Nick Soman is the founder of Reveal, a social app based in Seattle, and has hired four Code Fellows graduates onto his team. We talk about his satisfaction with new hires, how he finds the most qualified graduates to join his team, and why he says that companies overlooking coding bootcamps are "missing an opportunity to find some tremendous talent that can really grow with the team."
Tell us a little bit about Reveal!
Reveal is a social app that gives you someone relevant to talk to any time. Our mission is to cure loneliness. The app connects people in anonymous chats where they can start an interaction based just on text, and if they decide that they like and trust each other, each has the option to reveal their name or photo or other information. Reveal is currently an iOS and web app, and Android is rolling out this month.
How big is the company right now?
There are 10 people on the team.
How did you get connected with Code Fellows?
I went through the Techstars Seattle program and befriended Andy Sack, who’s the Managing Director of Techstars Seattle. Andy ended up being instrumental to the beginnings of Code Fellows in Seattle and so initially, I paid attention to it because I knew it was something he was working on. But then a friend of mine recommended I check out some of the candidates and I’ve been a pretty big proponent ever since.
Do you pay a referral fee or a recruiting fee to hire Code Fellows graduates?
As a partner in the program, I get preferential access to candidates, so when there’s a new class of candidates coming out, I’m part of a small group of folks that get to schedule interviews with some of these folks and then they take a cut when we make a fulltime hire.
Have you worked with other bootcamps in Seattle?
No; Code Fellows is my first foray into this world. I guess this is philosophical, but I love Code Fellows because people took a chance on me early on when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and with my career. I certainly didn’t have any skill sets as employable as coding. I come from Amazon; there are lots of great organizations in Seattle that would like to hire strong technical talent, and one of the few undervalued resources in my opinion is these more junior folks, some of them younger, who are busting their butts; who are willing to learn and have the horsepower to go a long way.
If you can figure out who some of the strong candidates are – and in a Code Fellows class we’ve got our own techniques for doing that - then you can have a fantastic success rate in hiring people that will be with the company for a long time.
Do you feel like you’re taking a risk when you hire from a bootcamp?
Hiring is always a risk, but I think there are ways to mitigate that risk. There’s no way to significantly slash the difficulty and the challenge of hiring senior talent in this market environment. Honestly, for us I’m so thrilled with the success that we’ve had. Every time we hire someone, we get a little better at knowing what signals we’re looking for. It’s just been great.
What are you typically looking for when you look for a new hire for Reveal? Are you focused on a culture fit or a technical fit?
It’s three things, definitely in this order. Culture fit is the absolute most important thing. And I think that’s particularly true with more junior people. Senior people have been around the block; they’ve been in different organizations and they may have developed certain adaptive habits that help them thrive in different environments. For junior people, if we’re going to make a bet on you, you have to be delightful to work with, we have to feel that you’re willing to get your hands dirty and bust your butt, and that’s really part of the bet that we’re making. So it’s definitely culture fit first.
The second is we hire in positions of great need in the company. Right now as an example, we’re looking to hire a second Android developer. I was disappointed to learn that Code Fellows doesn’t have any Android classes coming up, although they may do that next year.
And then the last thing is, if you fit the culture criteria and the need, we’re big believers in raw horsepower. We’re trying to find the smartest people we can. That really fits the Code Fellows profile well. Just as an example, we recently hired a couple of iOS devs out of a couple of Code Fellows recent classes. They’re both electrical engineering majors from undergrad, super sharp. One of them was a physicist and was working on laser weapons for a while, and the other one has a deep background in robotics. The intelligence level is really there and there’s an interest in the world and a passion that has led them to explore different areas of expertise. In our experience, that interest and curiosity is a really good predictor of success once they get trained up here.
I think there’s a big misconception that bootcamp graduates are all completely new to technology and had no experience before.
I totally agree. I think one of the challenges that boot camps are going to face is if you make the assumption that everyone who is willing to immerse themselves in something new and learn something new must be a super junior person who has no life experience, you’re kind of penalizing people for that desire to learn.
Professionally, I’m okay with that because that means less firms competing to hire from that group. This is going to get more competitive when people figure out that Code Fellows is indicative of an intellectual curiosity that tends to bode really well for hiring.
I think that companies are missing an opportunity to find some tremendous talent that can really grow with the team.
How many people have you hired from Code Fellows?
Four people. All 4 folks that started with us from Code Fellows are still here and all of them are doing fantastically well.
What are their roles?
Two of them are iOS, one is the new owner of Growth of our organization, and the other is working on critical back-end and scaling issues.
Were those all people who came from an iOS development accelerator?
No; the two iOS folks came from that. The other two came from the Code Fellows Ruby on Rails program.
Do you have some sort of mentorship program within Reveal to make sure they’re ramping up appropriately?
That’s a good question. I would say our whole culture is a mentorship program. Our CTO is experienced. He was the original lead for Amazon’s development efforts in Canada. He’s a little older; he’s an amazing leader in his own right and a great technical mentor. So I think that junior folks tend to really work well with him because he basically points them in the right direction.
The other thing is, we have really high expectations when hiring. We let people know early on, we hire them as grownups. We expect a learning curve, but we will not tolerate immature behavior. Honestly, not all these people are coming right out of school, either. These are adults working to build a skill, which I think is really admirable. We make hiring decisions unanimously as a group, and I think we’ve just been really lucky and we selected well so far for folks who can learn on the job.
We have a culture of asking questions and I think that works with junior people. I don’t think of them as having started junior and become more senior; our organization is very flat. They started with less experience and as they’ve accrued more dev experience as we’ve found the roles for them to be happiest where they can really help our company grow.
Just as an example, the guy that recently stepped in to a growth role, we got to know him over the course of about 9 months of just being generally awesome on the development side. And we realized after launch that one of the next priorities needed to be to making Reveal grow quickly. These are real and important roles, and by the time we got around to figuring out who was going to own growth, I didn’t think of him as a Code Fellows grad, I thought of him as a member of our team. And it was just clear that he was the right guy.
Do the people that you hire go through a technical interview process and were they able to get through it?
Yeah, absolutely. We do interview for that. We have had candidates that haven’t been able to pass that test. Everybody who ends up working here does a short paid project for us first, so we have a chance to see real code.
But I would say we are much, much more interested in how rapidly people learn, what questions they ask and how they think. I wouldn’t go to Code Fellows looking for senior leads ready to step into that role tomorrow. Instead, we have to find the ones that we can train to get up there as fast as possible. Our process reflects that.
I was going to ask you if you were satisfied with the people you’ve hired but it sounds like satisfaction is high!
Oh, yeah. It’s been great. For the folks in Code Fellows, my hope, even though it sort of works against me competitively is that people recognize that this is a group of generally talented and experienced people, who have decided to build a new skill. We’ve been sort of blown away by the quality we’ve been able to find.