Our REACH program is designed to give highly determined individuals with strong technical skills the opportunity to gain on-the-job experience they need to become full-time software engineers. It also helps us hire more talent to join our engineering team. I’m thrilled to report, now that our first REACH cohort has finished, the program is a success on both fronts.
Eighty-three percent of the 29 program participants successfully landed a software engineering role at LinkedIn or at another company. Of the 80% offered software engineering positions at LinkedIn, 96% choose to accept. Several of the apprentices who did not receive offers are applying for other technical roles within the company, and we’ve already made an offer to one, who has accepted.
When we started brainstorming and planning for this inaugural REACH program in 2016, we didn’t know exactly what the shape or structure would look like. While we recognize there is always room for improvement, we are also elated by the results of this first cohort. Many of these individuals wouldn’t have initially passed hiring screens at LinkedIn or other companies because their backgrounds—schools attended, degrees received, prior work experience, etc.—didn’t match the typical path of a software engineer.
Based on the number of offers we extended at the end of the program, we believe that when hiring for tech positions, willingness to learn and attitude are on par with experience as long as you’re willing to invest in helping people grow their skills. While we are still reflecting upon and analyzing the learnings from this first cohort, we wanted to share a few upfront takeaways we’ve gathered from apprentices and their managers throughout this six-month program.
Expand the diversity lens
When interviewing candidates for REACH, we knew that we wanted to focus on candidates who had a passion for software engineering, demonstrated potential, and a desire to learn, as well as a determination to get things done. The combination of these attributes has translated to a new and fantastic energy on teams, as well as a greater appreciation for differences in backgrounds, that both REACH apprentices and LinkedIn software engineers have thoroughly enjoyed. A bit of feedback we heard from one manager was, “The diversity of REACH candidates helped the team assume less and have more detailed conversations about all aspects of the work. Additionally, throughout the program, the team increased their awareness and empathy.”
The ramp up takes time, on both sides
Many of our apprentices reported feeling overwhelmed by the technical expectations of their work and the sheer scale of coding at a company as big as LinkedIn at the beginning of the program. However, we found that they were able to move past that hard ramp up with the support of their managers, mentors, and teammates. For all new employees, and especially individuals from non-traditional backgrounds, it’s important to understand that it’s okay—even expected—that they might fail sometimes. When that happens, the support system of supervisors and teammates are critical in guiding them past it and providing encouragement. Success is achieved much more quickly in a welcoming, accepting environment where people know mistakes are part of the learning process.
Treat apprentices like full-time employees
One apprentice told us that, early on, her manager assigned her a task without first asking if she felt comfortable with it, which caused her to initially worry. But then, she realized that her manager was simply treating her like any other engineer on her team: assuming she could carry out the task, but being fully available should she need support as she worked on it. Giving apprentices real responsibility is key to helping them grow and become fully immersed in software engineering. Or, as another one of our apprentices put it, “Magic happens outside your comfort zone.”
Create opportunities to build relationships
Both our apprentices and the LinkedIn managers and mentors gained a lot of value in taking the time to get to know each other. In fact, apprentices made a point of passing on this piece of advice for future cohorts: take the time to get to know people across all levels and functions. For subsequent iterations of the program, we plan to implement additional structure to help apprentices achieve this goal.
As mentioned above, we’re spending the next several weeks taking a deep dive into the program and will provide further key takeaways and lessons learned. Overall, we look forward to applying what we’ve learned from this first cohort to make future REACH programs at LinkedIn even better and are starting to put together plans for our second cohort. By early 2018, we’ll share more information about the timeline for the next cohort, along with the application process. Stay tuned!