Canadian Province Cracks Down On Coding Schools

Learn-to-code programs go up against the status-quo education system. Now at least one code school has learned that it might also be going up against the law.

Bitmaker Labs’ business model is to train people in Toronto to become professional developers during a nine-week boot camp. The school’s first class of 24 students graduated in May, and 86% have already gone on to find work as developers. It’s a model that has found success in San Francisco’s Dev BootCamp, Seattle’s Code Fellows and other programs around North America. 

Ironically, it was positive media coverage that tipped off the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges, and University (MTCU) to Bitmaker Labs’ unregulated status. After the Globe and Mail wrote about students’ success with the program in April, MTCU inspectors visited Bitmaker Labs’ headquarters two weeks ago. 

Now, Bitmaker Labs has replaced its website home page with a statement:

The MTCU is concerned with the vocational nature of our program and lack of proper government oversight. Our lawyers have advised us that, to preempt any possible cease and desist order which could negatively impact our ability to teach going forward, we must discontinue operating our web development program immediately.

In a statement to ReadWrite, the MTCU said it did not ask Bitmaker Labs to take this action:

Ontario’s Superintendent of Private Career Colleges is conducting an independent inquiry into the program offered by Bitmaker Labs. No determination has been made regarding the program, no enforcement action has been taken against Bitmaker Labs and the Ministry has not requested that Bitmaker Labs cease offering its program.

Cofounder Matt Gray said he understands MTCU’s obligation to uphold the law, but he worries about the state of technological innovation in Toronto. He told me it’s not just Bitmaker Labs that is getting investigated, but also the company behind nonprofit Ladies Learning Code, HackerYou. When asked for comment, HackerYou told ReadWrite this isn't the case.

“Now which programs are going to teach people how to code?” Gray said. "How is Toronto going to stay competitive on the global tech scene? It’s like the government is stifling innovation." 

Unregulated code academies are legal in the United States, but it’s a different story in Canada, where all training facilities must operate with a government license. Since Bitmaker Labs educates, trains and finds jobs for students without any government oversight, there’s a concern that students may not be receiving the same quality of service that they would from a government program.

According to the owner and lead developer at Functional Imperative, a Toronto development company, the educational program is doing its job. Khurram Virani told ReadWrite that he has been happy with his choice to hire Bitmaker Labs alums.  

“Functional Imperative, as well as the rest of the software development community here in Toronto, struggles everyday with finding adequate talent to meet the ever increasing technology demands,” he told me in an email. “We are therefore supportive of any institution that increases the supply of quality development talent in Canada, and we feel that the government should be taking a similar stance.”

Photo of Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Brad Duguid via YouTube.

Update at 3 PM: This story has been updated to reflect a response from Toronto coding school HackerYou.

Update at 3:15 PM: This story has been updated to reflect a response from the MTCU.