276. How To Stand Out as a Software Engineer? (with Dan and Genesis)

October 18, 2022

Companies receive a large number of applications during the recruitment process which places extra pressure on candidates to stand out amongst the masses. How do you present your resume professionally while ensuring you catch the attention of recruiters? In today’s conversation, we talk to two people who work in the world of talent acquisition to give us insider knowledge on how to get the attention of recruiters while presenting your worth to the company. Dan Chessin and Genesis Osorio are both involved with talent acquisition at Stride, with many years of experience in the recruiting sector. They provide insight into the qualities and experience that recruiters look for and how to stand out during each phase of the interview process. Hear what extracurricular activities will get a recruiter's attention, why continually wanting to learn is a trait they look for, what destination days are, and the company's expectations after hiring. We also discuss alternative interview techniques organizations use such as the pair programming approach. Tune in to discover how to make yourself stand out and get the inside edge on the competition with Dan Chessin and Genesis Osorio!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • We start by hearing about Dan and Genesis’s professional career backgrounds.
  • What standout qualities they look for in a software engineering resume.
  • Why you should have a GitHub account link in your resume. 
  • Hear what qualities are sought after during the phone interview.
  • Reasons why you will likely not grow professionally in COBOL programming.
  • Hear about alternative interview methods that are developer specific.
  • Dan shares what type of alternative interview methods are used at Stride.
  • Genesis shares details about the pair programming interview technique. 
  • Reasons why it is important to communicate what you do not know.
  • The expectations that the company has for new hires.
  • Find out about the various technology platforms used at Stride.
  • And much more!

Transcript for Episode 276. How To Stand Out as a Software Engineer? (with Dan and Genesis)


[00:00:01] MN: Hello, welcome to The Rabbit Hole: The Definitive Developers Podcast, living large in New York. I'm your host, Michael Nunez. Today, we're going to talk about how to stand out as a software engineer.


[00:00:12] MN: I imagine that there is a lot of work out there as a software engineer. There might be more jobs than people who can fulfill that role. But you want to stand out, and lucky for you all listening, I'm not alone in this. I actually have two hiring professionals here with me. I have Genesis Osorio and I have Dan Chessin. Good afternoon, you all. How are you all doing today?

[00:00:38] DC: Doing well. Doing well, Michael.

[00:00:38] GO: Doing well. Thank you for asking.

[00:00:41] MN: Awesome. Dan let's start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

[00:00:45] DC: Yeah, thank you. Hi, you all. My name is Dan Chessin. I'm based in Chicago, Illinois. I've been working with Stride for about a year and a half running the recruiting side of things, working with engineers, designers, product managers. All said and done, I have about 13 years of professional recruiting experience most of that in consulting. We'd love to hear from you, Gen.

[00:01:09] GO: Hello, all. Yes. So, my full name is Genesis. Pretty cool. But many have called me, Gen, which is totally fine. Just wanted to make sure because I know both of you call me Gen. I am the talent acquisition specialist here at Stride. I've been with Stride for seven months, and I am based off of Denver, Colorado. My main focus is recruitment, but also talent branding, as of right now.

[00:01:31] MN: Awesome. So, I imagine you all seen a fair share of software engineering resumes that exist out in the wild. And I'm sure that's like the very first thing you see in a software engineer is probably their resume. Genesis, do you have like a thing or two that you would see in a resume that’s like, “Yeah, that's a plus”, on this particular piece of document that we use to identify the work we've done in the past.

[00:01:55] GO: Yeah, and I think, Dan definitely will agree with me on this. I think the first thing that we – if it's stated on the resume, I'm over the moon about it, immediately when I see someone that has practiced in the past XP practices, TDD, pair programming, or as a full stack engineer. Typically, that's the first thing that I'm like, “Pass.”

[00:02:14] MN: Awesome. Yeah. So, it's just like the XP practices in that regard is something that you deem highly on a resume. Dan, do you agree?

[00:02:22] DC: I would absolutely agree. XP, Extreme Programming and Test-Driven Development, TDD are hyper important to what we do. Outside of those specific topics, we're also just looking for a general passion in this industry, learning moments, certificates, and any conferences, they've attended any blogs, they take part in, how much they contribute to that GitHub. Those are the types of kind of quick facts we can look through to identify potential candidates for Stride.

[00:02:46] MN: You mentioned GitHub. Do you have a GitHub account? Or you just check people's profiles? Is that the way to check?

[00:02:52] DC: Absolutely, I do not personally have an account. But I am trained on how to review an account, how many submissions and code reviews and whatnot these individuals have worked towards, but also what tech stacks are they most prevalent in? What tech stacks do they want to be learning? Things like that.

[00:03:08] MN: I see. Right. So, XP practices on the resume, that gives you an idea, like, “Hmm, there's a phone number on this piece of paper, we can call and see if they're interested in the hiring pipeline.” Then I'll ask you now. So, they got you in with the resume. Now, the phone call happens, where you get to talk to them, make sure that they're sane, and that they kind of can back up the things that are on the resume. What are some things that stand out on the phone call?

[00:03:35] DC: Yeah, absolutely. Time and time again, the reason I'm most impressed by potential candidates on the call is having a curiosity. Having a curiosity for what we do, how we do it, and how it might benefit that individual. Those candidates stand out to me more so than the candidates that are low energy, not asking too many questions, just making sure you explain the team and role but not having a back-and-forth conversation. So, I'd say a curiosity about the team and role is one of the big things and easiest ways to stand out on an initial phone call.

[00:04:08] MN: Right. So, the idea of like, you call them and they're just talking about how great the work that they do is not entirely the thing that you would want to capture more, that they're passionate about the place that they're being called from. If you're getting a good call from Stride, then you would want that person to be interested in the Stride way and the way we work. But if they're being called at another company, then they should also be passionate at the company culture and their business model and stuff like that.

Gen, what's your go to, plus mark when it comes to, on the phone call? Because we went over that on the resumes.

[00:04:46] GO: Yeah, I think a lot of things really stand out to me and but one of the main things is, I love when individuals express that they want to learn or grow in their careers, even at a senior or lead level, they always talk about continuous learning. I think it goes off of what Dan just said, in terms of curiosity. We're really, really big on learning and development here at Stride. We work with many different clients, so I do think that consistent wanting to learn, and wanting to learn different tech stacks, I think that's something that is really, really crucial. Another thing that I look at, is if the individual seems almost adaptable, and we ask specific questions towards that as well, right? Adaptability and collaborative as well. So, collaborative because of the pair programming. Adaptability, because you're jumping from client to client sometimes. So, I want to see how you are when you switch, I guess, switch in terms or like shift your mindset to some extent.

[00:05:40] MN: Yeah, I also want to point out the idea of learning and continuing to grow is a thing that, like we look for. And one of the advice that I would give any software engineers that ensure that the place that you're interested in working at, also is ensuring that you have that experience as a software engineer. I understand that if you do COBOL programming right now, you'll make a lot of money, but you won't be growing as well in the future of the things that are out there and you'll be like pigeonholed into COBOL based development. I mean, they make a lot of money. It's a crazy time to be a COBOL developer.

But Gen, as you mentioned, the idea of like learning to grow, having that curiosity to want to grow and be adaptable to different frameworks and languages to ensure that they grow as an engineer is something that one should be mindful about when they go to explain to their potential hiring manager, whether at Stride or elsewhere.

Awesome. So, this might get a little bit more specific. Spoiler alert, I've also been part of the hiring process at Stride. So, I can probably talk about some things that are developer specific that the developers would learn and would know and understand. But ok, phone call, right? You got the phone call. It went well. We have a person who is now getting the phone call. And I understand, have you all ever worked in companies that dealt with a different kind of interview process after the fact for software engineers? Whether it was whiteboarding, or you need to solve this 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. I'm curious if you all had any experience with what happened afterwards, that's a little different than Stride before we go into that.

[00:07:19] DC: Yeah, absolutely. I had the pleasure of recruiting before the pandemic, and one thing that we did was actual in person whiteboarding sessions. So, we would have a particular prompt or problem to solve. Sometimes it'd be a real-life situation. How would you reprogram Netflix based on what you know now? And we would do those kinds of real-life situations in a room with the individual. And to shift into the virtual world, we still needed to get that same type of information across. So, we here at Stride are proud to have a paired programming code session that happens live during your interviews, which we've gotten some tremendous feedback on.

But I know generally speaking, this is the stage where potential hires or potential companies rather, want to be seeing your expertise. And so, we're all trying to find new ways in the virtual world to figure out how to kind of suss out that information in terms of what you're talented at, versus what you want to grow on, and things like that. I will say, one thing that can really separate you from the rest of the pack at this stage of the game, is to not only show what you know, and how you learned it, but also how you can potentially teach others. That's a big piece we're looking here at Stride, and I think in the industry, generally, we're looking for team players that want to coach the individuals around them. So yes, showing your expertise, but also showing how you potentially train someone else.

[00:08:40] MN: Yeah, that's a good point. Because like, I feel there is all these different companies are looking for lead developers, and senior, plus, plus, plus, but that they come from somewhere, right? And if you just have a lead developer, in their individual contributor role, just nose down pushing out features, how do we ensure that we lay the groundwork for junior engineers to become leads in the future that you can then potentially hire? And I think, Dan, as you mentioned, the ability to not only show your stuff, but also be competent enough to teach it to someone else, shows that you have a better understanding of the thing that you're talking about and that you're whiteboarding.

Gen, were there any differences in the experiences before in the past with whether it was whiteboarding or something else? I made up the jigsaw puzzle. I don't know if that's actual thing. And if it was, I would definitely fail that. So, any other parts of the interview that normally would happen after the phone call?

[00:09:37] GO: Yeah, in my previous experience, we actually had in that home code test. And this was obviously, and to Dan's point, again, it's just more so, this was the beginning phases of us kind of moving 100% remote. We wanted to make sure that everyone had the capability of actually completing the code test, kind of giving people the ability to not use Wi-Fi and to kind of do it on your own space, in your own mental space, so that you were a little bit more comfortable. But I do really enjoy the pair programming here at Stride. I do think that the code test here is so different, and it does allow for us to really see whether that individual is able to collaborate and work with others, and also, just coach and mentor, kind of guide someone through. I do think that Bobby and AFB, and everyone that usually pairs during the interview process does a really good job at also cueing that person up to, to say, like, “I don't know how to do this. Can you teach me?” Just to see how that individual kind of collaborates and helps others.

[00:10:37] MN: Yeah, because pair programming is not like the average thing in the wild. People are very interested in it, and the culture of pairing two heads, one problem, “What are you nuts?” Like separate, do whatever you need to do. So, I do run into a lot of people who aren't familiar with the idea that they have to think out loud, and one thing I do like about the pairing session is that, it's not just an interview on what they know, but on the collaboration aspect that you mentioned before, Genesis. The idea that they're able to say, first off, being able to say, “Hey, I'm not quite sure how do we move forward in this in an interview”, takes a lot of guts, right? It's like, “I'm letting know right now that I don't know and I'm willing to work with you on how do we get better at this.”

So, like, showing some humility and things that you don't know, and working with your pair to do that, that's something that's very specific to Stride in terms of a pair programming interview. But you get more out of that interview, because it's not just, “Oh, we gave Bobby a code test and Bobby can do it.” Right? And it's just like, “All right, but there's more to that, there's more to the job than just crushing out features.” If you're not collaborative enough, then it may not work well. Or, you have a specific way of building something and you don't like the way other people code for whatever reason. You get to feel that in the pair programming session in real time, and I know that's really nerve racking for folks. But I try my best to ease them in, like, “Yo, it’s all right, bro. I'm here with you. We’ll move together. If you don't know something, I'll be more than happy to provide and see how you move forward after that.”

[00:12:14] GO: I do think that it speaks to one of our values at the company, right? Building relationships, working relationship, we want you to build a relationship with the clients. But we also want you to build relationships within the company as well. So, I do think it really speaks volumes for that as well in the interview process.

[00:12:29] MN: Right.

[00:12:30] DC: Michael, based on one thing you said, I want to kind of double click and expand. That self-identification of topics or concepts that you're not familiar with, the absolute best piece of advice I can give to a candidate interviewing anywhere, whether it be Stride, or just generally in this tech marketplace is do admit you don't know something. But on top of that, add in how you go about finding that information. That is one thing I've found that really separates kind of candidates from the rest of the pack is, A, self-identification of gaps, but also explaining how they go about getting those answers. Those candidates tend to do the best in our interview process and throughout my career.

[00:13:06] MN: Awesome. Yeah, I just want to do a little recap real quick, before we move forward. The idea of, all right, on the resume, what does it look like? You have really interesting tech stack, you have other extracurricular things in there, including open-source programming and mentorship amongst other groups of folks. When you're on the phone call, you talk about the company that you are interviewing about, that you understand their goals and the company culture and whether you have questions about it, you're able to ask that. I think another note that I wrote down is look up the company's values and see how you align to those values, right? Some people may look at the Stride core values and talk about how that resonates with them. And I imagine there are tons of companies, I think. I can't remember the ones from Amazon. I think they got like 12 different values that they have. But look up the website, make sure you know the organization that's calling you and interested in you working at this place, so you can move forward. And then when it comes to the interview itself, being able to show off the things that you know, that was on that piece of paper at first, also willing to teach folks how to do those particular skills and living to the values of the organization when you're in the interviews themselves. I think, I caught everything. But I don't know, Gen or Dan, if I want to speak anything more in a general sense before we move on to the next part.

[00:14:32] DC: No, I think you summarized it quite well. If I can summarize it in a word, it's passion. It's just putting a little bit of extra energy into the call.

[00:14:39] GO: Yeah, I completely agree. I think that was something that I was actually talking to one of our teammates about. He used to be a lead developer at Stride here. Now, he's a delivery director. And he mentioned that the group of individuals here at Stride, the engineering team here is super passionate about what they do and that's what really drives the culture. And it's because they're eager to learn more about technology and about engineering practices. I think that's what really like hits home for us during these interviews.

[00:15:07] DC: And being able to be a part of that culture add is very, very important for me, and I imagine a lot of other software engineers. In one of our previous podcast episodes, we actually had Andy Hunt, who is an amazing software developer who shared the, “Change organization, or change your organization.” You can either change it from the inside or just change to a different organization. I think if you're working within an organization that is willing to change the culture for the better, that's what people are looking for. I imagine that you all are interested in those people standing out to add to that organization. But remember that, change the organization or change your organization, you can choose which one is which, but you get the idea, I guess.

Awesome. And there are many other different parts of the interview that we have at Stride that is specific to the work that we do, right? There's the consulting at Agile, and then there’s the architecture one. That one sounds like more of a, I don't think we do whiteboarding but it's more like, “Hey, tell us about your experience in the past and what you've done.” How would you build this thing? What are the differences between these database architectures? And why would you use one over the other?”

So, I imagine, we got this person, Bobby comes into the pipeline, resume looks spiffy, he's on the phone call crushing it, pair programming. does a really good job at being able to do the necessary requests that are being asked, architecture on the consulting, Agile is great. We hire Bobby. Yay, what do we expect from Bobby? And I asked this like, not only as like in Stride’s sense, but once you hire someone into the organization, what do you expect from them to do? 

[00:16:50] DC: Yeah, I can go ahead and get started on that, Michael. Once we've decided to hire someone, we're confident they have some skills that they're bringing to the table. But there's also some arenas of growth for them. So, those first couple of weeks, we want to work through a baseline training so that all individuals at Stride, regardless of level, location or skill set, all have the same vernacular to speak with our clients. It's what we here at Stride call ‘baseline training’. It's what more generally in the industry called onboarding.

So, we're going to jump straight into onboarding so that we give the real-life skills and topics of conversation, methodologies, so that everyone at Stride is having the same conversation with clients. Outside of that onboarding, or baseline training, whatever you and your firm might call that, we expect people to hit the ground running. Even if you're a manager, we expect our engineering managers to code. Almost all individuals here at Stride and engineering side are coding about 80% of the time, and that can be different depending where you are and what environment you're in, whether you're in consulting or within a product shop and things like that. But we expect people to kind of hit the ground running after that baseline or onboarding training.

[00:17:55] MN: Yeah, I mean, you're going to get your hands dirty now, you got a job, maybe you get to it, bring that elbow grease in. Let's get to over – or like, I guess knuckle grease, right? I'm just saying semi-colons all day. Software developers aren't really moving that much. I'm old. My back hurts. It's a pain. Gen, do you agree with what Dan said? Or is there anything more? I'm curious what you have in mind?

[00:18:16] GO: No, I completely agree. And just to add on, and this might sound a little bit generic, but we obviously want you to live the values of Stride, right? We want you to continue to live that. Once you like walk through the door, we want you to still be collaborative, building those working relationships with the clients or within Stride, and we want you to be curious. Be curious enough to really learn about the clients, but also learn about the company, learn about our different groups that we have. Again, it's that passion behind not just engineering, but also like to stride with Stride.

[00:18:48] MN: Yeah. Ensure that you're providing the value, I think we discussed earlier to the company in that you're adding to it, right? I think that's very, very important for people and new hires to do that. And then of course, your organization is going to operate differently, whether you're, at this point in time, hopefully, if you're hearing this, you're slowly integrated back to a normal world, that consists of things. If this is like five years out, first of, thanks for listening. But the idea that there are going to be other tools that we'll be using, whether it is, you're going to have a Zoom paid account, and you're going to have Miro, and you're going to have all sorts of other stuff, I imagine there, and that's going to be very specific to whatever organization you are hired into. I imagine, there's probably a company out there that still uses Skype, which I don’t  fully understand why one would do that. But you all are familiar with some of the tools that we use here, right? 

[00:19:42] DC: Yeah, absolutely. We want to embrace technology so that our engineers, our product managers, and designers have the tools to get the job done, and you hit the nail on the head, life changed 4 years ago when we switched to this pandemic. So, we're using a lot more Zooms. We’re using a lot more Slacks, Tuples, and Crisps, various systems to make sure that our audio in, audio out is great. So, there's less distractions on a team call. And we want to make sure we're embracing that technology. But we also want to make sure that we're getting back to basics. We’re attempting to plan some in-person meetings. We at Stride, at least, have partnered with a company by the name of Best Paths to have some co-working spaces, opportunities for individuals to get out of the house and get together to work. So, we are obviously embracing technology as we have for the last four years. But we want to layer in some in real life connects on top of that, so that we make sure that we're focusing on collaboration and creativity.

[00:20:39] MN: Right. And just to reiterate, I know folks may hear that, but like, “Oh, no. We all have to be in an office now. This is great.” You're saying that in a sense that it's available for folks to be able to want to communicate – we’re humans. We weren't built to sit in front of a computer all day.

[00:20:55] DC: Absolutely. The way I like to phrase that is we very much have an opt-in culture. So, as much as you want to get together with your team wants to get in person with clients, you can. But if it's also a different time, and you need to be home with your family with you and yours. Absolutely do that. So, I like to consider it an opt-in type culture.

[00:21:14] MN: Yeah. Gen, do you have any other thoughts or tools that are recommended that you offer or mentioned to folks who are joining Stride?

[00:21:21] GO: No, I think that Dan definitely laid the list pretty well. I want to add on to, we call them destination days, the days that we get to meet with individuals. And the reason being is because I'm in Denver, for example, and Dan is in Chicago, but if I wanted to go visit Dan, it would be considered a destination day, where I could go over and work with Dan in Chicago, vice versa. He can come to me. So, I do think it's not like 100% we're going in hybrid, or we're going into work. It's just more so human interaction. Obviously, we want to work with great technology, which we have, but I do think to some extent, we also want to work as a team in person sometimes. So, it's nice that that's available as an option.

[00:22:00] MN: Yeah. And I think the fact that we have that is awesome, as you mentioned, and depending on whatever organization you're hiring into, follow up and ask those questions during the interview as to how are you expected to work with the company and whether it's going to be tools or co-located, and you have to come in every day versus being remote all the time, no need for any of that, which is really, really interesting. I would imagine that whatever you're going to look for work, these are things that you would have to get familiar with in order to get the work done. So, Dan, how can people reach out to you in terms of any specific questions that they have about how to stand out as a software engineer or potential work here at Stride?

[00:22:40] DC: Absolutely. We're always looking to engage with great candidates across the board and across the country at this point. So, the best way to connect with Genesis and myself is via LinkedIn. We will make sure we include links to our LinkedIn in the show notes, and also, we're both pretty easy to find on LinkedIn. If you search us on, @DanChessin, @GenesisOsorio, we're very excited to connect with you, whether it's just for advice and chit chat, or to potential role here at Stride, we're eager to connect and share some expertise.

[00:23:09] MN: Yeah, and in the meantime, spice up that resume, start looking into that company you're interested in working for and being humble and honest and willing to teach individually, I think is like the – if we had the rainbow over our head, that's what I'm thinking about, stuff like that.

[00:23:27] DC: The more you know.

[00:23:29] MN: The more you know. There you go. So, the more you know about the organization, the more you'll stand out, so take that.


[00:23:37] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear, give us a five-star review and help developers just you find their way into the rabbit hole. Never miss an episode. Subscribe now wherever you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host Dave Anderson, and me your host Michael Nunez. Thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


Links and Resources:

Genesis Osorio on LinkedIn

Dan Chessin on LinkedIn


Agile Enterprise

Episode 122. Pragmatic Folks Part 2 - Own Your Environment




Best Paths

The Rabbit Hole on Twitter

The Rabbit Hole

Michael Nuñez on Twitter