SnackWalls

E71 Erin Orstrom: Confident Candidates Required!

December 04, 2020 Mike Roberts Season 1 Episode 71
SnackWalls
E71 Erin Orstrom: Confident Candidates Required!
Chapters
SnackWalls
E71 Erin Orstrom: Confident Candidates Required!
Dec 04, 2020 Season 1 Episode 71
Mike Roberts

Happy December! We are officially in the home stretch of 2020. As these next few weeks start getting busy, don't forget to tune into your favorite podcast for some great guests and positive vibes!

Erin believes that finding diverse talent doesn't have to be challenging for companies. There are plenty of people from non traditional backgrounds that are hungry and curious to break into the tech industry. However, many of these candidates are intimidated from applying to positions when the job description is looking for a “magical unicorn” candidate with unrealistic experience. She has found that a computer science degree will teach the theory behind computers, but it is not necessary for entry level software roles. There are alternative methods (bootcamp programs, online resources, etc..) to learn the necessary skills and help gain the hands on experience to start working in tech. Erin thinks that an apprenticeship pattern can be applied to technical roles if a company has a culture and values to support the program. She believes that in order to recruit and retain diverse talent, companies need to establish a culture that listens and adapts to their employees needs. People should feel encouraged to grow both professionally and personally within their workplace.  

Erin Orstrom is a technology professional with 3+ years of experience in software development, business analysis, and 1+ year of product ownership. She excels at liaising between the business and the developers to translate requirements comprehensively between the two parties. Erin enjoys working with others to understand their challenges and implement solutions which create more positive and intuitive user experiences. She is currently serving as a Product Owner at naviHealth.

SnackWalls is powered by San Diego Code School: https://sdcs.io

Please share like and subscribe for more reach 🙌🏾

Show Notes Transcript

Happy December! We are officially in the home stretch of 2020. As these next few weeks start getting busy, don't forget to tune into your favorite podcast for some great guests and positive vibes!

Erin believes that finding diverse talent doesn't have to be challenging for companies. There are plenty of people from non traditional backgrounds that are hungry and curious to break into the tech industry. However, many of these candidates are intimidated from applying to positions when the job description is looking for a “magical unicorn” candidate with unrealistic experience. She has found that a computer science degree will teach the theory behind computers, but it is not necessary for entry level software roles. There are alternative methods (bootcamp programs, online resources, etc..) to learn the necessary skills and help gain the hands on experience to start working in tech. Erin thinks that an apprenticeship pattern can be applied to technical roles if a company has a culture and values to support the program. She believes that in order to recruit and retain diverse talent, companies need to establish a culture that listens and adapts to their employees needs. People should feel encouraged to grow both professionally and personally within their workplace.  

Erin Orstrom is a technology professional with 3+ years of experience in software development, business analysis, and 1+ year of product ownership. She excels at liaising between the business and the developers to translate requirements comprehensively between the two parties. Erin enjoys working with others to understand their challenges and implement solutions which create more positive and intuitive user experiences. She is currently serving as a Product Owner at naviHealth.

SnackWalls is powered by San Diego Code School: https://sdcs.io

Please share like and subscribe for more reach 🙌🏾

Mike:

Welcome back to the SnackWalls podcast. I'm Mike Roberts, your host, and we're here to talk about increasing and maintaining diversity in tech, beyond the perks. While companies think they can lure people in with unlimited PTO and dogs in the office. We're here to talk about how you keep them. All right. I'm going to throw it over to our special guest today, in a few sentences can you tell us who you are and what it is that you do?

Erin:

Sure. Um, hi, my name is Erin Orstrom and I am a software engineer that has recently transitioned over to product management. Um, I currently work at a company at a national based company called naviHealth, as a product owner for our integration and architecture teams. And naviHealth, what we do is we monitor, uh, patient post acute care, uh, their journeys after they go from the hospital and whatever care they receive. Um, and then we also do have a predictive software that, uh, tries to predict where the patients will make the most gains faster, um, in an effort to save both the patients and the insurance companies money. Um, that's not the official company pitch, but it's the, it's the shortest way I've found or the easiest way I've found to explain briefly what the company does?

Mike:

No, I think that med tech is a big thing these days, especially with, with all these problems that we need solutions to. I'll just leave it at that. So awesome. So let's just jump right in. Um, I'm hearing from some leaders that finding diverse talent is a challenge. What are your thoughts?

Erin:

I don't really think it needs to be as challenging as, as, as we're hearing that it is, um, on a lot of tech job listings, you'll see, like, it sounds like the hiring managers are looking, are looking for their magical unicorn candidate. Um, they want someone who like is, has five plus years of experience with all the technologies, all the languages, all the frameworks, um, and the tech scene is unfortunately still largely dominated by young white males. And there are plenty of females, of people of color and other minorities that are there that are talented, that are hungry, that are curious and just want to learn and make cool stuff. But with these, you know, these job postings that are trying to find these magical candidates it intimidates a lot of people, especially for the people who are trying to get their, just trying to get their foot in the door. Um, and actually I used to host a podcast with my friend, Dave, and we had an episode on applying for jobs. And, uh, one of the things that came up was, uh, women specifically, uh, there, there are studies and things that are shown, um, a woman will, will only apply to a job if she meets about 90% or more of the criteria. Whereas a man typically will apply to a job even if you only meets about 50 to 60% of the criteria. So you're getting more of those males applying to the jobs and maybe that speaks to confidence levels or who knows. Um, but you're, you're getting predominantly white males who apply to these jobs when there are other people who would be interested in working for the company or, you know, working as a software engineer, um, but just are hesitant to try and, you know, apply for those jobs. So, um, really connecting, I think, with, with potential candidates and, and even just connecting as people genuinely, um, like it really doesn't need to be as challenging as we're making it out to be, to find good talent it's out there. We just have to really cultivate it and connect with them.

Mike:

Yeah. And I, I I've heard that statistic cited, um, elsewhere. And so I feel like it's a common enough statistic that people should really take it to heart and figure out if they can sort of create mechanisms that don't cause that to be a barrier. Right. So a hundred percent agree. What do you think about the push to remove the requirement for CS degrees for many software engineering roles?

Erin:

Honestly, I'm all for it. Like I personally don't have a CS degree. I ended up graduating with an undergrad degree in sociology that I didn't end up directly using. Um, the way I got my foot in the door as a software engineer was I went through a six months, uh, software bootcamp program, uh, called Nashville Software School, which is local to Nashville. Um, and like those skills can be taught. They, um, and they're like the bootcamps are becoming more and more popular. Um, and based on what I've read and heard, and, and I've talked to people who do have computer science degrees, the computer science degree is mostly focused more on the more like the theory and the underlying logic of computers. Whereas the bootcamp programs focus more like the hands-on projects and working with people, um, and building applications and websites and, and working, uh, in a, in an agile environment. And so that is more close, closely related to how actual companies operate. Um, so I'm not saying that a CS degree isn't valuable, um, it, that it doesn't have valuable information, but, um, just bootcamp programs are becoming more and more popular. So I, while you can learn valuable things in, in, in college in general, um, I don't think it's necessary to have a computer science degree to break into the tech industry.

Mike:

Yeah, that's fantastic that you illustrated, like all of the skills that you do have alternative means to be able to acquire. And I think that's really what people are looking for, right. Is like people that can bring those talents to the table.

Erin:

Exactly. And even if you don't, for whatever reason, want to go through a bootcamp program, there are plenty of online resources, um, and Slack groups, if you need, if you get stuck and need help. Like there are ways to learn these skills that don't require you shelling out thousands of dollars either for a degree or going through a bootcamp program.

Mike:

Yeah. What do you think about the apprenticeship pattern? Do you think that would work for some tech roles?

Erin:

I think it can work. Um, I think it, I'm not really familiar with the pattern. Like I understand what apprenticeship means for the most part. But I really think it kind of depends on the company, like on the structure, on the company value and values and culture, and whether they encourage their senior developers to help mentor people who are, are younger. And, or shouldn't say younger. That are more new to the industry and are still kind of learning. Everyone's always learning, but those who are fresher and aren't as seasoned, I guess. Um, cause some people just want you to come in and build stuff. Build stuff quickly and not necessarily take the time to cultivate the people who are, who are not, not as seasoned. Um, so it can work. I think a lot of it just depends on, on how the company is structured and what their culture and values are in terms of, um, uh, grooming they're grooming the new people.

Mike:

Yeah. How much you'll get out of it is directly proportional to how much like talent you're willing to support, um, and make available to help mentor people. So a hundred percent get it, like you get, get out of it, what you put in largely. And so if people are thinking it's a way for them to get more work done, like over the summer internship, I don't think that's going to result in that much.

Erin:

No. And honestly, like you know, in terms of a mentorship or apprenticeship kind of relationship, like a lot, there's a lot of pair programming that takes place. And some people will argue like, Oh, that takes too long. Like we need stuff built faster, but, but really a lot of the time, both the mentor and the mentee end up learning something. Um, and it's kind of, kind of like its own code review, like in process. So that, you know, one person's driving, but like one person's like, oh, you forgot a, semi-colon. Not necessarily trying to like critique someone's work, but you're, you're collaborating together in a way, to build quality code. And even if it takes a little longer, like you prevent a lot of the bugs or mistakes that would have gone through had one person just been working on it alone.

Mike:

Yeah. And as a software engineers, I think we would both agree that if you catch something earlier, it's overall less expensive than the work effort, it takes to catch it later on and even in the code review process.

Erin:

Absolutely. Yeah. It costs time and money, to bring like if a QA catches a bug, it takes a lot more time to put it back through the development process to fix it than it does catching it as it's being developed.

Mike:

Yeah, for sure. So what advice would you share with companies that staff? So let's say they've done a good job of bringing in more women, more people of color. How do they keep them and prevent them from just like immediately leaving?

Erin:

Sure. I think, um, companies and leadership really need to just listen to what people are looking for. So I'll use an example. You know, during this, during this COVID 19 pandemic, a lot of companies have started, opening up their remote work policies or that flexibility. Like some companies have just gone 100% remote forever or indefinitely. And then there are some companies that are still kind of hesitant and like wanting to bring people back into the office at some point. A lot of people, and again, this is not this remote work during this pandemic is not the same as like a regular remote work where people like, can, are able to send their kids to school and have like a, you know an environment for working from home or working remotely. But, um, a lot of people have found that this works for their lifestyle. Like they have more control over the, over the distractions that they have at home, versus in the office, or they can use the time that they would've spent commuting doing more productive things for their day. Like making a healthy breakfast or like spending more time with their family or catching up on reading, like whatever it is doing, more productive things. And so overall it's a lot of people like it. And so I think in order to stay competitive in, both retaining and attracting, talent now, like that's, for example, something that companies will need to take into account into their culture. So, and so aside from remote work, just really listening to the employees and trusting them, like building, building that trust, you hired them for a reason, you know, so let them do what they do best. Um, I'm trying to think. Yeah. Yeah. I would say, I would say kind of just listen to the employees, give them the ability and encourage them to, grow both professionally and personally, you know, provide different resources, let them go to conferences. Um, you know, just keep that open communication with the employees.

Mike:

Yeah. And I, and I love that, that part of your answer where you get really specific on some of those, the ways that companies can show that they're being flexible and responsive to the needs of the individual and giving them some ability to sort of like almost like pick from a pick from a menu of perks. Like, Oh, you want professional development. That's important to you. Awesome. We can provide that level of support or you need more flexibility in your schedule. Great. We can let you work from home work remote if that's going to make you more productive. Awesome. As interesting some companies just get that, they're just like, yeah, like we don't care, like wherever you're going to get your work done, if you get it done. Awesome. If you get it done in 30 hours in a week instead of 40 hours a week. Cool. I don't care. Just get your work done.

Erin:

Exactly and I think it kind of comes down to like leadership ultimately like, and how they think about, what productivity means. And then how employees think about what productivity means. There's a lot of people still in leadership, in different companies that feel like in order to, believe that, an employee is productive, they need to see them in a seat at their computer typing or to believe that they're working. Whereas there are pros and cons in measuring productivity based on results, because if they become too, too focused on the results, then you know, that can lead to pushing for more and better results. And then that can ultimately lead to burnout. But you know, each company leadership, everyone needs to figure out a way to measure results and productivity so that it works for everyone. And not just this mentality of, if I don't see you in your seat working, I don't, you're being productive.

Mike:

Yeah, that trust the trust issue. That's the trust issue right there. Who is someone like yourself? Cause you seem to get it together or have it together, that you'd like to acknowledge as a leader in tech or somebody that would have a really good take on this and should be invited to be a guest on podcasts like this.

Erin:

Yeah. So actually the first person who popped in my head when I, when I was thinking about this question was, Alishah Novin, he is currently the director of engineering at a company, at a national based company called Celero Engineer, or I'm sorry, Celero Commerce. And he and I actually had a conversation earlier, I want to say it was maybe back in June or July. He had posted on his LinkedIn, or not on his profile, but he made a LinkedIn post saying that he was going to open up his, just open up his schedule, like his lunch hour schedule for the next week or two, to just whoever wanted to talk. And part of it came about because, you know, with this pandemic, a lot of the meetups and things have gone virtual and it really, we lose that person to person like interaction and just those spontaneous conversations, you know, when you're waiting for the meetup to get to get started or whatever. So it was kind of in an effort for him to get to know other people and just kind of really act as a mentor to anyone who just wanted advice about whatever. And so he, and I actually had a conversation, kind of related to attracting and maintaining talent, because he had originally reached out to me for a software engineering position. But at the time I was like, well, I'm actually, I've moved over to product now. Um, so I appreciate it. But, um, and then he was talking about wanting to, to get more women on the team, get more people of color on the team because unfortunately that team at the time, at least at the time was mostly white males and he was wanting to help diversify. And so we actually had an interesting conversation about almost exactly this, about, you know, what, how do you know anyone, you know, that would help, help diversify our team and what would attract you to a place, in terms of diversifying.

Mike:

Sounds like a phenomenal guest. It's definitely something So he's on the radar. We'll see if we can get on the program. So where can we find out more information about your company or your website? Like what, what would you like to promote this is your chance, shameless plugs?

Erin:

Sure. So just the company I work for, naviHealth, probably the best place to get, to get news and information about them would be the company website, which is just NaviHealth.com. Uh, N I, sorry, N A V I H E A L T H .com and then probably the LinkedIn page too, has a lot of information. As for myself personally, I don't have a lot of extra projects going on right now, but I am, I have been updating my website, my personal website a lot this year, and I've been trying to get back into blogging more regularly. And it's just ErinOrstrom.com. Last name is O R S T R O M, and so I've got, I've got some blog posts from earlier this year. If folks want to check that out.

Mike:

Awesome. And we'll throw those in the show notes so that people will be able to find those things super easy. So last and most important question. What have you been snacking on lately? What's your favorite snack?

Erin:

So probably over the last few months, especially during quarantine, I have been getting the big Cheez-Its like, here's like regular size Cheez-Its and then there's these like big Cheez-Its that are the like double the size. And those are just so easy to like eat half a box in one sitting if you're not careful.

Mike:

Wait there are double sized Cheez-Its?

Erin:

Yeah. They're like double the size. Um, and then the other thing is my mom recently introduced me to these, to these sweets that she picks up at Kroger's and they're called, they're called orange Jewels. And it's essentially like these, these log looking things that, are dark chocolate with like an orange jelly center. And those are, those are pretty addicting if you're not careful.

Mike:

Those sound really good. I'm still stuck on the giant Cheez-Its though. I've never heard nor seen of this, but I mean, I have Cheez-Its this right up here on my shelf, but I just feel like you put two Cheez-Its in your mouth at the same time, but that seems almost like a sin to put multiple Cheez-Its in your mouth. So.

Erin:

Yeah, this makes it a little easier to go, like one at a time versus trying to like pop in a handful. But it literally just is big Cheez-Its on the box, like the word big. Um, but yeah, they just, they're just what I go for down the, down the snack aisle.

Mike:

Nice. I like it. Awesome. Well, thanks again, Erin, I really appreciate you coming on the program.

Erin:

Thank you Mike, it was a pleasure.

Mike:

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