May 19, 2021

Code Platoon: Helping Tech Companies Diversify Their Tech Talent


Episode Highlights

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The shortage of technical talent is real. It has been an issue for 10+ years. Hiring technical talent AND diversifying your organization is particularly challenging.

Hirewell’s Matt Massucci recently sat down with Rod Levy, the Founder and Managing Director of Code Platoon to discuss his organization and how they are helping companies address both challenges.

Episode Transcript

 I wanted to talk about a new partnership that Hirewell’s  engaged with Code Platoon. So I’m doing a quick interview with Rod Levy, the founder and CEO of Code Platoon.  Rod, can you tell me a little bit about, kind of just a little bit about the program, the origins of Code Platoon, how you came to start it and sort of what you guys have been doing to date?


Code platoon is a nonprofit coding bootcamp for the military community. We’ve been around for five years. I was a graduate from dev bootcamp, which is a for-profit coding bootcamp and really saw the power of the training program and immersive intense program where we teach really the technical skills so that a beginner with deep interesting grit can go through and after 14 weeks, about a thousand hours of training, be prepared to come out as a junior software developer. So this is a life transformation for a lot of veterans who bring to bear these really great professional skills, they just need actual technical skills.


 As someone who’s been in the recruiting and talent acquisition space for a long time you know, we see a few challenges that are potentially being solved, right? We’ve got the shortage of software engineers has been, that’s something that’s a real thing for 10 plus years and you know, there’s also the intersection of diversity and inclusion initiatives specifically with hiring veterans or, you know, former members of the military, whether it be members themselves or spouses. You know, talk to me a little bit about kind of how companies traditionally engage Code Platoon.


First of all, they find that we’re a terrific partner when it comes for sourcing junior talent. Like you said, we solve a veteran DNI initiative right away, but also bring inexpensive junior talent to the table, that again is a little more mature than a college student or a bootcamp grad from another bootcamp.


So they’re prepared to work in teams, they’re prepared to work collaboratively, they understand how to work under pressure. So companies that do engage with us and hire talent, come again and again, because they like that as a way to reinforce a pipeline. And in addition, companies that are looking to get their developers to volunteer and to be part of an organization where they can support and still keep their skills sharp then they find they’re a great partner for volunteering and interaction as well. 


If I was a company looking to engage with your organization, like what are different ways companies can kind of work with you? 


So we have a couple of different ways that companies work with us. We have companies as big as JP Morgan to as small as Eight Glider, 20 spokes, some elite trading firms like your W in Chicago trading company.


And these companies are what we call corporate sponsors. These are companies that want to have first crack at our town, they’re committing to host one of our graduates for an internship, kind of a very low risk way to vet the talent. And then we work with a lot of other companies like Accenture and Defense Contractors to be preferred hiring partners.


These are companies that aren’t committing to host but want to be involved, want to be able to present to our alumni, and then, you know, have sort of direct communication with our alumni. 


Great. I know you just had a cohort graduate and then another one just started sort of, so talk a little bit about the kind of the size and scope, like how many graduates go through a program at any given time and kind of what’s the traditional skillset.


So we run three sessions a year. Each session is about 14 weeks long and typically we have somewhere between 15 to 40 students per session, split almost evenly between Chicago in person and remote. Of course everything’s remote today, but that’s been our norm and that’s what we’ll return to hopefully in the near future. In terms of pure tech skills, we teach JavaScript, React, Python and Django. We teach SQL database with postgrads and then we teach sort of best practices around test driven development, pair programming, version control with git, and we also prepare them with agile certification and AWS cloud practitioner certification. 


So you said it was roughly 15 to 40 people that graduate per session, for the ones who just graduated, how many, like talk to me a little about the numbers there. 


So we graduated around 24 and of those 24, we had nine spots lined up with corporate sponsors who’ve already taken them. We had two who already had found jobs basically, as soon as they completed one with Booz Allen. We have roughly around 10, 12 graduates who graduated a week ago and are now in the market for a job.


I think that was one of the things as we’ve gotten to know Code Platoon, I think that’s probably the area I’ve been most impressed by as someone who’s been in hiring for a long time. You know, there’s companies that are great places to work, but also, you know, known for having great talent.


And I feel like a lot of the ones you’ve just ticked off in the last, you know, a couple of things you’ve mentioned impressive organizations, right. Ranging from Accenture and, you know, JP Morgan Chase to Booz Allen. Then obviously, you know, you’re talking to some of the proprietary trading firms and hedge funds, which are phenomenal places to kind of get a foot in the door.


Is there a particular client size or scope, I know those are all fairly large enterprises, but a couple of you mentioned with like A flight and 20 spokes, I believe are a little bit smaller. Is it that kind of diverse of a client base or, you know, where else have you had success? 


As long as we’re talking to an organization that has an idea of running a modern tech team, in dealing with modern open source technologies, we’re ready to bring our grads to that talent, to that table. Most of our students do end up working in JavaScript or Python, but many of them will jump onto C-sharp or Java. You know, we teach them two languages out of the gate, so they are prepared to be learning their next language once they jump out.


But any size company applies as long as their tech teams are working in modern technologies, especially if they’re building web apps.  


Right. Yeah. And I wanted to talk a little bit about sort of how we as Hirewell came to be partners with the organization and we’d been in touch for years, but, you know, kind of over the last few years, we’re consistently getting calls from clients about two things.


One is, you know, how can we hire more software engineers? But then two is how can we diversify our organizations? And it’s a challenging problem. A problem that companies are facing and you know, what I always tell them is there’s not a single answer. That’s why I was pretty excited when we got to know Code Platoon and got the opportunity to partner with you because you know, our feeling is this is an area where we can help our clients understand who’s out there, really


diversify their talent base, add people at the kind of a junior software engineer.  And again, it really is an area where they can kind of kill a few birds with one stone. So, you know, we’re excited to partner, we’re excited to help your organization and kind of hopefully achieve some pretty great things over the course of the next year or so.


I guess the last thing I want to touch on is what, you know, what outcomes look like? You’ve been doing this for five years. Like how many graduates are there? What the numbers look like? 


Yeah, so we’ve graduated a little over 140 veterans and military spouses since we started in 2016 and our placement rate within six months is around 75%.


That’s within the software industry, we don’t count folks who are outside of it. And their median salary is around 65,000 and the number would be higher except that we count the – if they’re an internship at that moment, then that’s the rate we take. Nine times out of 10, our corporate sponsors, when they bring in for an internship do offer them a full-time role. Obviously those salaries climb after that.  


So Rod, you mentioned that this is a great way for companies to improve, you know, the diversity of their teams and as they bring on junior software engineers, but talk to me a little about what do the people who go through Code Platoon,  look like. What’s the age range? What’s the experienced level? Tell me a little more about that. 


Sure. So this characteristic that’s really most important is that we screen for grit. So we have a pretty difficult admissions process where anybody who’s deeply interested and reasonably bright can get in, but it takes about a hundred hours of prep to get into our program and to even be able to apply.


Once you’re in, you’ve got to work really hard. But then what does it look like on the outside? The demographics mirror the demographics of the American population. So we have many more minorities, many more women in our program than you would find in a normal tech firm. One thing that some companies care about a lot is that we have top secret clearance, either sometimes it’s labs, sometimes it’s active. But I know I’ve talked to companies where they say they’ll take every last junior developer who has got a clearance. And they’re a little bit more mature, a little bit older, they’ve worked in teams, they’ve led battalions, they’re captains, you know, so these are folks that are used to leadership.


They’re used to working in teams and so they do stand out a little bit relative to other boot camps and other college graduates as well.   


So if someone wanted to engage with Code Platoon, how do they get in touch? 


They can reach me directly and then of course, Leah from your  team and Rich from my team. and


We’re all ready to talk. Ultimately, I’ll be the one talking about corporate sponsorships and Rich and Leah will be talking to companies who want to come in to, you know, be preferred hiring partners. 


It’s an exciting story. We’re excited to partner and can’t wait to see what the future holds. Thanks again for joining and look forward to continuing this partnership.


Yeah. Thanks Matt. We are very excited as well!

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