Cisco has hired a number of Hack Reactor grads (almost half of their CTAO engineering team are alumni), and finds that they are “so well prepared and ready to hit the ground running.” We spoke to Cisco Director of Experience Design Dustin Beltramo and Technical Leader Joe Sutton about what they look for in a new coding bootcamp hire, why skill set is more important than having a degree, and what stands out about Hack Reactor alumni compared to other candidates.
Tell us about Cisco and your roles there.
Dustin: I’m a Director of Experience Design in the Chief Technology and Architecture Office (CTAO) at Cisco. I manage a small team of visual designers and design strategists, and work closely with our lead engineer (Joe) to hire front-end and full-stack developers. As I’m sure you know, Cisco’s a large company with about 70,000 employees worldwide. The CTAO org is basically an innovation team, consisting of a bunch of architects and distinguished engineers from across Cisco who partner with customers to build proof of concepts for new technologies and products -- typically things like cloud service orchestration, security, analytics, IoT, and software-defined networking. When the POCs (POC = Proof of Concept) prove that there’s a market for a new product, we transition the project to the relevant mainline engineering team within Cisco to be productized. The Experience Design team supports the CTAO org by designing and implementing the front-ends for these co-innovation projects.
Joe: I’m a Technical Leader, my main role is to architect/lead the engineers on all the projects we implement. I work closely with the designers, various backend teams providing APIs, and when the time comes I work with the mainline engineering to transition the projects over.
How large is the development team?
11 engineers at the moment, four of whom are Hack Reactor grads.
How did you get connected with Hack Reactor as an employer?
Joe was recommended to Hack Reactor by a friend at his last company. While there, they had good success in finding top quality candidates. So when the time came to expand the engineering team, we decided to give Hack Reactor a try.
What types of roles have you hired Hack Reactor graduates for at Cisco?
Software engineer, primarily front-end and web-centric.
Other than Hack Reactor, how do you usually hire developers at Cisco? What are you looking for in a new hire?
There are a lot of coding bootcamp alumni looking for jobs now - of the Hack Reactor grads that you actually hired, what stood out about them?
It’s really their capabilities, the quality of their code, and their attitude. These days, most front-end and full-stack engineer resumes look the same, everyone lists the same set of frameworks and tools and whatnot. We’ve found the only way to really gauge a candidate is by the quality of the code they write. Since the Hack Reactor folks have their final projects and other work available on GitHub, it’s easy to get a sense for what type of developer they’re going to be. On top of that, the Hack Reactor program seems to prepare students exceptionally well, they have a good sense of what it’s like to work on a modern web development project.
I’m assuming that your hires from Hack Reactor went through a technical interview. How did they do?
Yes, definitely, there’s no other way to really guarantee that an engineer knows what they’re talking about. We do not modify our process for bootcamp grads. The partnership definitely makes things more efficient, by reducing some of the administrative overhead associated with the interview process.
Has it ever been a concern for you that these new developers don’t have a traditional computer science degree?
Not at all. We hire people based on their demonstrated skill set, not on any particular degree or certification.
Hack Reactor provides us with great support and consistently delivers a pool of candidates who are exceptionally well-prepared for the type of development work our team does.
How do you ensure that the new hires are supported as they continue to learn after they graduate from Hack Reactor? Do you have mentoring or apprenticeship programs in place?
Yes, the lead engineer provides ongoing mentoring, there are regular knowledge-sharing activities amongst the team, as well as providing opportunities to attend industry conferences and training. Oddly enough the Hack Reactor grads themselves can also act as mentors. Many of the teams we work with were trained as strictly backend engineers and so they are not up-to-date with the latest cloud-native web app techniques and technology. The work our Hack Reactor grads do with other teams helps to spread that knowledge more broadly within Cisco.
Are there any interesting stories about Hack Reactor hires that have advanced in their career?
We don’t have any particularly interesting stories, but we know that programs like Hack Reactor have had a very positive impact on most of the people that have gone through the programs. We’ve interviewed over thirty candidates and seen people from all walks of life, which you don’t always see from traditional new hire candidates. We’ve seen people with degrees in Computer Science, Law, Theater, Philosophy, History… the list goes on. Everyone we asked, why they joined Hack Reactor, all responded that they were looking to improve their quality of life, and were very happy they went through the program.
Do you have a feedback loop with Hack Reactor at all? Are you able to influence their curriculum if you notice your dev hires are underperforming in a certain area?
We provide feedback on every candidate we interview and hire. We haven’t really seen any systemic deficiencies. But the folks we work with at Hack Reactor are very open and responsive, I wouldn’t hesitate to approach them if we noticed an issue that needed to be addressed.
Will you hire from Hack Reactor in the future? Why or why not?
They are our first choice! The grads are so well-prepared, they come in and hit the ground running, that’s really what we’re looking for.
What is your advice to other employers who are thinking about hiring from a coding bootcamp or from Hack Reactor in particular?
First, not all coding boot camps are created equal. We would recommend talking to colleagues in the industry who have experience with the various programs. We wouldn’t hesitate to hire grads from the best boot camps, especially Hack Reactor. We find the students are highly motivated and excel in their work, and their training is top-notch. They may seem inexperienced on paper, comparatively, but the best coding bootcamps simulate a real world software development environment for their students, and that experience is incredibly valuable.
What is your advice to future Hack Reactor grads that are interested in opportunities at Cisco?
Please apply, we need you! Cisco is in the midst of an exciting transition from its hardware-centric roots to a future based on software and services. We need the skillset of Hack Reactor grads now more than ever. If you apply to a team that is fully embracing this cloud-centric future, your skills will be a huge asset, and you’ll have the chance to make a big impact, even on a company the size of Cisco.