Bootcamp Grads: A Tech Recruiter’s Dream

Some of our favorite hiring managers in San Francisco share successful experiences recruiting and hiring diverse engineering teams, from bootcamps like Hackbright Academy, to building healthy engineering cultures:

Pat Poels, VP Engineering, Eventbrite

“I don’t want to hire only very senior people who’ve been in the industry for 10 or 15 years. I want to have a mix of new ideas and new developers as well. Hackbright is a great channel for that. We call that ‘junior developer’ role a Software Engineer Level One. There are a lot of interesting problems to solve at Eventbrite, so we don’t really look for a certain kind of engineer from Hackbright Academy. We’re looking for people we think are a good fit for the company, people who we think are really smart and have a great potential to learn.”

Danny Chi, VP Engineering, Tripping

“I’d love to come to Hackbright Demo Night because you can meet over 20 candidates in one night. It provides individuality a chance. I’m currently mentoring for the fifth time at Hackbright Academy. Because I’m mentoring, I’ve participated in whiteboarding sessions and we’ve been able to meet candidates outside of the recruiting cycle. For example, a Hackbright graduate participated in a whiteboarding workshop I was at, and gave me her resume for consideration. We’ve interviewed 30 candidates for 3 engineering hires. This is the same hiring clip as hiring across other recruiting channels, so being a part of the Hackbright community is a win. My one recommendation for bootcamp grads is to add React or any type of JavaScript to your app, as this will help you differentiate yourself from computer science graduates who tend to be heavy on theory and backend work.”

Arup Chakrabarti, Director of Engineering, PagerDuty

“The biggest thing to remember is that new developers need to be able to show potential over their technical ability. Not that technical ability is not important, but there is only so much I can expect out of a junior candidate. Instead, I look for solid communication skills, a genuine passion for software, curiosity beyond what they have learned in school, and raw drive. The projects that students work on are a very good way to demonstrate these things. Every student should keep working on their projects after demo day and be ready to show that to potential hiring managers. The other thing that Hackbright graduates need to leverage is the fact that many have years of work experience vs. someone that I hire straight out of undergrad. They know how to show up to work and basic professional habits over fresh college grads. This is something I tell all of my students to point out when they are interviewing as that means they are inherently less risky to hire.”

Alex Bekker, Director of Engineering, Udemy

“Ignore what languages candidates have experience with and instead focus on what they are capable of producing with them. Regardless of experience, everyone starts at the bottom of the learning curve on day one of a new job, so it’s a question of how quickly they can learn and how high their ceiling is, both of which are answered by what they can do today with what they learned so far. At Udemy, we like to give candidates take home projects and have them present to the team rather than the typical phone screen and on-site whiteboarding process, which is all kinds of broken.”

Emma Lubin, Engineering Manager, GoDaddy

“Someone making a mid-career switch can leverage their previous professional experience and learn quickly. Leading small teams and shipping projects are accomplishments that hiring managers will look at even if they were achieved in a different industry. I condensed nearly a decade of biology research into a few lines on a resume, and devoted more space to descriptions of small coding class projects that were nowhere near that kind of accomplishment. I started getting attention to my resume only after I put ALL of my skills on it. Software engineering is a tool to solve a wide array of problems, and it needs engineers with diverse backgrounds and approaches — that’s one reason companies are hiring from bootcamps.”

Brina Lee, Engineering Manager, Quip

“We not only bring a more diverse group of team members onboard, but we also make them want to stay and to give Quip their best. That’s important: You need to focus not only on recruiting good people, but retaining them. We’ve seen that once we started bringing in a broader range of people who stick around, our diversity snowballed. That can work for any company. Once you’ve got your first woman in engineering, it’s a lot easier to hire your second. And third. And fourth…”

Learn more about bootcamp grads:

  • “Higher percentage of female [coding bootcamp] graduates offers a more diverse talent pool. Women attain just 14% of computer science degrees, whereas they represent between 36% and 40% of bootcamp graduates.” (1-page)
  • “Even at colleges with a high percentage of women CS grads, the numbers are still small. … 511 total women in 2013. If Google hired ALL these women, it would increase their female percentage by 1.5 percentage points, leaving the whole rest of the technology industry bereft of female new-college-grad hires.” (TechCrunch)
  • “Bootcamp grads are junior programmers. They have a lot to learn, and represent an investment on the part of a company that hires them. This is also true of recent college graduates. We’ve found bootcamp grads as a group to be better than college grads at web programming and writing clean, modular code, and worse at algorithms and understanding how computers work. All in all, we’ve had roughly equivalent success working with the two groups.” (TripleByte)

Interested in hiring brilliant grads of Hackbright Academy? Learn more about how to partner with Hackbright Academy to hire your next female software engineers!
Hackbright’s next recruiting evening is March 8, 2017 in San Francisco – join us!

You Survived Bootcamp, Now What? Advice From a Hiring Manager and Mentor

emmalubinEmma Lubin is an engineering manager at GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar and web hosting provider, aiming to radically shift the global economy toward small businesses. She obtained a Ph.D in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013, and became a software development intern at GoDaddy the following year. She quickly became a software engineer there, and last April was promoted to engineering manager.

Emma volunteered as a mentor at Hackbright in 2016, and served as a guest speaker at the Bootcamp to Engineer: How I Landed My Job panel event. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and eating burritos, often at the same time.


 

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from bootcamp. Maybe you’re now looking for your first software job, or maybe you’ve been there a while and are aiming for a leadership position. Either way, as someone who’s been hiring for the past few years, I can give you some tips I wish I had known when I was first starting in a similar position.

Know where you’re going

When changing your career, you have options: you can make a 180 degree pivot into software engineering, or you can combine programming with your past expertise. I often hear from bootcamp grads that their program focused on web development skills, but as they’ve gone more in depth into software engineering they’ve gotten a better idea of how broad the landscape of the technology industry is, refined their interests, and decided to focus on backend engineering, or work in product management.

At GoDaddy, I’ve worked with bootcamp grads who have made both choices — one woman combined her design background with engineering to become a UX engineer, while others don’t use their backgrounds in day-to-day work — and in both cases they have made enormous contributions to the team. Be clear with prospective employers about what you want, and find one who will help you achieve it. Being unsure of what you want right after bootcamp is an understandable and common position, too, and if that’s the case for you, don’t be hesitant to look for environments that will help you develop your interests. There are companies out there, like GoDaddy, that are willing to invest in people who are ambitious and smart and help them grow their career the way they want. Engineers there are encouraged to explore new directions as they develop more real-world coding skills and discover opportunities they might not have known about when they first came onboard.

Whichever course you’re taking, one mistake I made that I’ve seen in others was downplaying my past experiences; don’t discount these, to yourself or to those looking to hire you. While there’s a never-ending amount of industry knowledge you’ll develop, many analytical and professional skills you already have are translatable between fields. One person described this to me as having a vector of skills; I was just pointing that vector in a new direction.

When I first applied for software internships, I condensed nearly a decade of biology research into a few lines on a resume, and devoted more space to descriptions of small coding class projects that were nowhere near that kind of accomplishment. I started getting attention to my resume only after I put all of my skills on it. Software engineering is a tool to solve a wide array of problems, and it needs engineers with diverse backgrounds and approaches — that’s one reason companies are hiring from bootcamps. Someone making a mid-career switch can leverage their previous professional experience and learn quickly; leading small teams and shipping projects are accomplishments that hiring managers will look at even if they were achieved in a different industry.

Overlooked skills that matter

When I hire for a junior or senior engineering role, I ask technical questions that I’ve calibrated against other candidates at those levels. For many companies, though, hiring a bootcamp grad is uncharted territory, and your interviewers may not know what skill level to expect from someone straight out of bootcamp. They may not have developed metrics for what a strong bootcamper interview looks like. This is something that will change over time, but for now, if a company asks questions that are targeted for someone with traditional industry experience, don’t get discouraged or interpret it as a reflection of your prospects in the field.

My own interview process for bootcamp grads is a work in progress and I know that, particularly when I first started interviewing, I passed up good candidates because of its flaws. When interviewing a bootcamp grad, I try to identify a candidate I think GoDaddy should make an investment in and grow within the company, and largely look for three things: problem-solving ability, motivation, and communication.

I’ve learned that, for a bootcamp grad, expecting working code by the end of the interview isn’t a valuable metric. Analytical skills don’t come only from coding Python. Someone who has raw problem-solving skills and is excited about the work they’re doing will have the drive to learn new technologies — something required of any software engineer, no matter their background — and be able to contribute to the team.

Many bootcamps, Hackbright included, will prepare you for whiteboarding interviews and stress the importance of communication — you’ll do a lot of learning on your own once you get the job, but much of what you’ll develop comes from discussion with your peers, and as your future coworker, I want to know that we can work through a problem together. Being able to describe the blocker you ran into when you don’t know the landscape or vocabulary is one of the higher activation barriers to pass when switching fields to software engineering. Interview me, too, to see if I’m doing a good job of helping you; the fastest way to get past that barrier is with the help of strong, on-the-job mentors.

Before you get to the whiteboard, the first step in the interview process is often a coding challenge or phone screen. The problems you’ll solve will be similar to those in whiteboarding interviews, but not all bootcamps will prepare you for them. It’s important to practice and get comfortable in the environments you’ll be working in; use a headset and solve problems in online codepair tools like hackerrank or collabedit. If you haven’t already, find practice problems on leetcode, careercup, or interview cake and try as many as you have time for.

Use your coding skills as a voice

The other advice I want to give you is not as a hiring manager but as a software engineer looking for ways to make the world a freer, more tolerant, and safer place. There have recently been calls for citizens to re-engage with their civic responsibility. While there are a number of ways to respond to that summons, as software engineers and as women who have an outside perspective on our industry, you are in a critical position. Technology will be key in helping to effect social change in this country and spreading education at the speed we need it. There are already nonpartisan efforts like Code for America that use technology to benefit their local communities, and there will be a growing number of initiatives and ideas that need web and app developers like you to volunteer, and holes in our society that need your innovations. Many people join the technology industry to disrupt another field; while you’re doing this, think about how you can similarly bring about change in our country. You are smart, capable, and trained — don’t count on anyone else to do this work.

Know that you’ve got what it takes

I know that some of you have already found your first (or second or third) job, and others are still sending out applications. Whatever stage you’re at, remember that deciding to switch to a new industry and taking the steps to get there is no small accomplishment. Whether you know exactly what you want right now, or want to develop the industry knowledge to figure it out, you and your skills are valued at an ever-growing number of companies.

Thanks to the awesome Hackbright alums at GoDaddy (Celia Waggoner, Ellen O’Connor, and Terri Wong) who advised me on what questions they wish they’d had answers to when graduating from bootcamp.

Diversity Part I: How To Strip Gender Bias From Hiring

First in a three-part series on how to implement diversity in software engineering teams, by leaders at successful companies.

Sonja Gittens OttleySonja Asana Diversity Lead is Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Asana, where she’s responsible for crafting the company’s strategies for recruiting employees from underrepresented groups and creating an inclusive environment that allows them to thrive. Prior to her roles in diversity & inclusion at Asana and at Facebook, she was global policy counsel for Yahoo’s Business & Human Rights Program. She is a native of Trinidad & Tobago.

Sonja, an attorney by training from Trinidad and Tobago, joined Asana a year ago, after over a year as Facebook’s global diversity program manager, and nearly ten years at Yahoo before that. Follow her on Twitter at @SonjaOttley.


Diversity in the workplace. For some people, it’s enough to say it’s the right thing to do. But there are studies that show that teams that are inclusive — meaning people don’t have to be different on the outside from the inside to fit in — make a difference that results in more innovation and more money.

If you’re not seeing qualified candidates for your positions, look at yourselves instead.

When you have a diverse and inclusive team, you get different approaches to goals and you have a broader set of knowledge and experience. As a result, you are more likely to innovate. Yes, there are plenty of companies making money hand over fist without diverse teams. Imagine what they could do with them.

At Asana, we wouldn’t say we are successful yet, but we believe we’re on the right track. This is a mission for us, and we are still making progress. It’s really easy to talk loftily about what you’re trying to achieve, but it’s not useful unless you are comfortable doing it. So we are trying to ground our efforts in data to determine what really works. Our product makes it easier for teams to track their work with greater clarity, accountability, and efficiency, so tracking and measuring our diversity tactics is second nature to us.

Company culture starts with you

From the start, your company needs to ensure that its culture is absolutely encouraging for any underrepresented group — women, minorities, anyone who is qualified to do the job. If you’re not seeing qualified candidates for your positions, look at yourselves instead. Before a software engineer applies for a position anywhere, they look closely at the job description and the company. But they also look at the company culture, both online and in the real world. Every employee is a walking ad for your company. What message are they sending?

AsanaEngineering

Asana Engineering

The companies that leading candidates want to connect with are those where they feel they can not only do the work and ship products, but find a space in which to thrive and grow. Are there management opportunities? Is there active mentoring to turn today’s coder into tomorrow’s VP of Engineering or CTO? And whether or not they plan to start a family, your family leave policy will tell them something about how much the company values long-term employees. Most of all, if they’re not seeing anyone from an underrepresented group in a place they would like to be at the company, they may not even apply.

Diversity policies can’t just be bold statements on your About Us page. The need to be actively encouraged. At Asana, we offer mentoring and coaching to staff at all levels, so as we grow, our experienced staff will grow with us.

What works — and what doesn’t

We encourage interviewers not to focus on resumes.

 We’ve tried many things to see if they will improve our recruitment and retention of employees from across the range of potential applicants. Some things work notably well. First, we encourage interviewers not to focus on resumes. Assume that anyone making it to the interview stage has the relevant checkboxes you would find on a resume. Instead, get straight to the point and probe them about their skills, and about what they have already done and built. Students may not have had a place to show off their accomplishments outside of their transcripts, so it’s up to the interviewer to find out what they might have done in school besides ace tests. Did they build something, or contribute to an open-source project?


We don’t remove names from resumes to hide gender or possible ethnic backgrounds. We do reach beyond the standard A-list of schools. A name-brand university like Harvard or MIT might have a diverse student body, but focusing on the big names overlooks schools like Harvey Mudd, which has an excellent computer science department, and an unusually high percentage of women coming out of that curriculum. We look at what they actually learned and built.

Trevor

Sometimes having bias means not recognizing it.

Software engineers can largely be evaluated on the basis of their code, something less true or not true for other roles in a company. We take advantage of that opportunity: As a first step, we do blind, anonymous code evaluations without any identifiable candidate data on them.

We encourage gender-neutral pronouns, a potential source of bias even among people who think they have none, from our internal feedback on candidates. Everyone is referred to as “they” or “them.”

We use interviewing.io to remove gender and ethnic clues even from phone screens. Interviewers can’t make out the candidate’s true vocal tone, or hear regional accents that might bias them. After all, don’t we all have accents?

One company can’t do it alone

At the big-picture level, we work with organizations like Project Include and Founder’s Commitment to develop and share best practices with other companies. Far from being a distraction, diversity recruitment, and retention practices have the potential to make our industry even more gravity-defying, more disruptive to outdated ways, more mind-bogglingly profitable than it already is.

We’re proud of the culture we’ve created at Asana, and the people we’ve attracted to work here when they have so many other options. But no one firm is going to figure it out by themselves. As engineers, we focus on data and metrics to determine what works and what doesn’t, and we document and share our best practices as proof to others that our success — or at least, our progress — offers reproducible results.


Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry. Learn more about our full-time software engineering fellowshipIntro to Programming night courses, volunteer mentor opportunities, and how to partner with us to hire female software engineers and #changetheratio of women in tech!