Why these 4 Chicago companies love hiring junior level devs

by Andreas Rekdal
June 9, 2016

Tracking down quality developers is one of the hardest parts of building a tech company. With ever-increasing demand for experienced programmers, there simply aren’t enough of them to fill the jobs available.

But some companies are overcoming that challenge by investing heavily in fresher tech talent. We talked to a few of them about what they do to find and ramp the best junior level developers out there.
 

iLoan's sole purpose is to create a new and better online loan experience. Senior Software Engineering Manager Sergio Rabiela says his team tests candidates to see if they can hack it.

What do you look for when hiring developers who don’t necessarily have years of experience?

We’re mainly looking to assess whether they have a solid base of development concepts to be able to do the work and the drive to ramp up effectively as a part of our team. We have a series of exercises that we hand out to candidates that give us a pretty good gauge of whether they’ll be able to do the work required. What we tend to see in exercises delivered by fresh developers is that they accomplished the goal, but it might not be done in the most optimal or performant way, which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. It shows that they have a good base to build on.

How do you work with fresh developers to get them up to speed?

We start them on small tasks and work up to larger features and projects. Your first deliverable might be to change some copy on our website, but in order to get there you need to set up your development environment and make sure our test suite runs. The next task might be to fix a bug and add a test case, which requires more thought and effort. We also make sure that new hires get a peer-assigned that can help with questions on how our applications work or what our best practices are. This goes a long way.

We also offer all of our employees, new and old, a $5,000 yearly learning budget to brush up on skills, or pick up some new ones.

What are the advantages of investing in budding talent?

There is a large pool of talent out there that can ramp up quickly with the habits and patterns that you’re looking for if you’re willing to invest the time in them. We’ve found it easier in some cases to look for entry-level developers ready to learn good development habits, rather than trying to weed out experienced candidates that have picked up bad habits.

 

One of the country's largest financial services providers, Capital One develops a number of its consumer-facing digital products in a startup-inspired open landscape workspace in Chicago. Senior Software Engineering Director Ann Yeung and IT Director Karen McDonnell say they're willing to look past experience if they find the right candidate.

What do you look for when hiring developers who don’t necessarily have years of experience?

When looking for top talent to join our team, we always consider candidates from a holistic perspective. Experience, education, point of view, potential and cultural fit are all equally important pieces of a candidate’s story — and we value every facet! If a developer has a passion for learning, is adaptable and is committed to growth and our mission, we want their voice at our table, regardless of their years of experience.

How do you work with fresh developers to get them up to speed?

At Capital One, we know we are better together, so we are committed to growing our team members through peer mentoring, online training and Agile learning environments. Each developer is assigned an advisor and team “buddy,” who helps the developer navigate their role and support their skill building and innovation.

What are the advantages of investing in budding talent?

At Capital One, we invest in people. People who are passionate about their careers. People who want to positively impact the lives of millions of customers. People who can bring their talents to the table with an eye for continuous improvement. By investing in talented associates and enabling their growth, we constantly bring new ideas and relentless innovation to our products and our customers.

 

One of Chicago's premiere dev shops, Solstice Mobile has worked with brands like Redbox, Sprint, Kraft and Discover. Talent Acquisition Manager Lucy Viereckl says she's more interested in a candidate's grasp of fundamental concepts than her or his experience.

What do you look for when hiring developers who don't necessarily have years of experience?

For us, years of experience isn't nearly as important as having a strong understanding of computer science fundamentals, the communication skills to be a great consultant and passion for technology. If they don't have past work experience we like to see side projects, internships and even class work related to mobile or emerging tech.

How do you work with fresh developers to get them up to speed?

We have a comprehensive internal training program we're continually iterating upon and investing in to ensure that all employees have the tools they need to be successful no matter their backgrounds. Each employee is assigned a mentor from day one to help them meet their career goals.

What are the advantages of investing in budding talent?

Our people are our business. It's imperative that we continually invest in making each employee a thought leader within the industry. Every Solstie has a yearly training budget to go to conferences, take classes, and buy materials in order to progress their career and keep Solstice at the forefront of emerging tech. The energy and knowledge employees share when they return from training is essential to our environment and success in being an industry leader.

 

With its cloud and mobile logistics software, BookedOut connects experiential advertising agencies with on-demand talent. Mobile Architect Marc Zider has developed an intricate checklist to help him find and train young and promising engineers.

What do you look for when hiring developers who don't necessarily have years of experience?

Can they separate vagueness from complexity? A new developer, when presented with a vague development exercise in a complicated subject domain (e.g. video compression), will often get mired in the apparent complexity of the technology. A good candidate recognizes that he/she doesn’t have all of the necessary information to truly solve the problem and starts asking clarifying questions in order to elicit from us the remaining details to reach a solution.

“Coachability.” We are looking for candidates that embrace constructive feedback and grow. We gauge coachability while we work through the candidate’s (vague) development problem. During that time, we take regular opportunities to coach them. At the end of the exercise we ask them to summarize their solution, and we listen intently for signs they have incorporated and understand the feedback we gave them. The best candidates will not only incorporate the coaching points, but they will also paraphrase them.

Golden personality traits. As an engineering team, it is imperative for us to ensure any person we add has a personality that includes what we call “golden personality traits.” These are traits that resonate throughout a team and form a critical thread among each individual. Every engineering team is different, but at BookedOut we look for these universal traits: tenacity, creativity, humility, and responsibility. A candidate that can convey these traits in their resume and during the interview process has a good shot of joining our team.

How do you work with fresh developers to get them up to speed?

For us, getting new developers up to speed is about three things:

Process, process, process. We find a lot of new developers have little to no experience with the software development life cycle, let alone our team’s specific methods of building software. By taking a few moments to create a simple process outline, we not only give new members something tangible to use, but it encourages us to rethink our process in a concrete way.

Team supported projects. Adding anyone new to a team can be difficult with the hectic schedule most engineering teams face. Therefore, it is even more critical to incorporate a green dev in a way that is both challenging and supportive. At BookedOut, we start a new addition with a project that is well organized, relevant, and impactful. This allows the new member to grow comfortable with the other members of the team. Additionally, a new dev is encouraged to ask for help when needed, and the existing team members commit to assisting.

Immersion. A new developer will probably have a good idea about what you do as a team and as a company. However, they most likely will not know how. Spending time with the product, learning its golden flow, and working with members in other areas of the business is critical to the process. By immersing the new developer in the business and its culture, the new developer is exposed to the reasons why their role exists.

What are the advantages to investing in budding talent?

New Insights. At BookedOut, we value and are often inspired by the raw, unjaded, and uninfluenced mind of a tenacious new developer. They often provide valuable insights that our more seasoned developers miss.

Pliable mindset. A well-qualified new developer provides fertile ground to establish a mindset in line with the ways a team works. As a consequence of their inexperience, little time is spent unwinding unacceptable behaviors, bad habits, or correcting process missteps.

Personal satisfaction. There are few things more satisfying than being a part of someone’s growth as both a developer and a person.

Images via participating companies.

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