10 Aug 2015

Last week, The New York Times ran an article with the headline “As Tech Booms, Workers Turn to Coding for Career Change.” The story described how individuals ranging from waiters and poker players to bookkeepers and baristas are enrolling in intensive coding academies to get a crash course with the potential to propel them into the “booming tech industry.”

The piece cites specific anecdotes in which individuals who were previously just scraping by landed high-paying jobs in the tech industry after taking one of these courses. Paul Minton was a server who, after a three-month course in computer programming and data analysis, landed a job as a data scientist with a six-figure salary. Reyna DeLoge had a working-class background, lacked a college degree, and worked as a barista and assistant manager; one coding class later, she secured a job making $80,000.

It’s not just the potential to put more zeroes in the bank account that’s attracting people to jobs in tech, however. The truth is there is a lot of opportunity in this industry, as tech jobs are in incredibly high demand.

According to the Times piece, Glassdoor lists over 7,300 openings for software engineers and over 1,200 for data scientists. These are high-paying, high-demand positions that need to be filled, and—unlike in many other industries—they are jobs that don’t necessary require a formal education and four-year college degree. It all comes down to skill and the ability to learn and learn fast. The coding schools mentioned in the article (Galvanize, Flatiron School and Hack Reactor) provide their education in a short period of time—the average class length among them is 11 weeks. However, while the education takes place extremely quickly, numbers indicate that the programs provide at least enough education to help their students land jobs in tech. Galvanize, for example, cites their job placement rate at 98 percent.

Now at Chaotic Moon, we can’t speak to the effectiveness of these classes, but the phenomenon does introduce an interesting discussion about the importance—or unimportance, rather—of the “right” resume, and relates directly back to our own hiring process.

Basically, a formal degree, extensive education, and traditional background aren’t prerequisites for becoming a killer developer.

While they didn’t attend coding academies like those mentioned in The New York Times, it is true that many of our developers at Chaotic Moon don’t have education or employment backgrounds that directly relate to what they do now, and a few of them are largely self-taught.

One example is Elliot Dahle, an iOS developer who actually has degrees in accounting and electrical engineering, but not specifically in computer science. What he did have were skills gleaned through programming classes he took while in school, which helped him land a job in software development at IBM. When he took an interest in mobile, however, he rejected the idea of a formal course and instead took it upon himself to learn iOS and spent his time teaching himself, reading books and building apps.

“I don’t think a full-on degree in computer science is necessary,” Dahle said. “I think you need fundamentals, regardless of where you get them. Then, if you’re passionate and have that problem-solving aptitude—and if you enjoy it—you’ll end up learning yourself.”

When Dahle applied at Chaotic Moon, he didn’t have the experience or degree that many companies would require. (Typically, an accounting degree does not an iOS developer make.) What he did have was self-acquired knowledge and proven skill, as evidenced by the application he built and presented in his interview.

“Chaotic Moon took a chance on me,” Dahle said. “I had a bit of programming experience but none in mobile, and I was coming in as entry iOS. They were like, ‘This guy may not have [the background], but we’ll give him a shot.’ I was able to come on and learn fast.”

Carlos Vega, an Android developer at Chaotic Moon, did attend a development bootcamp of sorts, and he dubbed the five-day crash course a waste of time. What was more useful was the way in which he built upon his computer programming background and education and taught himself Android. Without any experience in mobile, he was also brought on by Chaotic Moon.

“It depends on the company where you’re trying to apply,” Vega said. “Some will dismiss applicants without the right degree or background. I’m very glad that C.K. [Sample III, Chaotic Moon EVP of Technology & Development]  gave me the opportunity to work here and prove myself.”

“I don’t care,” was Sample’s response when asked about the importance of his hires’ previous education and experience. “All I care about is if somebody is a hard worker, wants to learn and is skilled. Skill is the main thing—skill and speed.”

To sum it up, both Dahle’s and Vega’s accounts seem to epitomize the aforementioned Chaotic Moon hiring philosophy: We focus on finding the people who are best for the job. They don’t necessarily have the typical degree, background or pedigree, and often they don’t “look the part.” (The preconceived notion about what engineers “should” look like is such a widespread phenomenon that #ilooklikeanengineer is currently taking social media, especially Twitter, by storm as those who don’t fit the cookie-cutter mold attempt to dismiss the stereotype.)

“Not all of our engineers have XYZ degree, not all of our designers went to XYZ art school and not all of our content strategists have their masters in English,” explained Chaotic Moon CEO Ben Lamm. “We do have a band of people who are committed to changing the world through software without compromising excellence, but not everyone has this extensive background or the PhD that you would expect. Instead, people with tattoos and no degrees are telling giant companies what they need to do, and that’s amazing.”

The moral of the story? Whether you learn in a classroom, through an intensive coding course, or at home with a little help from your friends (and Google), if you have the skill—and can prove it—a bright future in tech is a total possibility, particularly at Chaotic Moon…

Even if you have a face tat.