Want to know what employers really think about hiring bootcamp grads? We sat down with Chris, Engineering Manager at Granicus, a software development firm for government agencies, to see why he loves to hire Turing School grads. With a nontraditional developer background himself (he studied political science), he dives into the skills required for his new hires. Find out why he believes that Turing graduates are the best of the best in Denver.
Tell us about Granicus and your role there.
I’m the Engineering Manager at Granicus, where we write software for governments. Because we have more than 17 different products and 200 code repositories – from media streaming to legislative agenda management – our dev teams work in a lot of different technology stacks. At Granicus, we open job requirements for a specific skill, but if you're hired here, we're hiring you because you are smart enough to work on several projects.
How large is the technical team at Granicus?
Between dev and QA, we have a 20 to 30 person team. We run five sprint teams organized around major product initiatives; the smallest sprint team is three people and the largest sprint team is seven people.
How many Turing School graduates have you hired?
We've hired three Turing grads. I actually hired one grad to replace myself after going through multiple interviews with graduates of many different code schools. We hired Alex Tideman to take my spot; he was brilliant and within two months I could turn literally everything over to him. Then I hired Matt Stjernholm and Steve Olson, who both started in April.
What are those Turing students working on now at Granicus?
They work on one of our flagship applications, a legislative agenda management project called Peak. Peak was built ground up in React and Redux on the front end; because it’s service-oriented, it actually consumes six services on the backend. As a first job, that's a lot of information to learn.
How did you get involved with Turing as an employer?
I run the ReactJS meetup in Denver, and was an organizer for the Denver Tech Center Ruby group. At one of my meetups, I met someone who was just starting out in the first Turing cohort. I had been helping him with his homework assignments, so I started getting familiar with the Turing curriculum. I could see how much that student was growing, so I started interviewing their candidates – they were just head and shoulders above all the other bootcamp grads in Denver.
That's awesome. Are there a lot of Turing students in those meetup groups?
Are you hiring for junior developer roles from Turing?
Yes; internally at Granicus, we don't believe in labels (for example, I changed my title to Jedi Knight). Our engineers are not “senior” or “junior.” The Turing grads I’ve interviewed are “junior” in terms of their experience, but not in terms of their coding abilities, which is an interesting dilemma.
When we were hiring to backfill my role, I was looking for a more senior level engineer, but once I started interviewing Turing candidates, I said, “Nevermind! I’d rather hire one of these candidates who I can mold and teach our best practices.”
When I had the resources to hire two more engineers, I knew I wanted to do the same thing. I interviewed people from other code schools, but I also interviewed six grads from Turing, and there was no comparison.
How do you typically hire for developer roles at Granicus?
We cast a wide net, and every Granicus applicant – from developers to customer care – must pass an analytical reasoning and spatial thinking test. If we get 100 applicants, we expect 15-20 to pass that first filter. However, when I’m hiring, I’ll ask Turing to send the job posting to their students, and all of the Turing applicants pass the test.
How do Turing students perform in the technical interview?
After passing that analytical reasoning test, I’ll glance at their resumes (those are less of a tool for me now), and do a phone screen. Then, I prefer to bring them in and talk about what they’ve built. I want to know about problems that have been difficult (or impossible) to solve, and how they’ve gone about finding a solution.
Once we get to the technical interview, I give them a challenge in the language that they’re most comfortable with. We want to find out if they have a knowledge gap, so that if we hire them we have the space to build on. Then, we do a group challenge with me and two other developers (which also helps with culture fit).
Because of the nature of coding bootcamps, Turing applicants are ready to pull up their code and talk about recent projects. I ask them how they contributed to group projects, and to defend choices they made during collaboration. Occasionally, I'll find a brilliant person out of a 12-week bootcamp, but the students who have been coding non-stop for seven months at Turing have so much more training.
A lot of Turing (and coding bootcamp grads in general) don’t have a traditional CS degree. Has that been an issue or concern for you?
I have a degree in political science, and I'm an extremely effective developer. Traditional backgrounds are not something we care about at Granicus. The founders of Granicus do not believe that a degree makes an engineer.
This is reminding me that I need to actually schedule several more talks at Turing, as I find it helps because the students already have a feel for my frankness and honesty. In some of those talks, I've even given them some of our interview questions. I don't care if you can recite an algorithm; I’d rather hear them narrate their thought process, which is tough.
How do you ensure that these new hires are continuing to learn in their first few months at Granicus?
We don’t assign mentors, but mentorship forms naturally. Each team has senior-level developers and engineers who know our architecture. When a new developer joins that team, they have open access. If you want to pair 100% of the time for the first month, pair 100% of the time. Do what's going to work for you, but be ambitious about your learning choices. Learn the way that makes sense to you. If you need a book or a subscription, expense it.
This is broader than mentoring, because everybody has this imposter syndrome. Even I still have imposter syndrome! I've only been doing this for five years, and I meet somebody who's brilliant, and I feel like an idiot. The hurdle for somebody in this role is that you have to know how to find the answer when you know nothing. Turing is teaching their students how to find that answer. Maybe that’s via Google or textbook material or another developer or whatever, but they develop the ability to know where to go for that answer.
Granicus actually sounds like a great first job for a coding bootcamp grad!
Yeah, it really is. Turing has really hard programs, and they expect a lot out of their grads. I usually catch them right before they're about to graduate from Turing and I give them the option to start working immediately; but they almost always opt to graduate from Turing, because they've been through this grueling process and they want to finish.
Do you pay a referral fee to Turing when you hire their developers?
No, but I've told them that they need to start charging for it! At first, our HR department wasn't necessarily sold, but they're seeing the results in the quality of candidates.
What's the biggest shortcoming of a Turing student? Is there anything that a bootcamp student lacks?
They lack the same thing that any other junior-level engineer does, which is production experience. There’s a saying that "a programmer writes code, a good programmer deletes code, and a great programmer prevents code from being written," which is the "code first" mentality. That is a very beginner trait, and it’s the same problem you may have with a beginner woodworker, who turns on the lathe, starts carving, and sees what he comes up with rather than planning out a design. Most programmers suffer from that.
If I could do one thing over again, I would separate the new developers who were in the same cohort at Turing, because they have a lot of trust in each other. I want to push those students to grow individually and get more exposure to other people’s code.
Do you have a feedback loop with Turing? Are you able to influence their curriculum if one of your new hires is rusty in a certain technology?
I'm sure that I could- Jorge, Jeff and Steve Kinney would be open to that feedback. I'll message the Turing team occasionally to tell them how their grads are doing, and it’s clear that they really care.
The strength of the community at Turing is obvious- grads are going back to events at Turing as alumni and supporting each other, mentoring, and showing current students what they’re experiencing in the workplace and what they can expect to run into. I like that about them.
What's your advice to other employers who are considering hiring from a bootcamp or from Turing School? How can they navigate the coding bootcamp hiring process?
My advice to other employers hiring from Turing is, stay away – that’s my secret stash! Just kidding. (One of our sister companies ended up hiring one of the candidates that I was looking at from Turing.)
Look at your team's needs and what resources you can offer bootcamp grads. I was listening in on a conversation between some of our senior developers at lunch, and they were saying that if you’ve been accepted into Turing, you've actually passed a level of filtering that makes you acceptable for our organization. We can’t say that about other sources of talent, which is interesting.
Also, everyone you interview from a code school is going to have a strong interest in tech and coding, because they just sacrificed a huge amount of money and time to switch their careers. They have made a commitment, and taken a risk beyond what a college student may have taken. You can also expect Turing grads to have job experience. For example, Alex was a project manager at Target, and was part of the Target Canada launch, so he was familiar with the software development cycle and what it really means to build a product.
Turing has demonstrated to me that they’re not just teaching coding concepts; they're teaching learning concepts, and that is drastically different. To me, that’s more valuable. I have a nontraditional background and I find that the people who know how to learn will naturally rise. If you're an employer, create an environment where employees can rise, and empower them to make decisions and mistakes.
My final advice is that technology really is immaterial to success. Just because they're graduating from Turing as Rails developers, doesn't mean that these applicants are not interested in your technology stack. A competent developer can prove themselves quickly.