Today we’re joined by three bootcampers who went to Wyncode in Miami and their hiring manager at their company Watsco. We’re joined by Carmen, Sermin and Spencer. We’re going to learn what they were doing before they went to Wyncode, their experience at Wyncode and their job search. We’re going to hear from Ivan Rapin-Smith at Watsco Ventures about why they chose to hire from Wyncode and what it’s like to work with developers after a bootcamp.
Liz: Could everyone give us a quick intro — tell us your name, what you do at Watsco.
Carmen: My name is Carmen. I do product management and I'm also a scrummaster. I used to be in scrum marketing and went to Wyncode to learn Ruby and HTML.
Fermin: I worked in finance before Wyncode and now I'm a developer here at Watsco.
Spencer: I’m Spencer, I was fresh out of college with a brain and cognitive science degree. I did music on YouTube. I ended up going to Wyncode to get back into programming. That's how I ended up at Watsco as a web developer.
Liz: I love this variety of backgrounds because it shows that there isn’t a clear-cut background to attending a bootcamp or becoming a developer. Ivan, tell us your job at Watsco and what does Watsco do?
Ivan: My name is Ivan Rapin-Smith, I run Watsco Ventures. Watsco Ventures is the startup incubator and corporate venture capital fund of Watsco. Watsco is a public company based in Miami; we're the biggest distributor of air conditioning products. According to the NY stock exchange, Watsco currently does 4 billion dollars in revenue. Our group, Watsco Ventures, looks at how we can innovate in our space either by building our own in-house startups or by investing in startups that have a strategic value to us.
Liz: For the students here, what was your goal in doing a bootcamp? Did everybody go to Wyncode with their goal graduating and getting a job as a junior developer?
Carmen: I definitely had the goal to learn and get a job afterwards. It worked really great.
Fermin: In my case, I learned programming on my own because I wanted to go into finance. I wanted to accelerate the learning process so that's why I set to join Wyncode and get a job.
Spencer: Mine is a bit similar. I was at a dead end and ended up back in Miami unsure of what to do next. I did a bit of programming in college; I wanted to get back into it and see if that would take me to a job and it did.
Liz: You all learned Ruby on Rails at Wyncode. Did you only look for Rails jobs once you were in the job search process?
Spencer: Our situation was a bit unique in that we were offered jobs before the boot camp was done. We got offers in the last week. Had I done more extensive searching —the language wouldn't have mattered much, especially as a junior dev. It's really just about your ability to learn and pick up technologies.
Carmen: Wyncode gave us the opportunity to meet employers and hiring partners, so that's how we ended up working here. But, once you learn one language it's easier to adopt any language from what I’ve heard. I only know Ruby. Here at Watsco ventures, these guys have done well with different languages.
Fermin: We work with PHP, so the last time I used Ruby was at Wyncode.
Liz: When did you graduate from Wyncode?
Carmen: We all graduated in mid-March.
Liz: Carmen, you mentioned being put in front of a lot of hiring partners throughout the class? Tell us about how you got exposure to employers.
Carmen: A few weeks into the bootcamp, we started meeting with employers weekly. The hiring partners come in and meet everybody. This has been an extremely valuable experience from a bootcamp. I know a lot of bootcamps don't offer this, but for me it was great.
Liz: Ivan how did you get connected with Wyncode to begin with?
Ivan: I met Juha and Jo (of Wyncode) before I was at Watsco. I was running an accelerator in Miami called Venture Hire, so I knew of Wyncode. I introduced a company that I was advising to Wyncode and they hired their first Wyncoders. So I‘d had experience with the process of hiring bootcampers before joining Watsco. At Watsco, one of my missions is to build a team of developers for Watsco Ventures. Wyncode was kind of a natural source for me to go to for junior developers.
At the bootcamp, we did a talk about Watsco and Watsco Ventures because nobody knows Watsco here in Miami. Watsco Ventures was about four months old when we went to the interviews at Wyncode, so we tried to create some excitement about what we were doing and we met 18 Wyncoders. We went for culture fit because we knew anybody who graduated from Wyncode would have the technical skills to get started with us. But we were looking for people who we felt good about, who we knew would fit in well from a culture point of view and that's what we did.
We went to the “Wynterviews,” we made job offers, four accepted. One of them didn't accept only because she was accepted at an MIT program she wanted to go to, so we on-boarded all four them and it's been great.
Liz: It's very forward thinking to consider a boot camp as a source for talent, I think it's awesome. How else do you hire developers? Do you use recruiters?
Ivan: Yes, absolutely. At Watsco, the traditional way of hiring is through recruiters. I do a lot of networking to keep a finger on the pulse —to know who's doing what, who's new in town, who's moving or thinking of moving. I love the bootcamps because it's a new source of talent. It's different because you don't go through HR because if it's HR they'll say "Oh, he's not a computer science grad." We don't want to think like that. We know that's not a good indicator for a good candidate. It's more about attitude and the desire for learning and wanting to get into the trade.
If somebody had a hunger and passion like Fermin to self-learn and go through a boot camp— I'd rather have 10 of them than 5 lazy uninspired computer science grads.
Liz: Did you meet the 5 people that you extended offers to at the Wynterviews?
Ivan: The Wynterviews are interesting. We went to Wyncode and did a little pitch about Watsco Ventures, we saw smiling faces. Then we had 15-minute conversations with groups of three so we could ask questions and get a good feel for personality. It was good because we got to see a lot of people in a short period of time. After those Wynterviews, we already had 6 to7 people we liked. We talked to Juha, Jo and the TAs about the people on our shortlist and their technical skills. One afternoon was enough for us to say "Okay, there's five people here, we'd love to have them work with us."
They had info sheets and headshots, I like the process, it was very effective.
Liz: So Spencer and Fermin, from your point of view, were the Wynterviews technical?
Fermin: Like Ivan said, really that was an interview to get to know people and they gave us a chance to ask them questions. I had no idea what Watsco did or that it even existed and so it was very good to see what they were expecting of us and what we’d do on the job.
They wanted to know our background and weren’t just going through a checklist process.
Liz: Did you walk through your final projects or just show your technical abilities?
Spencer: We were just starting our final projects so we only talked about how we were going to approach it.
Ivan: We did go to demo day so we saw all the students present their projects.
Liz: It's cool to hear that there's a long relationship; you meet the students, you get to present what your company does, you see demo day; it's not like you're just seeing 1 time at the end of the program.
Ivan: We actually also invited them to Watsco and Watsco Ventures. We wanted them to feel what they were getting themselves into, not just a nice talk about how wonderful we are. We wanted them to meet the rest of the team and see where their workspace would be, so they'd get a bit more feel about what Watsco was and where we were and what we were doing.
Carmen: That's where we got our technical exercises as well.
Liz: Carmen, did you go into it wanting to take a product management role, a scrum master role?
Carmen: I love programming, I still do it on the weekends for special projects. But I also love the management aspect of it. Having Wyncode and this programming bootcamp as a background for a role as product manager and scrum master really helps. From the very beginning, I was open to doing other things.
Ivan: When we went into interviews, we weren't necessarily looking for a scrum master. When we interviewed Carmen we thought, “she would be an amazing scrum master,” so we just hired her. And we said straight away “this is the role we have for you and we'd like you to do extra training” because she has the maturity, the leadership skills and it felt like a natural fit for us.
Liz: Tell us what a scrum master is.
Carmen: They taught us about Agile at Wyncode, and Watsco Ventures is very much Agile-oriented. In Agile they use this program called scrum, which has a scrum master that is kind of like the liaison between the business side of things and the developer side of things. It's working with the business to get all the requirements ready for the developers, so they’ll know exactly what to do.
Liz: You learned Agile methodology at Wyncode, but then skilled up when you started as an actual scrum master?
Liz: It’s a huge deal for bootcamp grads to know that they’ll have a strong team, mentorship and the ability to ramp up at a company after a bootcamp. Can you tell us what your first month was like? How did you adjust to your new roles in the tech world?
Spencer: The night before I started working, I freaked out—I don't know anything, nine weeks is not enough, I'm going to fail—you know, the Imposter Syndrome. But then I got here, I started on a Tuesday – and I said, “I've actually seen this before, I know how to do it.” As that week went along I started feeling like "Okay, I know how to do this or at least some of it," so I didn't feel useless, like I'm not just wasting time trying to learn here.
Then there was a new language so it takes some getting used to but after a while it went really well and also the environment is really good, very supportive and a lot of collaboration, so I'm thankful for that.
Liz: Do you have more senior developers on the team that you're able to learn with?
Spencer: Yes, and they're amazing coders and people. They're really helpful and cheerful and fun, so I don’t dread asking them a question. It's like, “Hey, let’s work together and let’s solve this.”
Liz: You mentioned you're working in PHP now, so what has that transition been like? You've learned a completely different language.
Spencer: I’ve just been learning it on the go. Once you understand the concepts, it's not that hard. If you’re applying to other jobs and they use a language you don’t know, apply anyway.
Ivan: When you're doing interviews with a hiring partner don't criticize any language because who knows, that may be the language they're using!
Liz: Ivan, Do you approach mentoring or that initial training and that ramp up period differently for bootcampers than you would for an experienced developer? I think that's a huge responsibility that companies have to take on. How do you approach that?
Ivan: When we talked with our CTO about hiring Wyncoders, we created a policy that we won't hire a Wyncoder unless there is one senior developer that will be working with them. On the one hand, we hire Wyncoders and the starting salary is very competitive. The downside is you're going to spend time developing their skills. You know it's going to be a slower process. The competitive compensation actually works if you're willing to put the time in getting them to the level of senior developers.
We want to make sure as we hire more Wyncoders, it’s linked with hiring more senior developers. I think that's the only way it works. You can't expect a Wyncoder to come in and say, “Here's the requirements and now go do some code.” That just does not work. So having a support system, that's very important.
We have a product leader that makes sure that the seniors and the juniors work together and shifts them around. It’s important to have somebody who has built software and understands teams and how to mix them and how to organize.
Carmen: As a student, I was very interested in what type of environment we were getting into. You’re coming out of a bootcamp, you’re not a CS major, and you want that role model figure that’s not going to hold your hand but at least teach you the way.
As your career advances, you still want a person that’s willing to help and teach you the way. So it’s just as important for the student as it is for the company.
Liz: Can you tell us about projects that you're working on right now? We know you're working in PHP, we know you're working for Watsco but nerd out and tell us what you're working on.
Spencer: With the economy moving towards an on-demand economy, we're building a platform to match consumers with service providers, so a core application and then some applications that feed into that.
Ivan: It's cool for us because Watsco is a B2B company, but this is one of our B2C initiatives, so it's super strategic for us. This is building a consumer facing product which also has a technician facing component. It has a mobile application and several web applications, so it's a pretty complex but exciting product for us. It's a totally new business model with technology built from the ground up.
As a Wyncoder you can also be hired to work on existing products. In this case, when they arrived, there was nothing. There was not a line of code, so they just started with the team and built it from scratch, which I think was a fun way to get started.
Liz: What's the feedback loop like with Wyncode? Ivan, from your perspective, are you able to influence future curriculum changes if you notice something that graduates aren't proficient in? And from the Wyncoders’ perspective, were you able to give feedback when you were done with the program and throughout?
Ivan: After the Wynterviews, after the demo days and after the first hires, there’s a questionnaire. They are pretty committed about feedback. If I don’t answer an email, they’ll text me and if I don’t text them, they’ll stand on my doorstep. They really do their utmost to provide feedback and yes, we have provided feedback on the content.
For example, we thought, with all due respect, that some of the projects the Wyncoders were working on were not very interesting. So some feedback we gave was to have a hiring partner outline an ideal product and have the Wyncoders work on that. There is a process in which a hiring partner can suggest an idea and Wyncoders that like the idea can work on that product. There's also new initiatives like continuous development programs, which are short classes on different topics to maintain the learning process. I like that about Wyncoders. They don’t just place students and forget about them. They are very engaged with us, even informally, we go to events together and talk. It’s very core to the way they work, gathering feedback, tweaking and modifying things that they feel are worth improving.
Fermin: Spencer and I are teaching assistants at Wyncode, so it's coming full circle. Testing is a huge part of software development and we felt that we didn't really cover it and that was my biggest struggle in the beginning. I went back to Wyncode and told them that they need to stress testing and now they do it from the get go.
Carmen: From a non-technical point of view, this is why we started the women of Wyncode group. In my class we were only four girls and now I think there’s about 10 women. It's a good sign for Miami and the whole tech scene to see more women involved.
Liz: Carmen, have you stayed involved? I'm always curious for a woman who transition after going to a bootcamp because bootcamps on average are closer to 50-50 than the traditional tech world, which is like 10%. What's been your experience transitioning into the world of tech as a woman? Have you found it to be a welcoming sector?
Carmen: For me it’s been great. Again, it's part of the environment at Watsco, everybody's great. I have no issues with any of the guys, it's actually a lot of fun. In general, we hear a lot about discrimination in the tech world, but we didn't experience it here. But going back to the bootcamp at Wyncode, you also have to think why is there so little interest? It's more of a culture thing in general. As far as other women in the workplace that I know, everybody's having a blast. No one has had any issues.
Liz: Ivan, are there plans to hire from Wyncode in the future? This was your first round of Wyncode hires right?
Ivan: Yes, it’s been an amazing experience for us. As we start new products in 2016 we will definitely want to hire more.
Liz: We hear some skepticism from old school developers and old school hiring managers who won't hire from bootcamps. What is your advice?
Ivan: There's one thing people should remember, that there's a difference between a computer science engineer and a developer. They are two different trades and I think with modern frameworks you can learn development without a computer science background, Fermin and Spencer are perfect examples of this. It all comes down to being productive. Are you contributing to building a product that solves a problem? If the answer is yes, it doesn't matter what your background is. It does become more complex as you go into architecture-type products and designing for scale; you have to leverage your experience and your background with a computer science engineer.
But for developers, I'm excited that it doesn't have to be the classical path of maths, a computer science degree and then a developer job. There's hundreds of thousands of people who are self-teaching and going to bootcamps and Wyncoders is an example of this.
Our Wyncoder grads are building a product which is being used by consumers and tech professionals every day. This is not some side product, we're spending millions of dollars on this product and they're contributing.
I will say to hiring managers, look beyond the resume; what do you want? You want people who build great products. Wyncoders are the proof, they can build great products as long as you have a senior support system that has the management experience to make sure that the product development process is clear. It's changing. A lot of people who build teams see it that way too.
Liz: Wyncoders, any advice to bootcampers who are about to graduate about how to choose their first company? I know we’ve heard don't rule out any languages and look for companies with a one-to-one ration between senior and junior developers.
Spencer: After a bootcamp it's important to look for culture fit. Ivan talked about this. You have a lot to learn, so it's more important that you're in an environment where you can overcome the insecurities of not knowing a lot to become a valuable team member.
Do your best to get a feel for the people. If you have an onsite interview, try to set up meetings with some of the developers, because it’s important to figuring it out if you'll like it there or not.
Liz: Any other advice before we wrap up?
Fermin: Culture is important and you don't necessarily need it to be one senior developer to one junior developer, it wasn't exactly one-to-one here. You're going to get stuck. You definitely need to be in a place where making a mistake is okay in and developers are willing to collaborate and work together. Even if you have a lot of senior devs, if they don’t help you, it’s not going to work. It comes back to culture and that's really important.
Carmen: My advice is to forget about imposter syndrome. Everybody feels it at every level. You come out of bootcamp and you think you're competing against a computer science major—that person interviewing probably has imposter syndrome or had it when they were starting out, so it's all about learning. You're always going to be learning; whether it's a new language or a new technology, you're always going to feel like you need to know more. So forget about that and be comfortable with what you know at the moment.
Ivan: Two more things. If you go on an interview don’t ask the employer what their working hours are – red flag! For us that means that you want to do a side project or are perhgaps not looking for a 9 to 5 job? It’s the worst question ever, don’t ask that question.
A second piece of advice is you’re choosing a trade and you all know the 10,000 hours rule, so don’t stop at what you do for the product, right? Carmen, without us asking him had an idea for a little schedule app, and he built it on his own time and presented it to us. We were like, “Wow!” Just work on your trade, don’t do other stuff. If you want to dabble in another language, make time to do it after hours, because that’s the only way.
When you build something in your spare time, it says something about commitment and willingness to learn. I think that’s something we’ve seen with our Wyncoders here, which is why we love them.
Carmen: Find a company that values that.