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!

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?

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?


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.


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 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!