Why we created Ruby on Ales: A 3-phase training program

Why we created Ruby on Ales: A 3-phase training program

Tommy Vacek's Layout avatar

It’s no surprise that starting a tech company in the Midwest has its challenges, but something I get asked more often than not is, “Where are you hiring your talent? There’s no way you’re going to convince engineers (or anyone for that matter) to move to Omaha.” It’s a valid question and concern, but also one that Flywheel has figured out the solution to again and again over the past several years.

In most cases we’ve been able to hire, train, and promote from within. Just ask one of our Engineering Managers, Amanda, about her journey to Flywheel! But when it comes to looking for engineers in the Omaha metro who have experience with Ruby on Rails (what Flywheel is built on), the critics are right. They’re few and far between.

After growing our engineering team from 10 people to 55 in a matter of two and a half years, you would think hiring would be slowing down a bit, right? Not at Flywheel! As we started to plan 2020’s hiring plan, it became clear that our engineering team was still scaling, and the pool of candidates was smaller and smaller. So, instead of doing something drastic like moving our headquarters, we just got creative and got to work.

Shruti Chaturvedula, Senior Product Manager at Flywheel

After ideating with departments across the company, we came up with a three-phase plan. The first was admittedly something any company can do: host a networking event for potential candidates at a local bar. We called it Ruby on Ales and invited any engineers that were interested in learning more about Ruby to join us for a night of conversation. By the end of the night we met more than 30 engineers that were interested in learning more about Ruby (and Flywheel!). Now, at this point, most companies would call it a day and interview a few of the attendees. But we had something a bit more intentional planned!

Our next phase involved leading a workshop for anyone who came to the Happy Hour could attend. We hosted 20 engineers of all experience levels at our office in late January for two nights and Andy Neely, one of our software engineers, led a crash course on Ruby on Rails (totally free of charge!). We also provided pizza and beer and got to know the engineers who showed up a little more intimately. 

Several Flywheelers taking notes during a workshop presented by the one and only, Andy Neely!

After the workshop, we had nine people apply to Flywheel. Our Talent Acquisition team interviewed four candidates, and we then hired 2 of them on March 24. In addition to hiring Iza and Zach, we created new relationships with dozens of engineers around the city!

“It was impressive how quickly it all came together. The coolest part of the Ruby on Ales event series was the fact that we saw a problem and just did something about it, refusing to let a roadblock stand in our way.” -Kelsey Campbell, Flywheel’s Senior Talent Advisor

We didn’t stop once we brought on our new hires, though, which brings us to phase three. Another concern we wanted to address was that we were sending our newest engineers into their careers at Flywheel without the tools needed to truly succeed. So we called on our friends at Unabridged Software and they helped us identify how we could better support our employees who were coming from other technology stacks through their Professional Learning Communities system.

Product Manager Erin Olson, Engineering Manager Amanda Martinez, and Junior Frontend Engineer Josh Collinsworth

After meeting with Unabridged, they created a Ruby curriculum, wrote a textbook with practice problem sets, and led a two-week course for our new and recent hires during the first two weeks of April. Our two newest hires (and four existing employees!) focused on transitioning to the new tech stack and tooling and complete projects to solidify that understanding. 

“They didn’t seem to mind the fact that I had no experience with Ruby and Rails, and I got the feeling that they were rather looking for intelligent people that fit their culture. Soon after I found out that I’d be joining a group of Flywheel engineers in a Ruby crash course for those who didn’t have Ruby experience. I mean how awesome is that!” -Izabela Vonk, Software Engineer

Izabela Vonk, Software Engineer and Ruby on Ales graduate!

At the end of the course, they received a comprehensive evaluation (along with notes on how to continue to grow), returned to their teams, and began to make an immediate impact. We had back-end developers that transitioned from Java were able to complete and deploy complex changes within a few days. Front-end developers who had less experience with Ruby and Ruby on Rails (and more experience with HTML, CSS, and Javascript) were able to make sense of the back-end and make necessary changes, rather than needing to wait for a back-end developer to help them. And more junior employees had a much stronger grasp of Ruby and its patterns, particularly the more complex language features like lambdas and modules, at the end of the course than they did going in.

“I came into training only knowing what I had learned from the Ruby on Ales workshop and came out ready to write production level code immediately. It really says a lot about the integrity and intentionality of an organization when they are willing to invest so much in their people.” -Zach Merrill, Software engineer

Zachary Merrill, Software Engineer and Ruby on Ales graduate!

So, after three months of planning, three separate events, and meeting dozens of candidates, we hired two engineers. It may seem like a lot of work for the outcome, but was it worth it? Absolutely.

“Our partnership with Unabridged turned out just as we hoped it would. Andrew Ek put together a training course that was thoughtful, thorough, and ultimately successful. Introducing engineers to a team can take a good amount of time, especially when they’re learning a new language, but the Unabridged training gave our new engineers a leg up in onboarding. They were productively writing code in a matter of days (or even hours).” -Tony Noecker, Flywheel’s CTO

Whether you’re a tech company of 500 employees in San Francisco or a small startup located in the Midwest, I can guarantee that the talent is out there. The question is how hard are you willing to work to attract, hire, and retain them?

Flywheel’s Product and Engineering team, February 2020

Tommy Vacek is the VP of Engineering at Flywheel. If you’re interested in learning more, message him on LinkedIn!

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