Jane Gundlach is the IT Manager at Progressive Insurance in Cleveland, and get this– Progressive has hired eight Tech Elevator grads in less than one year! We had to find out what makes this partnership so fruitful, so we sat down with Jane to learn what it takes to land a tech role at Progressive, what’s special about coding bootcamp graduates, and to see how Tech Elevator and Progressive are working together to bring a “brain gain” to Ohio.
First, tell us about Progressive and your role there!
I have the pleasure of being the IT Manager at Progressive. I’m responsible for our intern program and hiring all of our new Associates who will hold positions as Application Developers, System Testers, and Business Systems Analysts. I get to introduce about 30 to 40 new Associates to Progressive every year.
Our readers may think of Progressive as a huge insurance company. But actually, you refer to yourselves as “a tech company that sells insurance.” How large is the development team and what are they generally working on at Progressive?
Our Progressive IT organization is 3,500+ people, which includes infrastructure along with application development. We definitely have a large IT shop, and the reason why we refer to ourselves as a tech company that sells insurance is because the ideas and innovation that come out of our IT organization have really been instrumental in moving our company forward and making us pioneers in the insurance business.
We were the first insurance company to actually offer the ability to get a quote on the internet. Products like Snapshot or Usage Based Insurance are what Progressive is known for, and that's why we like to refer to ourselves as a tech company that just happens to sell insurance, because IT is so instrumental to our organization overall.
How many Tech Elevator graduates have you hired in total?
I've hired eight, and I just started hiring from Tech Elevator in January 2016.
How did you get connected with Tech Elevator?
I actually had a previous business relationship with Anthony Hughes, the co-founder and CEO of Tech Elevator. Before he started Tech Elevator, Anthony knew my role here at Progressive and we talked through what he wanted to create. Progressive was one of the first companies on board, and we hired one graduate from their very first small class.
I was able to talk with him about what I was hoping to see Tech Elevator put in place, as well as my requirements as a hiring manager, and a manager of these students. That increased my confidence in the entire model that they were putting together.
What are you looking for in a new hire for those Application Developer jobs and specifically from a coding bootcamp?
I definitely need to work with a coding bootcamp that actually has stringent entrance criteria. The Tech Elevator aptitude test and their face-to-face interviews are very important. Anthony and I had discussions about finding students who have a passion for technology, not somebody who just says, "Hey, I'm going to go be a developer because I know I can make a lot of money."
Because I am responsible for hiring Associates, many that I hire are recent college graduates. My laundry list right out of the gate is: passion for technology and the ability to demonstrate a strong learning agility. Our new hires have to be able to learn technology, because what we're doing today is not what we're going to be doing in a year from now.
We are extremely collaborative at Progressive; you can’t be a developer who wants to code with your head down. I look for someone who really wants to work in a collaborative environment to develop software. And finally, innovation is really important to us. If you look at us as a company, that has put us on the map. Candidates that have strong leadership and innovation skills are very important to me.
What’s special about your Tech Elevator hires?
When I look at our coding bootcamp hires, I find individuals who have some life lessons under their belt. They're still junior developers, but they come with a higher level of maturity than I get from a student right out of college. Plus, they have some life lessons and business acumen. Progressive is a pretty casual company – we're certainly not a suit and tie company – but you still have to know how to navigate a corporate environment. Coding bootcamp graduates tend to have that.
Do you notice differences in the hiring process from a coding bootcamp versus hiring from a university’s CS degree program?
When hiring from colleges, we attend job fairs and we're connected with professors at the schools. It is a little bit different to work with Tech Elevator for sure, but I think as coding bootcamps continue to grow and expand, it may not be that much different, right?
Next week I'm going down to Tech Elevator to do an employer's showcase. I do that with every class at Tech Elevator. We talk about Progressive, the culture, and what it's like to work here, and I bring recent hires from Tech Elevator so they can share their experience. I also bring seasoned programmers who talk about the projects that they work with and the technologies they're exposed to so that Tech Elevator students can really think about if Progressive is a good match for them.
We also offer a lot of open houses where students can come and see our facility. It's just gorgeous. We have the largest corporate art collection in the country, and we're Top 10 in the world – all of that is to inspire creativity and innovation.
Since Tech Elevator just opened a campus in Columbus, would you ever hire from the Columbus campus?
Progressive’s home office is in the Cleveland area. The bulk of our IT operations are here, but we do have IT operations in Colorado Springs as well. Unfortunately, Tech Elevator doesn't have a bootcamp in Colorado, but I have actually hired two bootcamp students who chose to relocate to Colorado.
Most hires are from the Cleveland area, and one of Tech Elevator’s main goals is to create brain gain to northeast Ohio and not a brain drain, but I do offer both locations to our bootcamp hires.
Let's talk about the developers that you've hired from Tech Elevator. Do those new hires go through a technical interview? How do they do?
For Associate positions, individuals that I source from college go through the exact same process as the individuals that I source from a coding bootcamp. For our Associate hires, we don’t do any kind of a technical interview. I typically have a lead or senior developer sit with them for tech checks, but they're not taking a technical test.
So far my assumption has been correct, because over the last six years, I've hired over 200 Associates. We assume that if applicants are graduating from college with a decent GPA and a computer science degree, or if they're coming from Tech Elevator, that they walk through the door with enough technical knowledge that they then can learn on the job. We have an amazing training budget and facility that really helps employees build upon the technical foundation they have when they walk through the door.
Did you get pushback from Progressive when you started looking at coding bootcamp candidates?
I did hear some of those concerns at first. Some of the new junior developers had studied for a four-year computer science degree, while these students had trained for 12 weeks. But I really did the math about how much students were really learning in those 12 weeks, and once we hired our first Tech Elevator graduate, I would refer skeptics to his manager to be reassured. We have some individuals who knew that they wanted to be a computer scientist because they've been exposed to it from the moment they were born. Therefore, working with someone who's making a career change can make you apprehensive, but Tech Elevator does a great job of ensuring that the people they're putting into their cohorts really do have a passion for technology and are ready to actually make that change. It's worked very well for us. I'm going to continue to hire from coding bootcamps now that eyebrows are no longer being raised!
What stood out about those eight Tech Elevator graduates that got them the job at Progressive?
It was definitely the behaviors that they were able to demonstrate through the interview process. Leadership, communication skills, innovation, creativity, collaboration – all of those things are extremely important to Progressive. In fact, it's easier for me to teach you technical skills than it is to help you with those soft skills.
Tech Elevator graduates and now Progressive developers pose with insurance expert Flo.
Tell us a little bit about how Progressive onboards and supports coding bootcamp graduates in their first few months.
Typically, new hires spend their first week with me, getting acquainted with Progressive practices, policies, and business. In order to develop good software, you have to understand the business: our culture, core values, and how we operate. The business of insurance, although you might not think it's very sexy, is very complex, and that just adds additional challenges. It's a very interactive week.
After that first week, new hires attend a training program at our IT University, which is in a completely separate building from our corporate offices. That distance takes you away from the day-to-day work that you're doing and you can actually concentrate on training. It's so important to us. They spend two weeks taking a technical class specifically on C#, .NET and learning how we code at Progressive, and the specific tools that we use.
Is there ongoing mentorship once a bootcamper starts their job?
Each new hire is assigned a solid mentor, who has the objective of ensuring that this individual is successful. And those mentors are employees who are actually looking for leadership opportunities, not just some guy sitting in the corner that we force to answer questions. These mentors are paying it forward and mentoring those developers who are just coming through the door. I find that works out really well.
A new hire also has a project manager that they're working with in the day-to-day operations of the project. My job is to ensure that they are getting the support, the training, and everything they need to be successful members of our Application Organization.
Have your Tech Elevator grads gotten promotions or moved up at Progressive?
The first promotion from Associate to Intermediate at Progressive takes place anywhere from 16 to 18 months. For example, Daniel (who Course Report interviewed a year ago) has not been promoted yet because he’s been here for just about one year. But he's doing very well, and has been working more and more independently, getting really great work assignments. We're very impressed.
Tech Elevator teaches .NET cohort and Java- does the programming language matter to you as a hiring manager?
It doesn't matter to me. It's all object-oriented programming, and I have found that my Java hires can learn C# quite easily. I've yet to have someone who hasn't been able to. So I hire from both cohorts.
Do you have a feedback loop with Tech Elevator? Are you able to give curriculum feedback if you notice that their graduates are underperforming in a certain area?
Absolutely. As I meet monthly with my hires, one of the questions that I ask periodically is "How could Tech Elevator have better prepared you for what you're doing here?" I think I'm going to continue to get information from my Tech Elevator employees about that. I just met with Anthony yesterday and we had a great conversation about test-driven development and how important that is to us at Progressive. Tech Elevator has now added more TDD concepts in their curriculum overall.
What does the relationship look like between Progressive and Tech Elevator? Do you pay referral fees when you hire their graduates?
I pay no fee to Tech Elevator. Progressive is part of their hiring network – I am very engaged with their staff and I know when their classes are graduating. We do an employer showcase to every cohort, whether I'm hiring from that cohort or not, just because I want to make sure that even if these students start their IT careers elsewhere, they keep in mind what Progressive has going on and may consider us in the future.
Can you tell us about how Progressive worked with Tech Elevator on the Tribe Hackathon and maybe more importantly, why it's important for a company like Progressive to be involved in an event like that?
That Hackathon was amazing. The event is important to Progressive for a couple of reasons. First, anything we can do to highlight northeast Ohio as a tech destination is really important to us. We have the largest IT operation in northeast Ohio, so we need IT folks to think about working here.
Plus, we already have a strong partnership with the Cleveland Indians – the stadium they play in is Progressive Field. And our strong partnership with Tech Elevator as a source for building this talent pipeline for us is very important.
Progressive Insurance, Tech Elevator and the Cleveland Indians hosted Tribe Hackathon where 150+ developers and community members built baseball technology.
Partnering with two companies that we do business with throughout the year to promote northeast Ohio as a tech destination was a no-brainer to us. It was really cool too, because we were able to have a tech meetup at Progressive a couple of weeks prior to the hackathon, and that brought a lot of experienced developers and IT professionals through our doors to see our amazing environment. If there’s an opportunity for them to look for employment in the future, we hope Progressive comes to mind.
What is your advice to other employers who are thinking about hiring from a coding bootcamp?
My advice is if you are currently hiring entry level developers, you should absolutely consider coding bootcamps as a source. Coding bootcamp grads come to the table with a good technical foundation, and on top of that they have life lessons under their belt. They have really strong soft skills already developed that they can demonstrate to you through the interview process.
What’s unique about bootcamp hires is that they're interviewing Progressive too. A lot of the college students feel, "I just need to get a job and pay off my college loan," where a coding bootcamp student has been around the block. They've been employed. They know what's attractive to them in an employer, and they're interviewing us, and I love that because I know what we have to offer is great.
If you're hiring entry level talent, then you've got to consider bootcamps as an additional source of talent. Especially with the talent shortage that we're all facing right now, they really will not disappoint.