How Learning to Code Helped Me Grow as a Recruiter
Catie Brand

One of the best perks of working at General Assembly is that employees can take any part-time course or workshop for free. Last year, I wanted to learn how to code and debated between GA’s courses in front-end, back-end, or JavaScript development.

I landed on the Back-End Web Development (BEWD) course, which was offered through mid 2016. As someone who works in Talent Acquisition at GA, I thought it would be valuable so I could better understand our product offering. I also figured it would be easier to interview technical candidates if I understood the lingo. BEWD was centered around Ruby on Rails, and at the time I was very focused on hiring Ruby on Rails developers; today, Front-End Web Development or JavaScript would have been great options given that our team now hires primarily JavaScript developers.

I think every recruiter, especially those who speak with engineers on a regular basis, should understand programming basics. Here’s how taking a coding course has been helpful in my day-to-day role recruiting talent, as well as managing our company’s systems and tools.

1. Empathy

Empathy is a GA work value; we believe that empathy is your secret weapon to success. When your role is to both recruit engineers and partner with the engineering team on systems customization and integration, understanding how the internet works and how to code is enlightening. I have a much stronger appreciation for engineers’ work now that I know how to code.

For example, when there is a bug on our careers page, I don’t get frustrated and file a ticket to get it fixed. Instead, I’ll try to problem-solve and present a few ideas for what I think might be wrong because I know that fixing bugs is tedious and can take a long time. I’m also more likely to offer a second chance on a job candidate’s code challenge because I know that little mistakes aren’t indicative of whether or not someone is a great engineer.

My feedback to engineering candidates is also more thoughtful when we reject them; I understand that code is subjective and personal and I’m usually able to articulate to a candidate why he or she might not be the right fit without offending them.

2. Systems

When you understand APIs and how machines process information, it’s much easier to intellectually grasp what’s possible for your systems. As a mid-size business, we use a variety of HR tools including Bamboo, Greenhouse, and Small Improvements. While these systems have great integration options, we are always looking for ways to customize the tools to make our lives easier and give us the data that we need. I’m able to make informed optimizations and provide more articulate instructions to the teams involved since I’ve played with the APIs before and understand how the systems talk to one another.

3. Street Cred

BEWD was an amazing class and I learned a lot (including the fact that being a full-time developer is not my strength and will never be my calling). I found the course to be a lot of fun and I was lucky to have the support of great instructors to get me through. As an added bonus, when I’m chatting with engineering candidates, I can now ask better questions, give better answers, and engage in a much more technical conversation.
This gives me street cred with engineering candidates, which is very powerful — if they don’t get the job, at least they walk away feeling like their interviewer had an accurate sense of their skills and that General Assembly values an understanding of technology in all roles.

Learning new skills is always personally enriching, and an understanding of technology is extremely helpful for many nontechnical jobs. For recruiters in search of talent with a specialized toolset, I’d highly recommend seeking out education opportunities to better understand the field.