Consider the Bootcamp Grad


Hackbright Academy December 2016 Ada Cohort Graduates.

“Diversity” has been a popular buzzword these days when it comes to hiring engineers. We often hear about the need and desire to hire more women, more people of color, more people with “non-traditional” backgrounds who can help think creatively and give new insight to the industry. Here are two example candidates for you:

Sex: Male

Age: 21

Previous work experience: IT associate at UW help desk, Treasurer of ΑΣΦ

Education: Pursuing CS Degree from University of Washington

Hobbies: Hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, scuba diving, playing guitar in a local rock band, ultimate frisbee, hockey, video games, backpacking, volunteers at SPCA. Has been programming since age 15- was in computer club in high school, and took AP classes in CS.

Sex: Female

Age: 27

Previous work experience: 5+ years in the tech startup world as an executive assistant to CEOs/Founders (including Ben Parr during his “Captivology” book release), VIP customer support rep at KIXEYE, first ever assistant at Zirtual (a virtual personal assistant service), recruiter, and office manager at PAX Labs. Founded WhereArtThou, a web development company, whose products include theatre software, actor website and stage management tool.

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance, and most recently a graduate of Hackbright Academy (Full-Stack Software Engineering Bootcamp).

Hobbies: While working full-time in demanding positions by day, has performed professionally as an actress in over 30 plays and musicals in respected theatre companies all over the Bay Area. Also served as a casting assistant, and social media coordinator for many local theatres. Somehow found time to sleep and eat.

Onstage (center-right) at the Marines Memorial Theatre in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” with Bay Area Musicals- 2016 (photo credit Ben Krantz)

As you can already guess, I’m the second candidate. I’m Chloe — a recent graduate of Hackbright Academy (an all female software engineering bootcamp in San Francisco) who comes to software engineering by way of the stage. I’m not what you would call a “traditional” engineer. A little over a year ago, I had no idea how to code anything. I was performing on stage at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre in Union Square. A year later (to the day), I was presenting a web application I built at Hackbright’s demo night at the Marines’ Memorial Hotel. So, you could say I’m a candidate with a “diverse” background.

After spending a majority of my life in the arts, I came to the realization that the future was in software, and the coding bug bit me. While working for John Battelle, I heard a talk at NewCo Silicon Valley given at Google that talked about getting more young women involved in computer programming, and a lightbulb went off for me: it wasn’t too late for me to learn.

I spent months learning how to code on my own; playing around with Swift, Javascript, and Ruby through various online resources. When I got to a point where I felt like I needed to be learning full-time, I applied and was accepted to Hackbright Academy and started on my new journey as an engineer. In short, I was singing on stage in musicals and now I build my own software. So why is it so difficult for me to get into the door at most companies? Even for an entry-level internship?

The word “bootcamp” gets mixed reactions. Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of the Amazon #1 best selling interview book, Cracking the Coding Interview and a highly respected consultant and software engineer, wrote an article in November 2016 titled “So that whole coding bootcamp thing is a scam, right?”. It’s a fascinating piece on the common public perception of bootcamps. After meeting with a group of bootcamp students, she completely changed her view on the level of talent coming out of these programs. Which, to me, is no surprise.

If you’re unfamiliar with what what a coding bootcamp is, let me give you the mini summary: typically they are 12-week programs where students attend lectures, pair program, do many hours of homework, and are regularly assessed and coached by industry mentors. The program culminates with the completion of a weeks-long project designed to demonstrate that they have acquired the skills needed to code professionally. They are then loosed into the thrilling world of whiteboarding interviews. You are expected to learn complex topics very quickly (SQL, jQuery, AJAX, and Javascript in a week, anyone?) and comprehend algorithms, object oriented programming, frameworks, databases, system design, among many, many, many other topics in a very short period of time. Bootcampers learn to thrive in this intense environment and learn many complex topics at a rapid rate.

Demoing final project (LaterGator) at Hackbright ceremony. Or maybe singing a song about cron jobs? Honestly- could be either.

Which brings me to my point: there is a HUGE barrier to entry for people like me in this industry. I have all the qualities and makings of an amazing entry level engineer: I’m a quick learner, proficient in Python and Javascript, currently building my own stage management software, can nail a whiteboarding interview, and have the tenacity, intelligence, drive, resilience, and adaptability that is necessary for someone determined to make a drastic career change. However, recruiters see my resumé, don’t see a computer science degree or a previous technical job listed on it, and may say “lol- why is this girl applying for our software engineering internship?”, delete it, and move on. While I am sympathetic to this (having spent time as a recruiter), I now know I was being shortsighted.

I have also been in this scenario many times:

Applying to Internships: a play

Scene: Coffee Shop. Chloe sits at her computer with her coffee. She has spent 20+ minutes filling out essay questions for an internship she is overqualified for. At the end of the application, there is a box to check with the words “I am currently pursuing a CS degree, or have graduated from a CS program this year: yes/no”.

Chloe: Well… shit.

(end scene)

Protesting unfair hiring biases (far left). JK- this is me in “Hairspray” as Penny at Broadway by the Bay.

It’s entirely possible that applicant tracking systems are removing my resume from the queue before it even hits a recruiter’s inbox. So, how can we get more awesome, smart, quick-learning bootcamp grads through the doors? How can we get people with diverse backgrounds/genders/educations into these companies?

Here are some things you can do to help:

  1. Talk to Your Recruiters

Having been a recruiter in my previous life I know that they often give equal weight to the ‘nice-to-haves’ and ‘must-haves’ that their hiring managers have provided. It’s not their fault; most recruiters know they’re hiring an engineer that has experience working with “multiple APIs” but have no idea what an “API” is (which became quite apparent to me when a recruiter asked me if I had every worked with “appys”).

If you work somewhere you think a bootcamp grad would thrive, make sure your recruiting team knows that, and adjusts their application process so you don’t miss out on the great Bootcamp talent out there (please note “Applying to Internships: a play” above).

2. Create Apprenticeships or Programs for Bootcamp Grads

I’ve been thrilled to see companies like Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google create specific programs to help support and guide new engineers with diverse backgrounds into their companies. However, there are simply not enough opportunities like this. In fact, many of my Hackbright cohort-mates said they were disqualified from the new LinkedIn REACH program because they were only reading the first 500 applications. Yes, 500. There are well over 500 people applying to these programs, which reputedly only accept a small fraction of people when all is said and done. There is a need, and there is a demand for these roles.

And before I get off my soapbox, here are some things NOT to do:

Almost done- promise.

Make a Big Deal About Gender

I’m all for enthusiasm over hiring women. But, how am I supposed to respond to comments about being “excited to interview a female engineer”? Just because I have boobs, a quirky personality, and a shorter waiting time for your bathroom makes me no different than your male candidates.

Roll Your Eyes at this “Bootcamp Thing”

Seriously, want a free coffee? If you’re a hiring manager, engineer, or a recruiter, you could get free coffee and great conversations for over a month if you reached out to all the lovely ladies in my Hackbright alumni Slack channel alone. If you’re not sold on bootcamp grads, let one talk to you face the face, show you their project, demonstrate all the skills/languages/APIs/frameworks she’s learned since school, and pick your brain about the industry.

These women are intelligent, resourceful, highly motivated individuals who will knock your socks off with the amount of drive and perceptiveness they have. Once you’ve met one of us, I think you’ll see why I’m so passionate that you appreciate this amazing relatively untapped pool of talent.

Hackbright Academy Grads- get ’em while they’re still on the market!

If you’re looking to hire a kick-ass female junior developer, shoot me an email at and I can connect you to Hackbright’s awesome network of fresh new software engineers. Or if you want someone who loves Python, can also help your team win the offsite karaoke contest or dominate the Broadway trivia questions at trivia night, I know someone I think you’ll love. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

EDIT: Sorry guys, I’ve been snatched up by Codefresh! Still happy to connect you with some awesome Hackbrighters ❤

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