CloakHire co-founder Max Miller had only hired junior developers straight out of top-tier universities, until he discovered a breed of more mature and workplace-savvy junior developers – coding bootcamp grads. Now Max has hired TWO graduates from Thinkful’s Remote Engineering Immersion Program! Max tells us how his new hires are performing, why it was important that they had remote programming experience, and the difference between CS degree grads and bootcamp grads. Max even convinced his wife, a career-changer, to enroll in Thinkful’s part-time Fullstack Flex program!
Tell us about CloakHire and your role there!
I’m one of the co-founders at CloakHire, but you could call me the CTO or Head of DevOps. CloakHire software hooks up recruiters with available jobs to recruiters with candidates. The candidate gets hired and the recruiters split the commission.
All of our clients are direct hire recruiting firms, mostly independent recruiters (one-to two-person shops). We're in beta right now, but we've already on-boarded about 100 organizations including firms from the Global Recruiters Network.
So you've hired two Thinkful graduates so far. What roles are they in?
I actually first hired two, four-year degree computer science majors and neither of them panned out. So last July, I hired our first Thinkful graduate named Peter and then about three months later I hired a Thinkful grad named Will.
Peter Szujewski is our Head of UI. We had a bare-bones, jQuery style, UI built with PHP, and Peter’s first task was to convert it all to React.
Will McKelvey’s primary role is doing our Behavior Driven Development (BDD) Testing. Testing can fall under a few categories. The most common is Unit Testing (testing functional components and units of code). But at CloakHire we have taken a totally different approach where we actually simulate a browser. Will writes a lot of tests and stories about actions that the user can do and it actually simulates a browser to run them on the site. Will didn’t really learn BDD at Thinkful, so he has learned a few new tools and skills on the job.
As a hiring manager, how did you get connected to coding bootcamps? What stood out about Thinkful?
I asked recruiting agencies that we were working with to test CloakHire for some junior-level developers and they suggested a few developers from coding bootcamps. I talked to about 10 candidates from different bootcamps before settling on our first hire, Peter, from Thinkful.
What really attracted me to Peter initially was the fact that he was older and more mature than the other candidates, and his skills were exactly what we were looking for. I wanted to replace our stack with Angular or React and he came in saying, "Hey, I just learned a lot about React at Thinkful." Other candidates had a lot of general knowledge but would have had to learn a lot of new technologies. The biggest selling point was that Peter was ready and raring to go.
Was it a concern for you that the Thinkful applicants had learned in a remote, online environment, instead of at an in-person bootcamp?
That was actually a selling point! We all work in the metro Detroit area, but do almost (95%) fully-remote development at CloakHire. That's a skill that a lot of people don't have – the ability to work from home and actually get stuff done.
The ability to work remotely was my primary concern about the first two college grad employees. They were definitely functional and pretty good when working in the office, but as we started moving towards more remote work, our workflow broke down.
Our struggle with junior developers in the past has been getting them set up. Whereas most bootcamp alumni have been in other careers, wanted to become developers, and were ready to start their career. They are all just so passionate. This may not be true for all bootcamps, but Thinkful gives students experience and guidance in how to set up your development environment and workflow.
Will and Peter already had established careers, already knew that the workplace is very result-oriented, and perfect is less important than creating a solid product quickly.
Did you ever have to convince your co-founders (or even yourself) to hire from a coding bootcamp?
Not really. My co-founders knew we needed UI help and I said, "Okay, let's try to hire a bootcamp grad." Both Thinkful hires started out as contract employees on 1099s for a one-month trial period and it worked out really well.
Aside from coding bootcamps, how else would you usually hire developers?
In one of my previous roles, I had a team of six developers under me. We hired junior-level developers from a variety of sources. I mainly hired interns from top-tier universities like Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the University of Michigan, which have pretty strong engineering programs. We also hired remote programmers from Serbia and other Eastern European countries.
What differences did you notice between those channels and hiring from a coding bootcamp?
College grads might be very technically advanced, but a lot of programming is about pragmatism, not idealism or theory. A CS graduate could know everything about computer science, data structures, and algorithms, but they either don't manage their time well or they're too idealistic. Sometimes you just need to sit down and get stuff done.
A lot of junior development work can be “boring” stuff like database conversions and migrations, and sometimes CS grads won't dive down into the weeds.
Bootcamp grads also stand out to me because they’re not tainted by the core paradigms of C and C++ or even Java. Some people may disagree, but from a technical standpoint, I find it’s sometimes an advantage to only know about a few core concepts that relate to what you're actually working in.
What is the interview process like at CloakHire and how did your Thinkful hires do in that interview process?
My interview process has always been about determining if I can work with this person for a week. In the first part of the interview, I want to hear about your technical knowledge and experience. Then we start a two-week-long interview process. We put candidates on a contract and do pair programming for a week. If that goes well, then the second week is purely remote work. We want to see if the applicant is checking code every day, maintaining quality, and completely regimented.
We then establish an upfront, one-month contract. If it doesn't work, then we can just part ways. And if it does work, then they become full-time developers.
I intentionally make the first few days long and draining to see how they will handle the pressure. The first week was rough, especially with Peter, because I didn't know the Thinkful curriculum very well. I basically handed him a year's worth of code that was totally foreign to him. It was his first experience with vagrant to create Virtual Machines that we all develop on. So it's just a lot to learn.
After Peter started, what made you want to hire another Thinkful grad?
Once I hired Peter and we had established the UI, I realized we were going to need somebody to start doing testing. I asked Peter if he knew anyone from his Thinkful cohort who he would recommend, and he suggested Will. We brought him in, he went through the same interview process, and he's now full-time.
Peter understood our culture, and he was able to explain things to Will using the terms that they learned together at Thinkful. That made the integration and hiring a lot easier.
How are your Thinkful grads doing now in their roles at CloakHire?
Peter is a rock star, he just doesn't know it yet. He is naturally very gifted at a lot of programming concepts that take some people a lot of time to master. Peter will have been working here for a year in July and he's definitely getting a raise – we cannot afford to lose him. I think any company would be very lucky to have him.
Will is very consistent and hardworking; he’s able to do BDD Testing, which is very labor intensive. He's very consistently upbeat, loves doing this job, and is so optimistic.
It sounds like both Thinkful grads had to learn new technologies when they started at CloakHire. How did you help them learn and grow?
There is really a laundry list that all junior developers have to go through whenever they start at a new company. Peter and Will had to learn all about how to set up virtual machines, they had to learn a lot about AWS (where we do our hosting), and a lot about deployments. They also learned about the authentication system and a lot about the internal API that I set up.
A lot of their learning is self-directed. I used to give them very directed help, but Will and Peter both have been very interested in using online course tools. They do short courses on Udemy, and we’ve bought them both subscriptions so they can take as many online lectures as they’d like. They both probably do two a week.
When you hired from Thinkful did you have to pay any kind of referral fee?
No, I don't have a formal relationship with Thinkful. But I'm definitely going to contact them when I need more developers.
So you would hire more Thinkful grads?
Definitely. And if we want to expand our product to a mobile app, I would hire from Thinkful, especially if we want to use React Native. I would probably also look at Course Report and see which bootcamps teach the skills we would need.
I should mention that I didn't just hire developers from Thinkful, I actually also recommended that my wife enroll! Peter and Will were both teachers before taking Thinkful; my wife is also a teacher and wants to switch careers. I’m now seeing her go through Thinkful and I see that Thinkful definitely makes students go through the pain and self-exploration of grasping programming principles. I've bought into the bootcamp mantra!
In your interactions with your clients from the recruitment industry, are you seeing bootcamps become a more mainstream channel for hiring developers?
Yes. Bootcamps are becoming more of an option, but I’m not just seeing that because I work with recruiters that hire mid-top level managers with a minimum salary around $150,000. In the past, hiring through other channels required a lot more time and energy. When I was starting out, companies just had to invest a lot of time with college grads. For example, I went through a very long internship where I got a pretty decent salary.
With a Thinkful graduate, their junior developers are usually mature, have good skill sets, and chose to become developers. I’ve found that Thinkful does a pretty good job of vetting students, so that makes the hiring process a lot quicker and easier from a business perspective. If you're hiring for a startup, it makes all of the business sense in the world.
And as bootcamp grads gain more experience and become managers, I think that bootcamps will become more of an alternative to a four-year college, instead of just a way to shift careers.
What's your advice to other employers thinking about hiring from a coding bootcamp?
You have to know what you want and you need to define the position you’re hiring for. Companies often say, "Let's hire another developer," without knowing who they will work under, what their stack will be, or what their role will look like.
Once you’ve defined the role you’re hiring for, then source from a coding bootcamp, set the person up a little bit and they'll be great at their job. Peter’s skill set fits his role perfectly; Will’s doesn’t. And they're both doing great.