Fernish has reinvented the process of renting furniture and built an engineering team made up of developers from different backgrounds – including Thinkful graduates! We caught up with Director of Engineering and tech blogger Kim Burgaard about onboarding a recent Thinkful bootcamp grad, what entry-level developers can expect to work on at a startup, and why completing an internship is an excellent way to break ground in your new tech career after a bootcamp. Plus, Kim shares his tips for optimizing your tech resume to impress an interviewer!
How did you become a software engineer, Kim?
Thirty years ago, I got my degree in computer science and became a software engineer, working in defense for almost 20 years. However, I wanted to work with more technologies, so I reinvented myself and my career.
There is such a tremendous difference between working in corporate defense with enterprise software to working with modern web applications! When I left my defense career, it took courage to start over. That's why I feel a lot of kinship and empathy for people who make a career change by enrolling in a bootcamp like Thinkful. I know the importance of life experience. It’s not the degree that defines you, but the experience that you bring to the table and what you do with it. To do that, you need to have an aptitude for learning.
What does it mean to be the Director of Engineering at Fernish?
Since Fernish was founded three years ago, we have dramatically grown from just two founders to ten developers and thirty employees at our headquarters! Working at a startup means that I wear many hats. As the company grows, my responsibilities focus on people management (which includes career development, culture, and hiring) and overseeing our tech direction to ensure that we meet all of our goals.
How many Thinkful graduates has Fernish hired so far?
We hired a Thinkful Software Engineering grad in June and Nghi Tran was accepted into our internship program. She impressed us so much that we offered her a full-time permanent position midway through her internship!
Before hiring from Thinkful, we hired two mid-level software engineers who graduated from other coding bootcamps and are now senior software engineers on our team. We also hired a self-taught junior software developer. She taught herself the concepts through online resources, and we found that incredibly impressive.
What does Fernish look for when hiring coding bootcamp grads?
As the hiring manager for the Engineering Team, I always have a focus on inclusion and diversity when we hire – that includes hiring college grads and bootcamp grads.
For entry-level, junior developer positions, it helps to have experience working in an office setting, that you can communicate, collaborate, and know basic things like how to work in a team and how to communicate clearly online. For job applicants with a background in accounting, supply chain logistics, or some other knowledge that pertains to our business, there are a lot of things we don't have to teach you. You can come in and teach us!
Some job applicants try too hard to impress us during an interview, so it’s refreshing to see those who know what they don't know everything and aren't afraid to admit it. We aren't looking for someone who thinks they have the answer to everything, but has ambition and curiosity to dive in and learn more.
What stood out about the Thinkful bootcamp graduate that you hired?
She had a really solid grasp of programming fundamentals and experience in tech. During the interview process, we also liked that she was also humble about what she didn’t know. That got her in the door for an internship.
Once she started, she picked up meaningful work and ran with it. As part of her internship, her capstone project was implementing two-factor authentication. There were many new technologies involved in the project and she aced it.
What are the engineers working on these days? Could you give us an example of a project that the Thinkful graduate Nghi is working on?
We’re building the software that drives the business from the ground up, so there’s no shortage of greenfield projects and exciting things to own and build. Our Thinkful graduate is currently working on an Android app written in React Native for our warehouse and delivery staff.
Do you recommend that recent coding bootcamp grads seek out a job at a startup?
I think there are pros and cons to working at a startup as a brand new developer. If you are able to find a startup with the right culture, then you can gain positive exposure to your new career. For example, any new entry-level software engineer at Fernish will work in a certain area of the application and tech stack one week, and the next week, they’ll work in a different area. Even for our entry-level programmers, we put a lot of trust and responsibility on what they are doing. We trust they will thrive off of a mission without us having to micromanage what they are doing.
The flip-side to startups is that not all companies will have the focus, empathy, patience, and drive to develop entry-level developers. In those cases, finding employment at larger, more established companies may be better for entry-level developers because they will receive the support, exposure, and possibly apprenticeships they need to grow.
You mentioned that Thinkful graduate Nghi started off in an internship – why is it important for Fernish to invest time and effort into an internship program?
Part of the Fernish’s company mission is to give back. Offering opportunities like a paid internship is valuable for the community. The more companies that do it, the better it is for the students and entry-level job seekers. It also benefits our team to have exposure to mentoring and coaching the talent that comes in.
Is there an ideal candidate for the Fernish internship program?
We are agnostic on technologies, so we look for candidates that have experience with any comparable tech stack to our own. If an applicant can talk about modern web application development and show interest in learning new tech stacks, then we are more than happy to invest in training them.
What kinds of things can interns expect to learn during their internship?
The internship typically lasts between 2-4 months, and it is always paid at an hourly rate unless they come from an extended program and request college credit instead. We cap interns at 30 hours a week, but there is flexibility with the schedule.
Interns will learn the tech stack we use at Fernish, which is Ruby on Rails on the back end, React on the front end, and then most of our legacy front end is using a lesser known technology called Elm. (Elm is similar to React with smart rendering, but it has its own functional programming language).
What types of roles can a bootcamp grad land at Fernish after going through the internship?
Our interns are eligible to move into a junior position. They probably need a few years within the company before they reach a mid-level engineering position.
Do you recommend that bootcamp grads consider accepting an internship first before their first software engineer role?
It depends on what your career plan is and the job market. If employers are lining up to hire you, then go for it! But if not, then an internship can offer a meaningful experience that is extremely valuable on your resume. Even if you don’t receive a permanent position within the company after your internship ends, you will gain a better perspective on what you want in your career, especially the work culture.
As a hiring manager, do you recommend that bootcamp graduates submit a cover letter to better position themselves?
If you are including a cover letter, don’t include a generic cover letter because it’s a waste of time. No matter how much you talk about yourself in that cover letter, my question always is, why didn't you include that in your resume? Personally, I read the cover letter last. If there is something in it that stands out or is positive to read, I like it, but I want to see it in the resume itself.
What are your tips for optimizing your resume – as a hiring manager, what do you want to see on a bootcamp grad’s resume?
As a job-seeker your goal is to optimize your resume and make yourself an easy yes. As a hiring manager, I need to figure out what part of your resume suits the job position available. When I’m going through hundreds of resumes, I need to do that quickly.
Overall, your resume should be tailored to the tech stacks that you are familiar with. The mistake I see candidates make is providing a huge list of technology in their skill set. That says to me they are a jack of all trades, master of none. It tells me they don't know what they want to do. How can I be sure that you will thrive at Fernish? If you want to apply with such a wide variety of roles, I recommend having multiple tailored resumes for each job position you plan to apply for and give each one to the matching employment opportunity.
Will Fernish hire from Thinkful in the future?
Yes! We have another internship coming up in the summer and we will hire on for other roles later in the year. I will reach out to my connections at Thinkful to inform them of the internship opening available and encourage Thinkful students to apply.
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