Archive for November, 2017

Week 26 at an Unbootcamp

Friday, November 10th, 2017

More interviewing

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.


Week 25 at an Unbootcamp

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

School-to-work pipeline

Learners Guild in Oakland has prided itself in turning out software developers so skilled that they can get themselves happily employed without any placement services from the Guild. This is in contrast with various coding bootcamps, which all-but-guarantee jobs or internships to their graduates. It also shows impressive confidence in the program, since the Guild’s own investors are financing Learners’ education and the return on their investment depends on ex-Learners earning good incomes.

That notion is no longer an article of faith. The Guild is beefing up its efforts to facilitate post-Guild employment. As I finished my 25th week, out of 40, at the Guild on 27 October, concern about rapid employability was increasingly in the air:

  • Learners have increasingly chosen to immerse themselves in high-demand technologies, including React, Redux, React native, Ethereum, and Deeplearn.
  • They have branched out from the Guild’s primary programming language, JavaScript, to add other often-demanded languages, including Python, Java, C++, and Objective C, to their skill sets.
  • Algorithm puzzles on HackerRank are now a daily exercise. For example, in a few minutes, write a program that determines whether 1 letter can be removed from a collection of letters and the result will be a collection in which each letter that is present at all occurs the name number of times. Then figure out whether you could have written the same program differently so it would run faster. Such problems reportedly occur during technical interviews for programming jobs.
  • Learners have organized a group that is creating a website showcasing the portfolios of advanced Guild Learners available to be hired.
  • Another group of Learners is creating a small software consulting business within the Guild, in which they can get real-world project experience.
  • Learners and coaches are offering practice interviews to each other, and some are making use of commercial practice-interview services. A manager from Karat came to give a talk this week on how technical interviewing really works.
  • Learners about every week are going to meetings where they can make industry contacts.

Although I don’t feel anxious about unemployability, my own current focus, contributing improvements to the ESLint project, arguably fits the pattern. According to many (but not all) commentators, competent employers hiring software developers look at the open-source contribution records of candidates and treat them as significant evidence of quality.