Make School’s website touts some of the companies where alumni have landed


For years, online resources such as and edX have provided appealing libraries of well-produced content for self-instruction. Now, it seems a second generation of educational vendors has arisen, combining canned lessons with personalized, structured assistance in the form of mentoring, networking, or in-person teaching.

Implicitly, this hybridized approach to job prep acknowledges the need to bridge the gap between online coursework and real-world application.

We’ve compiled a list of seven of these second-generation, innovative vendors who offer low-cost, fast-track education. Most are based in Silicon Valley, and most focus on preparing tech talent.

A word of caution: “innovative” can also mean “unproven” and “risky.” Because these vendors are young and small (sometimes with 20 employees or less), it would not be surprising to find discrepancies between their marketing and their delivery. We can’t yet attest to the quality of any of these offerings, but we do commend them for experimenting with vocational education.

1. Lambda School

“A revolutionary new school that invests in you”

Lambda’s appealing hook is that you “never pay a cent” if you don’t attain a job paying at least $50,000 per year. If you do reach that level, you pay back 17% of your income for two years, to a maximum of $30,000. (This approach, known as an income sharing agreement, is increasingly common among education startups.) Lambda boosts the chances for successful placement via active “hiring partnerships” with tech companies.

Students learn through live, online classes.┬áLambda’s current curriculum is limited to computer sciences, and they offer a free “mini bootcamp” in web development.


2. Holberton School

“An alternative to college for the next generation of software engineers”

Holberton’s developer training is “completely project centered” and does not involve formal courses. Admission is open to everyone, and a high school diploma is not required.

Holberton says their two-year program is “made up of three different parts: 9 months of intense training on software engineering fundamentals, a 6-month internship, and 9 months of on-site or remote study in a specialization of your choice.”

The program brags that it has no teachers, no lectures, and no tuition. Graduates who land a job paying at least $40,000 agree to pay Holberton 17% of their income for three years. The next cohort begins in June.


3. Strive Talent

“A fair shot at a great career”

Strive mainly functions as a hiring platform: it does not provide educational content but rather prepares candidates to “prove your potential.” Strive focuses on matching companies with new sales represenatives. For those companies, Strive offers value by expanding the talent pool (beyond the typical college graduates) while still screening for high-quality candidates.

Strive’s mission suggests a desire to counter the shrinking of the American middle class. The company says they combat “rising inequality by helping candidates find middle-class, family-supporting jobs based on competencies and potential rather than credentials and pedigree.”


4. Always Hired

“Get a tech sales job”

Declaring that “companies pay us to source, screen, train and place sales talent,” Always Hired provides a free, online “Sales University” to prepare tech reps. The company also offers three-week in-person bootcamps (for an undisclosed fee) in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Always Hired says it has sourced sales talent for a long list of companies, including Google, Facebook, and Yelp.


5. Recurse Center

“A self-directed, community-driven educational retreat for programmers in New York City”

In some ways the Recurse Center seems to function as a glorified meetup for developers in the New York City area. Unlike meetups, though, the RC performs considerable screening of candidates before accepting them for one-, six- or twelve-week “batches” of collaborative activity. Attendance is free; RC makes its money by providing recruiting services for employers.

RC emphasizes that it is neither a bootcamp nor a job prep program but rather a networking venue for current programmers. The organization intentionally offers minimal structure, leaving it to “Recursers” to determine their own projects and partnerships. At the same time, their free-form ethos does seem to require a lot of rules.


6. Thinkful

“Learn 1-on-1 with industry experts”

Thinkful provides on-demand bootcamps in programming and data sciences, all within a context of one-on-one mentoring provided along the way. Mentors have an average of 10 years of industry experience and interact with students via daily, face-to-face sessions.

Thinkful offers a job guarantee: assuming you’re based in one of their designated, tech-hub cities, you get a tuition refund if you haven’t acquired a suitable position within six months of completion.


7. Make School

“College designed for the 21st century”

Make School boldly invites you to “immerse yourself in a community of makers empowered to build software to shape the world.”

Notably, they offer more than just focused training in computer sciences, saying, “A broad-based education is critical to a fulfilling life and a successful career.” Accordingly, Make School’s two-year, campus-based program includes classes on writing, personal finance, economics, and ethics. Tuition is covered via an income sharing agreement.

The school says their alumni make an average starting salary of $95,000, with many placed at well-known tech companies.