Got 99 Problems, But a Job Ain’t One (If You Read This)

steve picmonkey

The rules are surprisingly simple if you want to impress Steve Girolami, VP of Engineering at AfterCollege. One: Do not profess to be an expert. Two: Do work (and be ready to show it). Three: Be able to solve problems—and explain how you did it.

Steve explains why being a Computer Science major is no longer a necessity to become a developer, why a GitHub account is, and how to impress him and his team during the interview process.

What is your current job title? Which positions do you review applications for?

My current title is VP of Engineering. I’m the hiring manager for our engineering team including all our web developers, software engineers, and technical operations.

What are some things that college students can do to make their applications stand out?

Always include links to your work from GitHub or other repositories. Any and all verifiable work that’s been produced is good.

Which majors tend to be most successful in the positions you review applications for? Which majors would you like to see more applications from?

Lately, I’ve been really interested in Mathematics majors who are really passionate about getting into development and engineering. People who are expert problem solvers are most desirable.

We have an experienced team and we teach people how to write code. I’ve been weary of Computer Science majors lately. Knowing how to write code is no longer an obstacle. The talent and innate skill to think about and solve complex problems can’t be taught.

I’d love to see more applications from non-Computer Science majors who have in-class, extracurricular, or internship experience solving problems.

What are some things you look for in résumés and cover letters? Are there any things that would send an applicant to the “no” pile right away?

Links to project work and interesting internship experience. Do you have any mobile hobby-apps in the Play store? If you are an undergrad, and you think you are an “expert” at anything, I’m skeptical. I’m generally skeptical of self-proclaimed experts in general. If you have zero project work to link to, you’ll go to the “no” pile.

There is no way that in four years of school work you don’t have at least something to show for it. If your class work is largely theoretical, then you’ll need to go out and find practical ways to demonstrate competence. Do something free for a fake company, or even better, land an internship. And please be able to tell me what you learned about yourself and your abilities. Your degree is the baseline.

What steps would you recommend a student take to best prepare for a career as a software developer?

Do work. As a hiring manager, I’m constantly shocked and disappointed at how many students who want to go into a software field have zero project work to demonstrate.

If you wanted to be a soccer player, then at some point you’d actually have to play soccer. A largely theoretical understanding of the field is important, but you have to put it into action in any way possible. Candidates who have class work they can speak to have a leg up on all other candidates.

What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make when interviewing for positions in your field? What do the best candidates do to stand out in an interview?

Overestimate their ability. At AfterCollege we start with problem-solving exercises over a shared Google Doc. If you tell me you have experience with JavaScript then I’ll start a simple for-loop on the Doc and ask you to finish the syntax. Then maybe we’ll move on to something a little harder. If you tell me you have experience with JavaScript, we will uncover your competence within minutes.

After we have a baseline for a candidate’s problem-solving capacity, we’ll post on the shared Doc a really difficult problem. We’ll ask the candidate to talk through the problem. The exercise will judge how well you articulate the problem-solving process. If you get stuck, we will step in and get you back on track.

What we are trying to do is identify how well the candidate can think through the problem, communicate articulately what their process is, and how well they can collaborate in real time the solution process with a senior engineer. It’s by far my favorite exercise to do with candidates and very quickly separates the rock stars from the pack.

Homework time! Steve talks about the importance of showing more than just a theoretical understanding of a subject. Do you have an account on GitHub or another code repository? Have you built any websites or apps in your free time? Make sure that you have something concrete that you can show employers to demonstrate your skills and motivation.

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