Andrea Ross
Posted 09.24.2018

Why Dev Degree Matters

I would like to tell you a story of why you should apply to Dev Degree. If your child is the one applying, let me share a bit about the people you’ll be entrusting your child to. If I do this right, hopefully you’ll feel as excited about Dev Degree as I am, beyond the education, salary, paid tuition, vacation, meals, graduating in 4 years rather than 5, and other great perks.

In tech there are many stories that aren’t told. You often hear the exceptional cases of resounding successes, and it all looks so simple. The lone wolf had a great idea, was more talented than anyone else, and legendary success was almost inevitable. This catches our attention for sure. Except it’s fundamentally not true. That’s not the way it really works.

Developing complex systems is a team sport. To win, you need to be able to solve problems that are bigger and more complex than any one team member’s ability to grasp. The team needs to be able to grapple with daunting problems, and solve them in a cohesive way across a group of people. If you do this well, you get to keep doing it. Rarely do students see and get to practice these types of skills at university. In Dev Degree, you do them constantly for the full 4 years of the program.

More than you might expect, developing and maintaining cohesion is needed to help facilitate information passing in a team. Tech has historically cheated a bit by hiring people who were very similar to each other. The downside with this approach is that many crucial perspectives are missed, along with much of the available talent. Diversity just makes good business sense. Dev Degree continues to be on a par with society for diversity, for example, with 50% of our students being women, and much more diverse than the tech industry currently is. We have no quotas and we don’t lower the bar. We seek the best talent. To help find and nurture talent, we engage people ahead of their applying to Dev Degree and help them prepare well. We also ensure people without prior programming experience receive all the training they need to thrive in the program.

I want to share with you that Dev Degree wasn’t always the incredible work-integrated learning model that we see today. Launching the pilot project was a bit rushed. Not surprisingly, we definitely hit some bumps and learned many things. As just one example, we needed a lot more developer skills training upfront than what we originally had. We needed a better performance measurement and feedback system. We learned that wellbeing, the third pillar of our model, was so powerful, it could knock out the other two (academics and work placements). 

We could do as others have done and tell you a hero story. Such a story might say that we suddenly had a stroke of genius, from an especially talented employee, and fixed everything. Instead, the magic came from building one of the top tech education teams on the planet. The team is made up of its people, and its practices. A few of these practices were especially powerful, so I would like to tell you about them. 

In addition to team-wide methods for passing ideas around efficiently and accurately, mechanisms to ensure people feel safe to challenge ideas help the team to recognize and build upon great ideas. This also helps and address potential issues proactively. Ideally, any idea can be challenged by anyone, at any time, with guaranteed safety. This can be uncomfortable. It often takes more time to hash things out compared to a team without these characteristics and practices. Many people aren’t used to working in such an environment. We teach Dev Degree students how to do this appropriately, and we model it ourselves so we all get plenty of practice. Everyone on the team is deeply passionate about teaching Dev Degree students well, looking after their wellbeing, and delighting people who work with Dev Degree students. We channel that into delivering the best possible program.

Dev Degree is a competitive program, with a large number of applicants. The team built an innovative application screening process. We screen applicants blind to name, age, gender, race, religion, or other such characteristics. We test thinking, not prior programming experience. This helps us to avoid bias, and to spot talent we might otherwise miss. We then have a diverse team of interviewers interview a selection of top candidates. Three interviews comprise this process, and each is tuned to explore difference facets with the candidates. Then the hard part begins, as the team meets to debate which candidates we will make offers to. We review a broad set of data such as the resume, application data, and interview data from each of the three interviews.

Once a candidate signs their offer, we start preparing for their onboarding. We do Dev Degree onboarding in late August, just before most universities do their orientation week, so that all the Dev Degree students in a given year will have met each other. This helps them find mutual support and friendship right off the start. Over the first 8 months in the program, we teach all tools, practices, and technologies that Dev Degree students will need. Prior programming experience is beneficial, but not required. We also pair every student up with a Life@Shopify mentor. This is a trusted buddy to support them in their journey, and they aren’t measuring the students’ performance in any way. We’re pretty good at matchups, but students can switch Life@Shopify mentors at any time if the fit isn’t quite right.

Throughout the 4 year program, Dev Degree interns will work for at least 8 months at a time in at least three different technology areas. For example, one might start in front end web technology at first, switch to mobile for a second placement, and join our security team for a third. Dev Degree students work 25 hours per week at Shopify, and usually take 3 courses per term at the university. This usually means roughly equal hours at Shopify and with course work, but it can vary for heavy assignment and exam times. Dev Degree students work through the summer, in order to graduate in 4 years, and they have 5 weeks of paid leave per year to help them balance the demands of accelerated program.

Every week, Dev Degree students are asked to fill out a report to share how they’re doing in their academics, work placement, and well being. Our team monitors these reports closely to support students who might need it. Every two weeks, Dev Degree students get a full performance evaluation, which gives them great feedback on how they are doing, and what they should work on next to keep growing. This constant feedback makes a huge difference to benefit students’ learning.

The model is extremely well thought out, but execution is the key thing. Dev Degree students work with one of the top tech education teams on the planet. This is who we are: a talented team cares deeply about what we do. We are very mindful of the tremendous responsibility we have. We hold ourselves to a very high standard meeting these responsibilities. It is our privilege and joy to teach and support your child on their Dev Degree journey.