In mid-April, Dev Bootcamp hosted a panel featuring leaders from four of the Bay Area’s top tech companies - LinkedIn, Adobe, Airbnb, and Pinterest - highlighting the innovative apprenticeship programs these companies have started in order to focus on hiring more diverse, non-traditional candidates and to help rethink the typical software engineering interview process. We’ve had some follow up questions from attendees and people in our community, so we wanted to share some of the words of wisdom from our panelists.
Thanks, in part, to Marc Benioff’s discussions at the White House, news about larger program investments at companies like LinkedIn, and forward momentum from bootcamp leadership, the apprenticeship model is being discussed more frequently at top tech companies as a way to better support students from broader backgrounds filling the talent pipeline through alternative training platforms like self-taught programs and coding bootcamps.
In assembling leaders from these four companies, we wanted to highlight the incredible, thoughtful work behind the LinkedIn REACH program, Adobe Digital Academy, Airbnb Connect, and the Pinterest apprenticeship program, with a special focus on the team members who built these programs from idea to reality.
Our panelists included:
- Shalini Agarwal, Director of Engineering at LinkedIn
- Liz Lowe, Innovation Lead - Sustainability and Social Impact at Adobe
- Abby Maldonado, Diversity Specialist at Pinterest
- Mike Sanchez, G&A Recruiter & Talent Strategist at Airbnb
Here’s a short synopsis about what we learned from our panelists and their programs, and the key takeaways companies like Dropbox, Twilio, SAP, Pandora, Reddit, Lyft, Salesforce, and many others learned from the discussion.
Introducing a new pathway to hire engineers can stir up difficult conversations and questions internally. How did you rally your team and key stakeholders around creating a new onramp into software engineering roles at your company?
Mike from Airbnb: At Airbnb, our Director of Engineering, Mike Curtis is an engineering leader with a non-traditional background and a key focus on diversity and inclusion. He believes diversity and inclusion enables Airbnb to make better products. We have a leadership group dedicated to talking about and focusing on diversity in the technical part of our organization, and I pitched the idea there. I read a Harvard Business Review article by Susan Colby that inspired me to pitch the idea of an apprenticeship.
Liz from Adobe: Our program was born out of conversations with the engineering team about how to create an entry level path with a longer learning cycle. In the early days, we got HR to agree to interview candidates and had one proof point of an apprentice who eventually converted to full time engineering. The most important thing for us was building a community of support around hiring from different communities and backgrounds. The big challenge was convincing hiring managers that hiring non-traditional candidates is different, but worthwhile process.
What specific needs (both within your company and the tech industry at large) does your apprenticeship program aim to address? How do the structure and benefits of your program address that need?
Shalini from LinkedIn: Our program eliminated a lot of bias from the interview process, because we didn’t look at names, resumes or LinkedIn profiles, and only evaluated candidates based on essay questions. We were looking for passion and a technical baseline. How they learned didn’t matter as much as their commitment to building a career in tech. We’d tell them: If you can prove that you can meet a certain baseline and that you can learn and grow from mentors and peers, we’d like to have you at LinkedIn. This program allowed us to re-think some of the limits and constraints on our current engineering pipeline and interview process.
Abby from Pinterest: Our program first solves the needs of the apprentices - things like mentorship, support, and industry experience. One really big reason Pinterest invested in this program is we’ve found that bringing different people onto teams brings out more innovation. Teams started to notice that people who came from different backgrounds brought really interesting ideas that you miss if you keep hiring from the same types of companies or programs. In order to hire this way, we needed to think about stereotype threat people from non-traditional backgrounds feel when interviewing at a company like Pinterest, so we started changing the way we prepare people and make them feel comfortable. We also incorporated feedback and intervention training into the mentorship program so that we could make improvements.
What does success look like for the apprentice and for the organization? What milestones have you built into your programs to assess if both the apprentice and the company are on track?
Liz from Adobe: For now, it is important for us that interns move onto full-time roles. Later on, we want to look at who gets promoted and how long they stay (retention), and eventually more data about how this person’s life has changed - such as salary before and after, and if they don’t get hired by Adobe, do they go onto a tech company in another role? It’s too early for a lot of this data at scale.
Shalini from LinkedIn: One our KPI’s is how many apprentices convert to full-time employees. But even if they don’t get hired at LinkedIn, if this program helps them get a role at another company, we think that’s a success. We think that these apprentices will be leaders in the tech industry in 5-6 years, and this program will be one of the factors that helped launch a successful career.
Abby from Pinterest: Our key metrics revolve around retention and promotion. Our goal is to bring them in as full-time, successful, engaged team members. We also look at how well this program is accepted and integrated into the rest of the company. Things like: are we getting requests from other groups for an apprentice? For us, that would be the best signal that this kind of program is a sustainable source of talent.
What are your thoughts on the scalability of initiatives like this? What kind of capacity building has to happen within an organization to create and scale an apprenticeship program?
Mike from Airbnb: If you’re going to do a program, have at least one person who is fully dedicated to making it happen. I did this as a part-time project alongside all my other technical recruiting responsibilities, and it’s really overwhelming for one person to handle all the aspects of bringing new candidates from new backgrounds into the organization in a thoughtful, well planned way - if it’s a side project.
Liz from Adobe: Our program provides a scholarship, stipend, and internship component, as well as support before the student joins a bootcamp, during the program, and transitioning into Adobe at the conclusion of the bootcamp program - and thus is pretty resource intensive and high-touch. We’re trying to build a playbook to make this program a formal pilot in more offices outside of the Bay Area. This provides an additional recruiting pathway, it isn’t intended to replace traditional recruiting pathways.
Abby from Pinterest: I recommend focusing on recruiting a large pool of engineering mentors, people who are willing to teach how to code on a large code base. Many of our volunteers are interested in building someone up from a non-traditional background, and mentors can be internal advocates.
What does this program mean for you personally? How has this program contributed to your personal or professional growth?
Mike from Airbnb: This program allowed me to use a lot of the skills I wasn’t using in my role before - things like strategy, operations, and pushing back, and standing for what I believe in. For me personally, I’m the first person in my family to go to college. When I graduated from Stanford, I thought my career would just unfold before me and be very obvious. It hasn’t been. I’ve had to work hard and learn a lot. Now I focus on mentoring others who come from a similar background as me through programs like this and working with nonprofits. It makes my struggle important and meaningful, because I have something to offer and give back.
Shalini from LinkedIn: I’m passionate about getting more women in tech. Right now we don’t have enough women to make engineering an attractive field. It’s a huge barrier to entry that women can’t take a break to have children and then return to the workforce. When we started a ‘returnship’ program it got us thinking more broadly. Programs like these humble us, to see the kind of people who are successful in these programs, and hearing their stories and backgrounds is inspiring to us.
What do you have to say to your peers in the room who may be thinking about starting a program like this one at their companies?
Mike from Airbnb: Don’t let your job title limit the scope of your work or what you can do to convince your company to do this. I started this program as a brand new Technical Sourcer, and it’s totally possible.
Abby from Pinterest: We’re all building products for the rest of the world. There are a lot of people’s experience, perspective, and needs that aren’t represented in the landscape of our current tech products. Ask yourself - how can we build products for the world when you are hiring the same kind of people?
A special thank you to our panelists, our host and San Francisco Campus Director Michael Walker, as well as our Moderator and Director of Partnerships and Corporate Training, Lateesha Thomas.
If you’re interested in starting an apprenticeship at your company and would like a copy of the panel on video, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.