Angela Stugren has 15+ years of experience in the recruiting and consulting world and is currently VP of Career Development and Employer Partnerships at Coding Dojo. That means she is building out the Coding Dojo career development and core partner programs, and is also the perfect person to answer all of our questions about standing out as a bootcamp graduate in the job application process and negotiating your salary once you've landed a job.
How large is the Career Placement team at Coding Dojo?
Right now, the team is just me! I do however get a lot of support from our Marketing and Instruction teams, which has been great. I oversee career development and employers partnerships for Seattle, San Jose, and our newest campus in Burbank. The team should fill out quickly though as we are recruiting for two Career Development Coaches: one for San Jose and one for Seattle. We are also going to bring in various consultants and industry experts to speak and engage students on numerous career development topics.
We’re building out a much more robust program now than we had in the past, but that means building a lot of this from scratch. What does a career development coach for a bootcamp look like?
Do you have formal agreements with hiring partners? Are they paying to be part of your hiring network?
In the past, Coding Dojo had an employer paid partnership program, but we’ve since changed this and there is no longer a charge to hire our graduates. We want to make sure that our students get access to all potential opportunities, not only the ones that employers are willing to paying for. The goal is to build a relationship with the employer, understand what the employer needs, and then help facilitate the meetings between the students and the employers.
What are employers looking for in bootcamp graduates?
A lot of employers look for students that have a really strong work ethic and who accomplish goals outside of their day-to-day. For example, graduates who can demonstrate their projects in a portfolio shows employers what they’ve done during the bootcamp. But employers also want to see what they did above and beyond the bootcamp. Employers tell me that they’d love to see what our graduates do on the side. Are they working on other side projects? Are they part of any other organizations? Do they teach? Do they contribute to projects on Github?
Employers are starting to look at alternative ways of evaluating students, not just based on their resume.
Coding Dojo teaches three full technology stacks: LAMP Stack, MEAN Stack, and Ruby on Rails. Have you noticed that employers are looking for a specific language right now?
It’s pretty well-distributed but it really depends on the employer. Companies use particular languages to develop their product, but many of them are open to interviewing students who know other languages. Once a company starts hiring for more seasoned, senior developers, then you’ll start seeing more specific demands.
Do employers have influence over the Coding Dojo curriculum? Is there a feedback loop in place?
We don’t have a formalized program in place for that feedback loop, but the lines of communication are open. For example, this morning I received an email from an employer giving me feedback on a candidate, and we take that feedback into consideration and feed in into the curriculum.
If we’re seeing a lot of feedback on a particular technology we’re lacking in, we can add to the curriculum easily. One of my responsibilities is to build a program in which the curriculum that we’re building is meeting the needs of potential employers.
Where do you suggest students start their job search once they’ve graduated from a coding bootcamp?
- There are obvious job boards and big sites like Dice, Monster and Indeed- those are great resources.
- Students should also start looking at smaller sites- if you’re really interested in startups, you should definitely be looking at AngelList. A site called Junior Dev Jobs is devoted to junior developers, bootcamp grads, and self-taught developers.
- The majority of the job search should be really focused on networking and discovering opportunities outside of advertisements because there are so many things out there unadvertised. For example, if you’re interested in Ruby on Rails, there are tons of meetups dedicated to Ruby on Rails. Meetup.com is a great resource to find networking groups. Also, simply researching companies or industries that you’re interested on Data.com can also be helpful. This is a very simple site that’s primarily used by sales people but is a great resource if you’re trying to find companies that are located around you or within a specific industry.
- We teach Boolean search here at Coding Dojo, so that students are more adept to run searches and finding opportunities that maybe others are missing. A lot of companies advertise on their site or information can be found. Learning simple boolean techniques can make your searches more effective.
What if a job listing says that the candidate should have a “four-year computer science degree?” Should a bootcamp graduate still apply for that job or should they just skip over those listings?
It depends on what else you see in the job description. If the job description says “seeking someone with 0-2 years experience and a four-year degree,” a bootcamp graduate can definitely explain their background and why they’re a good fit for that role.
However, if the job description says “seeking a senior level developer with 5-10 years of experience and a four-year degree,” that may not be a job you’re qualified for.
I would encourage a bootcamp student to reach out to the hiring manager or the recruiter at that company and be honest. Say, “Hey, I noticed that you’re looking to hire senior developers. I’m a junior developer, but I would love the opportunity to meet with you.” Don’t think that just because the company is advertising for senior roles that they’re not open to talking to junior developers. The majority of junior positions are not advertised.
Why is that?
I’ve been on the employer-side and I didn’t advertise those junior roles because I didn’t need to spend advertising money on those roles. Instead, I used my network. I reached out to everybody I knew on LinkedIn. I think it’s a good idea for students to network and start talking to people vs. relying on applications alone.
If someone has a non-technical background (a poet, writer, etc), how can they incorporate that into their job application? Or should they be hiding that background?
I tell Coding Dojo students never to discount their previous experience. Your previous experience is as important as what you have learned at a bootcamp. For example, if you were a marketing coordinator before bootcamp, and you want to be a front-end developer after the bootcamp, then your background in marketing can potentially help the user experience. You know the ins and outs of marketing and now you know how to code. That will make you a better front-end developer, and you should make that clear to a company.
If you were a writer in a past-life, remember that developers still have to write, communicate with other developers and with non-technical team members. If you were in nursing or biotech, a field totally unrelated to web development, you can now code with a unique background in that industry that few others have. That actually makes you more desirable.
Plus, remember that in any role, you learn valuable experiences. You make mistakes and you learn from it and you can apply that to a developer role.
Obviously bootcamps are growing, and there are a lot more graduates in the job pool these days. How can bootcamp grads set themselves apart from other candidates?
- Make sure that your personal projects and code samples are very strong. When you first start at your bootcamp, your first project probably isn’t as strong as your last one. Go back through your portfolio and make sure that it’s clean and that those projects would be impressive to an employer.
- Show that you’re going above and beyond the bootcamp’s graduation requirements. There are so many graduates of bootcamps, computer science degrees, and technical institutes. Show what you’ve accomplished outside of work: did you volunteer? Did you take on a personal project? Have you contributed to open source projects? Are you part of a meetups group and do you contribute that way? Participate in a hackathon- that’s something you can talk about in an interview!
- Prepare for your interviews- both behavioral and technical. You should prepare for an interview like you prepare for a test, writing down questions and your answers, practicing on a whiteboard etc. You’d be surprised how many people don’t prepare for their interview and try to wing it.
- Have questions ready for your potential employer and make sure to research them before you interview. Show that you have a general desire and curiosity for technology and for them. You want to make sure that employers see that desire in you.
How long should somebody wait after graduating until they start to apply for jobs? Is it more important to rebuild your portfolio or to get on your first interview?
That’s a great question and it’s one that we’ve tinkered around with at Coding Dojo. My personal opinion is that at the midway mark, students need to start networking; not necessarily applying for jobs, but they do need to start the networking process. Go to a meetup, networking event, or job fair once a week. Let them know that you’re currently a student and tell people about your projects.
If you start that in the middle of your program vs. at the very end of the program, you’ve already built up a network, and you can tell that whole network when you graduate!
In terms of the job application process, we encourage students to get their portfolios up and running and then start the application process. However, don’t let your portfolio be a source of procrastination. You can’t wait forever to look for a job; setting goals and due-dates for yourself is a really good way to find a job within your own timeframe.
Do you have advice for shy bootcampers who aren’t natural “networkers?”
We’re actually going to teach a whole class on networking for this reason. Many coding bootcamp students are really shy when it comes to networking, but it’s amazing how much easier it is after your first or second event. At your first meetup, you don’t even have to say much. Find a meetup that is organized around a speaker on a topic that you’re interested in. Also, taking someone with your to your first events can sometimes help.
Make mini goals to talk to two people at the first networking event. Then you achieve that goal and at the next event, give yourself a new mini goal. By the time you’re done with the bootcamp you’ll be an expert!
What are some of the pitfalls that you’ve seen bootcamp students make when they try to get a job really quickly after graduating?
- The first mistake is assuming that the job will come to you. Finding a job is a fulltime job. You need to utilize multiple resources. Students who only rely on traditional job applications are making a mistake. It’s the first thing we teach students because it’s the easiest and it gets you acquainted with the job market, but it’s definitely not how most people find jobs. If you’re spending all your time submitting applications and no time reaching out to people via email or going to networking events or trying to have coffees or informationals, you’re missing out on a ton of opportunities.
- The second pitfall is getting discouraged. You’ll probably get some rejections, and that discouragement is seen through the interview process. Although it sounds very cliché, you need to stay positive and know that there are more fish in the sea. Every time you interview, it’s practice. Your next interview will most likely be better.
What can a bootcamp student expect in a Junior Developer interview?
It depends on the type of junior developer role- whether it’s front-end or back-end.
In general, most students can expect some kind of phone screen. Usually it’s a recruiter phone screen that lasts about 30 minutes. Typically after that, there’s an onsite interview that includes a technical screen. Usually there’s whiteboarding involved, especially if the job is a middle to back-end development position.
The whiteboarding interview and technical screen usually involve questions about data structures or algorithms if it’s a very technical role. From there, expect some type of behavioral questions.
How does Coding Dojo prepare students for those interviews?
- Make sure that you have your 30-second pitch prepared for when the interviewer says “Tell me about yourself.” I tell everybody to write it down on paper and practice it. That will come in handy during an interview or while networking.
- From a behavioral perspective, we’re starting to put students at Coding Dojo through mock behavioral interviews. Even before a mock interview, you should go through your resume and write down examples of your biggest accomplishments. Before students even meet with me in a one-on-one, I tell them to bring me their biggest accomplishments, whether that’s in previous roles or in school or both, because you always want to back up your answers with specific examples.
- Lastly is technical mock interviews. Students here go through whiteboarding every morning so they’re used to working on the whiteboard. At Coding Dojo, we are going to start putting students through technical mock interviews by the end of 2015.
The Coding Dojo career program is in the process of being rebuilt now and students are starting to see the effects of that. The moment students are graduating from the bootcamp, they’re being immediately immersed into career development. They are going to receive 4 weeks of workshops and one-on-one and hands-on training and development specifically to help students transition into a career. That includes anything from a workshop on writing their resumes to managing compensation in a negotiation; helping them connect with employers and then bringing in speakers to talk about different career options with students.
I think students that come into Coding Dojo are going to see a lot more career development being offered when they graduate that we’ve had in the past.
Since you’ve worked as a recruiter before, do you suggest that bootcamp grads work with recruiting firms also?
I do suggest that students work with recruiters, but I think it’s really important for them to understand the role of recruiters, the type of recruiter, and their goals.
There’s a huge difference between a recruiter who is in a search firm doing permanent staffing versus a recruiter who does consultancy contract staff augmentation. Understanding those different types of recruiters and who their audience is will help you better prepare for an interview with that recruiter.
Have you had students who strictly wanted to do freelance when they graduated?
Yes, I’ve seen students who want to do freelance. More commonly, I’ve seen students who are interested in remote work. If you’re very interested in doing contract or freelance work, finding a couple of recruiters in the contract business would be good resources.
There are entire sites dedicated to people who want to freelance. You just need to understand that freelancing is very different than working for a company. Freelancing is like running your own business.
I also encourage freelance work while you’re looking for a permanent job.
With imposter syndrome being a buzzword of the moment, let’s talk about compensation. How should students approach compensation and negotiation?
Salary will almost always brought up by the employer and I don’t think students need to feel like they need to bring it up in the first conversation. However, you should do a couple of things to prepare for the compensation conversation overall, though.
- Do some research and look at various sites like Salary.com to see what the ranges are for your skill set. Your compensation range is going to be different for a front-end design role vs. a back-end development role.
- Calculate what you need. Sit down with your family and figure out what you need to live off of and to be comfortable.
- When you receive an offer, don’t look at just base salary, look at total compensation. A salary of $65,000 with full benefits including your medical coverage may be similar to a salary of $75,000 with no benefits. You have to look at the whole compensation package.
Is there anything wrong with negotiating your compensation? Absolutely not. If you receive an offer and it’s lower than what you expected or that you desire, going back and saying, “I was really looking for this amount of compensation and this is why I feel I need it/deserve it” is acceptable. A lot of students think that they can’t negotiate and I tell students don’t think of it as a negotiation but more or less what is it that you need and you feel is fair. If you feel it’s fair get an extra $5,000, then I don’t think there’s any harm in asking for the extra $5,000 but you should be ready to explain why you feel your experience or what you bring to the table is worth the extra $5,000.
What else should we factor in the “whole package” of compensation?
The whole package consists typically consists of of base salary + benefits + bonus + stock. You should also look at other things like growth opportunities + mentorship. If you’re on a team that has a mentor, you’re probably going to grow faster. Also look at other perks like bus pass, parking, gym memberships, free lunches etc… this stuff add up.
I work with each student at Coding Dojo individually because I think compensation is so personal.
In Junior roles, unfortunately, the ranges are crazy. I've seen ranges with $30,000 - $40,000 differences, which is what makes the process so complicated.