REACH Opens the Door to New Tech Talent
April 25, 2017
For many years, we in the tech industry have faced persistent challenges to meet our demand for software engineering talent. One hard to ignore aspect of this problem is that some people have a clear path into tech jobs, while others do not. A degree in computer science or prior technical job experience without employment gaps is often a prerequisite for applicants to get a foot in the door with a tech company. However, if you are one of the many people without that formal training or if you took a break in your career, you are likely to face challenges breaking into the industry. This model leaves talented engineers, many who have gone through coding bootcamps or who have solid non-formal coding experience, out of the traditional tech recruiting funnel.
To solve this, we needed to take a new approach. That’s why we were proud to announce the pilot REACH program at LinkedIn earlier this year. REACH is a six-month apprenticeship that embeds people who have coding experience, but that are from non-traditional technical backgrounds or are returning to tech, into engineering teams at LinkedIn. REACH participants will be working as full-time software engineers at LinkedIn while gaining on-the-job experience that will help them take the next step in building their career in software engineering.
Earlier this month, our very first REACH cohort started at LinkedIn. While this program is still new, we have already learned a lot on the process so far and wanted to share our goals for REACH with the world.
Finding new talent
REACH apprentices went through a three-part process before being selected for the program: a specially crafted application submitted by the candidate (including a portfolio software project), a take-home technical project, and an in-person interview).
When we first announced REACH, we wondered if we would receive enough qualified applications, especially since we didn’t market the program extensively. But we were delighted when, in less than two weeks, we exceeded our goal for total applications with 761 total. We were excited to see the strong interest in the program and the quality and diversity of the applicants who contacted us. In reviewing applications we looked at two primary factors: technical skill and a passion for software engineering.
Because REACH is an apprenticeship program, not a coding bootcamp, applicants needed to have existing software engineering knowledge—after all, we expect them to be shipping code during their time at LinkedIn. The portfolio projects our candidates submitted were exciting. Many of them, despite currently being in non-technical positions, were already deploying code to production in their existing jobs.
It was difficult to narrow down our strong applicant pool, but ultimately we invited about 60 people to our Sunnyvale campus for onsite interviews. During onsite interviews, applicants were evaluated for both technical and soft skills. Throughout the application and interview review process, all assessments were calibrated by a core team of reviewers to ensure consistency.
REACH interviews differed from our typical software engineering interviews in many ways. Our regular hiring process includes a review of their experience, phone screen, and an onsite interview. The interview is heavily weighed on whiteboarding of technical problems, approach to solving a problem, design, and implementation--proxies for technical skill and understanding.
For REACH, we used the in-person interview to discuss the solution to our take home project and asked the candidate to extend the solution with more features. With the rapid pace of change in software engineering jobs and the need to train REACH apprentices quickly in the way we develop software at LinkedIn, we wanted our interview to give us proxies for their ability to learn, creativity in problem-solving, and how they take/apply feedback.
Beyond technical skill requirements, we also looked for applicants who aligned with LinkedIn’s core values, who were passionate about their technical work, demonstrated the ability to learn, and who had the perseverance required to succeed in a new career environment. Many were inspired to learn to code in their free time while working unrelated jobs, or were choosing to return to tech after substantial career hiatuses. A large number of applicants had inspirational ideas about how they wanted to grow their software engineering skills in order to make a real impact on the world.
Selecting our cohort
From the group of 60 candidates who came in for onsite interviews, we had initially planned to select 15 apprentices for this first REACH cohort. However, we found ourselves facing a bigger challenge than we expected. We did not want to turn away applicants who we knew would thrive in the program and who were technically qualified. Ultimately, we solved this by doubling the size of our initial planned cohort, to nearly 30 apprentices total, so that we could provide opportunities to the maximum number of people possible. Thankfully we had the executive support to make this happen. Our VP of Product Engineering, Mohak Shroff, was instrumental in allowing us to double the number of people in this first REACH cohort.
At the same time, we worked to find the LinkedIn employees who would serve as mentors and managers for our apprentices. We set a high bar here as well, as we wanted our new apprentices to learn from the best and have the best experiences possible. Software engineers from across the company expressed interest, and we were especially grateful for the unequivocal executive support we received while looking to fill these roles. Managers and mentors have also undergone training in order to prepare them for the program.
A brief summary of the REACH program, by the numbers
First days on the job
With the pieces in place, we welcomed our first REACH cohort earlier this month. In their first days on the job, our apprentices went through our typical LinkedIn orientation program to help acclimate them to our work environment and culture. We’ve already introduced them to their teams and explained to them all of the benefits they are eligible for as full-time LinkedIn employees. They’ve also participated in a specialized technical onboarding program tailored to the specific technologies and processes they’ll be using during their time at LinkedIn. Lastly, each apprentice has already been integrated into his or her engineering team in order to begin working on substantive software projects.
Lessons learned so far
Even though our REACH cohort has just started working, we’ve already learned several valuable lessons from this pilot. First, we’ve witnessed firsthand that there is a pool of tech talent that can often be overlooked by regular recruitment pipelines because they don’t have certain characteristics or backgrounds. It’s our hope that programs like REACH can build a bridge connecting these passionate people with employment opportunities, providing a new funnel for recruiters to source strong software developers.
Second, we’ve been amazed by the enthusiasm of LinkedIn employees to volunteer their time to help us with things like reviewing applications, conducting onsite interviews, and serving as mentors for our apprentices. It’s been great to see so many employees come together to make the program a success.
An interesting side effect of the REACH program has been an increase in diversity of the candidates. In the tech industry, we often talk about the lack of diversity in our workforce. When you’re developing products for the whole world to use, it’s important that the engineers designing them come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing different perspectives, in order to make the most universal products possible. This program is helping us address that need, as our REACH cohort demonstrates diversity across demographics like gender, race, age, educational background, career history, etc. that exceed those typically found in the tech industry.
We’re looking forward to posting more updates about the exciting work our REACH apprentices go through the six-month program. It’s also our plan to share lessons learned along the way, with the hope of eventually making it easy to replicate programs like REACH industry-wide. Stay tuned for more information from us soon!
The REACH program would not have happened without the efforts of hundreds of individuals within LinkedIn. First and foremost, we’d like to thank everyone who made REACH a success by volunteering for our application screening and onsite interviews. It was truly humbling to see all of the enthusiasm and support for this project from the LinkedIn Engineering community.
We’d like to especially thank REACH executive sponsor Mohak Shroff for all his efforts to support this program within the Engineering organization. We’d also like to thank our many partners in HR, especially Erin Earle and Sandy Hoffman, for their leadership and coordination on REACH and other diversity efforts.
We’d also like to thank the following folks who worked tirelessly as REACH core team members: Nicole Brunnett, Samantha Hamlin, Dana Kramer, Danielle Peterson, and Yaz Shimizu. We’d also like to thank Loni Olazaba from HR/Recruiting and Sarah Clatterbuck, Eleanor Hamm, Annabel Liu, and Erica Lockheimer from Engineering.