What are hiring managers looking for in a new developer? A mix of practical engineering skills and foundational CS knowledge helped a Lambda School grad land a job at Utah fintech startup Divvy! We got to chat with Divvy’s VP of Engineering, Greg Larson, about why he chose to hire a coding bootcamp grad. Learn what stands out to hiring managers during the job interview process and how Divvy is partnering with Lambda School to help their students get more real-world experience!
Tell us about Divvy and your role there.
Divvy provides a spend and expense management solution for small-to-medium size businesses. We essentially help companies get access to credit and each of their employees gets their own Divvy credit card where administrators can plan and track expenses in real-time. We work with clients across the board – companies with one or two people, companies with thousands of employees, and they span from construction, healthcare, nonprofits, education, and other tech companies.
As VP of Engineering, everything technical reports up through me – software development, IT, DevOps, QA, and a few other functions. When I first started here, there were around 10 Software Engineers and since then, we've grown to over 30 full-time engineers across the board. One of my main functions is growth – sourcing, recruiting, and hiring our engineers. It’s up to me to strategize how we grow the team and what positions to fill. I used to lead interviewing and the tech assessment, but now that we're scaling, we've got more people to help with the process.
I used to work a lot more in the code in our early days – we are a startup, so everyone wears multiple hats. I still oversee the higher level architectural decisions, so other daily activities include working with the other executives and teams here at Divvy to ensure that we're able to support the vision and the strategy set out. That often means considering a new partnership that requires some technical integration, seeing if there's an opportunity to capture more of a market with certain features or internal tools to enable customer success. I'm involved in a lot of those discussions to figure out how we're going to execute on the engineering side, and make it happen.
How many Lambda School graduates have you hired?
To this day, we've only interviewed and hired one Lambda School graduate – Antonio – as a Software Engineer. We do have one other Lambda graduate in our pipeline right now, and we're doing our final group interview with him later today – we'll see how that goes.
How does Divvy usually source developers? How did you meet this Lambda School graduate?
With our employees being so new at Divvy, we have a lot of fresh networks to tap into. We have a referral bonus program for employees that refer engineers. Also, because Divvy has been experiencing meteoric growth, there’s some buzz about us in the local industry and are attracting better talent than normal because of the good things we're doing and the media coverage.
When I source candidates, I first try to search locally for people who have relevant experience and match a profile of the right kind of personality and culture fit. Our Lambda graduate came through a referral from a friend of one of our employees. We had heard about Lambda School, and how they take a different approach to the bootcamp paradigm. I had only heard good things about Lambda School, so I was excited to interview a graduate.
Did you have to tailor the hiring process at all for a coding bootcamp grad? What does your hiring process look like?
We kept the hiring process the same – we were pretty deliberate about that. We only judged him differently simply because he was a bit more junior, so our expectations were for a junior candidate.
Typically, we have an initial one-on-one interview. Depending on the situation, it's either a phone or in-person interview. It's a basic screening, so we don't get too deep on any technical things – we explore the candidate's background and experience to see if their interests align, and we get an idea of how they work with others. Assuming all that looks good, we then send them the instructions for a technical assessment to do on their own time. They have to build an application which usually takes a few hours. We try to be sensitive to people's time, but it's not something you can just hurry and get done in one night.
Once applicants return the tech assessment solution, we have a committee of engineers that reviews them. If everything looks good at that point, we have the candidate come in for a group interview or call in via video. We’ll ask about problem-solving, design and architecture, but there’s usually not a whiteboard test. Once the group interview is finished, if everyone gives the candidate a thumbs up, then we extend the offer.
The way Antonio performed in his interview made us feel pretty confident that he's a good fit now, but we also saw a ton of potential because he demonstrated that he can pick up on things quickly. He had already shipped one or two real products, so that at all made us feel really excited about hiring him. He’s been with us since April 2018.
What stood out about the Lambda School graduate you hired? What helped them get the job?
We knew that we wanted to hire one or two junior engineers. Our Lambda grad, Antonio, immediately stood out because he seemed to have a great balance between being confident, but not being a know-it-all. In the past, it seemed like other bootcamps produced grads who felt they should be hired and get paid tons of money right away. On the other hand, recently, I’m seeing almost the opposite where I interview bootcamp grads who don't seem confident or sure of what they want to do.
Candidates need to have a focus and understand the direction they’re going in. And Antonio had that. He had the confidence that he could do the job, but knew he would need to keep learning and progressing. He was really sharp in comparison to a lot of other candidates. He had applicable, practical experience, and knew the fundamentals of software engineering. That's something we like to see, especially because we're a fast-moving startup. People always need to be learning here – even our most experienced engineers are constantly learning new things. The ability to learn, demonstrate that you can learn, and use what you learned to be effective in your job, is really critical here.
Did you have to convince your team to hire a non-traditional developer?
Because I had heard good things about Lambda School, I was excited to see Antonio’s skills. I was curious to see if he would be more like a bootcamper or more like a computer science grad. Antonio seemed to be in the middle of the two, which was good. And because Lambda had a good reputation with me and a few other people whom I work with, I didn't have to really convince anyone.
Bootcamps do a great job of teaching efficiently, but you can still only learn so much in a short time frame. Lambda School is a longer program at 6 months, which is good because students have more time to soak in information.
Does Divvy have mentorship programs in place to ensure new hires are supported?
Yes, we assign a mentor to every new hire, regardless of whether they’re junior or not. Even our new senior developers have a mentor for the first couple of months to help them get acclimated to their role. We also put together onboarding plans for every hire’s first few weeks. All of those things are more high touch with candidates who have less experience, so junior engineers get more attention. We work with them closely and make sure they have access to people to help them. However, since Divvy is still a startup and moving really quickly, we're not in a place right now where we can take on too many junior engineers.
Antonio had some experience working as a professional Software Engineer, which is really helpful. No matter who you are, when you start at a new company there's a lot to learn; but if someone's already had a job in the tech industry as a Software Engineer, they've learned a lot already so we don't have to teach them the basics.
Is there a feedback loop with Lambda School about their curriculum? What does that relationship look like?
We're actually going to be trying something pretty exciting with Lambda soon. At the end of the Lambda curriculum, students do a capstone project and split into small teams. Divvy is going to be a partner company to give students more applicable experience with those projects. We're looking into sponsoring one of those capstone projects and be there to help, mentor, and judge projects. It’ll be a fun way to engage with the school and we’ll get some insight into how their students are doing.
Also, because our back end is built in Elixir, a less common language, Lambda is even willing to invest some time into teaching a group of students Elixir. That's obviously a win for us because if we want to hire one or two of these graduates, they already have some experience with Elixir.
Engaging with a school like Lambda is a lot of fun, and we’re building a good relationship. It helps the students because they get real influence from a real company, but then it also helps us because we get more insight into the curriculum and give input into how to shape some of the candidates that we might be interested in hiring.
Does this mean you’ll be hiring from Lambda School in the future?
That's the expectation. We're definitely growing, so as we have opportunities and the capacity to add more junior engineers to the team, Lambda School would certainly be one of the first, if not the first, bootcamp that we look at.
What is your advice to other employers who are considering hiring from a coding bootcamp, or Lambda School in particular?
Honestly, I think Lambda School is different enough that the same advice may not apply to other schools.
Hire for potential and not immediate skill or experience; look for what the candidate could be capable of. Sometimes that's hard to assess, but look at how well they did after the bootcamp, even just in the first few months after. That tells me a lot about their passion, dedication, and ability to continue to learn.
I would advise that anyone hiring from a bootcamp needs to be able to provide continuing education – more so than they would expect with other engineers. Expect that you're going to have to help them continue to learn because a bootcamp doesn't teach them everything. Bootcamps get them started on the path, but as an employer, you have to keep helping them along that path.