Lisa Casner graduated from Hackbright Academy four years ago and then landed her first role as an intern at Opendoor. Now that she’s been promoted to Senior Software Engineer, Lisa has launched an Apprenticeship Program at Opendoor to help recent bootcamp grads get on-the-job experience working alongside a rapidly growing engineering team. Lisa describes what you can expect in the 6-month apprenticeship, how to stand out in the interview, and why mentorship is an important component at Opendoor.
This article was produced by the Course Report team and sponsored by Hackbright Academy.
What is Opendoor and what kinds of problems is Opendoor solving?
Opendoor is a leading digital platform that gives users a simple way to buy and sell homes. Five million people buy and sell homes every year, but the process is still complex, stressful, and time-consuming. We've taken the traditional home transaction and made it simple and on-demand. Our vision is to build a one-stop shop that allows people to move with the click of a button. To date, we've reached more than 100,000 customer transactions and operate in 45 markets nationwide, most recently launching the San Francisco Bay Area. And we're continuing to scale rapidly.
What does the engineering team look like at Opendoor?
Every day is exciting at Opendoor because we have the opportunity to make a real impact! We're solving real-world pain points for customers and transforming a $1.9 trillion industry. We have engineers working on tooling for our Buy with Opendoor mobile app, our home security devices, seller flow, and more. We are growing and scaling our team rapidly, hiring across teams and locations in the U.S. and Canada. (I encourage anyone reading this to check out our Careers page if Opendoor sounds like an interesting opportunity!)
What do you work on as a Senior Software Engineer today?
My work varies a lot but skews heavily toward back end application work. Earlier last year, I was designing, leading, and implementing large-scale projects for our List with Opendoor product and our core seller/offer experience. More recently, I've been focused on scalability, refactoring our core business models to support a combined buyer and seller experience, and improving our login experience for customers. I also mentor, train, and pair with other developers and I'm currently managing the Apprentice Program at Opendoor.
How did you get into software engineering, Lisa?
My path into software engineering is non-traditional. I started my career as an underwriter. As I worked in the insurance field, I realized I was most interested in creating Excel templates with advanced Excel functions and Macros. I decided to try out operations for a tech company and was brought on to the product team as a subject matter expert. I started working closely with engineers and became interested in what they were doing. So, I decided to quit my job and enroll in the coding bootcamp at Hackbright Academy in 2017 to become an engineer.
In general, I love solving challenging problems. Before I knew how to code, I felt like I was blocked from taking my impact to a larger scale. Learning to code and solve problems as an engineer is much more fulfilling for me and I finally feel like I have more of an impact with what I do.
What did you take away from your bootcamp experience at Hackbright Academy?
Most importantly, you should choose to become an engineer because it's what you enjoy, not because it pays well.
A coding bootcamp is not just an automatic ticket to becoming an engineer. When you graduate from a bootcamp, your future depends a lot on you. Hackbright Academy gives you the right tools, but you need to put in the work to ensure you get the most out of the experience and are ready for a software engineering job.
We’re always curious about how employers perceive bootcamp grads. Have you had to convince Opendoor to hire bootcamp grads?
Our company looks favorably on bootcamp grads and it shows in the adoption of our Apprenticeship Program. I have been a huge advocate for the Opendoor Apprenticeship Program, but the hardest part was finding mentors who can commit their time. Fortunately, our engineering leaders are huge proponents of these programs and encourage engagement from the top down.
Bootcamp grads may take longer to onboard than CS grads and require more mentorship in the beginning of their first role. Any company that wants to hire a bootcamp grad needs to make sure they have the proper mentorship and support in place, but what I've seen is that after these coding bootcamp graduates get comfortable, their prior work experience helps them grow at a fast pace. They already know how to be a great employee, they just have to learn how to be a great engineer!
Are you still using what you learned at Hackbright Academy in your job as a Senior Software Engineer?
Hackbright Academy offers a secure foundation on which to grow and I would not have been prepared for my first engineering role without it. Although my job now as a Senior Software Engineer covers so much more than I learned at the bootcamp, it’s all built upon what I learned from the program. I learned the fundamentals of programming and got comfortable writing in my first language. I don't write in Python for my job, but I was able to use my knowledge to learn new languages.
How does a coding bootcamp grad land a job at Opendoor?
Opendoor’s apprenticeship is the best path for recent bootcamp grads who want to work here. I recommend anyone interested in applying to first reach out to someone who works at Opendoor for a referral. Additionally, you should ensure that you have a lot of practice with interview questions.
How many Hackbright Academy grads has your team hired so far?
Until our apprenticeship, I was the only Hackbright graduate at Opendoor. Since our first apprenticeship cohort, we've brought on four Hackbright graduates, so our numbers are increasing! We look for candidates that are open to new challenges, are strong problem solvers, and are excited to work at Opendoor.
Hackbright Academy graduates start off at the apprentice level, and we expect them to move into the junior-level software engineering roles. Then they would continue improving from there.
All apprentices start as software engineers on their respective teams. We have many different teams for apprentices to join with different skills, in full stack, back end, front end, infrastructure, and data engineering, depending on their interests. They would likely convert on the same team they started on as an apprentice, but at Opendoor we do encourage team transitions to help with personal development and career growth.
Why is the apprenticeship program at Opendoor the best path for new bootcamp graduates?
Apprentices receive a lot of additional support, including onboarding time with various engineers in our company and 1:1 time with their mentor to level up their skills. We partner each apprentice with a mentor for the duration of the 6 months. By the end of the apprenticeship, apprentices will be more than prepared for their first software engineering role. We have a whole platform of materials for bootcamp grads, covering the languages we use at Opendoor as well as basic skills such as Git and setting up their IDEs.
We have a robust onboarding experience with plenty of material to prepare apprentices for their tasks. Since multiple apprentices start at the same time, they are able to help each other through the program.
How long does the apprenticeship typically last? And is it paid?
This is a paid apprenticeship and it is a 6-month program. Our goal is to convert Opendoor apprentices to full-time software engineers at Opendoor at the end of the 6 months.
Without giving away any company secrets, can you tell us what those bootcamp hires are working on?
The apprentices have been assigned to various teams across the company, including Operations Excellence, Consumer Growth, and Data Infrastructure. We also hired a fourth graduate from our apprenticeship pipeline who's on our Partnerships team. They all just started three months ago and are working on getting comfortable with our code bases and development processes. They’re also taking on more complex feature work related to their team's mission.
How can a bootcamp grad stand out in the hiring process at Opendoor?
We received a lot of applications for our apprenticeship, but the candidates that stood out were ones who provided more detail about their previous work experience, even if not applicable to software engineering. Once the candidates made it to the first technical phone screen, their interview skills really came into play. The candidates that made it through studied hard and impressed us with their skills.
You’ve been working as a software engineer for 4 years now — How has working at Opendoor helped you grow as a software engineer?
Opendoor has been supportive of my journey since my first day as an intern. When I became a full-time employee while 8-months pregnant, I felt fully supported during the process and was given paid maternity leave right after starting. Opendoor focuses on the long-term growth of their employees, constantly throwing us into new challenges, encouraging autonomy, and ensuring there are career development opportunities for high performers. For example, I was able to launch and manage our first apprenticeship program!
Will you be hiring from Hackbright Academy in the future at Opendoor?
We built our initial apprenticeship program with the idea that it would be an ongoing program. We're still finalizing those details but hope to continue offering the program in the future. About half of our current cohort are Hackbright graduates and we hope to continue finding amazing talent from this alumni pool!
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