo, but it's hard to compete against dirt cheap or free.

> Workers later posted an online spreadsheet with the names of 41 employees looking for new jobs. Treehouse has a geographically distributed workforce and the company’s employees live in cities across the country

They forgot to include a link to the spreadsheet.

I found it here → https://twitter.com/nickrp/status/1436747911220457482

(and in case they delete the Twitter post) → https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1D8419ThkbOibfMcGQRUi...

Sad to hear about their staff. It sounds like the company has been almost gutted.

Treehouse are skewed towards beginners but I wonder if the market for beginner content is too saturated? Udemy dominates for paid video courses (for beginners) and YouTube covers the free tutorials option.

Also, Treehouse's content is divided into lots of separate videos. It's a big collection of videos but it isn't always obvious how each video relates to another - I wonder if this confuses beginners? I presume this more modular approach was designed to let learners tailor their own learning path. Or to flexibly arrange the content into modular tracks.

Contrast the Udemy approach: The all-in-one course for a language or topic that promises the user a more linear curriculum. Of course, the quality of Udemy courses can vary hugely, but there's no doubt the all-in-one course is appealing to beginner learners.

These is a small but helpful YouTube channel which reviews online learning platforms (Udemy, Pluralsight, etc) called Tech Course Review. Here is an informative review of Treehouse from December 2020:

Treehouse Review 2021: Is Treehouse worth it?


Why would a learning platform need 41 employees? These are all instructor and expert videos. Were these 41 employees instructors? If not, for just the infrastructure is it really necessary to have 41 employees?

For creating high-quality content that people actually want to pay money for, and keeping it up to date? Of course, you can lay off most of these people and try to survive using the existing material (which Treehouse apparently wants to try), but, particularly when coding is involved, content gets obsolete really fast...

I didn't know they fired "instructors". Employee sounds a little different than the content creators.

Ironic that most people taking their courses are doing so to be able to ..... get jobs.

I always liked Treehouse's presentation but it was a bit pricey compared to other services like Udemy for example.

Comparing prices for anything (courses, software, services, etc) to a marketplace (Udemy, app stores, Upwork, etc) isn't a good comparison. A single source will never be able to compete with the efficiencies of scale, and often the quality in marketplaces is a race to the bottom.

I was always impressed by Treehouse and recommended it for people trying to learn to code. But it did require you to have more inner drive (or grit) than a bootcamp

Would love to know what caused this to happen, given (as the article says) huge amounts of money being poured into (seemingly) similar businesses.

It can be summed up easily: Most of the teachers left years ago due to a toxic work environment and all of the content went stale making it not live up to competitors.

I remember reading a number of articles by / about the founder Ryan Carson similar to this one, about not taking unnecessary investment: https://medium.com/@ryancarson/not-silicon-valleys-timeline-...

I imagine part of the problem is many of these coding schools are scams. It isn't that people can't learn from them, but what they are teaching is usually just too narrow to be all that useful.

How is it a scam? It's a month-to-month subscription service, $25/mo. from what I recall. They didn't charge 5-figure tuition and offer weak "job guarantees", which is what coding bootcamps do.

They stole much of their initial content from other people and ripped all attribution from it. I found two of my blog posts on their site, without any attribution or permission.

That is unfortunate about your blog posts. But customers pay for their video lessons, which (at least in 2014), were all created in-house.

> what they are teaching is usually just too narrow to be all that useful

They were video lessons on HTML, CSS, and other languages. Your comment makes no sense, and sounds more like projection than valid criticism.

Treehouse isn’t a school or bootcamp. It is just video lessons and such.

It is actually so much work and costs a lot to produce an online course. After you have a lot of content is it not better try and sell the content you have, and then offload the creation workload udemy style, especially with coding courses since there are so many remote work people in this space.

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