Getting a Job After Coding Bootcamp

The past 6-8 months I’ve been seeing a new type of person applying for Automattic’s engineering positions that I hadn’t seen before, and I think it’s very interesting and promising but missing one key component.

These applications usually have great cover letters and well-put-together resumes, which is a good sign that people put some thought into it and had someone spot-check it before sending it in. But where most people list prior jobs, these applications (and LinkedIn profiles) list projects. When you dig into prior jobs listed, if there are any, they’re typically in a completely unrelated field like medicine or finance, and under education they list one of these new bootcamps, like Hack Reactor or App Acedemy.

Here I’m going to offer a key 🔑piece of advice to these folks to help their applications stand out, and can 100% compensate for their lack of professional experience: contribute to open source. “Projects” done in a coding bootcamp, even when they’re spelled out in great bullet-point technical detail, don’t really tell me anything about your engineering ability. Open source contributions show me a passion for a given area, ability to work with others to have a contribution reviewed and accepted, and most importantly show actual code. Even better than one-off contributions, if you can grow into a recognized position in an open source project, that puts you ten steps ahead of applications even from folks with 20 years experience in the field, at least to an Open Source-biased company like Automattic.

Though I don’t know any of these boot camps well enough to suggest them, I love the idea in general. Even before the more formal bootcamps I’ve seen hundreds of examples of people who used free information and technology to rise to a very high level of technical contribution. In fact that’s very much my own story from the early days of WordPress. So in summary: it’s okay to learn to code through class projects, but show your value by getting involved in something bigger.

20 thoughts on “Getting a Job After Coding Bootcamp

  1. Matt this is a great post and I am myself one of those applicants 🙂 I think you are 100% correct when it comes to showing off your real-world experience instead of education or knowledge, especially anything that is open source. I hope you find the right people for the company and I also hope I can be one of them 🙂

  2. (This is highly generalized but) From what I’ve seen, attendees of bootcamps leave with two things: intense passion to go out and build things using their newfound skills (awesome!) but also an overestimation of what their current skills are actually capable of (not-so-awesome!).

    Working on open source projects gives you a good reality check but also the perfect opportunity to level up those skills.

    1. I think (and hope!) that article and the data it cites is very out of date and behind the current state. You would hope since most open source is done exclusively through online identities (which can be whatever you like) that it would have evolved to be more welcoming. In WP it’s something we think about and work on a lot, and of course in the context of Automattic experience with WP be it a plugin, theme, core, accessibility, support, or any side of the project is a bonus.

  3. I do agree with you on this Matt, but as someone who wants to get into Open Source projects, it’s darn hard to do so. Especially if you’ve not done it before. I can build great websites (I think) but have little knowledge of Git or Mercurial to be able to get started on contributing, then I think it’s also difficult to build a name for yourself in an Open Source Project to be able to have submitted code used let alone reviewed.

    Like I said, I do agree with you but I just wouldn’t be surprised at the lack of contributors applying as this may (or very well may not) be the case in this scenario. If you want to see someone in action contribute, the “good to start off with bugs” in the WordPress Trac system might be a good test to put the budding Engineers through.

    1. Expertise in version control systems like Git are absolutely crucial as soon as you’re working on something with more than one developer. (And many would argue before then. :)) So I’d strongly encourage you to dig in there. It’s also something these boot camps already teach — I don’t see a huge skills gap in these applicants, just they could stand out more with participation.

      1. Kind of the same question to this comment here ( ), do you read every application or select few etc? I know you interview people at the end of the process, but wondering if you try and spot potentials from the first point of contact?

        I applied for a job at Automattic a few months ago. The experience was good (it was for a Happiness Engineer role, Jeremy interviewed me), however the feedback afterwards was a little short. I think there’s definitely points on both sides that would help one another. I’d love another shot but I wouldn’t want to apply again and not improve on the things I needed to, which I’m not sure of.

        As for the Git thing; I’ve not done a bootcamp, I’m not lucky enough to have one close by so I’m having to struggle through trial and error on GitHub. It seems to be one of those things you know very well, or don’t know at all.

      2. Unfortunately it’s difficult to be very specific in feedback when we don’t move forward with someone. Also sometimes people come back with very pointed or detailed questions that would honestly take a very long time to answer. The best I can say is that we publish a lot about what we look for in the positive sense, including the Creed, so the more you can embody that the better.

  4. Great post Matt. You touched on this briefly, but I think beyond being able to see actual code contribution, viewing people’s open source contributions provides insight (but not complete) into people’s personality and personal biases. One can have great technical chops, but be a poor fit for a company because their communication and/or personality sucks.

  5. It’s a lovely idea, but given that the reason you’re receiving the CVs is that these candidates are looking for work, the suggestion that they contribute at a professional level to a substantial extent is tantamount to asking them to work (not for you, but it is still valuable -work-) for free for six months. You can see why they would not pursue that line of thought.

    1. Contributing to open source isn’t required, but it’s definitely a way for candidates without as much relevant industry experience to stand out from other applications. Everyone can spend their time however they choose. Folks going through coding bootcamps have already made a very significant time commitment, this is just a slight tweak to how that time is spent that will assist them specifically with Automattic. (Other companies may not care.)

  6. I have a question as someone who just finished one of these bootcamps.

    Why not just look at the applicant’s github? I assume these applicants have projects and githubs in their applications or resumes. If you want to look at their code, it’s right there. Assuming the projects are deployed you can also look at what the final product looks like.

    Our teachers at the bootcamp I just finished with definitely pushed us to go out and find open source projects to contribute to, so I’m not dismissing that advice. I just feel like there is code available for you, as a prospective employer, to look at it.

    1. Public code on Github counts as open source and is great, but participating in a project is more of a substitute for work experience because it has more in common with having a job in the field.

  7. Contributing to open source is very hard especially in a well established projects. For example WordPress for Android has over 150 MBs of code. There’s no guide to how to begin reading and make sense of the codebase. Majority of developers in a project fail to understand that newcomer has no idea where to begin. The threshold of entry to contribution to open source projects is very high.

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