Shifting Attitudes Concerning How To Hire A Programmer

I often write about how people can go out into the market and recruit developers or programmers for startups and about how people can learn to code or change their career by learning to be a programmer in their spare time by taking MOOCs (e.g. Coursera, EDx, UDacity) and with the help of local learn to program groups often leading up to developer boot camp programs like Dev Boot Camp (Dev Bootcamp was recently acquired by Kaplan) or Hack Reactor.  But lately I have noticed some fundamental changes are taking place that I would like to point out.  The essence of these changes is that shifting attitudes concerning how to hire a programmer are prompting many people including hiring managers to re-evaluate how to recruit a programmer or developer and even how they recruit internet marketers and web designers.

The Past
For as long as I can remember, companies looking to hire a programmer or developer would look for people who had the best stats.  There is evidence to suggest that there are still plenty of people who are this way.

For example: A discussion on the subject in /r/cscareerquestions subreddit a few days back got very interesting.  The post was very unpopular, so much so that the net up votes was 0 despite getting 51 comments.

Here is one quote:
“I’m skeptical of MOOCs with no other experience to go on. But provided sufficient experience, or a portfolio of open source or other personal projects that I can peruse, I would consider that candidate…The 4 year university is a known quantity to me…If I’m hiring an entry level developer with no other real professional experience, I’d rather take the “safer” bet because that candidate doesn’t have a whole lot of background anyway. And I don’t have to stick my neck out professionally for an entry level person…”

Here is another:
“If you had the knowledge from completing the equivalent of a CS degree in MOOC’s, and you build a few applications, that would be good enough. At that point you should have the skills to get a job…The projects will get you the interviews, and your coursework will get you through the interviews.”

Someone else in either that discussion or a nearly identical one argued that given the choice, they would hire a Harvard person over anyone else just because they went to Harvard and were therefore the smartest possible candidate for any job.  I pointed out that there are a lot of reasons why this blanket assumption is flawed and simultaneously elitist but I suspect that he is not going to change his mind anytime soon.

Considering that these are from people who probably already have CS degrees, it is worth noting that there is resistance to change.  I can’t help but wonder if the reason for the resistance has anything to do with people clinging to the credentials that they worked hard to get and paid for vs. someone who paid a lot less (or nothing in the case of MOOCs) and got an equivalent or near equivalent education.

A separate discussion with someone who has served as an instructor of courses centered around whether or not MOOCs are accredited.

He had this to say:
“I’d have to ask whether the MOOC is accredited. A diploma from a traditional college or university is their certification that a graduate meets their minimum standards, and accreditation is a certificate that the school meets the minimum standards of the accrediting body.  “Attending a class” is not the same thing as learning. The diploma is a certification that you actually are supposed to have learned something, vs. merely slept through all the classes.”

This is an interesting point.  Traditional four year colleges in California have used accreditation to try to block and hurt developer boot camps.

Attitudes Are Changing And Discussions Are Too
Despite some prevailing attitudes about the credentialing process, attitudes are changing and so are some really interesting discussions.  Consider one discussion in the /r/Coursera subreddit about how to present MOOC education as a credential on a resume and how I would recommend approaching this subject.

Another VP of Engineering that I know had this to say on the subject of MOOCs':
“Assuming someone did do a full set, however, the next thing I would look at is their project work. Whether someone is in a traditional 4 year program or has gone through a set of MOOCs, I’m looking to see if they understand the concepts they were presented with (like can you explain a sorting algorithm), and also have they developed the ability to complete projects. Understanding the concept is necessary, but it’s really difficult to get projects to completion, whether that’s a school project or (even better) a personal project.”

Someone else, an Engineering Manager, said this (agreeing with the previous quote):
“A growth mindset, drive, and experience trump any educational program.  A growth mindset, drive, and experience trump any educational program…Don’t get me wrong, there are valuable things in a 4yr program. What matters more is how you spent your time there.”

Yet another Director of Information Systems said that he would look for what hobby projects you have worked on and whether or not the developer chose to work on other things beside their day job projects.  He went on to say this:
“In all my years, only one person who had a degree was a good hire. My best colleagues did not have a degree, but they had a passion and clearly the skills to pull it off.” 

The Future
I think that all of this is bigger than just who is the best candidate.  There is also a ton of potential for people in poverty stricken areas to get an education that helps them reach for the stars.

I will end with this quote from a programmer who put it this way:
“One of the things a degree is evidence of is funding. It could well be that your MOOC educated candidate had no resources to pay for tuition. The fact that he was able to complete the MOOC courses on his own without the structured environment of the classroom speaks volumes for his drive and motivation, and that should count for something as well. If he can prove that he knows his stuff, there should be no need to penalize him for his poverty.”

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Is It Ok To Put MOOC Courses On My Resume?

This article originally appeared on the staffmagnet, LLC blog HERE.  The Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) movement has lead many people to start adding MOOCs to their online activities.   With services like Coursera, EDx and UDacity you can take an online course from most top Ivy League and elite Universities (e.g. Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, UPenn, Duke, Rice University) as well as an increasing number of non-Ivy’s non-elite ones.  If you take a course on Coursera you can pay a $49 fee to get a certificate for courses that you have completed.  It isn’t long before you begin to consider whether or not you could substitute courses taken across different universities for actual degree programs.  So if you are like me, you are probably thinking something along the lines of: “Is ok to put MOOC Courses on my resume?” which would not be out of line.

The simple answer is that you absolutely can and should put MOOC Courses on your resume provided that you are not just bing watching watching MOOCs like you are binge watching House of Cards or Game of Thrones or The Good Wife. The reason being that you should be successfully completing the quizzes and exercises in these programs so that you master the material.  If there is outside reading required then you should do that too.  In other words, you should be able to treat a course on Coursera just like a live course.  After all, the only difference is that you are not in the classroom.  Sometimes the content may be a little watered down from the real classroom, but in my experiences taking classes from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business or from Princeton or from the University of New Mexico Computer Science Department the courses are rigorous and the exercises require a commitment to the course.

You may not find everyone will agree with me on this.  I personally would not weight a compilation degree involving Coursera degrees and a completed degree from a four year college or multi-year masters degree program equally.  There are differences in the overall experience.  The same is true with programs like the University of Phoenix or Devry or the ITT Technical Institute, but if I had to compare someone who learned Computer Science or Programming from Coursera or a four year college vs. a technical trade school like Devry or ITT then I would still substantially downgrade the certificate or “degree” from a Devry or ITT.  For University of Phoenix or Strayer or Kaplan University, or similar programs, that would be something that I would rate higher than a Devry or ITT, but much lower than a traditional four year degree program.

Much of the scale that I use for consideration of educational credentials has to do with who the instructors are, what the quality of the curriculum is, what the quality of the instructional materials are, and most important of all: what is the caliber of the peer group in classes.  For example: if you take a Coursera you really do not have a “peer” group.  If you take an course via Kaplan University or the University of Phoenix you are getting whoever was willing to respond to that free red Lobster ad in Yahoo! Mail or on a random website or someone who was a lead culled from other methods.  This is not always the case, but just can’t suspend disbelief long enough to consider someone chose KU or UP for the rigor or program quality just like I can’t for Devry or ITT Tech.  I am going to take someone who went to a traditional four year degree program more seriously.

BUT, what I do take more seriously than where someone took a course or earned a degree is what their actual capabilities and experiences are.  For example: if you are applying for a job programming in Python I am going to have an in depth conversation with you about that.  So if you took two MOOCs on Python and that helps you to have a discussion about Python then you are probably better off than if you had not.  Also, if you took those courses and can use Python as a result of them then you are better off.

Ultimately, your resume is a snapshot of who YOU are.  If you are improving your skill set and becoming a better professional by taking MOOCs then by all means share it on your resume.

Here is a question that I found on Reddit this morning:
Would a MOOC Course be considered in lieu of a undergraduate course requirement for graduate school?


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Binge MOOCing vs. Binge Watching on Netflix & Amazon Prime

Binge MOOCingBinge MOOCing on Coursera may rise to challenge binge watching on streaming services from Netflix, Amazon Prime and HBO.  So lately, I keep overhearing conversations about people binge watching web TV shows like House of Cards on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I guess I’m guilty of this too, so I tune in when I hear conversations along these lines. It seems that these shows are now designed and written to to trigger us to engage in binge watching. This binge watching effect is an interesting trend, but tonight in my household we decided to to take binge watching in a totally new and interesting direction. We signed up for a number of interesting Courseras including David Spergel’s Imagining Other Earths Course, and decided that it would make for some Edutainment for the night that ended up replacing our evening plans to consume streaming TV. So instead of Suits or The Good Wife, we gained some insights into how to build a solar system.  Our takeaway was that being edutained by Ivy League professors from schools including Princeton where David teaches and the University of Pennsylvania where another Coursera that we tuned into originated is actually as fun as bing watching stream TV shows.



This epiphany strikes me as much much significant than just a quirky idea that was inspired during a dinner discussion.

Could it be that Coursera is our generation’s Discovery Channel or History Channel?  Or is it that Coursera is on track to become our generation’s HBO.  Even Bill Gates has talked about how he watches the Great Courses during his workout for edutainment.

Is it possible that more people like us are craving more than just late night dramas, talk shows and sitcoms that blur endlessly into each other having been bourn from the same formulas?

If this is the case, then I predict that while Netflix has managed to tackle Blockbuster and nip at the heels of HBO, Coursera’s refreshing blend of Edutainment is going to instigate widespread MOOC Binging.

And as our society seeks to inspire and prepare the next generation, the idea that MOOC’s could stand up and challenge the entertainment industry, as they have the education industry, strikes me as a provocative and exciting scenario.

So binge MOOCing could sprout an entire new cultural phenomenon like Bar Trivia on steroids, BarX (think TEDx with MOOC inspired talks offered by your favorite drinking buddies), or EduSlams in the spirit of Poetry Slams. Yes, my friends, this could be really big.

Let the binge MOOCing begin!


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Growth Engineers and Beers

Last week we got a group of DC’s top growth engineers together for the kickoff of Growth Engineers and Beers at Tyber Bier Haus in Bethesda, MD. The discussion was a big success, and we are planning the next session.

We started talking about what everyone is interested in, working on, looking for, etc. One member of the group talked about how they have six million unique visitors per month and how they got to the level they are at today. We also had great discussions about how Notch built a cult following for Minecraft, how to improve customer conversion rates, and about what it was like for one of the group who took a year off in the country to work on a startup. There were also a few discussions about co-founders, past and current startup experiences, and East vs. West preferences. The consensus with the group so far is that there are reasons why each of us is here so moving out West is not a consideration.

We are planning to bring in some technical founders who have had massively successful exits recently to join the conversation and hacking. By founders who have had really successful exits, we mean people who have built product companies that got funded and then acquired. The distinction is that a few of these founders are going to be coming in from out of state and out of region, but some are local as well. All of them are really interesting.

We are meeting tomorrow to plan the next get together which will be held out in Tyson’s corner, during which the group will provide peer feedback to those founders who present what they are trying to accomplish in addition to providing suggestions and some live hacking on products. Over time will we aim to find a balance of alternating between beers + conversations and coffee + coding. As the founders in the group have gotten older, we seem to gravitate toward talking about growth hacking more than actually growth hacking when we get together, which makes the hacking component during the early stage of a new business both critical and more difficult to accomplish during an event. With that in mind, we welcome more people to join the group who want to show up and hack.

In addition, you will find the Growth Engineers group uniquely useful among other groups in the DC metro area, if:
1. You have a product that is live. It could be yours, it could be the startup that you work for during the day, it could be something that you did recently that is verifiable. If you don’t have a live product, be warned; we are not looking for people who want to create a Drupal-based website with a custom theme. That being said, if you have a live product for which you want to increase the user base, don’t worry; you don’t need to send us copies of a pitch deck or a business plan to participate in this group.
2. You are a programmer or are able to use code to solve a product problem. You could be a front-end, backend, full-stack, etc. but what is important is that you are willing to share your coding knowledge and help others.
3. You are open to trying new things. For example, we might try to learn to do something with Go or machine learning. Why the heck not?
4. You appreciate beer and coffee, though not necessarily at the same time.
5. You are a non-developer, but you are willing to learn a programming language to stick around.

Send me an email if you want to learn more (via the email link on the right sidebar).


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How To Find An Internet Marketer or Online Marketer for Your Startup

Most founders think the hardest part of building a successful startup is coming up with the idea. They quickly learn that to design and build an MVP is merely the beginning of a long journey up hill after their launch is a complete flop with nothing to show for it.  This can be embarrassing, but more often than not it can be lethal because the founders bet the bank on the designer and developers.  It can also be very demoralizing.  Enter Internet Markers.

Defining The Internet Marketer As A Role
Internet Marketer: An agile principles practitioner who is technically skilled, just like a developer, but someone who is specialized in scaling up your customer base, not in engineering your code base.  This is someone who will be capable of applying lean startup and early customer development lenses and agile principles to marketing and all the while they will be engaging in things ranging from A/B testing of web product pages and features, heavy use analytical tools, critical analysis of data, pattern analysis as it relates to customers and site visitors, creative content creation (e.g. written, pixel perfect images, video), code as it relates to user experience (think A/B testing and landing page optimization), and user experience design.  On top of all this an Internet Marketer’s job is to drive traffic which they will do through all kinds of different methods (e.g. blogging, email marketing, press releases (which double as content online for SEO purposes), search engine optimization (SEO), URL structuring (and re-structuring), search engine marketing (SEM), advertising (e.g. Google AdWords, Facebook Targeted Ads, Ad Network Placement), and search engine optimization.  This role is sometimes called a marketing manager or a growth hacker, but it should be titled Internet Marketer (adding “(Growth Hacker)” to it is fine too.

An Internet Marketer typically is not someone who posts to twitter and talks to reporters all day despite what the resumes you will receive in response to your job ad may suggest.  There seems to be a fundamental disconnect in what people refer to as a marketing communications or PR person and an Internet Marketer.  Sometimes this is due to the wide variability of jobs titled “marketing manager” that are used for both Internet and Marcomm marketers.  Of course some people try to get someone who can do it all, but this rarely works well.  There are still organizations who hire people to write press releases or other content and there is nothing wrong with this.  You just have to know where it fits with your business strategy. An Internet Marketer may even engage in some of these activities some of the time.  The distinction is that an Internet Marketer is primarily a hybrid of four roles: marketer, developer, designer, analyst.

Their job of an Internet Marketer is to make users appear and then exponentially multiply.

How To Find An Internet Marketer

The first thing that you should know is what to look for.  This is someone who has a high analytical aptitude.  Hint: probably not someone who majored in a purely liberal arts degree. You are looking for someone who enjoys analytical puzzles, but who thinks like a combination statistician and mathematician.  While there is no sure bet with what the right type of major is, you should be able to quickly separate people into camps based on whether or not they are thinking about things in terms of numbers vs. words and phrases.

How To Interview Someone
No two companies that I have encountered have treated this question in the same way.  I have worked with teams lead by individuals who graduated from University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and from the Harvard School of Business.  You would think that there is a gold standard for marketing, but there isn’t.  You would also think that people graduating from the top shelf programs are the gold standard, but that is not the case either.  Truth be told, someone who studied advertising or marketing a a 2nd or 3rd tier marketing school is just as likely to have a valid approach.  I am not making this up – I have built marketing organizations for top consumer Internet and commercial software companies and there is data to back up what I am telling you here.  In other words, don’t even think about looking for tips from people just because of where they went to school or because they did x or y for a brand that you think is good at marketing.  That is right, you can’t assume that because someone worked for a top brand that they will automatically be good at Internet marketing or good for your company.  More often than not they will just be really expensive and used to large company internal ways which are optimized for large teams not startup company organizations or smaller organizations.

What you want to focus on is how people consider, think through and address a problem that they are presented with.  A lot of people I know would take this kind of question to the white board. They might try to work through a text book question or several.  One that I have heard involves the economics of starting a pizza business. Where would you start? What would you spend money on.  How would you make a limited budget work for you.  Another involves buying AdWords for Google. One person I know asked every candidate if they would buy their own company’s name or not.  This is popular with people who have top shelf MBA’s and who have worked for the top shelf consulting firms who hire them.  This can cost you a fortune and literally get you nowhere.  You can easily get lost in discussions about things like this.

Four things you should be looking for in an Internet Marketer
1. How do they frame the problem?  Do they get the problem? Do they have gumption? Do they have a good idea of who your audience is?
2. Can they comprehend how to solve the problem? For example: is their experience even transferrable or is it just like trying to learn to speak a new language outright.  Sometimes you can’t be too picky, but you need to be selective.  This is where hunting for people who have the right kind of background, one that is compatible with your category, will help out a lot.
3. Are they a continuous learner.  This is probably the biggest difference between traditional marketing communications professionals and Internet Marketers.  There are so many tools out there and so many rules.  If the search engine methods used by Google change you need to know that your guy or gal is going to be on top of the changes right away.  You can bet that your competition will not be asleep at the wheel.
4. Can they work with problems in a way that scales? It is one thing to be able to run an ad and see if it works, but could they handle helping you to managing an ad campaign involving a $1 Million keyword and display advertising campaign involving variable landing pages and a sales funnel?

You should also be gauging for interest in what you are doing.  Internet Marketing is a passionate activity. You must be able to be creative long after the shiny newness of the job has worn off.

Check back for more thoughts on this subject over time.  


Setting Growth Engineering Goals

Hiring a growth engineering professional for a product or web property is a lot like hiring a personal trainer.  You hope for immediate noticeable results every day you go into the office or gym until one day there are enough small increases or decreases that you can’t help but notice a difference.  Setting goals, planning how you will achieve or surpass them and measuring progress against them is all very important to achieving noticeable results.

Over the last two years I have not really spent much anywhere near as much time blogging or search engine optimizing as I had in previous years.  Instead, I had been really focused on building and improving my new SaaS product which was being sold directly to customers that I could reach through my network or that was otherwise local.  Since the target audience was relatively finite and because I was becoming more of a developer every day due to the direction of the product effort I did not budget much time for search or optimization.  I also did not budget for search marketing.

Truth be told, I had also been suffering writers block.  I was disconnected from my base in DC after moving to Baltimore for several years.  But one day I woke up after moving back to Bethesda (walking distance to DC) and told myself that I was going to get readership of my blog back up to the level it was at before I stopped writing back in 2012.  Up until 2012 I was doing a lot of blogging and also hosting quite a few events.  I was also sending out a monthly newsletter to a few thousand friends here in the DC Tech community with the help of MailChimp.

So right around 45 days ago I started blogging again, actively.  At first it was a post or two but that quickly turned into several posts per week. I did not see much result from my initial efforts so I started reading up on how to improve my results.  The goal was just to get to the previous level and then re-evaluate what to do next.  This definitely had me thinking that I was going to have to fire up the event machine and start sending out a newsletter again to get back up to the previous level, but I persevered.

The reason for my initial goal was to achieve a noticeable boost in the amount of traffic I was referring to my consulting website because I had a client engagement winding down and I needed to find the next project that I was going to work on.  In an ideal world I was going to get a few deals lined up so I would have some work do do when the next done got finished, etc.  With the recently refreshed website (powered by WordPress) and the help of a small set of new plugins including the WordPress SEO by Yoast my morale was high so when I did not see immediate results I kept after my goal.

I should point out that while my blog still had some Google Juice from before, it was slow going. I started out around the bottom of the top 10,000,000 sites.  Within around 3 weeks I broke the top 5,000,000 websites list.  For the next two weeks my rank went up, then down, then up, then back down again.  It seemed like I was not getting anywhere fast.  After another three weeks I logged in (today) and had this surprise waiting for me:









This was a really nice way to start the week out.  Not only had I broken the top 1,000,000 which was my just for fun if I could get it done goal, but I had broken my traffic records from all previous years blogging.  The best part about all of this is that I was able to do this within 45 days!

I did this through a combination of tenacious overachieving and adaptive learning.  You may have noticed that I completely changed the resources section here on One of the changes is that I have started adding resources that I am using when I try to learn how to do something.  For example: right now I am taking a Web Architecture class on Coursera and a Ruby programming course on CodeAcademy.  I have added this and other stuff.  Basically, my gain is your gain.  I am adding additional resources in other areas as well.  The reason I am pointing this out is that nearly everything that I had been doing before has been thrown out and I have started fresh.  In doing so, the results that I have achieve are far better.  I allowed my goal setting, planning and measurement efforts to drive my activities for the win.

Now that I have surpassed my goal by leaps and bounds, I have some new goals.  I would love to hear about what you are doing in the comments section.  Is there a goal that you are struggling with or that you surpassed? How did you do it?


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Learn To Code Resources – An Amazing List of Resources

An amazing list of new free self paced and MOOC courses and related resources and suggestions for anyone who wants to learn how to be a web developer or programmer has just been added (HERE).

Includes CSS, HTML, JavaScript, jQuery, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, Scala plus more advanced topics including Machine Learning and Algorithms.

Let me know if you have any suggested courses or resources.


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