In today's spotlight, we talk to Ryan Holdaway of Mastery Connect, an education company that has hired several DevPoint Labs graduates. Learn about their relationship with DevPoint Labs, what Mastery Connect looks for in new hires, and how they mentor DevPoint grads to continue growing as developers.
Tell us about Mastery Connect and your role there.
Mastery Connect is an ed-tech startup that creates assessment delivery and mastery tracking tools for K-12 teachers to use in the classroom. We have a ‘freemium’ model so any teacher in the United States can sign up and start tracking Mastery standards in their classroom.
I’m a member of the development team. I also help out with the hiring process.
How large is your team?
Our company is around 85 people and our dev team is right around 20. We’ve grown quite a bit over the last year. A year ago we had 25 employees and 2014 was a really big year for us.
Tell us about your relationship with DevPoint Labs and how you got connected with them.
We hired our first DevPoint graduate about one year ago. DevPoint reached out to the CEO of our company and we felt like it was a pretty close-knit tech community.
We were interested in what they were doing, so we sent a couple of our developers to their graduation ceremony to see the projects their students had been working on. We ended up hiring one of them. He worked out really well so we went back to the next one and hired three more grads, and hired a couple more from the next cohort.
I think so far we’ve hire about seven DevPoint grads.
That’s amazing! What roles are you hiring them for?
Several of them have been hired into junior developer roles. A couple have been hired into QA roles and one of them was hired to do analytics development, which is kind of its own role. We hire into certain roles based on the needs of the company at the time, the needs of our team and the skills of the individual and their interest.
Other than DevPoint Labs, how do you usually hire developers?
Employee referral is our best source, we like to hire people who our engineers have worked with in the past. We also have a few recruiting agencies that we’ve engaged– and that can be hit or miss.
We wouldn’t really use a recruiter to hire for a junior developer position. We’ve had better luck just going to the bootcamp ourselves and picking the cream of the crop and not having to pay a recruiter much money.
Have you worked with any other bootcamps in addition to DevPoint Labs?
DevPoint is the only bootcamp that we’ve even had an application from. DevMountain is down in Utah County which is just a little bit south of us. None of those guys have ever reached out to us. I’ve talked to them before and told them to email me when they were looking for a job but they never did.
What does the relationship look like between Mastery Connect and DevPoint Labs? Do you pay a referral fee when you hire their graduates or are you paying to be a part of their network?
There’s no kickback. Ty and the team at DevPoint, they swing by our office a couple of times and send us an email to remind us about their graduation days. They haven't asked for any kind of kickback or referral fees like that. I think that they’re just really glad that they have placement for their graduates.
We just hire their graduates and help them out when they need mentors.
I’m assuming that all of the people who have come from DevPoint have gone through a technical interview. How did they do?
When we’re interviewing junior developers, we’re looking for certain things. We’re looking for somebody who’s going to fit well with us culturally; that’s the most important thing. We don’t expect them to be genius developers because we understand where they’re coming from. We just want somebody who’s going to be able to jump in and contribute and get their hands dirty and is comfortable not knowing everything and willing to learn.
We do a technical interview to make sure that they’ve learned enough during their program and that they’re able to continue learning.
Has it ever been a concern for you that these new hires don’t have a traditional computer science degree?
I think we only have one engineer at Mastery Connect that actually has a Computer Science degree. We’re more interested in what you can build than what you’ve learned at school. I studied music in college and now I’m a developer!
What are you looking for on those hiring days?
We’ve always had someone involved with mentoring at DevPoint. So when we go down to demo day, we can already identify the three smartest people and we already know the right direction.
From there we take a look at their final project. We’ll pull up their Github account just like we would any other engineer; see the code that they’ve written. Part of our interview process is a take-home coding challenge/test; we give them a project that will take an hour or two just so we can see them write some code.
I don’t think we do anything super unique with the applicants other than get a better idea of what their baseline is.
You’re hiring mostly junior developers- how do you ensure that the new hires are supported as they continue to learn after they graduate from DevPoint? Do you have mentoring programs?
That’s a great question. I think that’s probably the most important aspect for the long-term success of these individuals, is getting into an organization where they have a good mentor who can help them continue to learn. You can’t learn everything you need to know about computer science in 11 weeks. That’s just crazy.
At Mastery Connect, we work in small teams of three. We try to keep those pretty balanced with one strong experienced team lead developer, one strong mid-range candidate and then we can rotate our DevPoint guys as the junior developers. That way they have one strong senior mentor and mid-level person that can help them out.
The rest of the team is all obviously available for mentoring but they do have that one mentor they can turn to for everything.
Since you started hiring from DevPoint, have the new hires moved up or been promoted?
Yeah. The very first DevPoint graduate we hired was put him on a team with our strongest developer and one of our awesome mid-level guys. We’ve now promoted that mid-level guy to be a team lead and that DevPoint Junior to be a Developer, and they’ve got another junior on their team.
Do you have a feedback loop with DevPoint at all? Are you able to influence their curriculum?
I’ve personally gone to DevPoint and given a guest lecture for a couple of their cohorts and we have one other engineer who has taught classes on a couple of different topics. Those are topics that we think are cool tools that they may not have experienced with their instructors.
DevPoint asks us for feedback about things in the curriculum that they may have been lacking that we would like to see more of and they’ve adapted to that. They’re really cool about trying to make sure that their graduates are as prepared as possible to enter the workforce, so I know that we and some of the other hiring partners have all given them feedback on the curriculum and they’ve taken that to heart.
Will you hire from DevPoint in the future?
Absolutely. We’re at a point right now where we don’t have a lot of room to hire, but our development cycle is cyclical with the school year; so we’re going to be ramping it up again in Spring/Summer and we’re hoping to bring in a couple more people. We would definitely consider DevPoint grads, people we’ve had good success with them in the past.
Is there anything we didn’t touch on that you wanted to add about DevPoint or about hiring from bootcamps in general?
I think DevPoint and other bootcamps are a great way for people to get started in computer science. It’s definitely not right for everybody but for those who are willing to really commit to it, bootcamps could be a good thing.
The biggest thing is setting proper expectations. As a hiring partner, we know that what we’re getting out of the program. We know that grads are still starting out on their path. Any bootcamp who pitches their graduates as excellent, capable awesome senior level developers- that’s obviously not even close to true. But a bootcamp is definitely enough education to get somebody started on a path of lifelong learning.
Just as long as everybody’s managing proper expectations, I think it will continue to be successful.