Advisory Board Member Spotlight: Lifeblue

Building a local Advisory Board is critical to the success of each of our campuses, and we are lucky to work with some pretty amazing companies across the country. Advisory Board members play an instrumental role in our students’ experience, and help us keep our fingers on the pulse of local hiring needs and employer priorities.

In Dallas, we are proud to call Lifeblue, a digital agency that specializes in high-end web development, an Advisory Board member. Not only do we value their insight into the industry, they are actively involved with our students giving guest lectures and have even hired two amazing #IronGrads as junior developers!

We recently caught up with Lifeblue’s co-founder Russel Dubree to learn more about the company’s vision, their experience hiring junior-level developers and the emphasis they place on lifelong learning. Below is more from our conversation:

WhaRussel Dubreet is your background and what led you to start Lifeblue?

I probably shouldn’t be here today, in the career sense. I went to the University of Missouri and majored in history with the plan to join the Air Force after graduation. After a few years of service, I decided to leave the Air Force and started Lifeblue. This is the only career job I’ve ever had.

We built ourself up from the bootstraps at LifeBlue, and I learned about this industry from ground zero. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, but to be frank, I could just as easily have ended up in a completely different industry. My business partner was a developer and I always found what he did interesting so it was a natural fit to go down that path.

How would you describe the work you do at Lifeblue?

Lifeblue is a digital agency and we stick primarily to the online, .com platform – we don’t operate in the marketing, SEO/SEM world or offline/print work. Our goal is to be best in class in terms of building websites and over the years we’ve focused in on high-end development projects that represent a social impact or unique challenge. We have about 20 people on staff, half of which are developers.

We’re in a relatively new industry and it’s only been in the last few years that the industry as a whole has moved away from pirating business practices from other industries like advertising, construction or architecture, and moved toward our own model. We’re now building a 21st century company, what does that look like? The answers are in the future, rather than the past, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

Sometimes in the industry we see companies that prefer to hire senior-level tech talent, why does Lifeblue like to hire junior-level developers? Do you have a formal mentorship program to help them grow their skills?

A big part of what we look for in developer candidates is someone who is hungry to learn, and who wants to be challenged and grow. Across the company we place a big emphasis on quality of work rather than just churning out projects. Oftentimes people who are young in their career soak up new information like a sponge, and we appreciate and want that vigor.

We invest a lot in our team and it’s a pride point among our staff. We’ve invested in senior talent which helps our younger developers grow, plus invested in the junior developers themselves. We found that making that investment early encourages them to stay on with the company as they advance. We like to place our bets on junior developers.

Historically we haven’t had a formal mentorship program, rather we have hired people who have a “mentor-y” personality and show an affinity to transition into a leadership, guidance role as they grow in their own careers.

Do you think that developers who graduate from code schools make good hires?

Lifeblue TeamI’ve talked to a wide range of grads from various code schools, and what we find endearing and something we feel comfortable taking a chance on is that yes, they have the technical skills, but more importantly, they’ve mastered the softer side of being a developer. We find that code school grads use their past experiences to color their work in terms of what makes good usability, what is good layout, what is good design. This isn’t necessarily colors or pixels, but a human, user analysis.

Honestly, code skills are one of the last things we really look at. The other things really matter more – code can always be learned. The more experience you have outside of development, the more you can contribute to what you’re developing. For junior developers, yes, you have to have those basic tools, but don’t devalue your past experiences.

What advice do you have for junior-level devs that are starting the job search?

Enthusiasm and passion are big ones. Basically someone who says they didn’t acquire this skill just so they could show up for a 9 – 5. We want people who are makers, and are truly interested in the craft and the art they learned; whether it’s showing that they’re building things on the side or something else.

I also value being a good communicator. Be actualized about your strengths and weaknesses. We can work on your weaknesses as long as we understand what you can bring to the table. Following up, checking in, sending a thank you email after an interview all speak volumes to someone’s interests and passions.

A third is a desire to learn and someone who shows a natural curiosity. When they encounter a problem in our environment, we want to see that they’re going to solve it. In our office “showing nerdom” is a term of endearment.

Learn more about our Advisory Boards here.

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