Codesmith has campuses in Los Angeles and New York City and is known for having strict admissions standards – but that selectivity also means graduates land mid-level and senior-level entry jobs. So how do they prepare their students for a senior developer interview? Shanda McCune, Director of Admissions and Outcomes at Codesmith, shares her advice for portfolios and projects, the difference between “junior” and “senior,” and how to compete with CS degree graduates for jobs.
Tell us what you do at Codesmith!
There are two main parts of my job. First, I manage the admissions team to guide candidates through the admissions process. The second main part of my job is focused on outcomes – so I manage the Hiring Support Program, which consists of workshops, resume review, interview practice, job search strategies while students are in the program, as well as constant support and check-ins after graduating the program. Apart from this, I’m fortunate to be involved in other initiatives at Codesmith, such as running the Women’s Mentorship Program, which pairs female applicants with female graduates to provide guidance and mentorship throughout the admissions process and afterward.
At Codesmith, when does the careers program begin?
Hiring support officially begins during the senior portion (second-half) of the program. We know that for many students the job search can be an intimidating process. In order to combat these feelings, Codesmith's curriculum includes a Hiring Program kick-off early in the senior portion of the immersive program to ensure that graduates are better prepared for all the upcoming training (technical and nontechnical) related to the job search and interview process.
What types of jobs do Codesmith graduates typically get?
Codesmith students typically move into mid or senior-level software engineering roles following graduation, and they work in a variety of different industries. It’s a healthy mix of established, enterprise companies, like Google, Amazon, American Express, and Netflix, medium-sized companies, and budding start-ups.
We track our outcomes as part of the industry-standard – CIRR (Council for Integrity of Reporting Results) and every 6 months we have our outcomes audited by a third-party. The majority of graduates from Codesmith are hired into mid-level software engineering roles at companies around the greater New York and Los Angeles areas. We also have around 10% of graduates who go directly Senior Software Engineer roles. The median salary is $117.5k for grads from the LA campus and $112.5k for grads from the NY campus (with 85%+ hired in 180 days from both campuses).
Those are really impressive stats – how often do students not graduate from Codesmith though?
While Codesmith encourages all students to complete the program, there is a small number of grads who do not pass the graduation assessment. At our Los Angeles HQ, 87% of students graduated and at our New York HQ, 91.3% of students graduated in the July-December 2018 reporting period.
How much programming experience do you expect a Codesmith applicant to have? Does that impact the types of jobs they get after graduating?
It’s probably not surprising that graduates with previous technical experience or CS degrees can sometimes have an easier time getting senior-level roles, but overall, there’s no full-proof correlation between the amount of programming experience in a student’s past, and the types of roles that student might be prepared for. While it may be easier to get a foot in the door with programming experience, a successful technical interview or eventual job offer is more often determined by a candidate’s ability to communicate, and that’s why it’s such a focus in our hiring curriculum. For students with zero previous tech experience, we’ve established a long, consistent track record of helping them land mid-level positions that often include salaries of $120k and higher.
In your experience, what are employers looking for in mid-senior software developers vs junior developers?
Employers we’ve spoken with often describe the difference between mid/senior level engineers and junior level engineers as the difference between an engineer and a technician. A junior developer is more comfortable with the technologies they’ve previously worked with, and very often, their problem-solving requires some guidance from more experienced developers. A mid-level developer, on the other hand, can tackle problems which they have not used the specific technology or even previously encountered that type of problem. This is because they not only understand the ‘what,’ but also the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ with regards to different technologies they might work with. Codesmith graduates, like all true mid-level engineers, have an understanding of what’s going on “under-the-hood” of their code, and this has empowered them to be independent problem solvers, and very often, mentors to others.
There are a lot of new bootcamp graduates in the job pool. How do Codesmith grads set themselves apart from other candidates?
Codesmith grads usually aren’t competing for the same jobs as most bootcamp grads. The majority of bootcamp grads are applying for junior-level positions, whereas Codesmith grads are typically better suited for mid- or senior-level roles. As I mentioned earlier, in order to prepare our students for mid/senior level roles, Codesmith students are taught to be “engineers” rather than “technicians”- the result of a huge emphasis on analytical problem solving throughout the program, where students are taught how to solve problems for themselves.
As one of the key requirements to graduating, Codesmith students all build extremely advanced production-level projects where they create actual web developer tools (rather than “apps”, for example) while working closely within a fast-paced, dynamic team and managing a tight delivery and launch timeline. The combination of high-level independent learning and proper mentorship is a very powerful one.
How important is a developer’s portfolio?
Codesmith is uniquely designed so that during the program our students are already building out their portfolio. This might include their production project, possibly a partner company’s product launch, and typically several other smaller projects and several technical presentations. By the time Codesmith students complete the program, their resumes, training, and building/communication experience is undeniably deep, and that well-earned background is what launches them into a successful job search.
What does Codesmith do to help students find jobs?
There are about five team members involved with Career Prep at Codesmith, but that being said, pretty much everyone on the team sees “student outcomes” as part of their job. The diversity of backgrounds on the Codesmith hiring team is absolutely an advantage, as is the years of experience that many of the individuals have. But the most valuable asset we have is a certain level of – “grit” I guess you could call it – where we commit to the students’ successes from day one and are relentless in offering whatever they might need in order to find themselves in the perfect position. That might include coaching, pair-programming practice, mock interviews, etc.
How do you prep students for job interviews?
Regardless of what questions or topics you actually encounter in the interview room, Codesmith’s curriculum (including the hiring program) approaches the job search process in a pretty unique way. We certainly value repetition and practice as part of the preparation, but no amount of practice or studying can ever truly prepare a student who can’t communicate effectively. Our students are encouraged to approach their job searches more holistically which incorporates a variety of lectures, practice sessions, workshops, and one-on-ones – all of it designed to remove the fear around “will they ask x, or will they ask y?” and allows them to better showcase the engineers they already are.
How do you help with negotiation and compensation?
We believe it’s important to educate students on how they will be compensated following graduation, including salary negotiation, how equity works, etc., so one of our team members, who’s been a successful serial entrepreneur and an exec at several enterprise companies, oversees at least two sessions specifically devoted to the financial side of their future careers.
What’s your advice for bootcamp grads who are competing with CS graduates in the job market?
We have a lot of grads with CS degrees come through the program because they weren’t able to get jobs after graduating. That’s because CS degrees often focus more on theoretical knowledge than practical knowledge. So my advice would be to be confident in the skills that you have.
In your experience, what do employers like about Codesmith graduates?
A great software engineer is able to tackle any new problem or feature, with technologies that they may not have seen before, and do so by breaking it down and figuring out the best tool for that situation. We try to focus on students hitting blocks during the program and then working their way through them, improving their problem solving approach in the process. That gives graduates a real edge in the job search and on the job itself.
It’s also about being someone who enjoys working with others to solve these problems and can communicate the complexities of the codebase in a way that others can understand. We put a lot of emphasis on technical communication in the program and I think companies who come back to hire from the program again and again have particularly appreciated that.
Tell us your favorite success story!
There are definitely a lot of success stories that come to mind, but I want to highlight Jaime. Jaime was one of our youngest students – he was only 20 when he went through the program. Before Codesmith he had taken some courses at a local community college and was working the night shift at McDonald’s. He graduated from the program as one of our most technically strong students, then did the fellowship and now he’s working as a Software Engineer for a company in Santa Monica.