Will Larche didn’t follow the traditional path into iOS development, so he values the same diversity when hiring. As the lead iOS developer at startup Miner Labs, Will hired two TurnToTech grads for junior roles. He was even able to see the progression of a mentee from beginner to hireable after the bootcamp. Will has since moved on to Google, but he dives into his appreciation for the TurnToTech curriculum (which he now advises), why he believes mentorship is a must for junior devs, and why even those without a CS degree can land a dream job at Google.
So Will, you work at Google now, but when you hired TurnToTech students as a developer, you worked for Miner Labs. Tell us a bit about your role there!
Miner was a small, growing fashion e-commerce startup. I was brought on originally as the lead/only iOS engineer, and then was asked to stay on as the Chief Product Officer.
At it’s largest, Miner was 20 people, and 16 of them were tech (including the back-end team, front-end web team, and DevOps team).
How did you get connected with TurnToTech?
Having been a contractor and a freelancer for a long time, I had a few trusted recruiting companies that I reached out to when I needed to hire a developer. When I started hiring for Miner Labs, I was actually looking for a junior developer, which is rare and nice because you always get a bigger pool of applicants.
I saw a dozen applicants in a day, and John Bogil was one of two candidates who applied that really interested me. Because I was so impressed with him, I asked him where he learned mobile development, and he told me TurnToTech! In the past, I had bad experiences interviewing people from coding bootcamps, so I was intrigued with TurnToTech.
What was different about John than other coding bootcamp grads?
Other grads I interviewed weren't ready to work. They were still in the learning phase of their training. I've never been able to hire anyone from the other programs, and then this applicant came along, and I knew I needed to meet the team at TurnToTech to find out what they’re doing differently.
How many TurnToTech graduates did you actually end up hiring for Miner Labs?
Two. The second grad, Joel, actually came to me for mentorship and I suggested that he go to TurnToTech because I was impressed with John. Once he graduated, he came to work for me. I was really glad to see his progress because I thought that maybe John’s new dev abilities may have been a fluke, but seeing Joel’s progress proved that they were consistently graduating good developers.
It’s so cool that you got to see Joel’s progression from before TurnToTech to hiring him. Did he have any coding skills before?
He worked in construction and had no programming experience at all. I told him it would be smart to start by learning what programming is first, so he started with Codecademy, and then did TurnToTech. I saw him go from 0 to 60 in five months.
The longer format is honestly the key to their success. In programming, the amount of knowledge that you have to master is vast, and it never ends. People end up becoming specialists in one area or another, but nobody knows everything. In most bootcamps and courses, the class sticks to a schedule. If you're struggling with something one week, too bad: the whole class has to move on together. TurnToTech says, "Oh, you need another week working on X, Y, and Z. We'll totally help you and give you more attention. We won't let you move on until you have mastered it.”
Was it ever a concern for you that those new hires don't have that traditional Computer Science degree?
No. I also had an untraditional background; I’m now a CS Master’s candidate at NYU, but this is not what I got my undergrad degree in. iOS development is something I stumbled into years ago and realized it was a goldmine and a really great opportunity for anybody who wanted to better their life while still having fun and being creative. I've worked really hard to mentor people and bring them into the industry, and help them become engineers that can get good jobs.
Computer Science is not what an iOS developer does for a living. Computer science is, of course, the theory behind what we do, and it unleashes an understanding of what we do, but I compare it to color theory when you're a painter. It can help, and it can be a tool that you use, but a lot of people are painters without learning color theory.
It sounds like you are a great advocate for students who are trying to make a career change!
Yeah, I believe anybody can do it. Programming is not about smarts, and nobody should be bullied into thinking that they're not right for it. There's so much more diversity in the world than there is in the tech industry. We need more women and people of color. They may not see themselves represented in the pamphlets at Stanford University, but that's not really where people learn to program. You learn on your own by practicing, and you learn from a coding bootcamp.
As an employer, how do you approach that challenge of diversity and inclusivity in tech?
A big part is that I don't think everybody who wants to be an engineer studied it in school. Men may feel comfortable diving into CS, buying a book or watching videos online. Other people need to take a class, ask questions, get feedback, and deal with how uncomfortable and hard it is at first. I think the emergence of non-university education for engineering is probably why you'll be seeing more women in them.
Not everybody can learn the same way. We need more diversity in the way things are taught too.
Comparing other applicants that you interviewed from TurnToTech or other bootcamps, what stood out about those two candidates (John and Joel) that got them the job?
The reason I hired John was because his resume and final project were so well-tailored to iOS. What I mean by that is, iOS has a culture of excellence, beauty, design, and polish in the products that we build because it comes from Apple. At Google, I work in the design department and the look of a product is everything for us. Our users are putting their hands on top of the products we build.
John Bogil had a beautifully designed sample app and a beautiful resume, and since I was hiring for the front end, I said, "This guy obviously has the technical knowledge to build the app and he also understands the basics of good style."
Did you put them through a traditional technical interview? How did they do?
I didn't do whiteboarding in my interviews. I believe that it’s difficult to do any kind of technical interview with junior developers because juniors are essentially people who are admitting that they don't have prior experience. Instead, I try to get an idea of what they've learned, what technologies they’ve worked in, and then look at their code most importantly because that's where they're showing what they've learned.
I've been an iOS engineer for six years, and the interviews I've been on have been 30% computer science-based interviews, and then 70% engineering-based interviews. So for every interview I couldn't pass, there were 2 I could nail. If those computer science-based interviews haunt you, you can do what I did which is go back and learn that stuff later. After 6 years of engineering and 2 months of computer science classes, I was able to pass Google's engineering interviews.
As an employer at a smaller startup, how do you make sure your bootcamp grads are supported and continue learning?
No matter the size of the company, I still believe that effective management aligns the objective of the employees with the objective of the company. You need to find out what the employee wants and needs. If that means they need extra time practicing something, then you find opportunities for them that are worthwhile.
A junior developer should be able to do small things like clean up files; but then they’ll also be working on stuff that's new to them, and I'll be sitting right next to them to help them through it instead of them having to learn with a book or from a video online at home. Not every manager is going to care as much, but they should.
Since you have been on the curriculum board, what's been the biggest change that TurnToTech has made?
I definitely offered feedback and TurnToTech was receptive. There were a couple things that John and Joel had to learn on the job. So I let TurnToTech know we we're using certain techniques and tools, and it'd be great if they could incorporate that into the future curriculum.
The curriculum board is fairly new, but one of the things I brought up was that they weren't spending enough time teaching Blocks because we use them a ton, but TurnToTech grads seemed intimidated by them. So I made the suggestions to focus more time on Blocks.
TurnToTech is really doing it right, and that's why people succeed there.
In your role at Google, would you hire TurnToTech graduates in the future?
I'm not a hiring manager at Google, so I'm not in a position to do that. However, I would say that anyone who goes to TurnToTech, works hard at it and continues to push themselves and climb like I did, can end up at Google too, without a CS degree. I didn't think it was possible to work at a company like this, but they value people with different backgrounds.
So even if a bootcamp grad sees a job posting that says “4-year CS degree required,” you still recommend that they apply?
Every job I ever took said that in the job posting, because they're written by HR or written by someone who had a CS degree. However, iOS is incredibly important to any online company, and it’s very difficult to find a traditional CS degree engineer who does it. It’s not easy to hack on and it has to be aesthetically pretty.
What’s your advice to bootcamp grads choosing their first job?
First, no junior should take a job where they're the only iOS engineer. That's bad for their learning of course, but then it's also worse for the company because they cannot manage any expectations. They can't scope projects because they've never done it before.
If you went to a bootcamp, you’re likely a self-starter and you had the grit to get through a bootcamp. The first six months or year will be difficult; it makes no sense, and you want to quit all the time while you're having little tiny wins here and there. Hopefully you choose a company where there's a more senior engineer. If they don't want to talk to you or answer any questions for you, then it may not be the right position. At the same time, you also need to make it clear what you are interested in. You don't have to demand that you learn certain things, but if your manager knows then he or she will be more likely to give you an opportunity to learn.