How Learning to Code Helped Me Grow as a Recruiter


Learning to code

One of the best perks of working at General Assembly is that employees can take any part-time class or workshop for free. Last year, I took General Assembly’s Backend Web Development Course (BEWD) to learn how to code. As someone who works in Talent Acquisition at General Assembly, I thought this would be valuable so I could better understand our product offering. I also figured it would be easier to interview technical candidates if I understood the lingo.

Next week, I’m attending the Greenhouse Open, a three-day gathering of talent acquisition and HR professionals in San Francisco from May 25-27.  I am really looking forward to the “Programming for Recruiters” workshop with Michael Bouffard, VP of Engineering at Greenhouse, on Friday, May 27. I think every recruiter, especially one who speaks with engineers on a regular basis, should understand programming basics. As I prepare to attend Greenhouse Open next week, I’m reflecting on my experience taking BEWD and how it’s been helpful in my day to day role recruiting talent, as well as managing our systems and tools.

1. Empathy.

Empathy happens to be a GA Work Value; we believe that empathy is your secret weapon to success. When your role is to both recruit engineers and partner with the engineering team on systems customization and integration, understanding how the internet works and how to code is enlightening. I have a much stronger appreciation for the what engineers do now that I know how to code.

For example, when there is a bug on our careers page, I don’t get frustrated and file a ticket to get it fixed. I’ll try to problem-solve and present a few ideas for what I think might be wrong because I know that fixing bugs is tedious and can take a long time. I’m also more likely to offer a second chance on a code challenge because I know that little mistakes aren’t indicative of someone being a great engineer or not.

My feedback to engineering candidates is also more thoughtful when we reject them; I understand that code is subjective and personal and am usually able to articulate to a candidate why he or she might not be the right fit without offending that person.

2. Systems.

When you understand APIs and how machines process information, it’s much easier to intellectually grasp what’s possible for your systems. As a mid-size business, we use a variety of HR tools including Bamboo, Greenhouse, and Small Improvements. While these systems have great integration options, we are always looking for ways to customize the tools to make our lives easier and to give us the data that we need. I’m able to make informed optimizations and provide more articulate instructions to the teams involved since I’ve played with the APIs before and understand how the systems talk to one another.

3. Street Cred.

BEWD was an amazing class and I learned a lot (including the fact that being a full-time developer is not my strength and will never be my calling). I found the course to be a lot of fun and was lucky to have the support of great instructors to get me through. As an added bonus, when I’m chatting with engineering candidates, I can now ask better questions, give better answers, and engage in a much more technical conversation.

This gives me street cred with engineering candidates, which is very powerful; if they don’t get the job, at least they walk away feeling like their interviewer had an accurate sense of their skills and that General Assembly values an understanding of technology in all roles.

Learning new skills is always personally enriching, and an understanding of technology is extremely helpful for many non-technical jobs. For recruiters in search of  talent with a specialized toolset, I’d highly recommend seeking out education opportunities to better understand the field.

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