In Louisville, Kentucky, recruiting quality junior developers is not an easy task. Amanda Marburger, who directs the software team at Atria Senior Living, has tapped into a new recruiting pipeline with The Software Guild. She has now hired four graduates from The Software Guild’s .NET Bootcamp who are working on apps that are crucial to the comfort and wellbeing of Atria residents. Amanda tells us how these new developers are contributing to the Atria team, how she supports their ongoing learning, and why she wants to hire more Software Guild grads!
Can you tell me about Atria Senior Living and your role there?
Atria Senior Living manages assisted living and life guidance facilities. We help seniors as they age, through difficult times of transition. We are very passionate about what we do for our seniors – we provide not only housing, but also a loving environment where they can connect with other residents and connect with the caregivers, and we aim to make the experience very pleasurable for them.
I am the Director of Software Engineering at the Atria support center in Louisville, Kentucky. We build a lot of custom software that allows our employees to shape the environments in which our residents live. We build systems and applications to show our caregivers what care should be provided to each resident, what time, and how often. We also have other custom systems that integrate with third-party partners, and help our sales staff to bring in new business.
How many Software Guild grads have you hired and for what roles?
We have hired four Software Guild developers within the last year. Three of them are in a programming/developer role and one of them is working towards becoming our database administrator. That person had some interest in SQL and data.
We are a team of 13 and that includes six developers (the whole company is around 14,000 people and growing). We're not a huge development team, but we do produce a lot of applications and a code base that we have to support. We also have three or four employees on support staff or on the data team (part of the database team). They are all part of our development shop.
How did you first connect with The Software Guild? Had you worked with any other coding bootcamps before?
I was mentoring a .NET class at Code Louisville, which shares a space with Software Guild in downtown Louisville. At that time, we were hiring and we found that The Software Guild was graduating a good group of developers. It was an avenue that we had not explored as an employer, and it meant we could interview several people at the same time who may not have known much about Atria, or even that we do software development. A lot of those folks were starting new careers or redefining their careers, so this was an opportunity to meet them and to tell them about our business.
We had not worked with any other bootcamps. I had heard the term “bootcamp” when I was looking to sharpen my own iOS skills, but we didn’t realize then that The Software Guild was actually right next door to us! We realized that we could build a partnership with the bootcamp and create a recurring talent pipeline.
Did you have to convince your team (or even yourself) to hire coding bootcamp graduates? Was it a concern that they didn’t have a traditional CS background?
The nice thing about our company is that there are no real restrictions from where we pull talent. We thought: worst case scenario would be that we try it, it doesn't work, and then we don't continue. But it did work out very well for us.
When we interviewed most of those folks, they seemed to have a good reason for switching careers. In our environment, we can always teach you the tech, but a candidate’s soft skills are way more important to us. Do you present well? Can you communicate your efforts? It's the other environmental attributes that you pick up working as a professional that really matter here.
Other than The Software Guild, how do you usually hire developers in Louisville?
We recruit through several avenues. We have an in-house recruiting team at Atria who recruit for the IT team. There's a constant need for hiring. Unfortunately, in Louisville, not many developers are unemployed, so it’s definitely difficult to find good quality developers. It is even difficult to find junior developers. Because Software Guild is so close proximity wise, it gives us another area to source talent.
We’ve primarily found that the best results come from job listing sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, and then our recruiters continue to actively recruit. We've looked at potentially hiring our interns full-time. We’ve also reached out to Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville to try to access that talent pool of recent CS degree graduates.
How is hiring from The Software Guild different from those more traditional recruiting channels?
First, it’s completely free to hire from The Software Guild. About two weeks before students are going to graduate, The Software Guild holds a set of 20-minute speed round interviews where interested companies can sign up to meet students. That 20 minutes gives us a gauge to know if we want to bring a candidate in for a more formal interview. It is an easy way to talk with several great candidates without wasting time and money.
When you think about the Software Guild grads that you did hire, what stood out about them?
Each one had a little something special, whether it was their communication skills or the excitement about their career change. These folks are uprooting themselves for a certain period of time, quitting their jobs and taking a leap forward to really refocus on tech. To me, if you're taking that kind of leap, that means you're really passionate about it and you really want to better yourself. And that takes a strong person. Not everyone has that confidence within themselves.
We hired some of our Software Guild developers based on the way candidates communicated and presented themselves and spoke. Others had some background in tech, but not with the particular stack that we use today. In general, we are looking for developers who are driven to continue learning and thriving outside of their day-to-day work.
Have Software Guild grads done well in the Atria interview process?
Yeah. We had two hiring sessions. In the first session we interviewed about 11 folks and found two grads we wanted to hire. Then in the second session there were about eight candidates, and we also found two well-fitting developers to hire.
In the interview, we like to ask a lot of situational questions. We are not big proponents of giving a test that the applicant has to pass. Instead, we want to know why you’re switching careers, what interests you about working in software development, what type of environment you thrive in, etc. That gives us a sense of how they would cope in a high-pressure situation, and whether they can keep up with the ever-changing demands which come with IT in general. If they seem to respond well to change and understand that tech is not a constant, then we know they’ll be able to thrive in our environment. We are very upfront about the pace at which we work at Atria.
We find out a lot about a candidate’s technical skills during conversations about the projects they’ve worked on – we always ask to hear about a project that didn’t go well. We can understand their logic, their thought process, and the technologies/tools that they can use in that conversation, rather than saying, "Write a SQL statement for me” or “Write a program to do X, Y, and Z."
At The Software Guild, students learn Java or .NET. Are they using those languages now at Atria?
We hired .NET graduates because we are a .NET shop. We did not interview any of the Java folks. I've seen the .NET curriculum that they teach at The Software Guild and it meshes with our stack at Atria. Our hires are still using their .NET skills here and greatly expanding as we hit multiple technologies. We don't use just .NET; we intermingle with other client-side technologies as well. So they're growing vastly as programmers with the new knowledge they are gaining.
You mentioned how important it is for developers to be able to keep up with change and keep learning. How do you support new developers in that goal?
That's a great question. We have an open door policy at Atria and I hold one-on-ones twice a month with each of my employees. In those one-on-ones, they have time to tell me how things are going, and which areas they would like to grow into. I ask how I can better support each of them as a manager, and we set out a plan for wherever they want to go. If they really want to move into a senior role or do extra training, then I want to help out with that.
Just recently, several of our developers went to a conference here in Louisville. As a company, we provide tuition reimbursement after you've been here for a certain amount of time, so you can continue your education. If someone wants to get a bachelor’s or master's, then we can help with that. We also have subscriptions to online tech resources where our developers can watch videos and learn about new technologies. We try to give our developers a foundation to learn and to thrive, not only professionally in tech, but also personally.
Can you tell us about the projects that your Software Guild hires are working on?
One of our Software Guild grads has been on board for almost a year, and they are now a primary lead on an important culinary application. This app allows our support staff to define the menu for our communities, and then our chefs at each of the communities put their own local flavor into it. For example, a chef in Maine could change the menu from fish to lobster. That's really important because Atria residents tell us that one of the things they love the most about living here, is the food we serve – we take such pride in that.
Before we built that app, our culinary staff were managing that process in an Excel sheet, which didn't really give the business any understanding of or introspection into how we can maintain and control costs.
That's such a great, practical example. Since you hired these four Software Guild grads, have any of them moved up, or changed roles since they started?
They're all still in the roles that we hired them for, but every six months, we assess whether each person is still fulfilled and progressing toward their goals. They’re all still growing professionally, but as far as I'm concerned, all the grads that we've hired are on track to be promoted within 2-3 years.
Do you have a feedback loop with The Software Guild if you notice your hires are underqualified in some area?
Yeah, I talk closely with Jacob from The Software Guild about their curriculum. He's trying to build an open forum for companies locally that have hired Software Guild grads, almost like a roundtable. I had suggested that to him and he's trying to work with his team to see if he can put that together.
What is your advice to other employers who are thinking about hiring from a coding bootcamp?
Try it! What can you lose? Most companies don’t even acknowledge bootcamps as an opportunity, but you can find a lot of gems in bootcamps. It could totally change the way your company runs and hires developers.
There has been a stigma around bootcamps. While you can’t cover everything that you could get in a four-year college degree, bootcamp students go through 12-weeks of intensive, full days. That was enough to convince us to try hiring from Software Guild.
It's also given us another hiring avenue that we may not have used traditionally. I think we made good choices with our Software Guild hires. The grads are happy, and we are happy to have them. I think there's so much potential in them and they are so excited to come into work every day. And hopefully, we've had a hand in that based on our culture and the way we run things.
I can't say enough good things, not only about Software Guild as a bootcamp, but also as a hiring option. As we expand, we’ll continue to hire folks from Software Guild.