DevMountain Director of Outcomes and Student Success, Chris Dominguez, gives us a peek at how his team helps graduates land jobs with companies like American Express and Wayfair after coding bootcamp. Chris explains how he helps DevMountain students reframe their (often seemingly irrelevant) backgrounds to enhance their resumes, and shares his tips for applying to jobs in iOS, UX Design, Web Development, and Software QA.
Tell us about your background and experience before joining DevMountain.
I graduated from college with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies, did some IT recruiting work throughout my undergrad, and then during senior year completed some additional logistics recruiting work, then served in the military and was deployed. When I got back, I got back into IT recruiting, and I have now been in the recruiting space for a total of 12 years. I started out supporting technical recruiting for the likes of Dell, Apple and Verizon FiOS. My most recent role was with Blue Raven Solar. I’ve been in the solar industry and worked in the Utah and Northern Californian markets for the past four years. DevMountain recently invited me to come on board.
What’s your role at DevMountain and how do you fit in with the rest of the careers team?
As Director of Outcomes and Student Success, I direct the outcomes work for all DevMountain campuses: Lehi, UT; Phoenix, AZ; and Dallas, TX. Before I came on board, there had been attempts at establishing outcome support, but a formalized career services department had not existed. I’ve built out our structure, our plan, and our scheduled touch-points with each student. I’ve helped with the development of our matrix, which measures student involvement and preparedness in several different areas where skills or understanding are needed to make students more competitive and efficient job-seekers.
I’m in Lehi, and I’m currently hiring for the remote representatives at the other campuses. We lovingly call members of the careers team the Mountaineers. Being a Mountaineer is being a guide; someone who will help you ascend; someone who will help you to map your trail to the summit of the mountain and supply you with the necessary gear (those being tools and tips in this analogy) needed to make it successfully to the mountain’s summit. In total, we’ll have four Mountaineers who will report to me.
Should new DevMountain students have a specific role or desired outcome in mind?
We advise students to not overly fixate on these things. The truth is that recruiters are all looking for the same talent; we just (often arbitrarily) have several different names for that talent. Sometimes, this is driven by a company’s culture; sometimes by a lack of knowledge on the recruiter’s part. Other times, it is recruiter ambition that determines the title of a role. Perhaps the recruiter is supposed to hire for a junior web developer, but name the job posting “mid-level software engineer.”
When does the career preparation process start at DevMountain?
Career awareness starts day one. We set expectations upfront. When you leave our campus, outcomes and graduate success does not stop just because you graduated. We stay with you. Mountaineers don’t make it halfway up the mountain and say: “Well, have fun on the rest of your journey!” A good mountaineer sees you to the summit. “Summit” here meaning your first post-graduation job.
A massive function of DevMountain is to guide and also to be there to celebrate the wins. We have three scheduled touch-points with each student. The first is a 1:1 with an in-office Mountaineer. The second, is two days of job prep curriculum taught by our outcomes and graduate success teams. Then there is one final 1:1 before leaving the program. After graduation, we will continue to meet with students as often as they need us to.
For the last nine months of 2019, the U.S. economy has reported more hires than separations month-over-month, meaning we’re continually hiring. It's an amazing job market. While separations and terminations are happening – they’re not growing at the same rate as hires.
Could you give me an overview of the two-day job prep curriculum?
We cover resume formatting, and work on the content, organization, purpose, and function of the resume.
We discuss online visibility. If you’re not visible online, recruiters won’t find you. We walk students through the completion of their Linkedin profiles and other online profiles so that aggregators and/or recruiters will be more likely to find our students.
We do side-by-side job hunting with students so that we can explain what they’re seeing in real-time. We demystify what might have given rise to the job posting, and walk them through what the interview process looks like for a position at a company.
We teach and share content that comes from my training and background. Much of the content here is drawn from the counseling space of interpersonal communication. We discuss how you can organize and identify what you’re hearing from an interviewer. We try to help students identify pain points, so our graduates can position themselves as the resolution to those issues. We equip students with all of this information so that they can organize themselves; so they’re not just blindly walking in and communicating.
The curriculum is transferable and cross-applicable to any of the four programs. But each industry does have its nuances. With UX students, for example, we identify specific areas where we apply finishing touches. The final 1:1 session that we provide more so caters to the individual’s needs.
How do you help those coming from a completely non-technical background frame their experience to have it work for them, and not against them?
There are two ways of overcoming this:
Tout your previous wins and experiences. Let’s say, for example, you worked at a fast food restaurant for four years and you're transitioning into iOS development. Ask yourself: “how is my experience relevant to iOS development?” It may not be directly relevant to the role of iOS developer. But the general turnover of the food service is less than six months, but you’ve stuck at it for four years. By pointing that out, you frame yourself as a very retainable hire – and one of the greatest metrics recruitment and talent acquisition is measured on is retention.
Elevate your technical experience. Recruiters spend a very limited amount of time looking at each resume, so yours has to scream that you’re a technical person. For example, a student who worked in a pizza restaurant listed “daily cashier duties” on his resume. I asked him: “What were you taking payments on? Was it an iPad?” He said yes. And I said: “Let’s elevate that.” The description became “daily utilization of an iOS-based POS.” Every iOS developer will know that an iOS-based POS is an in-store iPad payment system. This helps the students to frame themselves more technically and helps them to adjust their tone to one that’s right for their new audience.
Jobs often require a CS degree or three to four years of relevant experience. Do you advise DevMountain grads to rule out these positions?
That depends. My advice is to understand the company you’re applying to. We recently had an employer get in touch looking for a developer with between four and six years of experience. But what she also told me (and did not include in the job description) was that they considered the experience of a DevMountain graduate to be equivalent. Our advice to students is: if a job description says explicitly “CS degree or equivalent experience,” to assume that you can compete in that space. Don’t rule yourself out; rule yourself in. Don’t limit the conversation.
Without knowing it, you may be the best candidate in the pipeline. We've seen this happen recently. A grad who applied for and secured a C# development role (a technology not currently taught by DevMountain) was told by the recruiter for that position, that of the entire 150 applicants, he was the only individual with prior development experience. He stood out because he had 13 weeks at DevMountain. Now he’s there making $60,000 a year.
What attributes do employers value in coding bootcamp grads?
As a tech recruiter, I preferred DevMountain grads over, let’s say, a three-months self-taught candidate with a retail background. I do not equate self-taught students with bootcamp grads. Here are some reasons why:
The legitimacy of knowledge and skills. Every employer operates from the reality that they cannot purely hire six-year plus developers onto their teams. Every employer is aware that they have to be open to entry-levels. When they look at an entry-level applicant, they generally go to – save for bootcamp grads – someone who is self-taught. But you cannot verify the quality or integrity of the information a self-taught candidate has. A bootcamp curriculum is consistent and verifiable. The information used for self-guided learning is a lot harder to verify. I think that’s why employers value bootcamp grads.
Teachability and plasticity. Employers also know that bootcamp grads are teachable. When I was a recruiter working on a role for a three-to-four year dev, I saw multiple applicants who had the skills and experience, but who were also incredibly stuck in their ways. And as a hiring manager, you think: “Will we be able to manage this individual or is this person going to come in and create friction on my team?” They’re looking for teachability and flexibility.
How do DevMountain students usually find their jobs? What is your advice for maintaining momentum in the job search
We hold our own career events twice annually. We also maintain a running calendar throughout the year in each of our campus markets of tech-specific events that we will advertise and encourage our grads to attend. We also actively engage employers, advocating for our grads.
We give students the following tips:
Keep multiple fires burning during the job search. Even if you’ve been invited to interview, keep on looking for more opportunities. The key here is to not lose momentum in the job search until an offer is on the table from a prospective employer.
Don’t stick to just corporate recruiters. In the talent acquisition space, there are generally two different types of recruiters, and we instruct students to talk to both:
A corporate recruiter belonging to a company who is determined and hungry but their success is measured on time to fill only.
An agency recruiter who has free reign over multiple clients is still measured on time-to-fill, but also on the quantity of hires placed, due to a commonly used commission pay structure.
We educate our grads to broaden and diversify their search; to diversify their employer outreach (i.e., don’t just stick to corporates).
In your time at DevMountain, what kinds of jobs have you’ve seen students land?
Four or five of our grads coming out of our iOS curriculum were placed with Wayfair. We’ve seen a number of students placed as Lead Developers. This is often because they were hired by a start-up where the hiring company might not have had anyone on board with ample prior development knowledge. Several students have stepped into the energy and hospitality industries. Several others are in human services, customer service, sales or finance industries. We’ve also seen a handful of our students pursue a more entrepreneurial route. To better empower those individuals, we’ve assembled an entrepreneurial package to educate them on things like creating a pitch or the difference between VCs and incubators.
What kind of feedback do you receive from employers who’ve hired DevMountain grads?
Recently, I learned that one of our grads has made it to a final-stage interview with American Express. They were pleased with his prior self-acquired development knowledge but I believe they’re pursuing him because DevMountain provided a structured curriculum and opportunity to apply understanding.
Agency recruiters favor DevMountain students. They are additionally incentivized by commissions, so want a relatively predictable talent pipeline, which is what we provide: a steady stream of well-trained, well-equipped candidates. At one of our recent hiring events, an agency recruiter arrived with 150 packets for open roles that his agency wanted to fill. By the event's end, he had distributed all 150 packets. After the event, he told us that he planned to digitally provide an additional 30 packets, to students who had caught his attention. That’s going to be huge for him and huge for my students.
Do recruiters ever have any concerns about bootcamp graduates?
A common misconception that I address regularly is that coding bootcamp grads are suited only to the more “junior” roles. To this I say: we have a six-year lead pipeline in the Utah market with graduates who finished the program six years ago. These are not junior developers; these are individuals with six years of real-life experience behind them now – part of an alumni pipeline that’s constantly growing.
Additionally, I would point out that we generally have students in our ranks who have years of prior professional experience in any certain industry. This prior knowledge means they are definitely not entry-level but are talented individuals with prior professional experience and polishing.
What would your advice be to a student who is new to bootcamps? How can they maximize their chances of landing a great job?
My advice would be this: create energy. Coming into a bootcamp, you’re firing up new knowledge and understanding. Let that energize and motivate you. Let yourself feel confident (but not arrogant or overconfident) and let that create energy for you. Find your “why”. Have more reason that just: “I want a career change.” So many companies today – aside from profit – really do want to be socially impactful. Use that. Your “why” and the energy it gives off will generate opportunity for you.