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Why This CTO Hires Bootcamp Graduates

Hiring is both risky and expensive. Team members spend countless hours in the recruiting process. Writing job descriptions, reviewing applicants, rating assessments, interviewing, negotiating and follow-up with the hiring team all take time. At smaller companies, hiring managers have other responsibilities, too.

The hiring process asks a lot of applicants as well. Applicants spend weeks or months in interviews, assessments, reference checks and more, not to mention the distraction away from the job-seeker's current job.

In the end, we all hope it’s worth the effort, but there is no guarantee. And it's not over when a final candidate accepts the offer. They could later quit or be unable to complete the demands of their new role.

Without guarantees, employers and hiring managers work to minimize risk in the process, most commonly checking references, requiring assessments and reviewing portfolios. Experience is often viewed as a magical metric, allowing employers to check many boxes at once.

To this end, candidates demonstrate their experience and competence with similar projects that they've completed in the past. These projects show that someone else trusted them and they delivered. If a candidate has done a similar project before, the thinking goes, then they are more likely to be able to complete similar work ahead.

So why then, would an employer hire a student?

The Case For Hiring Bootcamp Grads

There are strong reasons to hire code school students, and I've experienced the value firsthand for years.

Bootcamp graduates are less risky than it seems:

  • Unlike the average applicant, graduates are pre-vetted.
  • Bootcamp graduates are often fast learners, unafraid to do what it takes to move quickly.
  • Code schools optimize career development for their students and the standard curriculum creates a clear baseline of job-ready skills.
  • Completion of bootcamp programs requires dedication to work through an intensive, rapid course. This is valuable because good developers are good problem solvers.
  • Learning new skills is one of life's toughest challenges and bootcamp grads have shown they're up for the challenge.
  • The code school environment in some ways models the environment of the workplace, giving grads practical experience and a leg up over their competition.

Code Schools Are Full of Untapped Potential

Historically, the heralded computer science degree was king, considered necessary in order to become a great software engineer. Top technology companies sought alumni from Ivy League schools and big-name universities. Many companies still list a bachelor's degree as a requirement, but as code schools continue to grow in popularity, employers will shift with the tide.

Computer science degrees were once the only way to measure competence, but that's no longer true. Degrees are not the only way a job-seeker can prove their ability. In fact, bootcamps offer some advantages over their university counterparts. Code schools are full of untapped potential for employers who are hiring junior developers, in part because bootcamps provide a high concentration of potential candidates at more competitive starting salaries.

Resumes from bootcamp graduates may look unconventional, but hiring managers shouldn't mistake the uncommon for being ineffective. Software engineering is knowledge work—this style of work benefits from unique backgrounds and diverse perspectives.

Bootcamp Grads Learn Actionable Skills

Coding bootcamp students gain a demystified understanding of programming and learn through doing. Bootcamp grads know how to ship code and adapt to change, something that the theoretical and historical knowledge provided in college does not provide. Most bootcamp graduates are able to provide value and get their hands into a project quickly.

Case in point: In 2014, our company hired Ben. He was a military veteran who joined a local bootcamp in pursuit of his next career. He was sharp, articulate and eager to test his skills. Within days, he was contributing to production code, and the code Ben wrote within his first weeks following bootcamp was live for years later.

Bootcamp Grads Learn Quickly

Code schools have a cadence that’s anything but leisurely, and the rapid pace of code school attracts a certain type of student. A full college workload may consist of 15 hours per week. At code school, students endure twice the weekly classroom time. Adding homework and group sessions, the workload is 3-4x that of a college students, so bootcamp grads need little adjustment to a life on the job.

Amelia exemplifies my experience with the learning velocity of bootcamp graduates. After years of hiring bootcamp graduates, she was the first engineer we hired from DigitalCrafts. Before her bootcamp, Amelia's background was a mix of music and biology, yet another example of an unconventional entry into technology.

She ramped into production work quickly and continually sought larger opportunities. Her tenacity and work ethic allowed her to exceed all expectations we set for her. Amelia was no doubt a great student brefore her bootcamp, but she joined our team ready to keep the pace. Agency life is a steady flow of new, creative problems, and Amelia thrived.

Code Schools Offer A Dynamic Curriculum

I spent two year on my business degree, and it was painfully obvious that university education needs to be updated. Courses largely contained assignments and content that professionals outsource today. Technology and society are advancing at a breakneck pace, and the approvals and bureaucracy of college administration can't keep up.

Bootcamps are different. Unimpeded by complexity or complacency, their curriculum is evolving in real time. Modern principles and market needs shape the bootcamp education.

John was our second bootcamp hire. He opened my eyes to the potential within the code school curriculum. One day, a client called, needing help with a new programming language. John jumped at the chance to pick up the project. To support John, I enlisted the help of a long-time friend who is a seasoned software engineer. Weeks later my friend called and asked, “Where did you find John?”

My mind began racing, fearful something went wrong. I began recounting John's path from working at a coffee shop, through bootcamp and eventually onto our team. “Wow! He has an excellent engineering mind. Great find,” my friend told me.

Bootcamps Bring Racial, Gender, Socioeconomic and Cognitive Diversity to Tech

Diversity is one of the greatest values of coding bootcamps.

We know this is the tech industry's greatest weakness. Top leadership positions are dominated by middle-upper class, white males, and I am no exception. Bootcamp may provide our greatest hope of closing the labor gap and increasing diversity in tech, because their shorter durations, lower costs and varied teaching styles make them more accessible.

The answer to tech’s greatest issue is staring us in the face. Since 2014, I’ve spoken to hundreds of bootcamp graduates, and the representation in bootcamps across the country gives me hope. There is still work to be done, but code schools are among the most representative rooms I’ve seen within the industry. The talent of graduates is impressive. The work ethic and tenacity rivals their traditional counterparts.

Geraldine is a stunning example of the opportunities code schools provide. She moved from Venezuela to the US to attend college. After graduating, she wasn’t satisfied with opportunities within her major, so her friend recommended a coding bootcamp. After four years invested in college, the alternative format was enticing.

After completing her bootcamp, Geraldine faced a challenge many bootcamp graduates face. Despite her education and training, her resume didn’t fit the stereotype. Our team gave her a chance, and we benefited from her involvement for more than three years.

Toward a Better Future

There are countless examples of businesses and industries we celebrate because they reshaped our perception. Nike, once a no-name shoe importer, defied the traditional European giants. Billy Beane and Peter Brand revolutionized baseball by applying statistics to a sport dominated by gut instincts. Airbnb crippled the hotel industry, Uber rages against tax companies, and the list goes on. Today, the concepts pioneered by these trailblazers are considered common, but in their day, each endured seasons of uncertainties, doubt and disbelief.

Coding bootcamps are changing the way engineers learn. As it changes, so does the hiring and recruiting landscape. I’ve worked with code school students across all backgrounds, including former teachers, military personnel, political science majors, PhDs, college dropouts and more. Outside of their coding ability, graduates of coding bootcamps bring other valuable skills. It takes tenacity and courage to change careers. This level of grit isn't found in most candidates, which makes graduates stand out from the crowd. As a CTO who hires code school graduates, I encourage bootcamp grads to own their story. Their unique journey is part of what makes them priceless to employers.

It's that story that sets them apart.

This post was written by Morgan Lopes, CTO of New Story Charity, an organization committed to put 1,000,000 humans into safe, sustainable housing over the next decade. He is also CEO and co-founder of Polar Notion, building custom apps and digital experiences. Set a reminder for their Kickstarter to launch a book specifically for prospective bootcamp students.

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