Julia Hurrelmann 02/27/2018

Accelerating Android Talent Through Community Bootcamps

6 minute read

The mobile team knew they needed developers, particularly Android developers. A few years ago, Shopify pivoted to mobile-first, which led to the launches of Shopify Mobile, Shopify Pay, Frenzy, and others. To maintain momentum, Shopify had to keep building up its mobile talent.

Back when Shopify's mobile teams spun up, many of our then-early mobile developers never did any mobile development before, instead teaching themselves how to do it on the job. From this observation, we had an insight: what if we could teach developers how to build an Android app, via a Shopify-hosted workshop?

The benefits were obvious: this educational initiative could help our local developer community pick up some new skills, while potentially allowing us to meet exciting new talent. The idea for Android Bootcamp was born.

Building the curriculum

The main difference between non-mobile and mobile development is languages and platforms used, with much of the logical and systematic thinking remaining transferable. We agreed attendees should have a base level of software development experience in order to attend.

We then worked on establishing the takeaways from the bootcamp. The hope was that the bootcamp could serve as an entry point into mobile development, through completion of a small Android project over the course of two days.

A team of developers, alongside a computing education instructor, created a basic Android curriculum. Participants would learn to build a simple quiz app, integrating several key skills, including defining Android views with XML, Android lifecycles, MVC, JSON parsing and libraries, and fetching remote data. This overview was intended to be a foundational introduction for bootcamp attendees, which would hopefully transfer into a longer Android career.

Reaching out to community groups

We’ve all heard the stories of how tech is lacking diversity, and research clearly demonstrates the benefits of a workforce with diverse experiences. The Android Bootcamp could serve a dual function: educate the local developer community and support people who might typically lack access to educational opportunities. For the pilot we wanted to start with a reasonable cohort size of 15 people.

We partnered with local organizations that already had meaningful relationships with newcomer communities. In Ottawa, we worked with In-TAC, World Skills Employment Centre, and Hire Immigrants Ottawa to find potential bootcamp attendees.

We contacted these organizations with pre-screen criteria for the types of attendees we were looking for—this ensured attendees would be able to make the most of their time at the bootcamp, and that they’d be set up for success—and asked them to send back curated lists. The criteria were as follows:

  • Arrived in Canada within the last 10 years
  • Speaks English (ESL level 6 and higher)
  • 1+ year experience as a developer, anywhere, in any capacity

We offered the bootcamp at no charge, and we asked those interested to apply in order to secure a spot, via a resume, cover letter, and coding challenge. However, our team understood that some aspects of applications, such as cover letters, were not a common application process to all countries, and might’ve been unfamiliar to newcomers to Canada. Recognizing this, we hosted two info sessions where applicants could ask for more details on how to have a successful application, and to source other concerns.

Using the initial lists provided by our partner organizations, we performed secondary rounds of screening. In the end, 165 invitations were sent out for info sessions. When scheduling our info sessions, we chose to host them at two different times (one in the morning, and one in the evening) in the hopes of accommodating as many attendees’ schedules as possible. In total, 54 people attended across both sessions.

At these info sessions, both our immediate Talent Acquisition team and volunteer Shopifolk Android developers were present. Importantly, we were explicit in what the criteria for success would be, rather than trying to misdirect applicants with trick questions or confusing requirements. Strong applicants would need to be able to explain three whys: why the bootcamp, why with Shopify, and why the applicant.


Accessibility was an integrated principle at all stages of planning and running the bootcamp. We considered the following:

  • As we mentioned, we consulted with third-party organizations to give us sourced lists of talent, based on a set of criteria, rather than creating an open application. We wanted to specifically target newcomers to Canada.
  • We hosted info sessions at two different times to accommodate different schedules. One success we saw from this was that a higher ratio of women attended the morning session. 
  • During these info sessions, we were extremely clear that the bootcamp was an educational initiative, rather than a hiring one. We believed it was important that attendees had clear knowledge of what they were applying to.
  • We asked participants to inform us of accommodation requests for the bootcamp beforehand via email. Some of these included accessible seating arrangements and prayer times and spaces.
  • The team that ran the bootcamp attended a cross-cultural competency workshop.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and we learned a lot after the bootcamp. We’ll continue to improve accessibility in our educational initiatives in the future.

Running the camp

We received 33 applications for Android Bootcamp, and accepted 14: 7 men and 7 women. Prior to the start of the camp, my team and the volunteer bootcamp mentors attended a cross-cultural competence awareness workshop provided by Hire Immigrants Ottawa. The workshop was so well-received that it later formed the foundation of a training video the Talent Acquisition team is working on right now.

The bootcamp was held in October in Shopify’s Ottawa office. Alongside the above considerations, the workshop also included activities to allow participants to become acquainted with each other, such as icebreakers, an office tour, and scheduled mealtimes.

A total of six Shopifolk acted as Android development mentors during the duration of the bootcamp. One acted as the primary ‘teacher,’ while 4-5 mentors rotated to sit with and support participants in a hands-on manner. Participants worked on building a simple quiz game, and learned about basic skills and toolsets in Android development based on the curriculum.

The results

After the bootcamp, we surveyed attendees anonymously to source feedback on the bootcamp. Feedback was very positive, with most criticism for the room being too small. Participants said that the bootcamp covered the content they were hoping for, that they felt they had learned a lot, and that they enjoyed the mentor-student interaction. The overall happiness was 100%!

1 = not helpful at all, 5 = very helpful

1 = not satisfied at all, 5 = very satisfied

1 = not happy at all, 5 = very happy

    Looking forward

    The Talent Acquisition team hopes to promote similar initiatives in the future that focus on educating and enriching both Shopify’s and the local development community. Android Bootcamp catalyzed Shopify’s Android developers to undergo sensitivity training and adopt mentorship roles for a brief period. Plus, via the Bootcamp, many developers became interested in working at Shopifyto date, one of the Bootcamp attendees is now at Shopify full-time, while another is set to join in May! We felt the project was a success, with wins for everyone, and a second Android Bootcamp is being planned for June.