About Those Bootcamp Graduates...

It’s a rare conversation with bootcamp instructors or (prospective) students that doesn’t touch on the stigma around hiring. Bootcamp graduates don’t have production experience. They don’t have context. They just aren’t ready to contribute to teams developing [bleeding-edge and/or disruptive] products.

Effective collaboration is more than inverting binary trees. It’s clear thinking, motivation, domain knowledge, empathy, consistency, and communication. The ranks of bootcamp graduates include plenty of qualified, highly-motivated candidates, often in transition from successful careers outside of tech. Disqualifying them due to a faulty generalization means depriving the team of the skills and expertise bootcamp graduates accrued in previous lives, as well as the technical training gained in their bootcamp programs.

CREDIT: Nate Steiner (via Flickr)

My own software career developed through self-study and a technical degree, but since bootcamps began popping up I’ve had the pleasure of working with a variety of programs as an instructor, teammate, and mentor to their students. I have no special affiliation with any of the programs–though I appreciate the avenues they each create for bringing diverse talent into the software-development workforce–but I’ve stayed in close contact with many of their graduates.

Before bootcamp, they’re accomplished people. They have families and careers. They are scientists, parents, designers, lawyers, teachers, baristas, entrepreneurs, and consultants. They know how to design experiments, run marketing campaigns, and play well with others. They’ve seen businesses fail, and understand what it takes to make them succeed. They may even know something about the industries they’ll now be writing software for. They’re off to bootcamp to change careers, gain new tools for research and analysis, and to refine their existing technical abilities.

During bootcamp, they work closely with instructors and each other to complete intense curricula, gaining programming skills and a semblance of professional practice. They put in long hours studying, developing, and debugging, sharing their joys and sorrows along the way. They build friendships, professional relationships, and a sense of camaraderie that survives well after their programs finish up.

By the time they graduate, they’ve seen firsthand the languages and machinery underpinning our information-driven world. They have learned the basics of the software development lifecycle, gained a working knowledge of at least one technology stack, and collaborated with their classmates to develop full-blown products of their own.

After bootcamp, they take their newfound expertise to Google, Facebook, and a host of startups–many of which they start themselves. Others return to their labs and day jobs with their new skills, and some even use their newly developed skills to land assistantships with the bootcamps they just finished.

By then, they’ve amply demonstrated their motivation. They’ve made an investment, assumed risk, and completed a rigorous vocational training regimen. They’ve dispelled the mystique around software development for themselves, and they’re emboldened–not unreasonably–to take on the deeper arcana they’ll soon encounter in production.

As a hiring manager, I’ve passed over recent bootcamp graduates for senior positions. But at the entry-level I know what I’m getting. Specific skills can be–are–learned on the job. Experience can be–is–gained there. Take a candidate with a strong professional record in a relevant sector, toss in self-motivation and sugar coat with the proven ability to learn?

With the right mix, it doesn’t matter who trained them.

They’re hired.