Joe Burrow is the Technical Talent Manager at Tray.io in London. In the past year, their team has tripled in size and they’ve been hiring Flatiron School graduates onto their Solutions Engineering team. We caught up with Joe to find out why they’re hiring bootcamp graduates as Solutions Engineers, how they interview and onboard new-hires from Flatiron School, and what growing companies need to know about hiring bootcamp graduates. Plus, Joe breaks down the difference between a computer science grad and a bootcamp graduate on the job.
What is Tray.io?
Our goal at Tray.io is to make powerful technology more accessible to everyone. It's a visual programming tool for APIs. A low-code user experience that allows anyone to precisely instrument how data flows between their SaaS tools. Tray uses a simple drag-and-drop interface and it’s built around integration software which is where most of our Flatiron School graduates work right now.
I’m the Technical Talent Manager and I joined when there were only 28 employees here in London. I wanted to join somewhere really early-stage and help build something. Today, there are 100 people in London with another 4 or 5 joining us in the next month too.
What roles specifically have you hired Flatiron School graduates to fill?
So far, we’ve hired four Flatiron School graduates as Solutions Engineers. They're working on connectors – the integrations between third party services and ours. Connectors allow the user to pass on the data from third party services and use their functionalities through our tool. They're essentially wrappers around APIs written in Node.JS that translate the data output into the internal Tray.io platform.
Solutions Engineers are absolutely one of the most pivotal roles in the company. It's a fantastic learning trajectory because they’re understanding where the data is from and how it behaves in the Tray platform. Our Solutions Engineer role is also great because they can get started straight away on actually contributing to the product. This is important because people changing careers often get imposter syndrome. There aren't many companies who have the opportunity to hire bootcamp graduates and give them the space to contribute in the way that we do.
What do you look for when you're recruiting new Solutions Engineers?
We do have a high technical bar, I won't lie. But we don't test applicants’ tech skills and knowledge of Node.JS inside and out. We test their ability to interpret algorithms and then, beyond that, we look at how they think, how they problem-solve, and what they're like working on a team.
We are always working toward making our interview process more illustrative of the culture here at Tray. The application process involves a three-hour technical interview, whiteboarding, and spoken exercises. We don't ask "Do you know this?" It's more like, "Here's a problem. What do you know about solving it? What don't you know? What can we figure out using the power of deduction?" Everyone leaves the room feeling like they've solved a problem!
Are your Flatiron School graduates using the technologies they learned at bootcamp?
The 4 Flatiron School graduates that we’ve hired are mostly using Node.JS and APIs – both technologies that they learned in bootcamp. There's also a huge progression in the complexity of the connectors that they build. It can be anything from a simple single endpoint to something that requires state management tools or various different languages that are compiled in the app.
Can you give an example of something that one of your Flatiron School graduates is working on?
Ryan, one of our very first Flatiron School hires built a GraphQL connector for one of our clients, Rho (an online banking company).
Angie, in a month, has flown through all our training exercises and is also working on writing Connectors from scratch.
Kian built the connector for another one of our clients, Bynder.
Ali has been working on our CSV editor, an internal connector that allows users to augment CSV files within the tool!
The first Flatiron School graduate is now mentoring the most recent Flatiron School graduate we hired. He's become an excellent mentor on our team. We like to use pair programming here quite a bit so that they can support each other.
How are you supporting the growth of your hires who came from Flatiron School?
Every one of these bootcamp graduates is going into a software development career, not just a job. Developers at Tray learn a lot simply from communicating with their team members. Their teammates are actually helping them pick up new skills, solve problems, explain technical terms, etc.
We’ve started building out an onboarding program using a kanban style board with about 100 small events. Things like “go meet this person and talk about this topic”; customer empathy tasks; go talk to your manager and decide your one-on-ones schedule; or learn about this technology tool. Everything they need to do and learn is broken down step-by-step, day-by-day. They know who to talk to and where to find documentation. It’s meant to be completely autonomous.
We have a mentoring program in which each engineer is paired with a more experienced team member that pair programs with them, guides them through the onboarding and acts as a safety net for directing all questions each graduate may have. The mentor is the reference point for everything that regards information sharing, connectivity team best practices, coding advice and pointing research efforts in the right direction.
Our team is composed of fantastic people that like to take ownership of their own work. Some of the more experienced team members deliver presentations to the newly hired engineers about every day tools and processes, in an effort to make onboarding easier and more digestible.
As a recruiter, have you seen bootcamps become a viable channel for recruiting technical talent?
Coding bootcamps are one of our biggest recruiting channels. I hired two bootcamp graduates (one from Flatiron School and one from Le Wagon) during my first quarter here and they were both incredible. In the first month of this year, we hired nine new people in our London office and six of them were from bootcamps. When I started at Tray.io, we struggled to hire for junior roles and they had never talked to bootcamps. I opened up the idea of hiring bootcamp graduates who want to start their careers.
What differences do you see between bootcamp developers versus computer science grad developers?
There is obviously a big difference. Computer science graduates are great because they understand the building blocks and how to read documentation from a third party. They’re autonomous – they can plan for themselves and research for themselves. Computer science graduates also field more of the theoretical questions when there are questions batting around the team.
Someone who has gone through a bootcamp has taken a huge risk. They upend their life for three months – that kind of commitment means that they want to learn fast, practice at home, read books, and bring energy and enthusiasm into work. All of those things are what you look for in an employee! As those bootcamp graduates get further into their tenure, they also want to contribute and mentor new people who are coming in from bootcamps.
Regardless of your education, you usually end up with the same level of productivity. As a company who was built to empower hackers and strategists to build freely on a flexible platform, we love the bootcamp attitude. It's a great flagship for how we actually want people to use the product.
What is the London tech scene like?
In terms of culture, it's awesome. At Tray, we have 36 different nationalities on this team.
London is a hotbed of innovation, experimentation, and learning. Our office is located right on the doorstep of Shoreditch, which is where a lot of startups and Series B/C companies live. The talent here is absolutely amazing. The attitude is great. Everyone wants to create something incredible so they support each other. London also has a diverse array of Meetups, hackathons, events, talks, and communities within communities.
Do you have any advice for other employers who are thinking about hiring from a coding bootcamp?
I think bootcamp graduates are so successful at Tray because they get to work on small but live and viable projects straight away. You can't simply hire them and expect them to work in a Spotify squad fully autonomously straight away. There has to be an on-ramp. Your Senior Engineers must show them how to be productive, how to work in the patterns you expect. Learning how to work is as important as writing code for bootcamp graduates.
Think about methodology and organization and workflow. That way the rest of their team will have more time and energy to invest in mentoring junior members.
When we started hiring bootcamp alumni, we were worried about how a few junior people were going to affect the productivity of the seniors of the team. It didn't end up affecting it at all because the bootcamp graduates were motivated. That instilled a lot of confidence for us. Now that our talent team is growing, one of my goals is planning out more events. We want to host a couple of hackathons for bootcamp students using Tray.io and technology to introduce people to our products and teams.
Will you be hiring from Flatiron School again in the future?
Absolutely! We love the four people we've hired and we'd love to hire more. We're competing with large banks and corporations here in London so there are fewer bootcampers going to startups, they’re looking for security and support typically but I think we offer that here!