Employer Spotlight: Q&A with Brian Mahoney, Principal Solutions Architect, Explore Consulting

Tell us a bit about Explore Consulting and your role as Principal Solutions Architect.

Explore Consulting is a Value Added Reseller (VAR) for the NetSuite platform, a cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application that allows companies to track expenses, inventory, and all other resources in the company. We have two different teams that do development work; the one that I am part of is the team that develops eCommerce websites (online stores) for our clients based on the template that NetSuite provides for these stores with client-specific customizations.

I provide the onboarding and support, both technical and career, for new employees. I’m passionate about others’ careers and about making the people around me successful. I do my best to provide an environment that minimizes frustrations and maximizes positive feedback and personal “wins” for everyone on the team. That’s not to say that the environment is perfect, but I hope it continues to get better and better.

How many coding bootcamp grads have you hired?

We’ve hired two double black-belt graduates from Coding Dojo. 

What are the positions that coding bootcamp grads typically fill?

“Solutions Engineer:” eCommerce website developers for various clients who need web stores.

What programming languages do they use on the job? Does it help knowing multiple stacks?

JavaScript (Backbone, Handlebars, jQuery) primarily, using a base website template provided by NetSuite, the web platform that we are a vendor for.

There is some LAMP stack work with WordPress for our internal web site, and we sometimes get other custom projects not related to web stores, but any development work outside of the base eCommerce websites is pretty rare. I’m working to get more of these opportunities, as it is a great way to keep developers engaged and interested. However, I haven’t been able to get any of these projects created yet.

What skills (both technical and non-technical) do you expect or want a grad to have?

The ability to learn a lot very quickly; a passion for learning new things; an ability to both figure things out on their own and an awareness of knowing when it’s time to call in help; the ability to reason about different implementation strategies and discuss the pros and cons of each.

Are you involved in the interview process? If so, what can a grad do to impress you? On the other side of the coin, what are some things grads can do to turn you off during interviews?

Yes. My opinion carries a lot of weight at Explore because I am the person who will be training in and supporting new hires. It is important for the company that I feel that I will be able to effectively work with and mentor a new hire.

My best piece of advice for interviews is that each interviewer is just a person, like anybody on the street (yourself included). There’s no way for a stranger to understand what is important to any given interviewer. Even interviewers at the same company can vary widely in what they are looking for.

For instance, though I have a lot of experience with many languages, even the ones I know best (and train others in on about nuances and language idioms) I wouldn’t give myself more than 6/10 for knowledge. Unless I’ve read the source code to the language, I wouldn’t give myself 9/10. 10/10 is reserved for any future language that I wrote myself. So a bootcamp grad that would give him- or herself an 8/10 on a language raises an eyebrow pretty high from me. However, recruiters might look at 6/10 if I put it on a resume and take a hard pass. There’s no cabal that determines what interviewers will like or not like; each one is a unique snowflake with their own opinions. What impresses one might turn off or annoy the next.

My second best piece of advice is to be yourself and be honest. Don’t pretend to know things that you don’t and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know (or have never heard of!) any given acronym or technology. You just may learn something in the interview. If an interviewer or company doesn’t like who you are, you really don’t want to be working for that person or company anyway. Trust me.

Once hired, how well do the grads fit in with current employees? Do you provide additional training opportunities/mentorship?

Due to the work that we do, we tend to organize into small 2-3 person implementation teams. New employees are immediately part of one of these teams and encouraged to work with people both on the team and across the company, but the majority of interactions are in those smaller teams.

It is hard to find a company that provides ongoing training and mentorship. Most teams/companies either don’t think that they need it (they’re hiring experienced developers, aren’t they?) or that the senior developers’ time is too precious a commodity to spend away from the code for so long. Or they simply don’t have any developers that have enough experience to train others who are either good at it or like to do it. Lack of a solid onboarding process has been a persistent situation in the companies I’ve been involved with.

That said, I’m personally passionate about providing extensive and ongoing customized onboarding, ramp-up, mentoring, and assistance to everyone I work with who appreciates the effort.

Why did you decide to hire coding bootcamp grads?

The Coding Dojo interviewees were simply the best interview candidates that we had interviewed, bar none. That they had no work experience in development meant less than their ability to think through problems and turn their ideas into code quickly during an interview process. The ability to discuss data structures and algorithms was especially welcomed by me, as it is a very important component in any professional software development, in my opinion. Coding Dojo’s daily focus on learning algorithms pays huge benefits. It’s this approach that made us visit the Coding Dojo in person and reach out to create an ongoing relationship  

Anything else you would like to add?

Congrats on choosing the Coding Dojo. In my opinion, the Dojo’s approach puts you head and shoulders above the average candidate. Your (likely) lack of industry experience will be an issue for many potential employers, but those worth working for will see the speed and depth of learning the commitment to the Dojo provides.  

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