Posts

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 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. 

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!