How To Land Your Dream Developer Job (As Told By Your Future Boss)


Jesse Podell ImageJesse Podell is COO of DevShop, a boutique web development agency, and NY TechDay, the world’s largest startup event (coming to Washington, D.C. in October 2014). He is also the co-organizer of NYFTS, the largest Fintech Meetup group.

Whether you’re a hardcore nerd who’s been coding since grade school or a recent bootcamp grad, getting hired for a developer position will always come down to more than just your aptitude for code. At my firm,

At my firm, DevShop, a Ruby on Rails web and app development agency based in NYC, my partner and I easily spend 20% of our time recruiting. We’ve found that the best hires are people who are dedicated, passionate about learning, and clear about what kind of role they really want.

In an environment like ours, we spend more time with each other than we do with our partners, our dogs, or our beds; so we’re laser-focused on finding interesting, motivated people who will fit in with our company culture and contribute to our success and growth.

Below I’ve answered some frequently asked questions that we’ve seen come up specifically for people seeking developer positions. Hopefully my answers give you an insider’s peek into what it takes to get hired.

Q. Does anything other than my ability to code really matter when it comes to getting hired?

A. Whether you’re looking to work at a startup, an agency, or large company, you’re most likely going to have to impress a non-technical person along the way. At a large company there’s a good chance you’ll spend more time interviewing with an HR generalists than pair coding. So it’s important that candidates have strong communication skills and the ability to showcase their personality.

At my firm, we certainly want to see people who excel outside academics and have a diverse resume. In fact, we generally wait until the second meeting before we even get into code, saving the entire first interview to understand if there’s a cultural fit.

Good organizations will work hard to acquire talent with the attributes of long-term success, not just people who happen to attain a specific skill set at the right time. Having worked on Wall Street for several years, I know firsthand that people with highly desired tech skills today may become obsolete seemingly tomorrow. Those who are able to preserve their careers did so because they were able to communicate with others and create deep and lasting relationships.

Q. Do I need to have a degree in Computer Science to be considered? Or do I have a shot if I learned to code through an immersive or bootcamp?

A. Thus far, my firm has hired almost exclusively out of coding schools (bootcamps), but what’s most important for us is to understand the candidate’s approach to learning. What resources do you use when you’re in a jam? What are your go-to tools? How do you continue to enrich yourself and grow? What communities are you active in?  Are you getting involved with hackathons?

Additionally, We’re going to pay attention to a candidate’s attitude about their code school itself. What’s your attitude when you discuss your “main project” during the class?  What part of the technology are you really proud of and how vital was your part in building it?  Are you enthusiastic about the project or apathetic? Conversely, are you too enthusiastic about your school experience (you might not ready to leave the nest).

On the other hand, did you have a poor experience at the code school? This might be a red flag, since having personally interviewed several dozens of graduates from all the local schools, we know there’s a ton of great teachers and the curricula are solid at the moment. These schools are pumping out some very talented new developers, so we’ll want to understand why you were unhappy with your experience.

Q. I taught myself how to code. How do I prove that I know my stuff in the interview?

A. For those candidates who taught themselves how to code, we may be a little more eager to understand your coding style up front. We’re keen to understand your process, and what resources you use to teach yourself and improve your skills.

We’ll be super vigilant in making sure your coding is up to par. Are you writing overly verbose code? Are you using far too many dependencies? We’ll also want to know that you are a team player and can collaborate with other developers. It’s helpful to have examples of projects you’ve worked on with others. Finally, we’ll want to make sure you have the ability to communicate with non-developers as well.

Q. Should I ever talk about my own startup ideas in an interview?

A. If it comes up in conversation, we’d love to hear your  ideas– not to be pitched, obviously — but we love to see candidates who’s interests extend beyond coding. We want to know that you’re driven to solve real world business problems. Also, we love to understand your thinking process. We won’t think you’re dispassionate about your job search if you have your own ideas. But we do want to know that you’re serious about your job search, and believe in what we’re trying to accomplish.

Q. Should I be open about my outside interests?

A. Absolutely. We’re looking for teammates, not zombies. A well-rounded candidate is much more attractive to us.  Plus we’re going to want to learn from you. Sitting in front of a screen all day isn’t ideal, so we want to be confident that you have something else that excites you, and keeps you growing as a person.

At our firm, we teach each other weekly classes. Sometimes they’re about coding, but often they’re about outside topics that interested us, like robotics, life-hacks, and health and wellness. One of our developers once taught a class on playwriting!

In an environment like ours, we can’t afford to hire someone who isn’t capable of teaching us something; so we seek candidates with the ability to teach along with an appetite to learn.

Q. What’s the best way to be prepared for an interview?

A. Two things stand out to me for a prepared candidate, and neither has anything to do with brushing up on their Ruby. First, I want the candidate to demonstrate that they’re very familiar with what my firm does and that they’re genuinely excited about it. A candidate who doesn’t do that kind of research before a first interview won’t be coming back for a second round. We put a good deal of work getting content about our mission and values right on our website and blog; so it’s very impressive when a candidate can cites at least one of our blog posts and talk about resonated with them, or better yet, what they learned.

Finally, I’m going to want to hear your questions about us: the technologies we use, what our goals are, and how we attack projects. It’s inexcusable for a candidate to not ask pointed questions about these things as it’s directly related to your passion for learning.

All-in-all we’re seeking well-rounded individuals who have a genuine interest in learning and furthering their craft, as well as applying it to real world business problems. We don’t want someone who will just “show up,” we want someone who will exceed our expectations.

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