The following is part three of a guest post series by Rob Gonzalez. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here. Rob is the co-founder of Salsify, a leading cloud-based product content management and syndication solution that I invested in in 2013 and where I currently serve on the board. Prior to founding Salsify, Rob was at IBM, Endeca and Cambridge Semantics in senior product management roles.
I frequently write about recruiting and onboarding best practices because I strongly believe that finding the right talent and setting them up for success is one of the top priorities for a founder and their early team. With competition for technical talent so fierce, Salsify has developed a process to hire new coding bootcamp grads and make them successful. I’ve invited Rob to share the details of their program to help other entrepreneurs who may be struggling to scale their teams, but have the management resources to tap into this relatively new talent pool.
At Matrix Partners, we’re big supporters of coding bootcamps. We’re investors in the Flatiron School in New York and are proud of their success and the opportunities they are creating for a whole new population of coders. Hiring a coding bootcamp grad is very different from hiring a new CS grad. While they have less technical knowledge and experience, you will generally be hiring someone extremely committed to learning and growth–important qualities in any long-term hire. But, as Rob will explain, you must have the structure and people to mentor and support these new grads if they and your company are to succeed together.
This is the third in a multi-part series Rob is publishing with TechCrunch. We’ve published the series here for our forEntrepreneurs readers.
I hope you enjoy,
Hello code bootcamp graduates, and welcome to an exciting and fulfilling career! As you know by now, programming is a highly creative art in which you get to build things that change the world every single day. The field is constantly evolving and changing — with more things to learn and discover every year than you could learn in a lifetime.
Having interviewed dozens of bootcamp graduates (including many who are a year removed and dissatisfied with their current positions), I think some have unrealistic expectations (in part set by the bootcamps themselves) about what jobs they are qualified to do after graduating, and where they might want to work. So what should you look for in a job? I don’t have all the answers, but here are some things I think are important to look for if you can find them.
Mentorship And Support
You just invested time and money to change careers. You’re at the beginning of your growth, not the end (compare yourself to an MIT grad who has taken more than 20 courses over four years). As such, make sure you join an organization that is serious about investing in you. Make sure that there will be people dedicated to coaching and working with you.
Practically speaking, this means that a company has to be a certain size to be able to make this investment; likely at least 50 people, and probably much more than that. Generally speaking, my advice to people right out of school is to find a hot, growing startup of roughly 200-700 people and get in the door doing whatever they’ll let you do — which is likely a lot, because companies like that have too much to do and not enough people to do it all!
A small boutique consultancy with fewer than 50 employees also can provide strong mentorship, but make sure to bring up the subject of growth and mentorship with any such company.
Not An Early Startup
This is the flip side of the “Mentorship And Support” criterion above. I know, I know, startups are sexy and you want to be in early (frankly, I’ve been surprised by how many people are impatient to be in the first few people at a startup straight out of a bootcamp).
I’ve seen 5-10-person startups hire code bootcamp grads, and I can’t imagine how they have the mentorship and management bandwidth to start a company while investing in you. Contrary to popular opinion, tons of successful startups are founded by people older than 22. There is time for that later. For now, focus on honing your craft.
This is strong advice not just for you, but for anyone looking for a job. Working with people who are clear, transparent and straightforward communicators will make your life significantly easier. I include this here only because clear communication is doubly important when you yourself know (relatively) little about your craft and are going to be learning a tremendous amount in very short order.
Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions to make sure you understand the product you’ll be working on, the business you’ll be a part of and the expectations they’ll have for you. I regard more highly candidates who are curious and ask good questions about a company than those who sit back and wait to be quizzed.
It sucks to struggle through a challenge on your own; it is much better with comrades. This is a big reason why companies with more than one founder are more likely to succeed. In your case, you’re going to be much better off joining a company that has other bootcamp graduates with whom to share the journey. Moreover, it’s a signal that the company has appropriate expectations about your contributions.
Make Sure You’ll be Coding
Many bootcampers get jobs as pre-sales engineers at SaaS companies and basically stop coding day-to-day (pre-sales for SaaS businesses often means that you’re the technical Q&A person brought on sales calls). This is a great career that is lucrative, but if your goal is to code, these roles are not for you. Make sure that in whatever job you take you’ll be coding every day. Per Gladwell: get in your 10,000 hours.
If Possible, Not Just Web Apps
You’ve been taught how to build a basic web app, which is great. And there are businesses that will hire you to do just that, over and over, building basic Rails app after Rails app until you’re seeing “rails g yet_another_rails_project” in your sleep.
Rails is awesome, but you’re much better off participating in a larger, more complicated project over a period of months or years than you are churning out a basic app every month and moving on to a new project.
Having just come out of a bootcamp and received whatever advice from your teachers, I’m sure you feel that Rails versus Node or something is super awesome and why would you use anything else.
The specific technology you’re going to be working with doesn’t really matter that much, as long as the problem is complicated enough and interesting. Remember, whatever tech you start in will likely not be what you’ll be using 10 years from now.
I’ve talked to bootcampers who are super happy at places as different as Athena Health and Salsify. Changing specific markets you’re working in is very easy in tech, so if you start in e-commerce and want to change to finance after a few years, then want to save the world with global edtech, it’s very easy to do. What you want first and foremost is a strong mentorship program to be able to grow, regardless of the problem space.