Western and Southern on the “war for talent” and how bootcamp grads make good new hires.

Hire Software Developers – from Coding Bootcamp? Yes!

Not too long ago we sat down with four members of the IT team at Western and Southern to talk about what they’re noticing in the IT job market, and frankly, to get their feedback on the graduates they’ve hired from our Cincy Code IT Developer Bootcamps.

We were able to get a well-rounded picture thanks to the participation of Karen Chamberlain, SVP/CIO; Shawn McMillan, Senior Security Strategist; Vince Serpe, Systems Manager; and Bonnie Wathen, Senior IT Recruiter.

We asked them four questions about the current IT job market and hiring bootcamp graduates. Here’s what they had to say:

You have an in-depth perspective on the local IT job market. So, what are you noticing?

Bonnie Wathen – 

There is a major major war for talent and developers are definitely the number one skill set that we all seem to be lacking. Basically, every company in town is looking for the same types of people –  and there just are not enough developers to go around.- Bonnie Wathen


Karen Chamberlain – 

That’s right. In Cincinnati alone we have over a thousand jobs that are open at any given point in time, many of the big companies are all vying for the same people.


Bonnie – 

It’s said that the average IT person gets contacted 18 times a week in some way, shape, or form, about a new opportunity. So, for me to have that level of competition as the IT recruiter for the company – you know – it’s very difficult. And this is why I’ve been really pleased to have this as an alternative / out of the box way to find good strong developers.


Now that you have several years of experience in hiring and on-boarding bootcamp graduates, how has your thinking changed compared to the early days?


Karen –

We felt originally that we should have people with a full-blown computer science degree and, you know, the reality is we need people from a lot of different backgrounds and different experiences and what people bring from the boot camp is a very focused set of experiences and skill sets as a developer, and those are exactly what we need in certain positions.

The boot camp folks bring just — an experience level from a work environment where they’re working in different industries and jobs and they bring a level of maturity into our organization that I think is welcome. And the folks that come in from boot camp also, I think, are looking to find a company where they can have a stable experience and stable career. And we need people like.


Bonnie –

My personal expectations about hiring boot campers hasn’t really changed that much since I originally became aware of the program. I’ve always thought that it was really valuable and I was always really impressed with what I saw.

I would say the biggest change has been with our actual hiring managers. They now all really have a buy-in since we’ve now successfully on-boarded five individuals. I think that they’re all much more open now to hiring folks from the program.


Vince Serpe –

Well, my expectations from the beginning were more or less that the boot grads would be able to hit the ground running and pretty much that’s what I’ve gotten. 


Tell me a little about the bootcamp graduates you have hired from us. How would you describe them? What they are doing now?


Shawn McMillian –

I know we’ve hired a lot of different boot campers over the last year and one of them, in particular, that is working on a project, is the transformation initiative that’s a large initiative, a very strategic initiative here at Western Southern Financial Group; and she’s working on some of the most challenging and complex technology that we have here. She was able to be put onto a project that literally is one of our most strategic projects in the enterprise.


Vince –

Well, what’s coming out and what we require on our team is a strong work ethic, being a team player, and also having a sense of urgency.  We find people coming out of boot camp have these characteristics. Their expertise have come from different areas besides programming. Now this brings to the table for us a uniqueness in problem solving –  which helps the team look at problems, situations, from different angles. And with the boot camp grad we find that there’s a maturity level that doesn’t exist in a junior developer. That gives them a leg up in preparing them for training and the mentoring processes.


Shawn –

So I compare a boot camper with somebody that’s followed the more traditional path, you know, going to college. When I graduated with a computer science degree I was a programmer. I came out of college and I was doing a lot of things that —  I didn’t leverage a lot of the skills that I learned from my computer science degree, not that it wasn’t beneficial. But I definitely see that the boot camper is learning more of those business ready skills to where they can come in, they can be much more valuable to the team because they’re learning, again, the business valuable skills right off the bat.


Bonnie –

What I found to be the top attributes of our bootcamp hires has been:

One: Their work ethic. They come to the table with a really strong work ethic and,

Two: Their soft skills. They really don’t need much ramp up time at all when it comes to soft skills. Very professional. They understand, you know, how to work hard, how to ask for things, not wait to be asked to do something, that sort of thing. And then,

Three: I would just say they really have a level of appreciation that has been refreshing. You know a number of the bootcamp graduates have probably been unemployed or underemployed, so they’re really appreciative to have this opportunity.


What structure do you put in place to help guide and mentor your bootcamp grads so they fit in and provide ROI to the team in a timely manner? Do you recommend this to others?


Vince –

The way we prepare the bootcamp grad is by pairing them with another developer in order to get them up to speed quickly. They also need a mentor in order for them to be able to ask questions and bounce ideas and problems off of. 

We also provide training for them. But the training needs to actually come at the right time. Training needs to come when they’re ready for working on a specific system – and that’s when the training will be provided so that we can utilize those skills.


Karen –

For companies that potentially would hire someone out of a boot camp –  just make sure that you have a support mechanism in place whether that’s a buddy system or a mentor / coach. And just some on-boarding techniques that you would normally use with anyone else. Bootcampers are just like any other new employee and will require a level of support until they get comfortable in their new position.

Western and Southern Financial Group has been hiring bootcamp graduates from MAX / Cincy Code IT since 2013 and has chosen MAX Technical Training as a provider of technology and professional business skills for their IT employees for more than 15 years.

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