Self-taught programmer Alex Kremer heads up a developer team at eBacon, a payroll SAAS company, which is almost exclusively comprised of programmers who don't have a CS degree either. I talked to Alex about hiring developers without degrees and learning to code. In the second half of the article I also talk to Michael Tafro, a self-developer that Alex recruited. Michael discusses his self-taught code learning experience.
Hey Alex, so can you give an introduction for people who want to know more about you and what you are working on?
I am the head of technology at eBacon, and in my role I am actively coding, researching and building amazing products. When I am not at work, I volunteer at local youth coding events, meetup groups and educational websites.
How did you get your first programming job without a CS degree?
I actually did not get hired where I am at today to program. When I first came onboard at eBacon I had just finished a degree in marketing, but had spent the last 10 years toying around with coding and database work. My first job was actually to handle health insurance quoting, but I quickly found a lot of things that I didn’t want to do everyday that could be automated such as moving paper based processes into Access.
As I got more competent with our business I was given a chance to work on our vastly under serviced SAAS solution (which only had 1 user on it!). This lead me away from the pure marketing side and more into developing solutions that our internal staff and external users could use. In the 9 years that I've been at eBacon, I went from being someone who knew a little bit about coding to architecturing a brand new SAAS platform that tens of thousands of people use each month.
Do you hire self-taught developers?
With my team I do not look at college degrees as a qualification to do a specific job that needs done. A CS degree will get you through the door with a lot of recruiters, especially at bigger companies, but it is not a guarantee that you can actually be a creative person who can contribute to a team. From my perspective you really need to spend time talking to candidates and understanding where their creative abilities lie.
When you are dealing with extremely complex software such as eBacon and have to dive deep into topics such as state taxes, workers compensation and benefits you need a team that can think and learn laterally and not be hyper focused on just technology. Some of the best development hires I’ve found are because they picked up coding as a side hobby while diving deep into a core discipline such as journalism or finance.
As coding education continues to expand, I foresee students seeing coding as just another skill or elective that they learn, which could lead to more people with multidisciplinary backgrounds in coding jobs, which ultimately means better software for everyone.