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How to interview a developer coming out of a coding bootcamp

How to interview a web developer who just graduated from a coding bootcamp

After finishing up General Assembly and becoming a jack of all trades master of none developer, I was ready for my next step, a job. When I had my first interview after the course, reality hit me and it hit me hard. Hiring mangers did not know how to interview someone coming out of a coding bootcamp. Many of them told me this before the interview began and it made the interview difficult and sometimes uncomfortable for both of us.

I knew that I could code, I knew that I had a lot to offer, I just didn’t know why my interviews weren’t going well. That, is when I decided to put on my developer hat and “debug” the situation. I evaluated what questions were the hardest for me and when I started to feel unsure of myself during the interviews. After I could see the problem areas, I decided it was up to me to take control of the interviews and lead them in a direction that showed off my skills, knowledge, and career achievements.

I landed a great job (hurrah!) and now I want to pass on some of what I learned to recruiters and hiring managers to hopefully help in their interview process with web developers who just graduated from a coding bootcamp.

Don’t solely focus on definitions

Developers coming out of a bootcamp learned to code. We did not spend four years memorizing definitions. When I was asked to describe certain functionalities, I did it in a way that I understood it. The answers weren’t wrong, but they weren’t textbook. If the interviewer understood coding enough they usually picked up on what I was saying, but in many cases the interviewer didn’t know the programming language well enough to understand my answer and were just looking for a memorized textbook answer. If that’s all you’re looking for then don’t ask the question. You should be looking for an understanding of the material. Terms and buzzwords can be learned quickly on the job. Building out a custom feature that meets business needs cannot be learned quickly, focus on the skill.

Go through their GitHub code or pull up some code to discuss

So, if you are not asking a ton of definitions what can you two talk about? Go through code. You can look in their GitHub and have them describe their code. If they really focused on learning JavaScript pull up some code from the internet and ask them to go over it. When I was at General Assembly I got in at 9am and often left at 10pm and all I did was learn a topic then immediately implement it and code it out. We learned something different every day, which is necessary when you only have 12 weeks to become a full stack developer, but the drawback is that it’s difficult to produce things from memory alone.

I was once asked on a phone interview, to describe from the beginning to the end, how to build an Angular app. I had built many Angular applications, so I was excited about this question. When I started describing my process, the interviewer interrupted me and said “No, we want you to use all the Angular terms and tell us how you would build out each section and what goes in what file.” Well that’s a tall order to fill. I suggested we go to one of my hosted applications and I could describe what I did and they weren’t having it. I later found out the person interviewing me had a list of terms they were supposed to look for and didn’t know how to develop in Angular themselves. An interview like that is a waste of both of our times.

Allow pseudo coding if a white board is used

I have no idea why white boarding code became a thing. I’ve talked to many senior developers about it and they agree it’s a difficult process, that in the end, doesn’t help evaluate much. I develop using a computer and a keyboard. There is muscle memory in what I do and that can be hard to remember when drawing it all out on a white board.

Think of it like this, you ask a surgeon to demonstrate how to surgically remove a kidney from a patient (something they have done MANY times before), but the patient is a tomato. That doesn’t make any sense, right? No, it makes no sense, just like asking a developer to construct complex code with a barely usable marker on a whiteboard……tomato.

However, if you must meet your quota of frustrating a developer by having them code on whiteboard. Then you also must allow for pseudo code. If the developer can explain the process and describe what the pseudo code is doing that should be enough to move forward and the marker probably ran out of ink by that time anyway.

Last but not least

Remember that they just came out of an intensive course. They know a little bit about everything and learned A LOT in a small amount of time. It takes a lot of determination to get through a course like the General Assembly Immersive program I went to. I have witnessed many crumble and give up through the process. Going through something like this shows their willingness to learn and their ability to pick things up quickly. General Assembly gave me the skills to learn new languages myself and just because I don’t know something right now, doesn’t mean I can’t learn it on the job in a couple of weeks.