Reflecting on Our Engineering Apprenticeship Program
Betterment piloted an Apprentice Program to add junior talent to our engineering organization in 2017, and it couldn’t have been more successful or rewarding for all of us. One year later, we’ve asked them to reflect on their experiences.
In Spring of 2017, Betterment’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee partnered with our Engineering Team to bring on two developers with non-traditional backgrounds. We hired Jess Harrelson (Betterment for Advisors Team) and Fidel Severino (Retail Team) for a 90 day Apprentice Program. Following their apprenticeship, they joined us as full-time Junior Engineers. I’m Jess, a recruiter here at Betterment, and I had the immense pleasure of working closely with these two. It’s been an incredible journey, so I sat down with them to hear first hand about their experiences.
Tell us a bit about your life before Betterment.
Jess Harrelson: I was born and raised in Wyoming and spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors. I moved to Nashville to study songwriting and music business, and started a small label through which I released my band’s album. I moved to New York after getting an opportunity at Sony and worked for a year producing video content.
Fidel Severino: I’m originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States at age 15. After graduation from Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics High School, I completed a semester at Lehman College before unfortunate family circumstances required me to go back to the Dominican Republic. When I returned to the United States, I worked in the retail sector for a few years. While working, I would take any available time for courses on websites like Codecademy and Team Treehouse.
Can we talk about why you decided to become an Engineer?
Jess Harrelson: Coding became a hobby for me when I would make websites for my bands in Nashville, but after meeting up with more and more people in tech in the city, I knew it was something I wanted to do as a career. I found coding super similar from a composition and structure perspective, which allowed me to tap into the creative side of coding. I started applying to every bootcamp scholarship I could find and received a full scholarship to Flatiron School. I made the jump to start becoming an engineer.
Fidel Severino: While working, I would take any available time for courses on websites like Codecademy and Team Treehouse. I have always been interested in technology. I was one of those kids who “broke” their toys in order to find out how they worked. I’ve always had a curious mind. My interactions with technology prior to learning about programming had always been as a consumer. I cherished the opportunity and the challenge that comes with building with code. The feeling of solving a bug you’ve been stuck on for a while is satisfaction at its best.
Those bootcamps changed all of our lives! You learned how to be talented, dynamic engineers and we reap the benefit.
Let’s talk about why you chose Betterment.
Jess Harrelson: I first heard of Betterment by attending the Women Who Code — Algorithms meetup hosted at HQ. Paddy, who hosts the meetups, let us know that Betterment was launching an apprenticeship program and after the meetup I asked how I could get involved and applied for the program. I was also applying for another different apprenticeship program but throughout the transparent, straightforward interview process, the Betterment apprenticeship quickly became my first choice.
Fidel Severino: The opportunity to join Betterment’s Apprenticeship program came via the Flatiron School. One of the main reasons I was ecstatic to join Betterment was how I felt throughout the recruiting process. At no point did I feel the pressure that’s normally associated with landing a job. Keep in mind, this was an opportunity unlike any other I had up to this point in my life, but once I got to talking with the interviewers, the conversation just flowed. The way the final interview was setup made me rave about it to pretty much everyone I knew. Here was a company that wasn’t solely focused on the traditional Computer Science education when hiring an apprentice/junior engineer. The interview was centered around how well you communicate,work with others, and problem solve. I had a blast pair programming with 3 engineers, which I’m glad to say are now my co-workers!
We are so lucky to have you!
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your experience so far?
Jess Harrelson: The direct mentorship during my apprenticeship and exposure to a large production codebase. Prior to Betterment, I only had experience with super small codebases that I built myself or with friends. Working with Betterment’s applications gave me a hands-on understanding of concepts that are hard to reproduce on a smaller, personal application level. Being surrounded by a bunch of smart, helpful people has also been super amazing and helped me grow as an engineer.
Fidel Severino: Oh man! There’s so many things I would love to list here. However, you asked for the most rewarding, and I would have to say without a doubt — the mentorship. As someone with only self-taught and Bootcamp experience, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. I had two exceptional mentors who went above and beyond and removed any blocks preventing me from accomplishing tasks.
On a related note, the entire company has a collaborative culture that is contagious. You want to help others whenever you can; and it has been the case that I’ve received plenty of help from others who aren’t even directly on my team.
What’s kept you here?
Fidel Severino: The people. The collaborative environment. The culture of learning. The unlimited supply of iced coffee. Great office dogs. All of the above!
Jess Harrelson: Seriously though, it was the combination of all that plus so many other things. Getting to work with talented, smart people who want to make a difference.
This article is part of Engineering at Betterment.