Tech Elevator in Cleveland, Ohio bills itself as a coding bootcamp for career changers with a soft skills curriculum that runs parallel to the hard coding skills taught by their instructors. As part of their Pathway Program, Tech Elevator runs resume and LinkedIn workshops, expert-led panels, mentoring events, one-on-one career coaching, and employer matchmaking events. Students are seeing an average salary increase of $25,000 compared to their previous careers. Tech Elevator founder and CEO Anthony Hughes tells us how the job placement program works, and why career prep begins during the admissions process.
What are the goals of your students? Are they career changers? Fresh-out-of-college developers? Entrepreneurs?
We work with career changers, career upskillers, or those who want to start afresh in a technology-based role. Each student brings a different background to Tech Elevator. That’s part of what’s great about the bootcamp model – our employers really value the diversity of experiences they get from our grads.
In terms of recent college graduates, we see two scenarios that lead to enrolling at Tech Elevator:
For example, a recent .NET bootcamp grad, Brendan Thomas, graduated with an accounting degree from Ohio University, but wasn’t excited about being an accountant. He spent 6 months learning to code online and applying to jobs before eventually coming to us. After 14 weeks, he got a job as a software developer for a healthcare IT company.
When does the job placement preparation process start?
Career preparation at Tech Elevator begins in the admissions process. In the behavioral interview we get to know our students, learn about their unique journeys, and determine how we can build on their background to help them move into a new career. Once accepted, before the bootcamp begins, students take a personality test. That marks the initial self-discovery phase of our Pathway Program. They start to dig deeper into who they are, what values drive them, how they relate to others, and what strengths they should lead with as they develop themselves.
Students also upload current resumes and update their LinkedIn pages before class begins. Along with the coding pre-work, we want them thinking about their career goals from the beginning. We then start career development sessions and workshops in week 2.
What is the most important thing Tech Elevator does to help students find jobs?
We have a huge hiring network. We continuously work to strengthen relationships with hiring partners as we know that once companies understand the quality of our program, the hiring process will be easier for our grads. These companies come onsite to meet and interview students through our Employer Matchmaking sessions, similar to speed-dating for jobs. Students have an average of 12 interviews during this process. We do a lot of preparation leading up to our matchmaking events to connect students with the right employers.
We believe each student is different, so we need to work with them in different ways. Through one-on-one career coaching we work to accentuate strengths and combat weaknesses to support their “career readiness”. The personal attention we give to each student is a huge differentiator, especially versus the traditional 4-year degree. The recent McGraw Hill report shows how dissatisfied college grads are about their career readiness.
What soft skills do you teach to help prepare students for success in a job? Tell us about the Career Pathway Program!
At Tech Elevator we believe a great career exists at the intersection of employer demand, a student’s passion, and what they can be excellent at. In most cases, our students come to us underemployed – they’re really bright but have been moving through a series of unfulfilling jobs. Our goal is to put them on a rewarding career path.
Our Career program is broken into 3 phases:
Each phase has panels, workshops, and one-on-ones with our career team and mentor network. We’re lucky to have a vast network of experts in their field willing to donate their time to help students.
How does Tech Elevator prepare students for job interviews? Is there whiteboarding practice, mock interviews, etc?
We like to start our career coaching with a high-level overview from industry experts, then move into specific one-on-one coaching. Our interview preparation begins with our Pathway Program’s panel discussion: “Landing your Ideal Job by Interviewing Like a Pro”, which brings in very experienced technical and non-technical folks with thousands of interviews under their belts.The discussion is designed to share insights with students about how to be successful in an interview, what to expect, and how your answers, actions, and follow-ups are perceived. We always have a great (and often hilarious) Q&A session.
After the high-level overview we move into the coaching phase. We have interview prep sessions with both mentors from our network and Tech Elevator career coaches. We do basic interview prep, and technical interview prep, including whiteboarding. Mock-interviews and feedback sessions help build their overall confidence in how they present themselves.
What sort of advice do you give your students for creating their online presence (LinkedIn, Twitter, personal website)? How important is that to landing a developer job?
When you consider that 92% of recruiters use social media as a primary tool to find candidates, it makes sense to focus on LinkedIn and other facets of a digital presence. Some students already have a good presence and just need a little tweaking, but others are fearful of getting started and need guidance. We hold a workshop around digital branding and the importance of their online presence for their job search and future career. We then move to individual coaching and teach students how to use tools like LinkedIn to actively drive their job search efforts.
Career changers often have past lives in business, retail etc. Should they hide this past or do you find that past careers help in the job search?
They shouldn’t hide it but they need to know how to tell their story. As a bootcamp for career changers, we work closely with students to help them define an individual narrative that speaks to their experience so far, and translates into their new technology roles. We practice elevator pitches and hold sessions on how to talk about where you were, where you are and where you’re going. All of this builds confidence so when students are interviewing, they feel prepared and ready.
A lot of times past careers definitely help, because they’ve been part of a team or worked on real-world projects. This makes a big difference compared to a graduate with a CS degree, or even someone else with the same exact skills. Those past experiences all contribute to making our students well-rounded employees, and hiring companies love the maturity it brings.
Where and when do you suggest students start their job search? Should they wait to graduate to send out their first resumes?
Definitely do not wait until you graduate, but don't start too early either. At Tech Elevator students start their active job search in week 8 of the program, so two-thirds of the way in. We’ve developed a good balance, allowing them to focus on learning to code but recognizing that they're here to launch their tech careers. We want to give them a head start on the job search, with enough time to start curating their network and connections prior to graduation.
We’ve built a great reputation so sometimes recruiters can get pretty aggressive with our students early on. We coach them on how to manage interest and how to set expectations. In earlier weeks they can take initial HR screens or meet someone for coffee, but we advise them to hold off doing full technical interviews until week 10. This allows them to best represent themselves with extensive technical interview practice with us before taking on a demanding interview.
How do you help students narrow down what jobs (and companies) to apply for?
The self-discovery phase of the Pathway Program is designed to help our students develop their own unique lens to look at opportunities. Roles vary widely even at the junior level and what might be the dream job for one person could be another's nightmare. We preach the importance of picking a manager over picking a company, and emphasize they should look for work environments that support ongoing skills development.
Leading up to the active job search, Students evaluate our hiring network of 80+ companies to narrow down a list of 20 that seem interesting. They also target companies they find on their own based on their unique experience or goals. Our approach is to meet with them throughout the program, constantly evaluate target companies, and strategize their best approaches.
While bootcamps have gained popularity in the last 3 years, most job postings still require a CS Degree or equivalent. Do you suggest that graduates of Tech Elevator still submit their resume?
When you consider that the majority of folks working as developers today don't have a formal CS education, it makes sense to encourage students to submit resumes for job postings with a required CS or equivalent included. A quality bootcamp program qualifies for the “equivalent” label. I’ve seen companies shift their hiring away from local CS programs towards Tech Elevator because they like the amount of practical experience our grads have. Sometimes it's about Tech Elevator educating an employer about what we teach and the kinds of students we have. But the best way to get an employer on board is to get just one grad in the door. We call it the “Trojan Horse” approach, we just need to get one behind the fortress gates! For example, Progressive Insurance hired one grad in January, the next cohort they went on to hire five.
Can you give some examples of the sorts of jobs your graduates are in now?
Roles our students are offered include:
Can you give an example of a student who has really benefited from your career services/Career Pathways program?
Everyone benefits in different ways, but students with little or no career experience stand to gain the most since everything is new to them. One example is Michael Howe who studied in our Java bootcamp. Michael enrolled in the military right after high school, then got his associate’s degree at a community college. After working in various jobs in retail and manufacturing, he decided he wanted a better career path for himself and enrolled in Tech Elevator. Michael had the aptitude and determination to be a programmer, he just needed guidance and polish in terms of his career readiness. We helped him craft his narrative by bridging his military and job experience with his future goals, and also helped improve his communication skills. At the end of the program, Michael was offered two jobs from companies in our network, and now works as a Software Developer for an enterprise mobile applications company with a salary increase of over 200%. Pretty cool story of how the bootcamp model, and our career prep program, can truly be a catapult into a lucrative and rewarding chapter in your life.
How do you help with negotiation and job offer consideration?
There’s a lot of crazy talk in the industry right now about bootcamp grads getting six-figure salaries: $140k for a barista from Starbucks, AirBnb paying $250k for someone recently, etc. That grabs the headlines, but it’s not really helpful for students’ perceptions of what they should reasonably expect.
That’s not to say that we don't help our students think through how to negotiate, or give them market data on what to expect, but we encourage them not to be greedy. They should think about more than just money. We filter our students on the intake side, and if it's only about the money, we know they’re not a fit. Passion for technology, a drive to improve oneself, those are much more important success factors. We pride ourselves on the fact that the average offer to a Tech Elevator grad is higher than the average salary. Our messages are being heard, opportunities are being broadly evaluated and money is not the only deciding factor.
In your experience, what do employers particularly like about your graduates?
There are a variety of things our employers tell us they like about our graduates:
Do you have formal agreements with hiring partners? Are they paying to be part of your hiring network or to hire your students?
We do have formalized relationships where the hiring companies in our network and their team members get actively involved in mentoring our students, but we don't charge the companies to hire as we don’t want that to be a restricting factor for job opportunities.
Have you noticed employers are looking for specific languages or specific soft skills?
Almost every mentor and presenter in our network says the same thing: hard coding skills will get you in the door and provide the foundation to grow technically, but soft skills are what determine your career trajectory. That’s why we emphasize being able to communicate and collaborate as part of a team. Soft skills will always be beneficial at all stages of your career.
Do employer partners have influence over the Tech Elevator curriculum? Is there a feedback loop in place?
Yes. Definitely. We take a demand-driven approach to educating, and developed our initial curriculum with heavy employer input. Going forward we are constantly talking to employers about what skills they want to see in junior developers and understanding how their needs are evolving. Whether it’s test-driven development, pair programming, or even our security module, we stay on top of what skills, tools and best practices employers value.
What are Tech Elevator’s current stats on job placement and salary increases?
85% had a job within 2 weeks of graduation, students have an average of $25,000 increase in salary compared with their pre-bootcamp job, and 33% receive multiple job offers. Here’s a recent infographic we made highlighting the success we’ve had with students.
How long do you continue helping your graduates find jobs after they graduate?
To date we haven’t had to worry about extended career support. Our grads are getting hired quickly. However, we’re prepared to support them for as long as it takes. Once you are an alumni of Tech Elevator, our career services, and employer network are always available to you.
Can graduates use the Tech Elevator space to do their job search after graduation? For how long?
Of course! Alumni are welcome back in the space 24/7. A lot of them stop by from time to time, hang out and chat with current students. They also come back for events we hold in the space. As our alumni network grows, we love hearing updates about student’s career paths.