At Lambda School, we aim to break down traditional ideas of what tech talent looks like and enable more people to enter and succeed in the industry. That means rewriting the script in two ways. The first is with the students we choose to admit into our schools — they’re ambitious, diverse, and have the grit and aptitude to pick up new skills quickly.
Unlike traditional schools, we don’t consider grades or past work experience in our admissions process. We look for passion, potential, and aptitude – not cookie-cutter applicants – and invest in our students first so they can invest in themselves.
The second way we’re rewriting the script is by training companies to consider the business benefits of diversity in the workplace — how changing a hiring strategy can change a company’s results and bottom line, how non-traditional and diverse talent can bring in innovation and fresh perspectives, and how Lambda School graduates are equipped to both think outside of the box and to execute their ideas successfully. Part of this also means giving hiring teams and managers a playbook for evaluating and managing non-traditional employees.
When I was growing up in India, I was one of a few women who chose to study computer science. My gender made me a non-traditional technologist, and the odds were stacked against me. The coursework was expensive and I had to spend precious time searching for and applying to scholarships. I was not fluent in English and had the dual challenge of learning the language as I went through my curriculum, not to mention having to write my code by hand on paper since I didn’t own a computer.
Each win gave me the confidence to do more. But I still faced challenges as I entered the workplace. I remember some of my behaviors being misconstrued — if I asked for what I wanted and spoke up in meetings, I was seen as being too aggressive.
I’ve had many lucky moments in my life, but one key turning point was an excellent manager early in my career at Microsoft. I was a junior engineer, and though I was ambitious and wanted to prove myself, I was quiet because I wasn’t very confident. I used to think that those around me were smarter than me and that my ideas didn’t matter.
This manager recognized my passion and my ability to learn quickly. She understood that I needed to learn to advocate for myself and would assign me business-critical projects that made my work more visible. She recognized and rewarded my good work, eventually nominating me to a list of high-potential employees across the company.
This experience gave me new confidence. I learned that I could function successfully in high-pressure environments and learned to be proud of what I contributed to the organization.
Years later, while I was working at Facebook, I had an intern on my team from a non-traditional background. He was interviewing for a position, but didn’t have a computer science degree and lacked the fundamentals that one might learn from academia. Though he had learned coding on his own and built a few games, I found myself feeling skeptical — he hadn’t come up with a working solution during the coding interview. Later that night, I received an email from him with a complete working solution using two different approaches — an iterative solution and a recursive solution, with ten test cases to prove the validity of his code.
I could tell that he wanted the job, would work hard, would go the extra mile, and could learn quickly – and he knew how to advocate for himself, a valuable skill for a junior engineer. I decided to offer him the position, and the other panelists agreed. Within time, he became one of the best engineers on my team, working alongside those who had graduated from the country’s top universities.
I learned a lot from managing him. His challenges weren’t the same as the ones I faced at Microsoft — no employee fits into a box, and particularly not non-traditional employees. He challenged my conventional thinking of leading a team. In mentoring him and assigning him critical projects, I learned how to spot an employee’s unique potential and how to navigate them to focus on their strengths.
Learning to effectively manage non-traditional employees is a life lesson in management. No two employees are the same, whether they have gone through a typical four-year-degree or if they’re coming from a coding bootcamp. I’ve learned to understand the importance of a flexible hiring strategy and how to spot and detect talent early. It’s helped me build powerful teams and hire talent that others may not have spotted.
I think about the students at Lambda School. They don’t follow the herd — these are students who’ve decided, often at forks in their careers, to take new paths. A younger me growing up in India might have joined Lambda School to get access to higher education which was only accessible to me through scholarships. And the right type of manager would have been lucky enough to tap into my potential.
Learn more about how diverse and nontraditional talent can bring fresh ideas and potential to your team by scheduling a call with a Lambda hiring expert.