Interview Better For Boot Camp Candidates

Coding camps often yield very qualified candidates. Be sure to review your assumptions about candidates and construct a tailored interview for coding camp applicants.

For example, graduates with a university degree in computer science often have to learn basic concepts expressed in multiple languages and technology stacks. I believe this can give them resilience in the face of change. Because some coding camps turn out graduates with very narrow experience those candidates may not yet be able to apply their new skill in a technology environment even slightly different from their learning experience.

To address this, you might ask a question like ”Tell me about a technology that you have learned for your own purposes — outside of school. How did you approach your learning? How did you build on what you already knew?”

The front page of the Business & Tech section of today’s Wall Street Journal states ”Coding Camps Attract Tech Firms.” And they are absolutely right! I have been very impressed by many candidates from coding camps. On the other hand, I have seen some struggle after being hired for reasons related to their narrow experience.

I recommend embracing this new source of qualified talent. Just take another look at your interviewing process to reevaluate past assumptions.


Get Into Internships

[I Love It] One of my favorite parts of being a manager (and I didn’t anticipate this) is recruiting interns on university campuses. Being part of offering a great opportunity to students right when they need it is very rewarding.

[Good For Students] A good internship helps a student make a transition from a mostly individual success model to a team success model. I have seen some colleges do a good job encouraging groups to work together in school. Even for these students there is a difference between group projects in school and being part of a team that succeeds or fails all together.

[Good For Companies] Of course, people who employ interns tend to get a great deal. It isn’t uncommon for our interns to get rave reviews from their team mates and Product Owners. They’re enthusiastic and eager to achieve. You can pay them more than they are used to and still be very cost effective.

Recommendations: For Managers and Students Getting Into Internships.

All employement should result from a fit between the needs of an individual and the needs of the company. Keep this in mind and you should always find special satisfaction in searching for and finding that fit.

Internships often have a built in expiration date that makes them particularly useful for both students and new managers: both have an escape clause in case the fit wasn’t great.

In my experience, if the fit is there then internships are often extended. Again, this benefits both the company and the intern.

Even when the fit is there and the internship has to end you have made a new contact in your network.

To Managers:

  • 1. Recruit your own interns
  • 2. Require evidence that they will immediately contribute
  • 3. Polish your hiring skills by using them – A LOT
  • 4. Prepare to give plenty of supervision

To Candidates:

  • 5. Apply before you are ready
  • 6. Be honest and do your best
  • 7. If you’re hired plan to over-communicate

To Managers:

1. Recruit Your Own Interns

If you are going to have an intern then you should take part in the recruiting process. This gives you the best chance to find an intern that will fit well with your team.

I participate in a recruiting program for the entire company. We interview hundreds of interns for scores of slots. Each of us tries to represent a standard, uniform bar.

Still, it is very difficult for that bar to be uniform.

If you’re going to have an intern on your team then you should get out to the schools and do as much of the finding and interviewing as possible. It is impossible to know as much about a candidate from notes as you can by interviewing in person — no matter how robust the interviewing culture.

And many interviewing cultures are not that robust at all.

2. Require Evidence That They Will Immediately Contribute

Even the best intern will generally come to you with less experience and judgment than a senior hire. That doesn’t mean you can’t expect a lot.

Every year I find gems at the schools I visit who have amassed plenty of evidence that they can contribute on a team from day one. Sure, they will need time to settle in. There will be some adjustment to working on a team, and working at your place. But they will deliver value right away.

To prepare yourself to find these gems ask yourself what is the clearest sign of success for a junior member of your team. Now go about looking for those signs with the candidates you interview.

You will probably have a different set of indicators than me. But for reference here are mine:

  1. Can they code?
  2. Can they disagree and commit?

I evaluate both questions by giving my candidates simple coding challenges that they have to solve with me during the interview. I spend some time on behavioral questions and asking a bit about their background. But the majority of the time is a coding audition.

This isn’t the same process I use for senior hires. I use it for interns, and I’ve had great success.

Of course, there are going to be candidates with great potential that can’t quite code yet. That’s OK. I hope they interview with me again in 6 months. If not, then that’s not the end of the world either. Not for me. Not for them.

3. Polish Your Hiring Skills By Using Them – A LOT

Recruiting interns I routinely interview 12 to 15 candidates a day.

I read a lot of resumes. I ask a lot of questions. I do a lot of probing. I do a lot of coaching.

I get a lot of practice seeing good and bad qualities in a lot of candidates. I have to make a lot of hire/no-hire recommendations. I have to take a lot of detailed notes so that I can support the other managers that are hiring from the same pool.

You meet a lot of people. You get a lot of first impressions. And you gather and process a lot of data on a relentless timeline.

This is good.

Most managers hire very infrequently. That makes it hard to have good hiring skills. And the skills you do have go to seed as you neglect to use them.

Go out and interview a lot. Hire a handful of interns a year. Get to see the results of your judgment again and again.

It’s good for you.

4. Prepare To Give Plenty Of Supervision

When you do bring an intern on board give them meaningful work and lot’s of guidance. Meet with them daily or delegate it to a sharp direct.

Mentoring an intern is a great way to grow a direct that is hoping to qualify for promotion.

Be prepared for the intern to under communicate his challenges. Keep an eye on their progress. Let them know they are making a valuable contribution.

As a manager, now is NOT the time to sit back and see what happens.

I remember that during my first internship I sometimes went several days between substantive discussions with my manager or team mates about what I was working on. I treated the workplace like a large and quiet library. Every door had an automatic “DO NOT DISTURB” sign in my mind.

That’s the way I had done homework. But that’s not the way you do team work. You might have to help your intern through that transition.

To Candidates:

My recommendations to managers (above) should be a helpful reference to candidates as well. In addition, here’s some advice just to you interns.

5. Apply Before You Are Ready

A lot of students that are preparing for a software career are detail oriented, perfection-seeking, high achievers. That’s good. You’re going to be great!

Unfortunately, this can lead you to delaying all sorts of things while you are making it right.

You need to realize that there is a big difference between school and work. And the only way to really prepare is to start working in your field.

Workshops can help. Coaching can help. Mentors can help.

But if you aren’t careful you will find that your careful preparation has left you unprepared. There is a difference between theory and practice that you can only begin to learn with practice.

Apply before you think you are ready. Give it a real go. Act as if you are ready. As a matter of fact, you might be!

If you get a good offer and you’re not sure whether to accept it, that’s a good problem to have. Much better than graduating with a 4.0 and not prepared to transition into a job.

6. Be Honest And Do Your Best

In the interview be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. We can tell when you’re making things up.

If you don’t know the answer to a question then you must start your answer with, “I don’t know.”

If you do know how to find the answer then give that answer after admitting that you don’t really know.

I’ve had many candidates say, “I don’t know for sure, but I believe it is something along the lines of…” and their answer was so good that they didn’t lose any points for not being absolutely sure.

7. Plan To Over-Communicate

If you do get hired then plan to overcommunicate. (See point #4 above.)

This does NOT mean talk a lot. Everyone you are working with is going to be very busy.

When I say, “Over Communicate” this has more to do with frequency of communications than the size of those communications.

Be clear on what you are assigned to accomplish. Predict the progress you will make and communicate that to your supervisor. Let her know when you will be late. Let her know when you have delivered. Let her know when you are blocked.

Often your supervisor or team mates will say little when you communicate. This doesn’t mean it was wasted effort. Keep communicating your progress, deliveries, and blockers.

On your first few days it will probably be appropriate to communicate your status every few hours. By your second week you’ll probably be communicating status once a day. Don’t communicate less than once a day until asked to.


Internships can deliver great value to a company and rapid growth to a candidate. Invest in them and you can change someone’s life – even your own.

Recommend: Effective Communicator and Interviewer Conference

Waking up in my own bed again after two days in Palo Alto for the Manager Tools training on DISC (Effective Communications Conference — ECC) and interviewing (Effective Interviewer Conference — EIC).

Bottom Line: I recommend them, both.

The Experience

The setting was intimate. There were 11 attendees the first day and seven the second. In a group so small with high-energy interactive training it is easy to become intimidated or threatened. Our instructors, Dani and Sarah, managed that very well by keeping it professional and low-key.

When I say, “professional” I mean Dani and Sarah stayed on their feet with clear voices, clear speech, varied tone and examples to make sure the subject matter was thoroughly explained and engaging. Every question was welcomed and answered thoroughly while staying fanatically on-time.

Before explaining, ”low-key” I need this set-up: as a long-term listener I was intimidated by my preparations for this conference. Mark Horstman is the voice of manager-tools and there are a lot of meticulous shows in the library covering grooming and social protocol. It’s all helpful stuff, but if you’re a rule guy like me it means, “Hey, that’s a lot of rules I might accidentally break.”

Dani and Sarah went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Each of them introduced themselves to me individually during early breaks in the conference. They made some small talk about things I mentioned in my brief attendee introduction. They took time to connect with me personally without making me feel processed.

I’m not naturally good at meeting new people. I had a goal to meet as many new people at the conference as I could. Dani and Sarah made that easy and I felt a genuine rapport with them.

The Content

A great deal of the conference material is covered in the free podcasts. If you have limited resources you can go a long way through free (as in beer) self study.

If you do have the chance to come to the conference I recommend it.  You will hear things in person that you would gloss over in the podcasts. You will meet people that you want to meet. (That’s attendees and presenters.) These people share some important interests with you and you’ll be enriched by knowing them.

I myself have been a long term listener. I started listening for free in 2010 because I knew my manager was listening to them. That became a great way to learn good things and connect with my manager.  I bought a personal license in late 2012 because I was applying for a management position and I wanted to be able to visually scan and review the show notes. This did a lot to prepare me for the interviews. In late December 2015 my current manager identified funds to send us both to ECC and EIC.

The January conference dates conflicted with a cornea transplant that I had to schedule six months in advance.  I was motivated enough to get there that I moved my cornea transplant up by 16 days so that I could be out of the two weeks of post-op recovery and attend.

Totally worth it.

No, it’s not magic. Neither is Apple, or the Super Bowl, or anything else that has fan boys. But I’m definitely a fan.

P.S. I already had received their most popular Effective Manager Conference materials via video. Recommend that as well. 🙂

Learn to Do

What will more effectively convince a hiring manager that you can produce results for them? Should you focus on making products? Should you complete programming challenges?

Past results are the best evidence of future results. But it’s hard to beat solving a problem before the eyes of your interviewer. Here’s Raul’s question:

Candidate Question: Preparing For Interviews

Hi Tyler,

It’s me again! with another question. I’m interested in what you think.

So I’m deciding on where to put my free time, building something or practicing algorithms/DS problems, to get the better job/opportunities out there.

I believe that someone can learn how to build something in their normal job but in opposite, they need to study/practice specifically for algorithms/DS to be good at it.

Do managers think that a candidate should be expected to know how to build things just because they have worked before in a related field? and go straight to algorithms/DS questions because they want to see how the candidate thinks? or will they care about the candidate showing them what they have built and will not be very strict on your algorithmic/DS skills?

How does this work? what is you opinion? What is more impressive to you or for what do you look into a candidate when you hire him, that he has actually answered your algorithmic/DS questions or that he has built something?

For example: I had some coworkers that were really good at building whatever you liked but they did not know what Big O, BFS, DFS, Binary trees were etc…

So they clearly won’t be able to answer most technical questions on an interview but they are really good at building something.

Thanks for your time!


ManagerJS says…

Thank you for your question, Raul. Before I give my own answer, realize that there are many important abilities that you need in order to be an effective worker. Managers often call these competencies. Each job opening will have three to five competencies that the hiring manager considers essential.

In this case I’ll limit my comments to a vague technical competency.

Results Matter Most

In short: a manager hires a candidate because she believes they will produce results. More specifically, the right results in the environment of the company she is hiring for.

The future isn’t known yet. So a manager has to guess at what information will most reliably predict good future results.

Time and again the best predictor of future results has been shown to be past results.

While it might sink you when naïvely applied to the stock market it’s really the first rule in hiring.

Have a Portfolio

If you have a product you’ve created yourself, and it’s sharp, then put that in your portfolio. That’s one of the best bits of evidence that shows you really can produce future results.

Unfortunately, many people don’t have compelling products they’ve made in isolation. When they talk about past results it’s often difficult to tease out what exactly they did versus their team. (I’m sure you’ve been part of a team with some free riders.)

No matter how good a portfolio a person has I want first-hand testimony to add to my list of evidences. I have a short list of people I trust enough to give a recommendation that fills that need for me. If you don’t have that kind of referral then I’m going to want to see you work.

Be Prepared to Audition

When I give a candidate a sample problem and ask them to solve it with me I specifically do not want them to solve it from memory. If the solution comes too easily then I’ll give them another one. I need to see them think.

At the same time, I don’t want to see them think abstractly. I don’t use brain-teasers or riddles. I ask them to solve a realistic problem that lends itself to basic analysis and problem solving.

  • Do you think to restate the problem?
  • Do you seek to divide it into smaller problems?
  • Do you build up a solution using composition, looping, and branching logic?

These basic skills will be second nature to a developer that has really delivered solutions in the past.  They will be a challenge to a scripter that has mostly use the search, copy, mutate formula for hacking together solutions.

If you haven’t formal training in computer science, or your past projects have been monotonous, then you might want to beef up your problem solving skills with intentional practice solving programming challenges.

Do Both

Should you develop portfolio projects or should you solve algorithm problems?

  1. Have at least one solid portfolio project. Sharp and created (nearly) entirely by you.
  2. Be well practiced in learning new tools and finding novel applications. You might demonstrate these in one-off experiments in your portfolio.
  3. Know how to divide and conquer, recurse, and loop. (You can practice this a lot in programming challenges.)

In general I don’t hire you for the algorithms you’ve memorized but for the results you’ve produced with those algorithms. Tools (like algorithms) help you deliver. And you can’t use a tool you’ve never learned.

Are You Being Wooed?

An interesting and short article went over the predictable labor shortage caused by the difference between the sizes of the Baby Boomer and Gen X population groups. It talked about Employment Branding.

The technical term is “Employment Branding,” and it’s how companies woo top talent. They showcase their company culture, values, benefits, perks, executive team, staff members, business mission, and anything else that will make a great candidate want to work for them instead of their competitor.

… Google, Zappos, Amazon, and Facebook aren’t the only hot employers on our planet. They’re just the ones that embraced Employment Branding when others didn’t. But soon, we’ll be seeing companies of all shapes and sizes strutting their stuff in hopes of catching our eyes. It’s going to be a great year!

Has this been true for you? I know I talk up our unique workplace — especially for top candidates. How prominently has “Employment Branding” featured in your recent job interviews?

My Current Favorite Interview Problem Memoize

Just added memoize to my growing catalog of interview questions.

Summary of the Challenge

Part 1 is a discussion. Part 2 gets to the code. You can skip straight to 2 when time is short. This problem is particularly useful for gauging JavaScript familiarity since it takes advantage of functions as objects and closures.

There’s a lot of jargon in the question, but that’s not the point of this challenge. Make sure they understand the question. You might gauge how willing they are to ask questions, but only gently. Don’t put them on the defensive just by the wording of the question.

Part 1: You have a number of expensive pure functions. During the course of any given hour these functions are each called with a small number of inputs. Hour over hour the inputs vary dramatically. Describe how you could improve the performance of the system.

Candidate behaviors to look for: Caches the results and bypasses the expensive function calls when the answer is cached. Memoization. (See formal write up for details.)

Part 2: Write a higher order function (a function that takes a function and returns a function) that accepts a function of arity 1 and returns an identical, memoized function. (See formal write up for candidate template and example solution.)

Good At Differentiating Candidates

You will find that some candidates will solve the problem handily, refactor, then easily run through the examples. Other candidates might have to be coached more through the implementation, but should at least be able to step through the execution of the examples.

paper-code helps you interview

In addition to writing daily for this blog, I’ve been scraping together resources that web devs and their managers might benefit from during interviewing.  I made the ManagerJS GitHub organization to hold those documents and code.

Today I’m announcing the paper-code repository.  It will hold programming challenges you can sketch out with pen and paper during interviews. I routinely use these when interviewing intern candidates. Continue reading paper-code helps you interview