How to decide on companies after graduating from a coding bootcamp

May 20, 2015

Someone asked* me about how I judged whether companies were a good fit for me after graduating from a bootcamp, so here are some scattered thoughts on that.

First, I hated feeling like I was a supplicant begging for these companies to take a chance on me. That’s a fair viewpoint from a particular perspective, but generally not a very useful one for my confidence levels, and one that I would strongly argue away if it were happening to a friend of mine instead.** I believe strongly that everyone has their particular strengths they can bring to a position, regardless of their experience***, so with focusing on that, I wasn’t going to run after a company that didn’t like me, after I’d done the best I could in whatever their interview process was.

The company should understand that they’re taking me based on my potential and learning aptitude. I wanted to be somewhere that I’d have to room to learn on the job and not feel pressure to Already Know All The Things. I was very clear in all my interviews that I didn’t care so much about the content I was learning as the support and mentoring I might receive, and patience and good faith, in return for me working hard to get up to speed.****

One way I evaluated that was whether the company had taken on other bootcamp grads before, ideally from Hackbright as well. I figured that way, the company would have more reasonable expectations for what having me as an employee would be like. I admire people that are trailblazers, but I think being one is probably often a bit lonely and frustrating, so it’s easier to ride on someone else’s coattails a little, if you can.

Then I had the general things I personally look for in a working environment. There are some great blog posts out there on good questions to ask during interviews, like this one from Julia Evans, or this article on getting the inside scoop at a company before accepting an offer. For me, it’s very important for it to be a place where people learn from missteps made in the past, to be able to make different mistakes in the future, while being honest that it’s impossible for things to be 100% sunshine all the time.

I’d ask questions like, “what’s a mistake people at the company have made and how was it addressed?” I’d want to know whether the pep talks given by management seemed grounded in reality and humility. And at the same time as all that, that there wouldn’t be much time or energy wasted in just general grumbling or pure complaining and whining.

Finally, I know people will consider taking “less than ideal” jobs to get a foot in the door at desirable companies. I think this can go different ways depending on people’s circumstances and temperament. Finances and desire for stability are also a huge part of it, and there are plenty of successful post-bootcamp careers that aren’t with the title “software engineer.”

But in general I think if you accept something with the idea that you actually already know you want to move to a different position at that company, do your due diligence in having informational interviews on what their policy on internal transfers is. Be prepared for a more uphill battle than what they try to sell you on during interviews. Not that people are going to lie to you, it’ll just be the rosiest view of the possibilities due to their incentives for getting you to fill the role they currently have open, so go in with your appropriately sized sprinkling of salt.

* over a year ago…when I was giving practice talks for How To Be a Better Junior Developer…so this draft has, uh, aged a bit. But thanks again to whoever suggested that idea! Delay not due to you or the quality of the idea in the slightest, but pretty much only because it’s hard for me to summon up the energy for writing since I inevitable end up rambling for a while.
** One of my favorite tactics for stopping negativity spirals in my head is to remind myself, if a friend of mine were in that situation, would I say (or even just think!) such mean things to her as I was doing to myself? Never! And I would be absolutely outraged if anyone dared to treat her the way my internal monologue sometimes treats me! And then I tell myself, even if I don’t feel deserving of kindness for myself right then, I am a sufficiently not-awful human being to have friends around who would come to my defense as well, so I owe it to them not to be so mean to me. A bit meta and circular, but effective for me.
*** If you need help figuring this out, it helps to talk to someone else to get an outside perspective. Even with fixing up my resume or writing my quarterly accomplishments, it’s always felt easier to talk about how to enhance other people’s descriptions of their work than my own necessarily, so you can do a trade. Also my How To Be a Better Junior Developer talk is pretty much all about how you can contribute even when you’re new, so check that out for more of my thoughts on the matter.
**** Some of the hiring managers at New Relic would get slightly fondly exasperated with us from Hackbright all just being like “we just want to learn!!!” and wanted more specifics, to help figure out good fits for us, especially if multiple teams like a certain candidate. So it’s useful to figure out more detailed answers, to expand from “I want to learn everything” to “I have more of a preference of learning this backend part of your stack because I think it’s cool that _____ but I’m also interested in the frontend too because _____” which if you think about it, pretty much sums up to “everything” anyway.