During the week ending on 3 November, my 26th week as a Learner at Learners Guild in Oakland, the emphasis on preparation for employment as a software developer continued to grow more intense. By that I don’t mean learning to develop software of a kind that is in heavy demand; I mean learning how to break into the industry.
Of course, these two things are associated: You can get hired as a software developer more easily if you are good at at doing something people want to pay for than if you aren’t.
But the prevailing wisdom at the Guild is that being good and relevant is not enough. In other words, the staff and Learners agree with the often-made claim that the hiring process in the software industry is dysfunctional. By this account, success at being hired depends also on friendships, self-confidence, and interviewing skill. And interviewing skill, even in technical interviews, is a skill apart from programming skill.
So the professional developers who guide phase 4, the final period of our tenure as Learners at the Guild, introduced a new exercise during the week: mock technical whiteboarding interviews. We are randomly split into groups of 3. In each group, one Learner plays interviewer, one plays interviewee, and one plays observer. The observer’s job is to advise both of the others about the strengths and weaknesses of their performances. In a whiteboarding interview, the job candidate gets a problem and has to write a program to solve it on a whiteboard, explaining the solution to the interviewer and answering any questions, such as “Now that you have a working solution, can you think of ways to make it more efficient?”
A glimpse of the future
The staff during the week also described in rough outline some ideas for revisions in the Guild’s curriculum and business model, based in part on proposals recently received from Learners. They involve new ways to make expertise available to Learners, new methods for organizing the learning of software fundamentals, new principles underlying the contractual relationships between the Guild and its Learners, new partnerships between the Guild and industry, and a new Guild-sponsored opportunity for Learners to join a team of software developers providing services commercially. My sense is that the Guild wants to try, accept or reject, and refine these ideas before it again begins admitting new Learners.