From Entry-Level to Entrepreneurs | How Four Coding Dojo Grads Are Taking on the $140 Billion Recruiting Industry

This Alumni Spotlight is a bit different. Instead of sitting down with one alumni to share their experience, we’re meeting four! We caught up with Chicago Dojo grads Elliott Chen (Sept ‘18), Melvin Wright (Aug ‘18), Addison Narter-Slezak (Oct ‘18), and Kirill Yantikov (Mar ‘19) to learn about their experiences after bootcamp, as well as the launch of their new mobile application Refer’d

Elliot, Melvin, Addison and Kirill joined with the founders of Refer’d to tackle the challenges that come with the job hunt. The idea was formed when founders Chris Luong and Allen Kong — having been on both sides of the hiring process — recognized there was a gap in modern day hiring processes not fully utilizing the hiring team. So the four Dojo grads built the solution Chris and Allen envisioned: a peer-to-peer hiring platform complemented with a machine learning algorithm to empower employers & employees in the modern-day hiring process.

Research has shown that referrals generate the highest ROI compared to other recruiting methods, even for out-of-network referrals, with an average cost savings of $7,500 per hire. Additionally, referrals produce a 55% faster hiring process, higher quality of work, and lower turnover rates. Despite the obvious benefits, only 20% of professionals in the software development industry have benefited from referral programs. 

That’s where Refer’d comes in – helping candidates and hiring teams better match skills and experiences through their peer-to-peer platform.

Refer’d works by matching potential hires with the hiring managers or potential teammates directly, so they can then refer candidates to their recruiters or HR departments. Refer’d uses the “swipe to match” user experience where job seekers can swipe through open roles to discover career opportunities and their future team members can easily swipe through candidates to find matches. This streamlined application process lets teams vet candidates directly, and gets right to the point of connecting the two relevant parties, much like a traditional referral. 

To celebrate the launch of Refer’d, we asked the team about how they gained the skills to build the platform, their experience in our program, and their plans for the future. Enjoy! 

Tell us a little about yourselves. Age, hobbies, What were you doing (professionally) before enrolling with Coding Dojo?

Elliott: I am 26 years old, and like to spend my time reading, hanging out with friends, and playing video games. I had spent some time exploring professional options in the financial industry before enrolling at Coding Dojo.

Melvin: My age is 29. I was unemployed before enrolling at the Coding Dojo and, quite frankly, in a hopeless job position.

Addison: I’m 25 years old and went to Coding Dojo immediately after college. I graduated with a degree in Biomedical Engineering from Cal Poly SLO. I had some brief exposure to coding but nothing in depth. I also am an avid Fantasy Football player and am the proud winner of 3 league titles.

Kirill: I am 24 years old and am very interested in sports and music. Before the Dojo, I was in my fourth year of community college and still had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. I had worked several jobs in warehouses and restaurants but never felt satisfied with that kind of work. 

Why did you decide to enroll in a coding bootcamp? Why did you choose Coding Dojo over other programs? 

Addison: The main thing that brought me to Coding Dojo was the opportunity for professional growth. I learned a lot in college but the opportunities I got following college were not in line with what I wanted to do. Coding Dojo offered a real world environment for developing my skills. When applying the most appealing part of the program was the full-time job atmosphere. At the bootcamp you work on projects the same way you would at a real job with reasonable deadlines and projects that are easily applicable to real world applications.

Kirill: I enrolled in the bootcamp when I finally decided to commit to a profession. I chose Coding Dojo because of the variety of languages they covered which allowed me to choose the language style I preferred most. I chose JavaScript for its flexibility, and now with TypeScript, we can have the flexibility of JavaScript with the safety of strongly-typed languages. 

What parts of the bootcamp did you struggle with and how did you overcome those obstacles?

Elliott: Intellectually, the most difficult parts of the program were algorithm/data structure exercises toward the second half of the bootcamp. Compared to the first half that was focused heavily on singly-linked lists, I felt unsure of how much of the tree/graph material I was properly absorbing. Individual study rectified this to a degree.

Addison: I struggled the most with learning to work effectively with others and learning how to utilize a team of developers you frequently work with at the dojo. My coworkers at Refer’d were actually some of the most influential people in overcoming this. Learning that certain individuals can and will complete a certain task better and faster than myself was an extremely beneficial lesson. This led me to having a network of individuals with a wide tool kit of skills I don’t necessarily do as well. For example Kirill is a frontend guru, Elliott can build out a fully functional API in a day, and Melvin is a great Jira and QA asset.  

When you were graduating, how do you feel about your skills and job prospects?

Elliott: I felt that my job prospects in Chicago were reasonably promising. Although I understood that my experience and educational background were not the most competitive of the applicant pool for IT positions, I had some projects to point to that I could justifiably feel proud of.

Melvin: I felt good about it. Combining coding bootcamp credentials with a bachelor’s degree in math felt like a good combination. I also felt good about the skills I had developed and my ability to apply them

Beyond the coding expertise, did the bootcamp give you anything else? Soft skills? Motivation/confidence? 

Elliott: I think that just as important as the coding expertise was the recognition that, as much material as we absorbed, we had only really scratched the surface- quite on top of technology stacks that we hadn’t been exposed to, there were many industry practices that I personally did have the opportunity to practice extensively (eg Agile methodology, pair programming) or were alluded to and explained without implementing at best (test driven development immediately springs to mind). Understanding these gaps in technical knowledge was an excellent motivator to continue gaining experience.

Addison: It helped a ton in terms of soft skills and networking. I had the pleasure of going through career week with Donald Woodard. He and I stayed in touch and has been a huge help in deciding what to do with my career. He also helped me through the hurdles of bad interviews and learning to be a better coworker. I can confidently say I would have not been a successful coder without the skills he taught us in career week, and the network of dojo grads I have been working with on Refer’d.

Kirill: Graduating from the bootcamp gave me confidence in my ability to see something all the way through. Prior to that I had felt like I was consistently giving up on my ventures so completing the program was a big relief for me.

How did the job hunt go? Where did you land your first job after graduation?

Elliott: I secured my first job after graduation in December 2018, only a few months. I worked as a back end developer at an online marketing firm in the Chicago area.

Melvin: The job hunt process went well. Had a good number of interviews and figured out how to market myself as a job candidate. I also figured out how to address the weaknesses I possessed as a job prospect

Addison: My first job after the dojo was at Fibroblast. I was a data analyst for this medical referral management platform at hire but was able to work on everything from data engineering to web development by the end of my first year. We were then acquired by Cerner where I still work as a data engineer. 

How did the idea for Refer’d come about? 

Addison: The idea of Refer’d came from one of my roommates in college. He contacted me one afternoon asking how my coding career had been going and if I had any interest in a startup idea. I had been working on side projects my whole career, but this idea hit home. I had seen so many people struggling to break into the workforce that I knew if we put this together right it could help tons of people. By the end of my call with him I had already started thinking about the team we would need to create this.

Kirill: The idea came about when Chris and Allen (the founders of the Refer’d) realized there was a problem with the current recruiting situation in the US. Chris had been consistently getting jobs that were out of his skill range and Allen was consistently getting applicants that were unqualified for the position they were hiring for. So the idea came about when they identified the problem and decided to solve it by cutting out the middleman and having employers talk directly to the applicant-to-hire. 

How did you meet/connect with the other Refer’d team members?

Addison: I knew all of the dev team for Refer’d long before we started. Each member of our team is a direct “referral”. Elliott and I had worked on a startup after graduating from the bootcamp and I knew he would be the first person I would hit up if I needed dev work done. Kirill and I were good friends from our time playing ping pong at the dojo and I had seen some of his personal projects that demonstrated the excellent front end dev work he had done. Getting him on the team improved our UI and UX immensely. The last member to hop on the bandwagon was Melvin. He was actually the first person I became friends with at the dojo and I had been hounding him to join the Refer’d team for months. He eventually joined with the caveat that he wanted to work on breaking into the product management field and wanted to help us through that. He has been extremely helpful through his work in QA and Jira. That is how I build this dev “heist team” as I like to call them. 

Kirill: I was connected with Refer’d after having a conversation with fellow Dojo grad, Addison Narter. He presented to me the opportunity to be a part of the Front End development team, which I gratefully accepted. 

What is the purpose of Refer’d / what does it do? How does it work? 

Elliott: Refer’d is a mobile application that seeks to streamline and improve the job hunting/hiring process for both the applicant and the recruiter. It seeks to establish human connections between job hunters and employees looking to leverage their companies’ pre existing referral incentive programs before formally initializing the interviewing process. On the applicant side, the process of expressing interest to place oneself in consideration for a given opening is extremely simplified. On the hiring side, the ability to form a relatively informal connection with potential hires before beginning the formal interviews can help to significantly weed out poor fits before expending time and energy on scheduling a laborious process.

Kirill: Refer’d is a peer-to-peer referral platform that enables applicants and employers to match with each other in order to initiate a conversation that would lead to a common interest and thus a referral to the company. The platform displays each party’s information in card-style UI which allows each party to decide whether they would be a good fit for each other. 

How can people use Refer’d? 

Elliott: It’s a very simple process- download the mobile application, fill out some pretty basic information about who you are and what you’re looking for, and let us find talent or opportunities for you, as the case may be!

Addison: Employers can use Refer’d by simply posting their job and looking through our applicant profiles. Each job post generates its own unique searching algorithm which filters our applicant pool to the best matches for their job. Giving hiring teams this input allows them to filter out candidates by “swiping left” and helps them only to connect with the most qualified applicants. It also allows them to communicate prior to the hiring process which makes the process far more human. Job seekers also gain a unique opportunity to talk to a hiring team and learn more about how employers see their skills and background. In a word where most hiring relies on machine filtered resumes and the actual coworkers of a prospective hire not communicating until well into the process, this app gives both sides of a hiring process more input on their next coworker.

What are your plans for the next 6 and 12 months?

Melvin: Continue working on Refer’d and making it better. Going live with the application and pushing as far as it can be taken

Addison: In the next 12 months I will be achieving goals that seemed abstract 2 years ago. Refer’d will have been live and will have real companies and applicants using the platform. This goal seemed like a dream as recently as 3 months ago, but with the work of our dev and business team we will be helping the prospective hires and posters we built this app for. I will also have finished my masters degree in Bioinformatics and Machine Learning. 

What advice do you have for new developers and/or entrepreneurs? 

Elliott: New developers should constantly be growing. Build new projects, learn new technologies, familiarize yourself with concepts that you haven’t been exposed to before. Don’t sit around and grow complacent- the field is constantly evolving and you don’t want to be left behind before you’ve even gotten started.

Melvin: For developers, pick 2 language frameworks to become an expert in. When I say expert, I mean expert. Consider those 2 language frameworks to be your superpowers. Being strongly marketable in 2 things is better than being kind of marketable in 5 languages. Also, learn how to use external services such as AWS and Docker. It’s not efficient to know how to build an Amazon. It’s a good exercise to be able to create that kind of application, but you are (almost never) going to be asked to recreate it. Learning how to use existing tools is better than learning how to build them because you can leverage them to do your job more effectively and more efficiently.

For entrepreneurs, your idea lives and dies with your ability to commit to it and motivate others to commit to it. Having been involved with other ideas that did not withstand the test of time, what separates Refer’d from those other endeavors is that Founders Chris and Allen truly do live and breathe Refer’d. When the top people are motivated and persistent about working on it, it makes it easier to stay highly involved and commit to your workload in keeping the idea alive”

Kirill: I would say go for it. You have to be determined to finish what  you are working on and it will pay dividends. There is too little time to wonder “what if” and this isn’t something I live by all time, this is something I am still working on. Truly just go for it.

What are your goals/dreams for the future, say 5 or 10 years from now?

Elliott: To have accumulated five or ten years’ worth of knowledge and experience that I don’t have today!

Melvin: Be a project manager (not necessarily at a tech company). Possibly own my own business

Addison: My dream in 5 years is to be building Machine Learning algorithms to benefit the genetic engineering field. If I can be sure the work I am doing will help people I will be happy.

Kirill: My goal for a little while has been to be able to retire by 33, not necessarily actually retire but be able to. The plan for that is murky but it’s becoming clearer by the day. The experience I have gained from Refer’d will be with me for my lifetime and I am extremely grateful for it. 

If you’re an employer or job seeker who’d like to download Refer’d, you can do so on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store

Or, if you’re interested in learning how to code and pursuing a career that you love, Coding Dojo bootcamp offers accelerated learning programs that can transform your life. We offer both part-time and full-time online courses, as well as onsite (post COVID-19) programs. We also offer financing options, scholarships, and other tuition assistance programs to help you with financial barriers. 

If you want to invest in yourself and your future, there is no better time than the present! If you’re interested, use this link to schedule a 15-minute exploratory session with one of our Admissions representatives today.

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