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Finding Jobs After Bootcamp: Here's the Question Prospective Bootcamp Students Should Really Be Asking

By: The Fullstack Academy Team
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This post originally appeared on Fullstack Academy's blog.

One of the top questions prospective bootcamp students ask is: “Can I get a job after coding bootcamp?” The answer is absolutely yes, but the better question would be:

How can I get the right job after coding bootcamp?” There are so many factors to consider, from what kind of work you want to do to the type of company where you want to do it, and then there’s all the pressure to “get it right,” especially given how much time, money, and energy you’ve put into skill-building at bootcamp.

It can be tempting to take the first offer you get out of fear you won’t ever get another, or at least that you won’t get another before you run out of money to live on, but we encourage our students, where possible, to make decisions from a place of opportunity, rather than from a place of scarcity and fear. Not every factor is within your control—you only have the savings you have, for example—but many are, like how you tackle the job search process to maximize your time and savings.

So why is finding the right job even such a big deal? Who cares if you take the first job you get just to get some money coming in? Can’t you always just change jobs later?

Fullstack Academy alum Shawn Wang warns against this kind of short-term thinking and says that while it can be easy to adopt an “any job will do” mentality, your first job is actually crucial to your future success. “Your first dev job will help you build expertise and reputation for your next job,” he writes. “If you end up hating your first job you may find it a lot harder to get onto a different career track.”

Taking the first job you get also plays into the mindset that getting an offer is a function of luck, rather than a logical result of your hard work, qualifications, and professional know-how. And the more you think that way, the less likely you are to command the salary you’re worth or wind up doing fulfilling work.

So here are some criteria to help identify companies where you’ll want to look for jobs after coding bootcamp.

Compensation

A good bootcamp will have a strong career services team that can, among other things, help you understand your worth as an employee. They’ll walk you through market rates for the roles you’re qualified for. They’ll teach you to set compensation goals and negotiate to meet those goals (skills that can help women and individuals of color close the wage gap). And most importantly, career counselors who truly want to see you succeed will counsel you not to take a role that can’t compensate you fairly for your work.

There are always trade-offs, of course. Non-profits, for example, often don’t pay as well as for-profit companies, but do tend to be more mission-driven. So if what’s most important to you is doing meaningful work, it might be worth it to make a little less if you’re going to feel more fulfilled.

And compensation isn’t limited to salary, so if you like a company, but don’t love the offer they’ve made you, there are still plenty of ways to meet your compensation goals, like asking for equity (most common at startups), negotiating for additional vacation days or the freedom to work remotely, or even getting the company to cover a gym membership or metrocard.

The possibilities are endless, but the most important thing is that if a company isn’t willing to at least meet you halfway, they’re probably not a company you want to work for. No matter how great they seem, if they don’t have the money for staff, they probably also won’t have the money to help you with professional development, or even to pursue their own marketing efforts or product development, which can hinder company growth and your growth with it.

Company Size

Company size goes hand-in-hand with compensation, and of all the decisions bootcamp graduates agonize over, choosing whether to work at a large tech firm or a small startup is often the biggest hang-up.

And for good reason. Squarespace’s Conor Dewey believes company size is a crucial factor in the decision-making process. Large companies can usually offer prestige, higher pay, and solid benefits. Smaller companies might not be as flush with cash or appear as stable, but you’re likely to grow more quickly at a startup, as there’s less bureaucracy between you and a promotion, and everyone wears multiple hats. That means you’ll get lots of different experiences and can really own work instead of contributing a snippet of code here and there to a codebase maintained by scores of developers.

Ultimately, the decision comes down to the type of person you are and what you want from a career. Would you rather take a less lucrative job at a startup in order to get your hands dirty and learn a lot right off the bat? Or do you dream of joining a well-established organization that provides structure—and likely also higher pay?

Leading vs. Being Led

There are pros and cons to each option, as bootcamp grad Mario Hoyos found in his first job at a startup. As a member of a small team, Hoyos got to work on the kinds of projects junior developers at bigger companies usually don’t. This included configuring Azure cloud infrastructure, writing “mission-critical code,” and taking the lead on front-end development. Hoyos describes the role as “an awesome learning experience,” but does wish he had had a team of more experienced developers to learn from.

Not Just the Company, but the Team

Software engineer Mostafa Gaafar notes that it’s also important to consider the size of the team you’ll be joining. “Medium and large-sized teams usually provide a more diverse and creative work environment, and so do teams with people from different backgrounds,” he writes.

Benefitting (or Not) From Your Employer’s Reputation

In many ways, your employer’s reputation will precede yours when you start looking for future opportunities, says Karl Hughes, CTO at The Graide Network. “Taking a role as a Junior Engineer at Google will look better to future employers than taking a Lead Engineer role with a company that has a reputation for releasing poorly built products,” he writes. You’re unlikely to be at your first job forever, so it’s important to understand how your employer is perceived.

Growing at Your Company

Conversely, AngelList founder Naval Ravikant believes it’s better to work for a small company at the start of your career; that makes it easier to get promoted. Ravikant says getting promoted early and often has compounding benefits which translate to a huge advantage later on. “If you're not getting promoted up through the ranks, it gets a lot harder to catch up later in life.”

Potential for Growth

And speaking of growth: Your first role as a software engineer will (hopefully!) be the start of a long career in tech. Give some thought now to what you might eventually want your career trajectory to look like. Then ask yourself whether the position you’re considering will propel you toward your goal or away.

Let Opportunity Lead You

This line of thinking is what led bootcamp grad Aleks Gorbenko to turn down several above-market offers he received and instead to take an internship. Why? It gave him the chance to learn from a team he respected and get experience with a tech stack that excited him. “The number in your contract should not be the reason for the choice of your job,” Gorbenko writes. “Opportunity should be.”

Think In Terms of Promotion Before You Even Get Hired

Which brings us back to the idea of making decisions from a place of opportunity above all else. Entrepreneur Samir Goel advises web developers to weigh carefully the opportunities for advancement within a company. “It’s easy to prioritize for today, but if the job doesn’t give you an opportunity to move up, you’ll be facing the same situation all too soon,” Goel writes. By which he means: You’ll be right back on the job market.

He recommends speaking to a company’s employees, both past and present, and using Linkedin to determine whether people get promoted within the company after they start working there. If it’s clear that the only way for employees to move forward is to leave the company, that’s a big red flag.

Focus on Professional Development

Finding a job with a company that believes in your potential and gives you the chance to learn new skills can make all the difference. Runtime Revolution’s José Sá says the fact that his company continues to invest in him has been crucial to his own success, to the successes of other employees, and ultimately to the success of the company. Especially when you’re new to the industry, but even as you grow, knowing that you have the resources to learn and progress—and that your employer supports you in your efforts to do so—can be a tremendous boon to your career and your confidence.

Elliot Forbes is the perfect example: His solid front-end experience landed him a job at JPMorgan Chase & Co., but within a few days, he realized he had a lot to learn about the rest of their tech stack. Luckily, JPMorgan’s Software Engineer program provides a combination of on-the-job training and access to courses to help its developers build the skills they’re lacking. Forbes says he will “never get over how cool it is to have a company nurture you and allow you to go off and spend up to 50% of your time learning new things.”

A good bootcamp will impress upon you that whether you end up at a big corporation or a lean startup, the best job for you will be the one that offers mentorship and guidance. And that’s even more true for self-taught developers who likely have very little experience working with a team of engineers or even being exposed to tech industry norms. When self-taught developer Syk Houdeib had to choose between job offers, he made the smart decision to go with the company that was “clear on the importance of mentorship and giving me guidance to grow and learn.”

Three young coders at laptops discussing jobs after bootcamp

Values Alignment (a.k.a. “Culture Fit”)

Hiring for “culture fit” is big in tech, even though HR and recruiting experts like Patty McCord, chief talent officer at Netflix for nearly 15 years, have discredited it as a poor predictor of job success and—worse—a mindset that contributes to homogenized workplaces.

McCord refers to it as a “misguided hiring strategy” and says, “What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with.” The problem with that, of course, is that “people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done.” And hiring specifically for people you want to want to hang out with can “contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.”

Despite the understanding that “culture fit” is simply a trendy term for affirmation bias, tech companies continue to employ the practice, so it’s something job seekers will encounter over and over.

Reframing “Culture Fit”

But here’s how you can reframe it as a tool for decision-making: Think of it as a values alignment. Is the job you’re considering at a company whose values align with yours?

Career expert Amanda Augustine says this is one of the most important questions to ask when considering a new job. “You can have all the right qualifications for a role, but if you don’t mesh well with the organization and their team, you ultimately won’t be successful. That’s why it’s so critical to learn as much about a prospective employer’s company culture before you decide to accept their job offer.”

Read Between the Benefits

Determining values alignment as a company outsider may seem difficult—how can you know what a company’s culture will feel like before you’re steeped in it?—but values ultimately come out in a company’s actions, so start with information you do have: benefits.

  • Does the company offer good vacation time? Do they offer flexible work schedules? If so, they probably understand that employees have lives and that the more balance the company can offer them, the happier (and therefore less inclined to leave) employees will be.
  • Does the company offer a 401K match? How robust are their parental leave policies? If these are things the company is spending money on, it’s likely they envision their employees being around for the long term and may facilitate growth to make sure that happens.
  • Does the company offer professional development resources? That might be a mentoring program, a continuing education fund, or even regular trainings on new technologies. In that case, the company is making an investment in staff members and may promote from within as employees grow.

Red flag “benefits” might be beer on tap or ping-pong tables, as those are pretty solidly associated with the homogenous frat-like start-ups of Silicon Valley, and even “unlimited vacation” is something to watch out for. It sounds good, but research suggests that employees with “unlimited vacation” actually wind up taking fewer vacation days than employees with a specific allotment of days.

Alison Green, who doles out management advice in The Cut’s Ask A Boss advice column and her own Ask a Manager blog, says that’s because “people aren’t told ‘you get X days per year,’ [so] they have no idea what’s okay to take, and then end up not taking time off that they could because they don’t want to be seen as slackers.”

Research the Execs

More standard benefit packages (healthcare, two weeks’ vacation, paid sick leave) will give you fewer insights into a company’s culture, so Julia Grace, senior director of infrastructure engineering at Slack, suggests researching your company of interest’s higher-ups (like managers, the people ops team, and the C-suite). The qualities that these people exhibit are likely the ones the company values most. “This is because of an intrinsic bias toward homophily—in other words, we like people more who are similar to us and often more frequently promote people who remind us of our ‘younger selves.’ ”

Meet the Team

When possible, it’s also a good idea to meet a couple of your prospective coworkers without management present, programmer Gwendolyn Faraday says. This can give you an idea of what it will really be like to work there. “If the team is happy and gets along really well, chances are, it’s a good company to work for. The process and project management style are also important. Although, if they have happy people, I would guess they have good processes as well.”

But look out: If HR or your people ops contact doesn’t want you to meet the team, Faraday warns, that should be a red flag. That reluctance suggests company management is aware that other software engineers there are unhappy and doesn’t want to scare you away by giving you a chance to talk with them.

Find Affinities

Finally, software developer and bootcamp grad Walley Yang recommends that students look for companies that understand their backgrounds. “Since I was in the military for 12 years, I focused on companies in the same realm,” he says. “All the companies I interviewed with supported the military, which gave me an advantage.”

Two developers a with laptops listening, representing getting jobs after bootcamp

The Bottom Line

Starting a career in tech, or even moving into a more technical role within your current industry, is the whole point of bootcamp, so prospective students focus a lot on their chances of simply finding a job after graduation.

But focusing instead on what kinds of workplaces will be most nurturing to bootcamp graduates can help you better target your applications right from the start, giving you a shorter, clearer path to employment and getting your career off to a strong start.

The best coding bootcamp career teams will work through all these considerations (and more!) both one-on-one and in group settings, so make sure you choose a program where bootcamp grads can attest to the career services and ultimately go on to get developer jobs.

See what services the Fullstack Academy career team offers to help students land developer jobs after graduation, or—if you’ve already found yourself with multiple job offers in hand and no guidance from a team like ours, check out how our experts recommend responding to an influx of offers.

Images by: Tim van der Kuip, Brooke Cagle, You X Ventures
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