Inclusion at BenchPrep: A Chat With Two Software Engineers
At BenchPrep, we strive to make our hiring and day-to-day working experiences filled with respect for each other’s identities and compassion for one another’s skill sets. As an education-focused company, we approach all our practices with a learning mindset. We sat down with BenchPrep Software Engineers Julia (she/her/hers) and Rachel (they/them) to learn about both of their experiences in hiring and working at BenchPrep.
Do you recall your interview experience? What stood out?
Julia: I recall the interview being very practical-skills-based. All the skills and technologies I used in the interview I also use for my job on a regular basis. The questions did not seem unnecessarily esoteric or tricky. Furthermore, the interview process was very accommodating of non-professional life. For example, there was no strict time limit on or deadline for the take-home exercise, which allowed me to better demonstrate the preferred competencies despite extra-professional obligations that anyone may have (like parenting and eldercare).
Rachel: I remember my interview really clearly! I was very nervous going into it, but actually ended up having fun and feeling like I got a really good sense of the Engineering team at BenchPrep. I pair programmed with four different engineers on two different challenges. I remember we were able to use resources and Google search, so it felt very realistic, like a glimpse into what working together would actually be like. Everyone was very patient, encouraging, and we had some good laughs, too. To me, this type of interview was ideal and helped me feel much more comfortable and able to demonstrate how I work.
What was your onboarding experience like?
Julia: My onboarding experience was well-attended by my manager and other members of the subteam I was on. I was given background on tickets so I would not feel overwhelmed and paired frequently with other engineers of various levels. I was also made to feel very welcome by those inside and outside the Engineering team at our shared lunch tables and through BenchPrep’s “new hire one-on-ones,” a program that puts a priority on building connections from day one with fellow team members.
Rachel: Onboarding was a great mix of pair programming, videos, reading documentation, live training, and a lot of informal one-on-ones to help you get to know others at the company. I also had frequent check-ins with my manager where he provided technical deep-dives into different parts of our codebase, and those were immensely helpful.
Considering BenchPrep is in the learning industry, how does learning happen as an engineer?
Julia: Learning happens through always being able to ask questions. Someone on the team will always make time to either help me find my own answer or explore the question with me. Planned, regular feedback from colleagues and management has also been immensely helpful.
Rachel: I have learned so much while working at BenchPrep! There’s definitely a culture of learning together, through things like Dev Book Club, cooperative code review, Lunch and Learns, and lots more. We also mix up the teams and projects we work on fairly regularly, so the topics I’m working on never feel stagnant. I’ve also been consistently supported by my manager to learn about things I’m interested in and take advantage of our professional development stipend for books and courses.
What is it like to be an underrepresented engineer in such a heavily male-populated industry?
Julia: I think it is essential to seek out peers and mentors who have shared backgrounds and experiences. It helps quell the inevitable imposter syndrome and makes it easier to see yourself as the professional that you are.
Rachel: For me, this has really depended on the context. I’ve been lucky to have experiences (including at BenchPrep) where I’m often able to almost entirely forget about these dynamics, but also other experiences where sexism or cisnormativity showed up very blatantly.
I think one of the biggest ways this impacted me was in my initial decision to try to find a full-time job as a developer. I absolutely loved coding, but I took a very long time trying to find out if this field was even one I could work in safely as my full self. I did a ton of research into companies to see if they were working deliberately on inclusion before applying. For me, there was also always the question of how to navigate sharing pronouns and wondering if the place would even know what that means.
So I think for many people, there’s just a privilege of not having to worry about any of that. But for some of us, there’s a fundamental question of “will I even be safe there?” or “will I be underestimated, or underpaid, or treated differently?” Having to think about those things can add a lot of extra pressure and stress to finding a job in this field.
What about at BenchPrep?
Julia: I’ve been lucky at BenchPrep to have a very supportive manager. My frustrations about the homogeneity in Engineering have never been minimized or brushed off, and I’ve been encouraged to seek multiple and varied sources of mentorship and career guidance.
Rachel: There were many indications during the application and interview process that BenchPrep took these things seriously and welcomed people of many different identities. There was a place to share my pronouns right in the job application, I was asked thoughtful questions during the interview about working at a diverse company, and I got to meet people with many different identities and backgrounds during the interview process.
Now having worked here for 2 years, one thing I love most about the Engineering team at BenchPrep is the humility at all levels and the lack of feelings of hierarchy. Even very experienced developers are consistently open about things they don’t know or make mistakes on, which sets the tone that we are all learning and there isn’t an expectation of perfection. I also am always asked for my ideas and input and feel that my perspective genuinely matters here. All these things combine to help counteract some of the self-doubt and feelings of being underestimated that can come from belonging to an underrepresented group in Engineering.
What kind of daily support do you get from your manager?
Julia: I get advice, grounding, and clarity from my manager from the small to large scale, whenever I need it.
Rachel: My manager does a wonderful job of balancing providing support around my short-term projects as well as my long-term learning goals. He celebrates successes I’ve had, helps me get un-stuck on challenges, and is somehow always ready with recommendations of resources for any topic I mention an interest in learning about.
What makes BenchPrep’s Engineering team special?
Julia: If I want to try to learn something new, through the sprint cycle, a course, or a lunch and learn presentation, there will always be someone to help me and encourage me in that endeavor. Additionally, it is always understood that everyone is learning and that regardless of relative experience or level, anyone may be able to help or ask questions of anyone else. I never worry about wasting another engineer’s time with a question or being condescended to for a lack of knowledge.
Rachel: From what I know, the ability to switch projects and teams like we do here is pretty unique, and I love the variety of challenges I’ve been able to work on as a result. The team is also just full of people with really interesting hobbies, previous careers, and a love for learning. This mix makes for a very fun work environment, and it’s really motivating to have coworkers genuinely dedicated to the educational products we’re working on.
Join us for the journey of learning! We are hiring for all levels of Software Engineers. Check out our postings on our Built in Chicago page.