Rita Rovira is the Director of Hiring Partnerships at Wyncode, a popular (and well-reviewed) coding bootcamp in South Florida, which was just nominated as Business of the Year by the South Florida Business Journal. We caught up with Rita between her packed schedule of Wynterviews and student one-on-ones to hear about the Wyncode commitment to future bootcampers, current students, and alumni. Plus, Rita talks about Wyncode’s requirements for hiring partners (hint: it’s all about infrastructure). This is a must-read for future Wyncoders, and also employers considering hiring developers from a coding bootcamp!
What was your background before Wyncode?
I’ve worked in the staffing industry for the past 12 years, and I was the VP of a technology staffing company answerQUEST. As a recruiter, I worked with senior, technical roles, but I started my relationship with Wyncode as a guest speaker. The lectures I gave were about market trends, resume writing, interview preparation and more. I absolutely loved working with the students. I was always impressed with the student body that was comprised of career changers, students fresh out of college and some joining straight from high school. The drive and commitment of the students to embark on a brand new career was always super impressive. Wyncode students realize they can embark on a career in technology without having to invest the time and money in a CS degree. I found myself volunteering and working evenings and weekends, helping Wyncoders with resumes.
Last summer, I had the privilege of emceeing the WIT (Women Innovation & Technology) summit at eMerge Americas, the largest tech conference in South Florida, and I realized that I wanted to do something more community facing that offered me more civic involvement. I realized I wanted to leave the staffing industry, but wasn’t sure how I was going to do that. During my last guest speaking event at Wyncode, I was casually chatting with Juha Mikkola, one of the co-founders of Wyncode and shared with him my pursuit of leaving the staffing industry. Immediately Juha invited me to speak with him as well as Johanna Mikkola, the other co-founder of Wyncode. When we met, Juha and Johanna presented me with an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. They managed to craft the perfect role for me. The role would not only allow me to stay in a client facing role and assist companies with infrastructure decisions, but would also allow me to develop students and assist them in making the best decisions as it pertains to their next career move. It was literally a EUREKA moment for me.
What does it mean to be the Director of Hiring Partnerships at Wyncode?
There are two main parts of my job. First, I’m working with companies to ensure they have the infrastructure to be able to hire an entry-level developer, mentor them, and cultivate their learning. I also pursue new companies to join our hiring partner community.
The other half of my job is to teach business skills to Wyncoders. For the first six weeks of a cohort, I run one workshop per week, where I teach skills like LinkedIn and Twitter power using, networking, personal branding, marketing, resume writing and interview behaviors. We kick off each cohort with a “Why Workshop” to help students articulate why they embarked on the journey and we finish with a “What’s Next” workshop to help Wyncoders carve a successful path after their cohort finishes.
Do you have a careers and job placement team?
I’m a one-woman team right now (however, I do have support from the team and Juha and I work in tandem), but we’ll build out a hiring partnership team as we expand. Wyncode just expanded to our third location, which is very exciting. We’re now in Miami, Miami Beach and Ft. Lauderdale. The great part is that while each campus is unique, they are all within 45 minutes of each other, so we share a lot of the same hiring partner network, and it isn’t unusual for core hiring partners to hire from all three campuses.
Do you notice a difference in hiring between those three Wyncode markets?
Not a huge difference; as South Florida is really one market. Our flagship campus is in The LAB Miami, which is located in Wynwood, the heart of the Miami startup scenes. Ft. Lauderdale tends to attract larger companies that are prominent in Broward. Miami Beach is an emerging tech scene and one that Course Report profiled well in the Miami Beach campus spotlight. All campuses are unique but not in a way that impacts placement.
Do you suggest that Wyncoders highlight their past lives and careers in the job search?
In cases where Wyncoders come into the program as a career switcher with a past career, I always help students craft their story. For example, a Wyncoder who was a teacher can describe how they’re able to communicate technical aspects of the apps they will work on to C-level executives. Someone with a finance background can show that they know how certain tech projects will impact revenue. We have also had cases where Wyncoders are hired by companies directly in their former field, for example someone who worked with point of sale systems can now work as a developer to make those systems or someone with a real estate background can develop real estate apps.
We have also worked with a students that don’t have job experience. Some students come straight out of high school or drop out of college and really don’t have a ton of career experience. They may be waiting tables, working as a concierge and still figuring out their career. I’ll help them focus on that future trajectory and how to portray their drive, ambition, and passion for technology to future employers.
Do you see ageism in the tech industry? Do you have experience placing very young or older students in developer jobs?
I talk to potential students during the application process who have this question all the time. The beautiful thing about the tech space is that it’s a creative space and comprised of solution-driven individuals. I don’t see age as an issue. There is a gender gap, but as more women are exposed to this opportunity, we’re seeing those numbers rise. We also just announced that for the June cohorts, we are increasing our scholarship for women coders from $500 to $1000 to promote more women to learn to code. When it comes to age, I don’t think it matters if you’re 18 or 65, it’s what you bring to the table.
To provide a few examples, we had a student basically fresh from high school, who completed half a year of college and realized it was not for him. He’s young and presents as a young-looking candidate but he worked extremely hard, won Pitch Day and is technically brilliant. He completed a 7-day code challenge in 32 hours. He took an internship with CareCloud, killed it, and was just extended a permanent offer.
We also had a Wyncoder in his late 40’s, with a family who sold a business. He worked extremely hard during the cohort, and in the placement process afterwards. Every challenge an employer would throw at him, he would finish and go the extra mile. He ended up learning C#, while building a demo app for Ultimate Software. They offered him a job, but he ended up taking another offer from Kipu Systems, where he’s working today. At our Ft. Lauderdale campus, we recently had a gentleman in his 60s who had been an entrepreneur and worked with hardware. He was very concerned about ageism; but his hard work paid off and he had two offers when he completed the cohort.
I caught you in the middle of one-on-ones today. Tell us about those meetings and why they’re important.
One-on-ones are a time where I get to know students more deeply outside of the cohort. I’ll ask them about their concerns and obstacles finding a job. This is where concerns about age, imposter syndrome, and job market come up. Sometimes a student is just nervous about being an introvert. These meetings show me the areas of opportunity that I have to work on with each student.
Then we go over preferred employment options. Whether that’s a company who we invited in to Wynterview, or a company the student met at a Wyncode networking event, or just a company they heard about in the market – I like to know the companies students are interested in so I can pursue them on the student’s behalf and try to get them a warm introduction.
Then we set goals with the student. I want to establish their commitment to finding a job, so we make sure their resume is uploaded on various sites, ensure they have advanced searches and news alerts saved, pull up their GitHub to look at their commits and make sure they’re working on an advanced coding project, and plan for the next weeks of the job search.
When is the right time for a bootcamp student to start sending out applications?
We do a resume workshop during Week 5 so that they’re ready for Wynterviews, which are in Weeks 6, 7, 8 and 9.
I don’t encourage students to interview externally until they’ve completed the program. Their Pitch Day is on a Thursday and on Friday they can start applying; but we don’t want students to get dragged into a technical interview that they’re not ready for. Our curriculum is extremely robust and we’re learning until the very end of the class. It’s important to me that the students are prepared for technical questions, so I recommend that they start applying immediately after completion.
We also have a pretty awesome app that Wyncode students built called Interque, that crowd sources answers to common technical interview questions they have seen across South Florida tech. This is something students begin using in Weeks 8 and 9 to prepare for upcoming interviews. Interque is free for anyone to sign up.
Do you find yourself helping students negotiate salary?
Students know that I have one rule only: you can never ever accept an offer without speaking to me first. It’s important to me because, like in any industry, it’s easy to take advantage of someone who is brand new to the market and industry.
My goal is to always ensure the students are paid fairly and have the best offer for them.
Tell us about those Wynterviews – which companies are invited? Do companies pay a referral fee or a hiring fee when they hire a Wyncoder?
Zero fees. Wyncode wants to feed the tech ecosystem in Florida and beyond. We want to eliminate gaps between our students and hiring partners, not create them. The companies that hire Wyncoders are important partners for us to validate what we are teaching, so we ask that instead of fees they provide feedback so we can continually improve our product.
Wynterviews are invite-only. As we work with companies and they tell us about opportunities, we invite that company, providing they have an opening, to come meet with our students via a Wynterview. First, the companies present to the entire group and tell them more about what their company does. It’s a roundtable interview with the students’ split into their final project groups. They meet with hiring partners for 15-25 minutes each, getting a combination of technical and cultural questions. Afterwards, I sit down with those hiring partners and have a discussion about which students stood out and who they want to invite for a second interview in-house.
I also see those conversations as a huge opportunity for feedback. If a student did poorly, we want to help that student in the future and give them an opportunity to practice interview skills. They can also lead to Wyncoders being hired even before Pitch Day, something we obviously get really excited about. That’s what Watsco Ventures did when they hired four Wyncoders who were profiled on Course Report.
Finally, since we have Wyncoders who have been working at their companies for over a year, we are seeing companies sending their Wyncoders to conduct the Wynterviews and suggest who they should bring in for second interviews – something really cool that we did not anticipate when we created Wynterviews.
As a coding bootcamp, what does Wyncode look for in Employer Partners?
More than anything, it’s infrastructure. There must be core senior developers at the company who can be paired with Wyncoders, so that they can mentor them, do code reviews, and can cultivate them as developers.
When a company wants to hire from Wyncode, my first question is “What does your tech team look like?” If your company only has a CTO, then in most cases, it won’t be a great fit for our students.
Do you have an ongoing relationship with employers? Do they have any influence over the Wyncode curriculum?
We send out two surveys. One is to hear how I can make it easier for employers to hire our students. Things that come up are more Wynterviews, the structure of follow-up interviews, things like our Pitch Day pre-mixer where Hiring Partners can meet Wyncoders before the crowd gets too large at Pitch Day.
The second survey goes out to hiring partners who have hired students. After the summer cohort, during Wyncode’s 6-week long break, our team comes together to review that survey. We want to know everything from “What would be most beneficial for that Wyncoder to have known prior to their first day?” to “After three months, in what areas could your Wyncode be stronger?” Then Sean Sellek, our Product Developer, Ed Toro, our lead instructor in Wynwood and our SCRUM Master of the curriculum, and the rest of the full-time teaching team can implement that into our curriculum. We also make sure to take into account student feedback from daily stand-ups which are technical blockers the students faced that day as well as weekly retrospectives, all of which is logged in apps we have built for internal use. Ed and the team will only implement changes that are backed up by data!
How important is it for employers to get involved with Wyncode early on? What advice do you have for employers who don’t know where to start?
The best way to get involved with Wyncode is to get in touch with us and set up a meeting at one of our campus. Fill out information to become a Hiring Partner. Something to also consider is that you may have something to offer Wyncode students beyond a hiring perspective. Employers can make great guest speakers; they come to Friends & Family night to see what our students have to offer and help them prepare for Pitch Day. Many developers that hire Wyncoders also work for us as part-time Teaching Assistants. Employers can and regularly do come to our classrooms and we love it when they see how packed they are with talent, and how our students are putting in 13 to 14 hour days.
Coming from a staffing background, do you suggest that bootcamp grads go down the “recruiting route?”
Locally in Florida, I absolutely advise students avoid recruiters. To be honest, right now, bootcampers are not “fee-eligible.” Meaning that a recruiter can’t charge employers to hire a Wyncode graduate, because they have free access to our talent pool! It’s almost silly for a student to invest time working with a recruiter when they’ll probably find that they’re not as qualified as they need to be to absorb a mid-level or senior role.
That said, we do see a trend in this marketplace. There is a drought of true senior-level developers particularly in our market. We often help connect senior developers in our market with companies looking, because when they hire someone senior, they will often bring in two to three more junior developers on board to learn from them. Also, because of this drought, over the past four to five months, some recruiters are being asked for junior developers meaning we are seeing more of them at our pitch days. Funnily enough we have had several recruiters join Wyncode recently and learn to code – which has proven to be a great career path for them, as they already know what employers are looking for!
Generally, a student’s best bet is to work with us to go directly to a company, simply because it’s lower cost to the company to hire a student without that middle man, because we don’t have any fees. This means a Wyncoder is more likely to get better compensation and not be passed over.
Across the board, startups are our biggest hiring partners, and that has to do with the open-source technology we teach. These companies are often smaller and tend to not work with recruiters anyway.
How has Wyncode thought about reporting student outcomes?
We discuss this on a weekly basis. Internally, we track graduation, hiring dates, role type (developer, hybrid, non-technical), company type (startup, enterprise), industry, and how a job was sourced. We’re working on a self-imposed audit of that data that we’ll publish in the coming months. It’s on the horizon and something we can’t wait to do.
Right now, we have 90% placement within 90 days, but that goes all the way back to our first cohort. For example, more recently one cohort in Miami reached 93% within 90 days.
How does your job continue after a Wyncode student graduates?
We’re big on post-grad support. Tuesdays and Thursdays, I lead hour-long workshops called WynWork at Miami and Fort Lauderdale for alumni. That can be previous or current cohorts. We talk about goals for the week, what they’re working on, where they’ve interviewed, any blockers. I’ll give them info on new companies who are looking to hire. We will discuss anything from Imposter Syndrome to Block Scheduling to Job Applications to Followups. That’s support that they have forever and ever. We love helping Wyncoders find their second and third jobs, not just their first!
Want to learn more about the companies that hire from Wyncode? Check out this blog profiling some of the top companies that hire from Wyncode.