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San Francisco Programming Bootcamp Alumni Talk Job Search, Interviews

Shawn Drost

On Friday, August 16, a group of San Francisco programming bootcamp alumni hosted a panel to discuss their job search, what their current work is like, and what qualities to look for in co-workers. Panel members included Patrick Stapleton and Alex Gaputin from the Reddit Insight team, as well as Mark Wilbur from Groupon, Mark Lee from SlideShare/LinkedIn and Mike Adams of OpenTable. The alumni were all graduates of Hack Reactor's programming bootcamp, and were speaking to Hack Reactor students still in the program. Students in the audience participated throughout the hour long panel, asking revealing questions and engaging with each alumnus.

The following is a transcription of various pieces from this highly interesting and entertaining conversation.

Mike: When you're deciding where to work, you're going off very little information. They've told you a little bit about the company, and what's going on there, but in terms of who you're working with and how legit they are, you don't know.

Audience member: What would you suggest is the best way to judge a company?

Alex: You should just ask who you're going to be working with. To me, the most important thing was to find a really good team where I could grow. I was basically looking for a copy of Hack Reactor, where people are super motivated and you're in this great environment. And I tried to pull that information out of people with questions like, 'What's your average day like? What kind of problems are you doing? What technology are you using? What's the most exciting problems that you faced?'

Find out what interests them at their work and makes them want to get up in the morning.

Mark Wilbur:Another factor for me was, is this tech stack I'll be using at this place going to be useful outside of that company? Or are you going to be siloed in to some internal stack that's only useful at this one big company where you're working?

Mark Lee: When I walked into the interview process I focused on just the engineering talent, and if I had to do it all over again, I would have asked more personal questions.

It just so happened that I made a good decision where people are young and in a big city but still kind of nerdy and good at programming, and you can wear multiple hats.

SlideShare is a subsidiary of LinkedIn, so they're like a startup inside LinkedIn, but we have gym access and other things, so you still get the perks of a big company.

Mike: I have an interesting, funny, but related story. I got a ridiculous offer from a company that was $30,000 more than any other offer I got. I was like, 'There's got to be something to this.' So I researched on Quora, and I read that their Chief Technology Officer is really eccentric and works people to the bones.

So knowing this information, I started to ask really leading questions in my interview. I asked the guy working under the CTO, 'So, do you like working here?' And I hadn't asked that question before because it seems stupid. But it's a really good question, and I started asking it afterwards as well. And everyone I asked was like, 'I love it.'

But this guy was like, 'Ehhhhh.' 

Audience: (Laughs)

Mike: He says, 'It's kind of intense and the CTO freaks out on people but you have to kind of roll with it.'

I'm like, 'Why would you tell me that?' I don't care how much more you're going to pay me I'm not going to work there. So there are ways of researching a company - even with Quora - and I'm so glad I avoided this company that has such a bad reputation they have to offer more money to get engineers.

Audience member: How did you guys find the transition between working at Hack Reactor, where it's a really collaborative environment, to a real job. Is it as collaborative or is it like, 'Here's a manual, here's a computer, go figure it out.'

Mark Lee: Before SlideShare, my environment was a little weird. I had to go all the way to this company in Mountain View, and there was this whole spiel about culture and what not. And then I came back to the office the next day, and they're like, 'Go sit with Jon, and he'll set you up.' The following week we had another hire and I had to onboard him.

Basically I'm in here for a week, and I had a retreat that week so I only had two and a half days of work and here I am on boarding some new employee. But it's really good because it helps you figure out what you're lacking.

But in general, there's not a structured day. You collaborate with project managers and you have little tasks and do little bug fixes. There's a monolithic code base that you get familiar with, and they're not expecting you to go there and redesign everything. They want you to get familiar and also work on other projects to build new stuff.

Mark Wilbur: It was a pretty big adjustment. I miss hanging out with my old classmates and learning a new thing every two days, three times a week. That was fun.

Alex: I was looking for something specifically similar to Hack Reactor and I'm lucky that I think I found it. So, we do have a really collaborative environment that really helps each other out. The transition for me was a breeze.

Mike: It depends on the size of a company. I've had two transitions now where I went from my startup to working full-time. The startup was very sink or swim. It was really hard and challenging.

Thus far, working with a big company and big team, it has been a lot more laid back, easy transition. We definitely have deadlines and a lot going on, but it's definitely not a startup where you have to push some sort of future tomorrow.

For me, I'm glad to have a bigger team that's more collaborative. Audience member:

Audience member: Would you say you have any noticeably different qualities from co-workers who have CS degree?

Mike: They've been writing code for longer, so it comes quicker to them. Generally, I'm impatient with myself - people with that background pick things up quicker. It's the same thing with your co-workers. They've been doing it for so long. There are still basic concepts that I understand and get, but I'm not super familiar with.

Mark Wilbur: In a perfect comparison, I started the same day as a guy who just finished his Master's degree. You meet a whole bunch of people who just got out of Ivy League schools with their degrees at your work.

I'm kind of a freak at Groupon because I don't know Java, and most of my co-workers are working in JavaScript or Rails. But they all learned Java because they all did it in school.

I didn't realize how weird I was until I got there. Everyone had just go out of MIT or Stanford and had their degree, and I'm like, 'Well I went to Hack Reactor.' It's awesome, but since I'm the only one with that background there, I'm hoping some of you join me at Groupon.

Alex: We (Hack Reactor students) can compete with these people with CS degrees and Master's degrees because of the amount of hours we put in. The second thing is that people here are so motivated and interested in tech, you can beat those people with CS degrees because you're more passionate. In your interviews, point out that you're really into this stuff and you can't get enough of it.

(For more information about our San Francisco programming bootcamp, visit the rest of our blog!)