Every New Employee Codes an App First Week on the Job

by Matt Nowack

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In the early days of Twilio, the cloud communications platform company where I work, the company’s founders decided that priority number one was customer empathy. That’s not unique, of course. But as a company created by developers for developers, early on we all had the job of talking to customers constantly. When the company was younger, we worked in a small office where everyone knew everything that was going on.

As the company grew, we knew we wanted to keep that part of the culture alive.

To do that, we came up with a rite of passage for new employees that we believe has been key to preserving a company culture focused on customer empathy, even as we’ve scaled from a startup to a public company with over 650 employees.

Twilio’s platform powers everything from the call you make to your Uber driver to let them know you’re on the corner, to the text conversation you have with your Airbnb host, to the two-factor authentication code you use to login to Box. As consumers, we’re all familiar with these everyday experiences, but if you’re not technical, you likely have little insight into what goes into building the apps that create them. That didn’t feel right. If you work at Twilio, you should know how to use Twilio. Otherwise, how can you market it, sell it, or talk to customers about it? 

But how can you provide non-technical employees an understanding of what a cloud communications API looks like under the hood?

This question was the genesis for what we at Twilio call “Coding Bootcamp.” During the first week of work at Twilio, every new employee is asked to sign up for a week-long crash course that teaches them to code. During this week, a crew of volunteers from the Twilio engineering team leads five 2-hour sessions for the newest cohort of hires. The first three days are spent learning step by step how to build simple apps on the Twilio platform – a conference line, a voice recording, a text response. For the last two sessions, the group breaks into smaller groups and gets to work on their own app ideas alongside the engineers, who are there to troubleshoot. While all bootcampers learn to code in Python and are taught the same set of use cases (texting apps, voice IVRs, etc), each bootcamper must complete their own unique app. We’ve seen everything from an app that sends birthday reminders via text message to a traffic alert system to an app that plays lullabies for kids when their parents are out.

It may seem kind of strange to have every marketer, salesperson, recruiter, and finance person spend a week programming an app, a skill they’ll never use in their day job. Yet, this is a rite of passage at Twilio. Whether you work in a technical role or not, you build an app using Twilio’s communication platform and present it to the company as part of one of our company dinners. If you show your coworkers that you successfully developed an app that can make a call or send a text through the Twilio platform, you are rewarded with a red Twilio track jacket and a roaring round of applause by the Twilio team.

Bootcamp ensures that “wearing your customer’s shoes” is more than a value written on the wall. It ensures that all 650 employees have a concrete sense of the product we offer and how our customers might use it. That means more effective salespeople, more empathetic product managers, and employees across the company who are happier, more productive and more passionate about their work.

While teaching employees to code won’t be the solution for every company, I encourage every company, regardless of size, to find a way to connect your employees to the customers you serve. This is especially important for companies that aren’t consumer-facing. If you’re hiring at Facebook you can safely assume all your employees have some sense of what it feels to use the platform. That’s harder if you sell to businesses, or, like Twilio, make technical products for developers to use. At the end of the day, passionate, empathetic employees affect your bottom line more than any other company strategy. Whatever your version of Bootcamp is, there’s a way to make sure those employees understand what you offer and empathize with the people who use it.

Source:  http://hbr.org/2016/12/why-we-ask-every-new-employee-to-code-an-app-their-first-week-on-the-job

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