Behind the Scenes of Spotify’s NYC Technology Fellowship Program

It is no surprise that the tech industry lags behind on diversity standards and metrics, particularly in the field of software engineering. Most software engineering roles require experience, further compounding the lack of diversity. At Spotify, we’ve designed a number of programs and initiatives to identify, hire, and grow aspiring engineers from a number of backgrounds. One such program is known as Spotify’s NYC Technology Fellowship Program.

The Spotify NYC Technology Fellowship Program is a development program aimed at hiring engineers just entering the professional tech environment from a diverse set of backgrounds. This program has been run successfully three times since 2016 and is currently planning for its fourth iteration. We wanted to share a little more on how the program works at Spotify in the hope that by discussing how we’re trying to tackle some of the hardest issues related to diversity in tech, we can encourage other organizations to do the same, or at least join in on the conversation. 

Program History

In 2015, a group of Spotifiers in NYC developed the outlines of a pilot program to test the hypothesis that given enough support and mentoring, engineers without prior work experience could succeed working at Spotify. Since the usual objection to this type of hiring is that candidates wouldn’t be able to hit the ground running, the program would include a longer onboarding phase as well as more training and mentoring. The first iteration of the program was launched in the summer of 2016.

Sourcing Candidates

Each year the Technology Fellowship Program has focused on finding candidates who are either self taught, attended a coding bootcamp, or have degrees from community colleges not usually reflected in our talent pipeline. To be admitted to the Technology Fellowship Program, you do not need to have any prior on the job technical experience but you must be local to New York City. Since 2017, we have partnered with NYC’s Tech Talent Pipeline to help us source candidates, which has allowed us more access to the City’s abundance of bootcamps and technical training programs. Our interview process is designed to assess for potential rather than experience, and we look for candidates eager to learn as much as possible.

Program Staff

Spotify employees contribute to this program in a variety of ways whether as a domain specific mentor or engineering manager, a technical program lead, or a steering committee member. While employees volunteer for these roles, they gain a lot out of the experience, including the opportunity to mentor and learn new skill sets. Over three program iterations, 45 Spotify employees have participated in an official capacity. Not only is the Fellowship Program developing new aspiring engineers but it is also growing our existing engineers who aspire towards management or any other type of leadership position by giving them hands on experience during their service to the Fellowship Program.

Onboarding

The program begins with 3 weeks of onboarding which is more comprehensive than the typical onboarding process for a Spotify employee, since the program participants (we call them Associate Developers) come from varying experience and exposure to different tech stacks. During this time, each Associate Developer is paired with a mentor from their assigned technical discipline (mobile, backend, or frontend) to bring them through a curriculum of learning, and to ensure they are up to speed on their tech stack and understand the fundamentals of the tools and resources used at Spotify. In addition to the work with their mentor, we aim to provide a failsafe work culture and trust amongst the Associate Developers and their mentors and program leads. Spotify’s culture embraces failure as a learning opportunity and stresses the importance of a growth mindset, both themes which are important in creating a welcoming environment. We also provide the Associate Developers with a variety of workshops on technical and non-technical topics, including imposter syndrome, Agile methodologies, GitHub tips, and productivity techniques.

Project Phase

After the onboarding phase concludes, the Associate Developers work together as a team on a specific project in the Spotify codebase for 9 weeks. The process of working as a squad and attempting to ship a project resembles the way a Spotify team works together and builds new products as much as possible. While the Associate Developers primarily work together as a team, they receive assistance from their assigned program mentors in their discipline as well as countless other engineers from the Spotify community. The phase culminates in a feature demo and celebration.

Embed Phase

After the project phase completes, the Associate Developers are each matched with a different Spotify team for 4-6 weeks where they embed directly into the feature work and projects of that team. The goal of this phase is to evaluate the Associate Developers’ progress with the intent of converting them into a full time role on the team at the conclusion of this phase. During that time, Developers receive an onboarding buddy who helps them adjust to their new squad, and they participate in all team meetings and rituals as any new engineer would. During the final week of this phase, each Developer has a final review of their performance with the hope of full time conversion.

Outcomes

In practice, actually implementing this type of program was much more difficult than anticipated and required more resources and structure than originally thought. However, the results were far better than anticipated which is why the Fellowship Program continues each year. Over three iterations, 87% of the Associate Developers have been hired into full time roles. This has also translated into long term success in that all graduates of the Fellowship Program are still working at Spotify and excelling in their respective areas. The Fellowship Graduates work in several different product areas of the company such as infrastructure, ad-technology, and personalization. Additionally, they specialize in various disciplines including backend, frontend, data, and mobile engineering.

Spotify is proud to be at a point in our company’s journey where we can adequately and whole-heartedly support a program like this. We also continue to be proud of the investment that our teams have had in the success of the Fellowship Program. We recognize there is still a long way to go in the process of making the tech industry a more equitable place for the multitude of diverse talent out there, but we hope to see the continuation of initiatives like this to keep chipping away at this issue.

Interested in becoming an Associate Developer in our next NYC Technology Fellowship Program? Check here for more information on upcoming dates and application details.

 

2017 Fellowship Associate Developers and staff

 

2018 Fellowship Associate Developers and Tech Lead