Hiring great programmers is no easy task. Rob Whelan knows exactly how hard it can be. As the VP of Technology for Rhinogram, a healthcare communication solution based in Charleston, South Carolina, he’s done his fair share of hiring and managing programmers.
We wanted to know the truth – how can employers get better at hiring the right programmers for their companies and projects? In the last two years, Rob has hired seven Iron Yard grads. So we went to him for advice.
How did you get to where you are today at Rhinogram?
I studied math as an undergrad then joined the Navy as a submarine officer. Then went to GE in a sort of non-technical role. About 10 years after college, I was really itching to get into tech. I had a lot of creative ideas and didn’t know how to get them started.
I had a big career change in 2012. I just basically left my career. I scrambled around doing consulting for a couple years and then founded this company.
Do you hire all of the developers for the company?
Yes. And I just counted the Iron Yard developers we’ve hired. It’s been seven so far. One of them became our Dev Ops person. Another turned out to be really, really skilled in project management so he’s a full time project manager.
That’s the thing with Iron Yard grads, they typically already have a career behind them and a lot of experience. They really draw on that experience once they join the team. I’m always interested in learning what people did before code school. Every Iron Yard grad– there are no exceptions — has been able to draw on past experience to benefit our team in some way. That’s the advantage of a small team.
One of our best developers used to be a rickshaw driver, which is like a bike taxi. He really knows how to be scrappy and get things done. I’ve actually since hired a second former rickshaw driver with similar results.
Plus, people who have chosen to attend code school have taken a risk on themselves.
How did you get connected with The Iron Yard?
I just heard about it after it launched in Charleston and I went to some of the events and met the Campus Director. I actually sat in on some classes and then started talking to them about hiring.
They asked me to be on the Advisory Board about a year ago.
What does it mean to be on the Advisory Board?
I feel pretty honored to be part of it. We provide feedback about where the industry is going relative to what The Iron Yard is trying to accomplish. The strength and weaknesses that the students have coming out of school so they can iterate and get better and better.
This report by Glassdoor says that employers are still facing the challenge of finding the right talent for the jobs they need to fill. How have you seen that at Rhinogram? How have you been able to identify and hire the right employees?
Yes. We’ve had challenges. There are many aspects to hiring.
First of all, we’ve been very fortunate with the quality of the people that we have hired. They’ve been fantastic. We haven’t made any bad hires.
In Charleston, there’s this interesting phenomenon where a lot of people come to Charleston for the lifestyle first and career second. So there are many underemployed people here. You have to find the people who really are kind of scrappy, innovative, motivated, hardworking, and creative with good work ethic.
Secondly, there aren’t a ton of computer science grads. They are hard to find. But Iron Yard grads fill a special niche. You can tell that they are motivated and have this posture like I’m ready to learn. They want to find a job and just go heads down for like six months. That’s the kind of person you want. The depth of knowledge and experience comes with time.
Some code school grads unnecessarily feel a bit sheepish. It’s the imposter syndrome. In interviews, they almost apologize and say, “I’m just a code sc.” But you have to work really hard to get through a program like The Iron Yard.
I think you can find excellent people anywhere. I’m not of the opinion that there’s a big scarcity of people. I don’t complain about that. I just try to look in more interesting places to find the right folks.
Do you think other employers need to look outside the box when it comes to finding programmers?
Yes. I definitely think there is a baseline of knowledge required and expertise in programming, but critical thinking, discipline, teamwork. All of those are soft skills that you can spot from other indicators.