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Decoding Hiring in Coding Bootcamps: A Conversation with Raj Das

February 8, 2022

Raj Das
Raj Das is an Engineering Manager in the Fintech space and has previously worked in senior engineering positions at Axoni and L2. He lives and works in New York City.

Our #DecodingHiring series features senior level engineers, Product Managers, Cybersecurity professionals, and UX/UI architects in the software development field to discuss how they think about hiring for their teams. Our first interview features Rajarshi Das, who held Director of Engineering roles at companies like L2 and Axoni before joining a new company in the Fintech space.  We chose Raj for the first interview for an important reason: He’s incredibly thoughtful in the way he chooses his hires and had good insights into how he and his teams chose from their applicant pool.


Best Coding Bootcamps: Tell us a bit about your growth in the industry and how you came into your own as a leader.

Raj Das: I've been an engineering manager for around five years and just joined a new company in the FinTech industry. Before getting here, I was an engineering manager for five years and a developer prior to that for an additional two or three years. Most of my experience has largely been in startups until more recently, but I started off as a full stack developer, at a very small startup. There were two to three of us, and then I joined a little bit of a larger startup and after about a year I was promoted to a tech lead.

Since then I've been a manager for, you know, built out teams from scratch, but also managed my last role as managing about 25 or so developers on multiple teams. I never looked back.

BCB: You didn’t attend a bootcamp, but you’ve hired from them. What’s your educational background?

RD: I went the traditional route there. And then actually flipped completely. I did my Master's in Risk Management and Financial Engineering. I was in finance for a little bit two years before switching back to programming.

BCB: That sounds less conventional than the perception of a software engineer track, actually. But it’s a great segue into the challenges senior developers face when filling out their teams. Considering how much education and the industry changed over the past ten or twenty years, what are some of the challenges in recruiting developers and retaining them?

RD: I can start with retention, because we're in a place where engineers are getting poached constantly. It's kind of almost absurd. That's probably part of the reason, there's an explosion of people wanting to also be developers, because it's so lucrative. There's so many opportunities.

From a retention perspective though, it is a challenge. We’re seeing a lot of established engineers probably getting  five -  maybe even ten - like unsolicited emails or messages from recruiters, basically, every week. So as a people manager, I need to know what is motivating people, what's keeping them there, what's driving them, and ultimately how to engage them so they stay for the long-term.

At the same time, there's an explosion of ways that people can become developers. And that's what [Best Coding Bootcamps] are talking about.  Obviously, students can go the traditional route and they can take boot camps. There's people who are constantly switching careers. It's just, you know, blown up almost exponentially.

“We're in a place where engineers are getting poached constantly. It's kind of almost absurd. That's probably part of the reason, there's an explosion of people wanting to also be developers, because it's so lucrative. There's so many opportunities.” - Raj Das

BCB: You've hired people from a boot camp before. What were you looking for them to do the moment they came in on Day 1?

RD: I think the reality is - most of the time - when you're hanging from boot camp, it’s for a junior role, which generally tends to be more contained in scope.  We’re looking at very tangible, task -oriented work.

Here’s an example. When we hired at my previous role, we hired a couple people from boot camps, and they were all full stack developers. But the reality is, their skill is more in line with front end engineering but with a little bit of back end. So I think primarily, they were all React developers and Node.js. And what, what we were looking for them to do is basically build up a web application. And it was essentially a CRUD app. It’s a bit simpler in a sense, but it's very critical and very important to get right. Actually, our entire front end team was at one point all from boot camps.

BCB: That’s interesting. At larger, established companies we’re seeing a smaller percentage of the total overall hiring from bootcamps but it may be creeping up. What was different about the resumes you felt were strong?

I really looked for the right fit for the role. It’s less about [the past work history] in their resume. When I get a bunch of resumes from boot camps, it’s hard to really differentiate because everyone coming from bootcamps have similar sets of skills. Essentially “I took these courses, we did this project”, and oftentimes the projects are also group projects. That’s sort of what most people come in with.To really evaluate for the best candidate, I try to look at [translatable skills] from past experience, if there's something relevant to the industry, like if someone had a design background or someone who's really good at project management -- those people might be better at organizing thoughts or writing documentation well

The other big piece is post bootcamp projects. Obviously, if there's work experience, that's great, but I'm not even counting that because it's kind of different. However, post-boot camp projects they've done and been able to share show both their skill and passion for continuing a pursuit in software development.

BCB: What else?

RD: Everything from continuous integration and deployment, version control, containerization, orchestration, all the cloud, like AWS, Google Cloud is or etc, stuff. But it's impossible for anyone to know all of the above, I don't even expect that.But familiarity with that is huge. Again, in a junior role I don't necessarily expect them to  know how to use everything, but just be able to show that they can grasp [the concepts]. Now, that often will come off more in an interview. But in a resume, if I can see if this person's familiar with it because they've worked in a collaborative setting where they've used some of these tools? That can make a big difference.

BCB: The last question we have is on bootcamp reputation. How closely did you look at that?

Well, I haven't really done that in a while. So I don't want to say random names and get it completely wrong. But I will say there were tiers -- there were definitely some boot camps that at that point, I thought “alright, we want to get people from there.”

But it may change, like, what was good back then or reputable back then may not be the same now. And what’s a bit underreported - I would say -  is that referrals were a big thing. We would kind of leverage one of the bootcamp grads we thought was doing well.  We wouldn't go to General Assembly and say “give us some recommendations.” If we hired someone from General Assembly that we liked, we'd ask that person, “Hey, who do you want to work with?” So that was actually pretty powerful.