Pat Poels is the VP of Engineering at Eventbrite, and since 2012, he has hired several software engineers from Hackbright Academy, a Python coding bootcamp for women in San Francisco. Here, Pat answers all of our questions about his experience hiring from a coding bootcamp, why he values engineers with non-traditional backgrounds, and how Eventbrite helps those new hires from Hackbright keep learning and growing as engineers once they actually join the team. Watch or read our interview with Pat.
Pat, tell us about your role at Eventbrite!
Eventbrite is an online ticketing platform that works with companies in all different categories. We've been in operation for 10 years and I've been leading the Engineering team at Eventbrite for over four years. Before Eventbrite, I was at Ticketmaster for 15 years, and I’ve played Poker for a living in between. That’s a different story altogether!
How large is the dev team at Eventbrite now?
Our company is growing like a weed. There are 145 engineers on the team across three different offices (we have 11 offices total in 8 countries), and that ends up making up about 30% of the overall staff in Eventbrite.
That's pretty impressive. How did you get connected with Hackbright Academy?
Interesting story. The Girls Who Code group was having a meetup in our office, and a couple of instructors from Hackbright were teaching that class. I got a chance to meet those instructors and get close to the program, and I thought it was a terrific idea. The Hackbright team invited me to their second Grad Day to hear the pitches from their new engineers. I've been pretty attached to the program ever since.
That second Grad Day was probably back in 2012! Since then, what roles have you hired Hackbright graduates for at Eventbrite? Is there a junior developer role at Eventbrite?
We call that “junior developer” role a Software Engineer Level One. Most of the engineers that we've hired have been for “fullstack” roles. Some will be stronger on the front end, but for the most part they have to work on a pretty wide and various set of tasks. There are a lot of interesting problems to solve at Eventbrite, so we don't really look for a certain kind of engineer from Hackbright Academy. We're looking for people we think are a good fit for the company, people who we think are really smart and have a great potential to learn.
Hackbright is unique in that they teach Python. Is Eventbrite also built on Python?
Yeah. We use a lot of different databases, but for the web, we're doing our development in Python and we use Django as our framework. It doesn't hurt that when I talk with candidates from Hackbright, I get to tell them that one of the co-creators of Django actually works at Eventbrite.
Other than Hackbright, how do you usually hire developers? What are you looking for in a new hire?
It's really the lifeblood of a company like Eventbrite to have great engineers and to find engineers to create innovative solutions. We don’t want to do the same things that other companies have done in ticketing. We really try to exhaust every potential channel for hiring. That means having connections to universities, connecting with friends and personal referrals, past coworkers who our team knows are really brilliant, etc. Those are still our biggest channel for new hires, but we love interesting programs like Hackbright Academy as well. I don't want to hire only very senior people who've been in the industry for 10 or 15 years. I want to have a mix of new ideas and new developers as well. Hackbright is a great channel for that.
Do you notice differences in hiring from Hackbright Academy versus hiring from a university CS program or from recruiters?
There's an element of fearlessness that exists for people who have self-selected into a bootcamp like Hackbright Academy. Hackbright grads haven't all necessarily had traditional schooling or backgrounds. I know about having nontraditional backgrounds because I have one myself, and I think that developers who have shown fearlessness tend to be really strong. They tend to be really great at learning and working through whatever problems they may have.
Of the candidates that you’ve hired from Hackbright Academy, have they had CS degrees or have they been mostly non-technical before Hackbright?
There has been a wide variety. A couple candidates have had CS degrees or were already working in the field around the periphery of tech. But for the most part, no. We've had a chance to meet and see a lot of potential candidates from Hackbright, and we've been able to find the ones who were terrific fits for us. That doesn’t mean that those candidates have had a CS background or have worked in the industry before.
So you're not looking for one specific background, but a CS degree isn't necessarily a requirement to work in the engineering department at Eventbrite?
No, not at all. Even with regards to knowing the Python stack. I find that a lot of our really great engineers didn't actually have Python experience when they came in the door. There are a set of things we look for in a candidate, but that has less to do with a knowing a certain technology stack or having a specific computer science background.
What are those qualities that you’re looking for in an engineering candidate? Of the Hackbright Academy grads that you actually hired, what stood out about them?
Every candidate's process is going to be different. Certainly, the projects that Hackbright graduates presented were really incredible, and they're learning interviewing skills so that the interviews go well. But really, we're looking for people we think have incredible potential. We use the interview to figure out who is really bright, inquisitive, hard-working, and who will fight through the hurdles that you're invariably going to hit as you're learning to become a new engineer.
If that means that the rampup is a little bit slower because they haven't had a traditional background or because they aren't necessarily familiar with a certain technology, we're less worried about that.
Company fit means a lot to us as well. Company culture at Eventbrite was carefully cultivated from the start, and so we make sure that candidates are people we want to work with.
Do most Eventbrite developers work in offices or do you have remote options?
We have three engineering offices; one here in San Francisco, one in Mendoza, Argentina, and one in Nashville. For the most part, our engineers work in one of those three locations.
What does the relationship look like between Eventbrite and Hackbright?
We try to attend all of the Hackbright Academy Career Days. We also have engineers from our office mentoring in the Hackbright classroom. We have at least one engineer from our team who has mentored for pretty much every Hackbright class so far. I've also been over to talk with the students and do longer Q&As. Hackbright is a terrific program, and it's something that we want to be attached to and help further, regardless of whether or not we’re hiring engineers.
I'm assuming that those eight hires from Hackbright Academy went through a technical interview at Eventbrite. How did they do? Have you ever thought about modifying the technical interview for coding bootcamp grads?
It's my philosophy that if you have a one-size-fits-all interview process, you're going to miss a lot of important things on both ends of the spectrum. If you’re asking very serious, heavy questions of someone who doesn’t have a CS background, you may not expect them to do well in that interview. Even someone who has been in the industry for 15 years may not do great in an interview like that.
You have to find ways to get answers to the right questions: How well will this candidate do at Eventbrite? What kind of potential do they have? How hungry are they to learn? Are they somebody you want to work with? You have to figure those things out in different ways based on different levels of experience. I'm not going to say that we've perfected it, but tailoring interviews is something that we've spent a long time learning how to do.
You mentioned that Eventbrite uses Python, which is a great fit for Hackbright Academy grads. But a bootcamp grad is going to need to continue learning when they start a new job! How are you ensuring that new hires are supported in their first few months on the job?
This is something we’ll continue to get better at over time, but it starts with having a mentor assigned to work with you on your first day. That person is there to answer your questions.
The environment is important as well. On a team of 145 engineers, we all know that we're successful based on the success of the rest of the team. It's not a competitive environment where you have to step on somebody else in order to get to the next rung of the ladder. We're all here to answer each other’s questions. We use Slack channels very well, so those questions get surfaced out to everyone, and you have a strong ecosystem of great engineers to help with those questions.
Also, we've found documentation of our products and our engineering environments and processes very important. Finally, we do internal bootcamps and training pretty often on particular technologies. For example, right now we have 25 people in a room down the hall learning React, which is a technology that we're pushing into. All of these things help our existing engineers get better, and also help new engineers to onboard faster.
It sounds like you've developed a very strong culture around learning and growing as developers. That’s awesome.
A culture of learning makes it exciting for all of the engineers. Of course, everybody likes working for a company that's successful and growing and sees their stock price go up. But really at the core, the Hackbright candidates have shown that they enjoy learning.
The people that we really enjoy working around the most are the ones who want to continue learning, getting better, and teaching each other. We try to create that culture here.
Are there any interesting stories about Hackbright Academy hires who have advanced in their careers since starting at Eventbrite?
We have a few but one story is about a candidate named Sandy Lee, who was one of the first two hires out of that second Hackbright class. She worked with us for a while and then decided that she really wanted to have a deeper understanding of computer science, and so she decided to go back to Stanford and get a Masters in Computer Science. She actually interned with us while she was going to Stanford, and she's graduating from her Master's program in June, and she's coming back to work for us which I'm super excited about.
Do you have a feedback loop in place with Hackbright at all? If you notice that your new hires are missing a certain skill, are you able to influence the future curriculum?
Nothing formal, but every time I go to Hackbright for a Career Day or another function, I find instructors or administrative staff to talk through what we're feeling and seeing. They're really responsive to that feedback, and they've tailored their program over time based on our feedback and, I’m sure, what they hear from all of their employers. They're pretty open and receptive to it.
That is something so unique about bootcamps, which you may not get with other talent sources- bootcamps are able to iterate on their curriculum so quickly.
That’s a great point. We have a team in Mendoza, Argentina; I would love to be able to talk to the University of Mendoza and give them feedback on what their grads are learning! I get a much more direct channel for feedback with Hackbright than I do with University of Mendoza.
Will you plan to hire from Hackbright Academy in the future?
Oh yeah. We just hired three people from the last cohort which is the most we've hired to date. We’re pretty convinced of the effectiveness of the program. Hackbright has helped us in hiring developers quite a bit, and hopefully we're helping them as well!
Finally, since you’ve had a great experience as a hiring partner, do you have any advice for other employers who're thinking about hiring developers from a coding bootcamp or from Hackbright Academy in particular?
My advice to other employers is to think of this as an investment. There’s a possibility that employers may look at a bootcamp like Hackbright and say, "The learning curve is too steep; bootcamp grads don’t have the background I want, etc." But if you make the investment, you choose the right people, and you invest in them the right way, it's going to pay off. Those bootcamp grads will be worth so much more to you down the road. Think beyond the next six months; what can these new hires mean for the next six years?
We've definitely had great success stories from the Hackbright Academy grads that we've hired. I can’t make a greater recommendation than that!