Diversity Part III: How to Find, Hire and Keep Bootcamp Engineers

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

tasTasneem “Taz” Minadakis is an Engineering Manager at Uber, responsible for Rider Growth. The goal is to create magical experiences for new riders on the platform, which lead to riders using and recommending Uber to friends and family. Before Uber, Taz worked at JD Edwards in Denver, Microsoft in Seattle, then spent almost two years at Yelp managing Ad Delivery Platform. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from L.D. College of Engineering in India and a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Southern California.


Diversity is important to building any engineering team. Diversity is not just about gender, but about background and experiences. Bringing in talent who’ve switched to coding after a few years in another role like a scientist, lawyer, or analyst can be a great way to bring this diverse talent to your organization. These candidates have the soft skills that are a must for any engineering role today as well as hunger to grow and learn new skills.

To hire bootcamp graduates, there isn’t a recipe in my opinion. Each company is different and will need to find a process and structure that works best for them. But a few things do matter. First and foremost is willingness. The organization needs to be willing to acquire talent from non-traditional avenues like bootcamp programs.

Create a recruiting path for bootcampers

The next step is the recruiting process. At Yelp, we chose not to provide a higher monetary incentive for recruiting diverse candidates. We did hire graduates from diverse computer science programs. In addition, we also tried to recruit talent from bootcamp programs. Same is true at Uber.

Through the recruiting process, it is important to pick the right interview panel that recognizes talent and potential. It is very natural for interviewers to compare bootcamp graduates against someone who has had a four year computer science degree with a few internships under their belt. It is important to have interviewers look for potential by reviewing their work done during the bootcamp project. I do not recommend altering the interview process, however it is important to evaluate based on how far the candidate has come through the formal training they received in a short window in time.

Once you have hired someone, then it is important to provide them the support and training needed for them to thrive. Ensure that the new hire gets a mentor. I’d encourage having the mentor opt in. The amount of time, effort, and bandwidth they will need to provide these non-traditional candidates is very different from a computer science graduate from Berkeley or Waterloo. The mentor needs to be invested in the mentee in coaching them to be independent and valuable to the organization with time.

Mentors and mentees

sheknowsbetter

Mentees may need to train their mentors, too.

The mentor-mentee relationship goes both ways. The mentors certainly have the knowledge and willingness, but might lack the training and structure to provide feedback that the mentee might need. By contrast, the candidates coming from bootcamp programs may have worked professionally in different industries in the past and have the maturity to handle constructive feedback. As a mentee, you will need to help your mentor help you. I have suggested creating a weekly goal setting exercise with your mentor or manager. Just like at the bootcamp, track your progress for the first couple months and ensure that you remove ambiguity in how your progress is being evaluated.

Mentees: You need to own your mentorship, because you have the most to lose. The path to establishing yourself in an organization can be very steep for non-traditional candidates. The knowledge acquired at programs like Hackbright is a drop in the ocean relative to the skills needed to become productive in a professional setting. You have to trust in your ability to learn quickly as you will be thrown into a whirlwind in the first few months.

On the leadership side, both mentors and managers need to provide the psychological safety that fosters learning. Bootcampers have communication, collaboration and leadership skills that will be valuable to the organization over time. But they also need time to acquire the technical knowledge needed to be productive.

Evaluate more often

Once you have recruited and began mentoring this candidate, the next obvious question comes around evaluation. I have personally asked myself this question and I don’t have a real good answer. But I recommend you ask yourself and your leadership on how should you evaluate a bootcamper within the first 3 months of being on the job? Should they be evaluated just the same as your computer science graduate from Berkeley or Waterloo? If so, is it a bar that is too high to be met? If not, then why not?

All in all, broadening your hiring to turn diverse graduates into valuable employees means focusing on achieving results, rather than standardizing the process. I am not sure of a formula that can work for every manager out there. But it is important to be open to the idea, be flexible in your recruiting and training process and be fair when evaluating their progress. What matters is not where they are from, but what they can do.

Missed the first two parts? Read  Diversity Part I: How To Strip Gender Bias From Hiring and Diversity Part II: How To Retain Your Employees.


Interested in hiring brilliant bootcamp grads? Our women software engineers go through a rigorous and immersive 12-week software engineering fellowship. Learn more about how to partner with Hackbright Academy to hire your next software engineers. 

How To Retain Your Employees (The Diversity Files, Part II)

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

Brina Lee was hired as a full-stack engineer at Quip, working on their document editor and leading their Android platform. Brina majored in Communications at UC San Diego as an undergrad, and began her first job at a startup in a marketing position. She quickly realized the company needed a website, and taught herself to build it. She enjoyed coding and decided to pursue a CS degree. While taking the necessary classes to apply for a Masters program, she continued working part-time and later joined Yahoo! as an Interaction Designer. A year and a half later, after starting a CS Masters program at UCSD, she landed internships at Google and Facebook. After joining Facebook full time and going through the onboarding program, she joined Instagram in 2013 as the first female engineer. After more than two years there, she joined Quip over a year ago and is now an engineering manager after Quip’s acquisition by Salesforce.


Quip's engineering team

Quip’s diverse engineering team. Click for full size.

Diversity not only attracts good engineers, it keeps them. In October 2015, I joined the engineering team at Quip, which, at the time, was 50 percent women and 50 percent men. We are now up to twenty engineers — 30 percent are women, with plenty more in the pipeline.

Quip has such a diverse team because our founders put a lot of thought into diversity before they even started the company. They wanted people who come from different backgrounds, and have worked on different things. In their experience, if you continue to build your team with everyone from one background, you get a product built for one mindset.

Quip, they envisioned, was to be a productivity tool that could be understood and embraced by a wide range of people, not just Silicon Valley startup geeks. So they wanted that range of backgrounds and experience on the team. I was explicitly hired for my interdisciplinary experience beyond traditional software engineering roles.

Have we succeeded, you ask? Measurably? I’d say so. Salesforce, whose corporate mission includes diversity and equality, bought our company in August for $750 million not only because of our diversity, but because of the product we’ve built and the team behind it.

Your team should mirror your customers

Diversity at Quip isn’t about quotas, or token hires. Diversity is about removing the concept that some people are categorized as “other.” To us, a team doesn’t feel right unless it’s full of people who are all different from each other. The world is full of LGBTQ+, Black, Latinx, and woman coders, as well as ones right out of college and those with 10+ years of experience. Teams should reflect that, too. Everyone’s perspective is valuable in building a better Quip.

We don’t have explicit numeric goals, as I said, but we constantly ask ourselves if our teams mirror the makeup of our potential customer base and the society we live in. If they don’t, we ask ourselves if there’s something we can do to bring a broader range of qualified people onboard.

Once you’ve made that decision, the first place to look is your recruiting funnel. Are you sticking to name-brand schools and big-name companies? We remove those from engineering candidates’ profiles when evaluating them. That way we’re not wowed that someone got into MIT, nor do we expect a Stanford grad to walk in with a network of business contacts on her phone. The first thing that matters is: Can you code?

We also look for team skills: Can you communicate? Can you show us that you can think through a problem? You don’t need to solve it during the interview, but I want to see that you work with me to solve it, exactly as you would do on the job.

Hire the best, not the smartest

Diversity means more than tokens

“Why does every duck we hire quit?”

We aren’t looking for the smartest person in the room. They might not be the best coder, or the best team member. Arrogance and know-it-all-ism are red flags in an interview for us. Maybe they really are smarter than everyone, but that won’t necessarily get our products built.

To that end, don’t ask trick interview questions. Ask a question the candidate can think through, so you can observe how they think and work. Do they ask their own questions back, to better define the challenge? Can they sketch out the problem and solution on a whiteboard or a laptop? We start with Coderpad phone interviews, then bring promising candidates onsite for a whiteboard interview. We also do a laptop interview, where they have to sit at a screen onsite, looking at other people’s code and files to try to move a project forward. After all, that will be their daily job.

And contrary to Silicon Valley fables, we realize people have lives outside of work. Yes, sometimes the two intersect — Bret Taylor and Kevin Gibbs actually came up with the idea of Quip while Kevin was on parental leave — but our co-founders understand the value of work and personal lives being separate, too. Our culture recognizes that if good employees are supported and encouraged in having full lives outside the office, they’re more productive and aren’t counting the hours until they can leave.

Working all waking hours, canceling family and social events constantly to handle the latest crisis – these are signs of poor organization. It encourages running in circles and diving down rabbit holes. It rewards constant activity, when what the company needs is productivity.

Know when to go home

Quip engineersIn fact, Bret and Kevin leave the office at 5:30pm every day, so they can focus on everything that’s going on in their personal lives. This sets a tone for the whole company, and means that no one feels like they’re being watched, or timed by their boss. Everyone puts in plenty of hours, in and out of the office, without feeling peer-pressured to stay when they shouldn’t, to look busy, or to play attendance games instead of meeting deadlines.

The result is 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…

Missed the first piece? Read  Diversity Part I: How To Strip Gender Bias From Hiring here.


Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry. Interested in partnering with us to hire software engineers and #changetheratio of women in tech?