It all came down to three resumes.
Two were typical profiles of developers, packed with extensive, relevant experience—the kind tech companies crave.
The third was of Adriana Rivera. A software developer with 6 years of experience. She’s advanced in C++, using multi-threaded algorithms, and improving back-end infrastructure. In fact, Adriana was part of the team that created one of the first real-time financial trading applications in history. That application is now part of the collection in Finances at the Smithsonian.
Needless to say, Adriana is one hardcore programmer.
There’s just one small hiccup: Adriana is a mom of two teenagers. And the last time Adriana was in the job market...let’s just say...Java Applets were the way most client-side apps were developed.
Like many new moms, she decided to take some time off to spend time with her baby. As time flew by, the quickly evolving and web-dominated world of software felt all but completely foreign.
Fast forward to present day, Adriana rolled up her sleeves, sought out education resources, brushed up her skills, and came out as the top candidate as an engineer on the data science team at Randstad Sourceright.
We got a chance to sit down with both Adriana and her hiring manager Summer Husband, head of data science at Randstad, to learn about her winding journey and triumphant return to programming.
From a 14 year break to a job at Randstad
Adriana, tell us a little about yourself.
A: I studied software engineering, and got a computer science degree in Mexico. I was working at a software company, USData, and I had to opportunity to move here (to the U.S.) on an H1-B visa when I was around 30 years old. I’ve since then become a citizen in 2010.
When I got pregnant, I had every intention of going back to work after a break. That break ended up being 14 years. It’s a similar sentiment to what I hear from a lot of women when I go to meetups. They never think they’re going to be gone for so long. One year turns into another. And there are a lot of nuances that go into making this decision. I love programming, and I always knew I’d return. It was a matter of time, priorities, and finding the right path.
And how was the experience applying to companies when you were returning to work?
A: Companies were not that open, given the big gap in my work history. I knew I needed another path forward. So, I started applying to multiple bootcamps and scholarships to refresh my skills.
In my case, the pivotal point was when Facebook gave me a scholarship to Hackbright Academy (an accelerated coding program for women). After that, everything changed.
What was the bootcamp like?
A: It was a three-month period during which we learned many new tools. To be honest, I found web development to be a lot easier than infrastructure, which is what I was doing before.
What I loved was working with a team again. Pair programming was amazing. And, the best part was that I got to work with other women in engineering. I was used to being the only woman in engineering back in the day. Now, working with smart women is an incredible experience.
It’s even better if you’re lucky enough to be hired by a company that gives you a mentor. There are a lot of companies that do that these days. HackBright introduces you to companies that focus on mentorship. Facebook, for instance, is great about that.
How Adriana rose to the top
Summer, tell us a little about your perspective: what was the recruiting process you built for this role?
S: At first, we weren’t getting enough play on this job requisition. I suggested we post the job to Women Who Code (a community for female developers) to attract more candidates. That’s actually how Adriana found out about the job.
Groups like Women Who Code and HackBright Academy send out newsletters to their communities, in which you can advertise job openings. I think taking advantage of some of these groups, who are often associated with bootcamps or have non-traditional backgrounds, is a great avenue to find talent. They may have all the skills required for a job.
I feel like HackerRank can make a huge difference with these applicants. Job seekers who are currently unemployed or lack traditional experience, and have worked on some great projects, can showcase their skills with a HackerRank challenge.
Do you think this is a quick fix or a long-term phenomenon?
S: Technology is changing the job marketplace, and some jobs are even starting to phase out. Learning how to program is a great strategy for people making a transition in their career. Online resources are great nowadays.
In my case, there weren’t a lot of machine learning (ML) training resources when I was in grad school. It was too new. So, unless you’re in grad school, the only way most people today learn ML is through online courses, reading, picking up on your own, or on the job. So, you can’t rule out or overlook people who gained skills on their own.
What was your reaction when you first saw Adriana’s resume?
S: We were down to the final three resumes. I really liked Adriana’s skill-set. I had talked with her and had a strong feeling that she’d be a good hire. But we were pretty sure we were not going to extend the offer, given her experience. But I went ahead and had her complete a HackerRank assessment to better evaluate her qualifications.
She did a really good job...much better than the other two candidates, who had more extensive job experience and, hands down, looked better on paper. They didn’t have nearly the strengths that we needed. Adriana did.
The HackerRank assessment allowed me and my team to see quantitatively that she was the right person for the job. There was a clear demonstration and data-backed argument that she possessed the skills we were hiring for, despite what was on her resume.
So, I took her application and results to my boss, and he was on board with offering her the job. As a woman in tech, I want to be able to help other women succeed. I’ve been in the same position as Adriana, and I’m happy I was able to really see her skills objectively to be able to give her this opportunity.
So, how does that influence your position on the common debate of a “tech talent shortage?”
S: I think for some types of jobs, especially senior-level jobs, there’s not enough talent.
For other jobs, there’s too much emphasis on a specific type of experience. In other words, “has this person worked in this specific type of job before?”
In actuality, there’s a huge pool of people who have the right skills, but don’t have the exact profile you’re looking for. As a recruiter, for instance, it’s harder to justify selecting candidates who lack a computer science or relevant degree or experience. But, tools like HackerRank’s skills assessments, give recruiters the proof of skills or validation they need to go to their hiring managers with non-traditional candidates.
Landing a job at Randstad
Adriana, why did you choose web development, if you were a backend developer before?
A: Well, I had a deep interest in data science. And that was before data science became so popular. I started learning a bit on my own. I took a couple Coursera classes and read books to learn the fundamentals.
But when I started applying for data science jobs, it was really difficult to get in the door. Not only did my resume have a huge gap, but I also lacked the PhD or master’s degree that most jobs require. I wouldn’t pass through the resume screening process.
So, I had to redirect my efforts. Today it’s more hopeful than before. And, actually, I got lucky because Summer’s job opportunity included some work related to data. I’m so grateful for this job, and I love working for Summer and Randstad.
And what was the Randstad interview process like?
A: I liked that I got the opportunity to take a coding challenge remotely first, because I felt less nervous than a face-to-face interview. But more than that, what I really liked was the type of the HackerRank challenge that Summer wrote, specifically. It was different than others. Most other companies sent typical algorithm challenges.
Summer’s HackerRank challenge included a lot of flavors, including SQL, API Call, Algorithm, and even Regex. Overall, it was a very good representation of the job. In fact, these skills are exactly what I’m using at work.
And, later on, by the time it was time for the in-person interview at Randstad, I had been through many in-person rounds at other companies, so I was more confident. Initially, in my first few job interviews, I was very nervous. I was also practicing a lot on HackerRank, and Leetcode. Those two platforms were my go-to because they offered good interview practice challenges, similar to what companies send. I usually do very well on those. Still nervous, but not a wreck like I am in a typical interview. Practicing helped a lot in gaining confidence.
The challenge ahead
Now that you’re back into the swing of things, what’s been the biggest challenge for you?
A: Honestly, it’s ageism, especially where I live in the Bay Area. I think ageism is even worse than sexism.
For example, I applied for a job alongside two of my HackBright colleagues. I was the only one not called for an interview. I know I am completely qualified, and I could do the job really well. I even had more experience as a software developer overall than they did. Some might say that there wasn't a good culture fit or any rapport, but I wasn't even called for an interview. So, from my point of view, I think that my age plays a factor into the hiring process.
When I talk to friends that are in my generation, they’re experiencing the same thing. I’m a bit luckier because I’m in software, where there’s a particularly huge demand and companies need developers. Others aren’t as lucky.
It’s amazing, because, in our Women in Tech 2018 Report, we found that women over 35 are 3.5x more likely to be in junior positions than men.
A: The stat definitely piqued my interest. It is interesting to see the trend, and I can guess it would be even more striking if we took into consideration all of the women that step out of the field either temporarily or permanently.
I am pretty sure that if women had more flexible employment conditions, they would be less likely to step out of the workforce. The average workplace typically doesn’t have clear pathways for mothers returning to the workforce.
Just to add to the point, there’s an interesting study on gender inequality, which looks at the impact on earning when a male vs. female becomes a parent.
And this study took place in the progressive country of Denmark. My guess is that it’s likely worse in the US.
That’s shocking. Adriana, what advice would you give to other moms looking to rejoin the programming workforce?
A: Once you step out of a field, any field, coming back can be difficult. But remember that the hardest thing to regain and relearn is not your skills--it’s your confidence. That’s something that I’m even still working on building back up. I’ve heard the same from other moms.
Take it one day at a time. For the first few weeks, I was so scared to say something wrong or break something. It’s the same for every field or even skill. Even though I have been a mom, I haven’t taken care of babies for a long time now. So. if you put a baby in front of me today, I’d get a little nervous too. In the same way, you just have to build it up the confidence.
Summer, same question for you.
S: Find an advocate who is currently in the industry. They can help you figure out where to upskill, as the most marketable programming skills can change so fast.
Find a personal advocate, as well. It can be a friend or family member who believes in you and will help you stay positive when you get discouraged in your job search. Also, have realistic expectations. Finding a job when you're not currently employed is just going to take longer. Be mentally ready for that.
I also think it's helpful to do some unpaid projects on your own. This gives you material to show to a potential employer to demonstrate your capabilities.
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