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A lot of it is timing: Reflections on a tech job hunt

I really appreciate job hunt posts and I thought I’d share one from my recent search. My favorites in this genre are Sarah Withee’s posts (there are two!), and Laurie’s (recent, chronologically to this posting).

Also seems like a good time to plug that I have an ebook available for sale with all my strong opinions on job hunting in one place. Surprisingly (or not?) I think it’s still useful as a generalized framework in so far as, if you ask me in particular for job hunt advice, I will ask if you have read that yet, and if not, suggest that you do and then we can get to more specific challenges.

The “surprisingly” part is I wrote that book with ~5 years of experience, and I have twice as much now, years-wise, but do not feel as confident as I felt when I wrote that book! Life is strange.

Anyway.

This is a tale of my most recent search. I wrote a post the other day about a framework I used for figuring out what I want in my job. This meant when I started looking, I had a solid grounding in “what’s next” would look like for me. Once that was more or less idealized, it was time to “start”. Companies are referred to by code words that are mammals. Onwards!

Company Aardvark

How it began: The first conversation started, as they may, on a fairly ordinary night. With a recruiter email that is related to a company where you know someone at the company.

So, I replied to the person I know saying, “Hey, what would it look like if I wanted to look into this?” (not the recruiter). And then we had a phone call. It went well, in so far as I took a bunch of notes and was half tempted to continue. However, I said I’d take a day to sleep on it, and reviewed my MNAM list, and decided not to pursue any further. We parted ways amicably.

Company Capybara

How it began: I saw a tweet of someone hiring for a role in an industry I’ve pondered working in.

And here, a tangent. “What is a Tech Company? What are industries?” Heyyy if you’re reading the tangent welcome, it’s totally optional. But I thought it might be helpful to clarify that when I talk about “industries” in tech that could sound odd. But I would classify a fairly narrow category of companies as tech companies. Companies that build technology, and that is what their business sells. Technology. Meanwhile, plenty of industries, one could dare say … most of them … have technology heavily involved in their critical path. But they don’t sell Technology. Thus, “industries”. Thank you for joining on this tangent.

We chatted and since I was interested in exploring maybe working in that industry, we decided to have a call to talk about the role and such. I enjoyed our conversation, and I’d already applied since in our chat, the person I spoke to suggested it.

Unfortunately, the recruiter got back to me about three weeks later. With an email sent at 9pm on a Sunday. Asking for a Monday morning meeting (with Zoom already attached). I did not respond immediately, and responded later Monday with options for later in the week [this was not responded to]. A different recruiter responded to my application a week later. I sent the recruiters, and the person I’d networked with from Twitter, a note to let them know I would not be pursuing the opportunity.

Company Dingo

How it began: One of my good friends works at Dingo. They really like it, have had a good time, and recommended the company. They got me in touch with a manager to network and talk more about what roles look like. That led me to another manager chat, and another manager chat, at which point I asked if I could get the Formal Process rolling because we maybe found a team where I would match.

Dingo is a large, public company, and I can’t tell if I made a mistake here by trying to find a match for a role before doing the interview. But, I also didn’t want to waste my time on an interview if I wouldn’t be interested in working at the company.

The Formal Process involved a recruiter screen and coding challenge, which I was very worried about and then was fine. When I didn’t hear from them a week later, I checked in, and was informed I’d moved to the next stage.

The next stage was a full-day loop, with architecture, “technical deep dive” (aka “talk to me about your projects”), and “pair programming” which was really more of a continued coding screen (which is fine, but, okay). I did not get an offer. This makes me sad, because I wish I could say “and they gave me an offer, but here’s what was wrong” and so I want to leave the “what was wrong” out of this post, but I think that would make this post less useful! I also suspect this interview loop tested well for if you study for interviews, which I hadn’t done terribly in depth.

At Dingo, every person I spoke to in the interview loop was an engineering manager, and all of them were men. This was a giant sack of red flags, because at no point during the Formal Process did I speak to anyone doing the job they were theoretically hiring me to do. This made no sense to me, and I’m still confused by it even though I’m sure it’s explained with a rational explanation.

Company Elephant

How it began: A friend works there and I told them I was hunting.

Elephant is frankly working on extremely cool shit. Extremely. And the friend I spoke to at Elephant was so kind and helpful in chatting about both the role there, and also speaking more generally. Particularly because me and friend might be working very closely, we wanted to be careful about checking the fit.

Unfortunately, the timelines between me and Elephant got out of whack, and I had an offer I was happy with, and so I dropped out of the process.

Company Fox

How it began: A friend works there and I told them I was hunting.

A small startup, I think they’ll be profitable and successful, but quite small as a company and not quite the kind of tech I want to work on. Really nice people and great conversations though, and I referred a friend to them.

Company Giraffe

How it began: A friend works there and I told them I was hunting.

A mid-sized startup, with a variety of work available and in an interesting industry. The management structure had red flags, and I also ended up chatting with a friend who (surprise to me!) had recently left that company, and so gave me a view of “what it’s like there” and it sounded like it wouldn’t be a good fit.

Company Hamster

How it began: I texted a friend asking if they’d recommend their company. They said yes, and offered to refer me.

After my friend sent the referral, the team gave her feedback that it didn’t look like I have corresponding experience (I very much do), and that feedback left a bad taste in my mouth. It was ultimately helpful (feedback you don’t like is still feedback!) and made me update my resume to help it be better interpreted for those situations.

Hamster did reach out for an initial call, but the first chat wasn’t available for two more weeks. By the time that scheduled call came around, I had an offer I planned to accept and was able to drop out.

Company Jaguar

How it began: Friend who works at company, said they liked their job a lot when I said I was starting to look.

My friend connected me to someone at the company who would have more information about the kind of work to be done and to talk about what I was looking for. We felt like there was a possible mutual fit, and this led to an interview loop.

Before the interview loop, I talked to my friend in-depth about their experience there. It helped me get a sense of what working there was like, and helped me highlight some gaps in my understanding that I’d want to explore during the interview loop (which I felt able to, luckily, because the interview loop had enough of the people from various settings to talk to).

One thing I particularly liked is Jaguar split up the loop over multiple days. When you don’t have to go into an office (remote work), why do we need to cram all the conversations into one day?

Company Kangaroo

How it began: Talked with a friend and mentioned I was hunting, and in the process with some companies.

The role was for SRE, which was not what I wanted, but I would love to work with my friend. So, I investigated anyway, and it was helpful to at least look down that path. Turns out: I didn’t want an SRE role! But I’m very grateful for the conversation, because SRE is something that’s often suggested to me, but ultimately didn’t fit my MNAM framework.

Company Manatee

How it began: I applied through a listing when someone in a Slack mentioned a position.

I’d made some tweaks to my resume after the issues with Hamster, and I got an enthusiastic email from a recruiter a couple days later. I talked to the recruiter in the first call, got some sense of the role, but bailed because of receiving another offer. I think this one could have been interesting, but so much of everything is timing and I didn’t have enough information to continue further.

Company Narwal

How it began: Responded to recruiter outreach because I knew some people at the company already.

We had an initial call and were planning to schedule an initial loop, but I delayed because of other things in flight and because the base salary described in the recruiter call (by the recruiter) was low.

Company Ocelot

How it began: I talked to this company because of Recurse Center. If you are interested in RC generally, I have a lot of posts from my time in retreat there.

One of the benefits of being an alumni is career services, and so Ocelot is a company that works with RC for hiring. The industry was interesting, and the first call screen was with someone I knew from RC, so I felt comfortable being straightforward and honest. This did include that I didn’t see a fit here based on the kind of programming and problems I want to work on, but I did recommend someone else to interview with Ocelot.

Tools to Use

When I got to three companies I’d talked to, I made a spreadsheet. I’ve made an empty version of that spreadsheet in case it’s useful to you (make a copy). However you track your search track it. This made it so much easier not to drop the ball. I’m juggling my full-time job alongside this, you know. Keeping track of all the emails, who owes who what … it’s a lot. Having one place to see everything I had in flight was very helpful.

Lessons learned

A lot of it, so much of it, is timing. I wonder if this is what buying a house is like to some degree? (haven’t done that)

The thing about timing and job searches is that it’s on both ends – if someone doesn’t have good timing for me, that’s not going to work, and if someone needs (i.e. has allocated budget for) a person with my skills two months from now, well…

This is what I try to keep in mind with the stress of the job search as well, and why I am extremely protective of my energy. I am evaluating a company as much (… more?) than they are evaluating whether they ought to hire me. I do not have the energy to go through multiple full-day interview loops.

Another thing I’d like to highlight is that for two of the companies I talked to, I referred someone else to talk to them. I did not do that for companies I didn’t have a very positive experience with/that I wouldn’t recommend. So ponder that as far as effectively communicating during interviews what the company’s needs are – because just because I don’t think I’m a match, it doesn’t mean I don’t know someone who might be.

There are two things I would do differently.

One, I got advice from a friend when I was chatting about the hunt that what they do is keep track of companies where their friends work, who seem to like their jobs and they do that all the time. They always has that going. I am going to start doing that, because “who to talk to” was somewhat difficult living in the pandemic, when I can’t go network in-person.

Next time I’m ready to make a move, I will be looking at that spreadsheet and thanking myself for putting in the effort over time <3

Second, if I wanted to for sure go for a bigger company (Dingo), I’d take more time to study for interviews. I think it’s disgusting that an entire industry has emerged with tooling to study for tech interviews, but if I truly wanted one of these jobs (which … idk, it’s possible I guess), study for Big Tech Interviews in particular. It’s horrible and there’s lots of hand-wringing about how it should be different, but I don’t see it being different.

In Laurie’s post, one of her points (that I agree with) is Don’t start your interviews with the one you most want. However I think this leaves out the key factor of energy. I did not want to put energy into full loops of interviews with places I was fairly confident, at this time, were not a good fit.

I want to say that a few years ago, I did not have so many qualms about this. But since I had a timeline that I wanted to exit on (because of the roadmaps of the work I was involved in, and wanting to be respectful to my future ex-coworkers), I did not have the luxury of “take interviews ~forever” and thus, the thoughts on timing, and that if I wanted more $LARGE_COMPANY options, I’d study for that. But something I learned from even my first conversation, which was just dipping my toe into the waters of searching, was “maybe a smaller company might be a better fit for me.”

And I’ll be writing about that move in a separate post 🙂

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