By James Van, Director of Career Services and Professional Development at SoloLearn
Tech Companies Are interconnected
The technology industry is a very exciting, fast-paced, hyper-growth, creative, and sometimes experimental place to work. It can be fun and frustrating at the same time. Especially in the startup world, tales of that work hard/play hard mentality, are commonplace. The pressure to grow, and grow fast, is real, and people often work long hours to build out products to get to consumers quickly. Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s look at a few observations that may help provide context.
The tech industry is a relatively small world. While the industry employs millions of people in the US, it is highly interconnected and networked, which makes it feel much smaller than it is. The successful companies you have likely heard of that develop products that you have likely used are interconnected, in that they share similar resources.
Many of them have been funded by the same Silicon Valley VC firms, for example. If you are a founder or CEO, and you need capital to help drive growth and build products, you seek to accept VC money from the most reputable firms. Doing so provides instant credibility -- the assumption being that you must have good ideas, an excellent team, and a great plan to execute on the ideas, otherwise why would a top tier VC firm agree to fund your company?
Accepting investor money enters the company into a deeper relationship between the two entities. Because the VC has a stake in the company, they are now financially motivated to see their investment produce a lucrative return, or exit. The VC firm will provide resources beyond just financing -- mentorship/advisory services, board members, access to talent, and access to its network.
What impact does this have on you, and in your job search? A fair bit:
Follow the money
In developing your list of target companies, “follow the money”. Capital raised from a round of VC funding allows a startup to grow the team to meet the labor demands required for their growth expectations. That startup will hire new people almost immediately following a round of funding. If you follow which companies receive new funding, you can expect those companies to open up new positions.
Evaluate the company
Do company research based on funding history. Hiring is a two-way street: the company is evaluating you, and you are evaluating the company. Its funding history can tell you a lot about the company. The company has taken VC money at what valuation? How many rounds, for how much, and spread over what time period?
Startups taking seed or angel rounds of funding tell you that the company is likely pretty small, which helps you evaluate them as a viable employer compared against your criteria. The valuation can tell you about the potential that the VC sees in the company. If the company has raised multiple rounds of funding over a 10 year span, you might ask questions about whether that company is really a startup anymore or why has that company not matured enough to rely more on revenue than funding.
The VC world (and therefore the tech world, in large part) is very interconnected
This is both good and bad. The largest, top tier VC firms are connected in very similar networks. Because it is a somewhat small and insular group, many argue that diversity is nearly non-existent. The process by which VC firms evaluate pitches from founders is largely similar, many subscribe to very similar criteria on which to evaluate potential. This methodology influences companies that accept VC money -- it behooves you to understand this process, as it will affect your work experience in the tech industry.
Stock and Compensation
Many have made very tidy sums after their company has IPO’d, and their stock options grant has multiplied in value. Some, but very few, have amassed enough money to retire (or at least never worry about finances). The lure of striking it rich is appealing for many, and motivates some to chase the hot companies in hopes of hitting the right IPO. Stock option grants are a useful way for companies to motivate employees. Owning stock is essentially partial ownership of the company. You will likely negotiate your stock options package as part of your overall total compensation package. Now is a great time to learn more about the ins and outs of stock options before you get to the offer stage.
Build Your Reputation
Especially in a highly networked and relatively small community, your good reputation may be a powerful ally in your job search. Successful job seekers often curate a compelling reputation on and offline. As an emerging tech super star, what are your superpowers? And how will others know about them?
What Are Your Superpowers?
What are your strengths? Even if you are a generalist, in what areas do you consider yourself a subject matter expert? Are there areas within your discipline that you find most interesting? If you are a software engineer, perhaps you are very passionate about building excellent, efficient, and robust database systems -- you pride yourself on your ability to scale high speed systems that allow for data pipelines to the data teams. Or maybe you are particularly fascinated in human behavior, and thus how users interact with web design (UX/UI design).
Full stack software engineers are often generalists, but what do you bring to the table that will help differentiate you from others, and also help managers see how you would fit in their development teams? Ask yourself these questions -- finding the answer helps you position yourself for the position you seek at your target company.
Mindset of a Hiring Manager
In any job search, it is critical to adopt the mindset of the hiring manager. Many software engineering hiring managers are more interested in coding and facilitating building deliverables. Whether it's to build something from scratch, or to improve an existing experience, most software hiring managers are trained as software engineers first, and managers second. Hiring new people onto their teams, while being an immensely important part of their team’s success, is typically an undesirable part of the job.
It is essential to know the general workflow of a software engineer (this may be new to you if you have never been one). Learn the general software development lifecycle, how are software teams commonly organized to successfully build products? How does the team interface with other teams, such as marketing, product development, etc? How are code reviews done? How is your code integrated with other code? What are some of the most common tools used? Learning about these things gets you into the mind of the software engineering hiring manager.
Hiring managers will want to assess how you would work with a team of other engineers to develop production level code to build products on a tight deadline? Workflow, pace, quality, peer review, are all parts of professional software engineering that may be a new experience to a new software engineer. Hiring managers will be evaluating your coding skills, as well as your ability to work in a team. Here are some specific things you can do to practice and learn about what it means to be a professional engineer (and showcase your knowledge):
It is not uncommon for hiring managers to pair engineers to program code together. Everyone learns when working with a partner, and someone will also know what you are doing when you are coding. In this programming process, one person is typically the driver, and the other is the navigator who observes, directs, and comments). Pair programming is also extensively used as an evaluation tool during the interview. Much like any test or skills assessment, you are more likely to do well by practicing. Here are some common tools engineers use to pair program.
Most engineering teams have a code review process, wherein someone’s code is reviewed by others -- either a hiring manager, another teammate, or in a team meeting. Any critique can be an intimidating experience. Practice by having someone review your code several times, ideally by different people. The experience can be humbling, but it is part of the learning experience and will serve you well in your job search and career.
Product Development Lifecycle
Even if you only contribute to one part of the lifecycle of the product you’re working on, your understanding of the entire process will help you work in a cross-functional environment. You will need to understand the needs of other engineers, product teams, marketing teams, etc. In other words, zoom out and look at the bigger picture to understand the process in which products are conceived, built, and launched. At the end of the day, you are part of a team to help build products that will add value to the company. Part of your job is to understand how your work fits into the larger puzzle.
Build Your Own Projects
The best way to convince a hiring manager that you are able to do the job is to show your code for something that you have built. For example, for full stack engineering, there are decisions that go into building a project -- what database will you use, and how will you configure it? Why do you make these choices? Your answers may be influenced by the nature of the product, its intended users, and any constraints. This may require you to do some research on tools, databases, languages, etc. Research will be helpful when telling your story to hiring managers later when you walk them through your decision process. This discussion separates beginners from more advanced beginners.
Stress Test Your Project To Simulate Production Stresses
Once you have built your product, use tools to measure how well your product performs -- latency, efficiency, how many users can it handle simultaneously, etc. Make note of these baseline performance metrics. Then set goals for improvement in each of these areas. You are measuring how fast websites load, how fast your code runs, and how quickly your database performs. If you are not sure how to measure it, and how to improve it, google using a search string that matches your specific technology needs. Continue to work on improving the performance of your project. Then practice articulating your improvement process so you are ready to discuss it with a hiring manager.
Showcase Your Project
Host your project on a website or other medium that allows others to use, consume, or play with your project. You will naturally have your code hosted on GitHub or Stack Overflow, but it is also helpful to create a website or more user friendly medium to allow others to demo the finished product. Some hiring managers will review your code on Github, so make sure to clean your code before opening it to the public. Consider writing a Medium post to document the project, while including notes about the process of building it. Insight into decisions, challenges you faced along the way, achievements or milestones that you are proud of, are all appropriate content.
Attend Networking and Learning Events
Just about every technology and interest has local or virtual meetups to discuss, learn, and network with others that share a passion for the group theme. Eventbrite and Meetup.com are the two most common listings for such events. This is a great way to continue learning from others and network while you do it.
Hackathons are events that are held in order to bring people together to solve or build something in a very time-constrained sprint. Execution varies, but the intent remains the same. Organizers may help create the teams, while other events may ask that attendees organize their teams ahead of the event. Either way, you will likely get to meet new people before and during the event. Companies sometimes sponsor or attend and observe hackathons to seek standout talent. Hackathons will help you practice, network, and gain exposure. Hackathons are also typically posted on Meetup.com and Eventbrite.
Find Influencers and Thought Leaders
Given your professional interest areas, seek out and connect with thought leaders. Find them on LinkedIn and engage with them. Not only will they circulate relevant resources, but they will also be well connected in the industry. Set up a time to do an informational interview to learn, and potentially have them help you connect with other industry people.
Do Your Industry Research
Get in the habit of consuming your favorite industry websites to stay current with trends, issues, and events. Part of acting like a professional, is to know current events that shape the industry landscape of your profession, directly and indirectly. Refer to our Research Resource Sheet for useful links to get you started.
In his over 20 year career, James Van has helped thousands find their next job. James began his career as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. After nine years of recruiting, James completed his Masters in Counselor Education at San Jose State University and transitioned into career counseling and coaching. James has supported the career growth of his students at institutions such as UC Berkeley, Hult International Business School, and Galvanize. He recently joined SoloLearn , a self-paced earn-to-code platform providing excellent technical instruction. In his personal hours, James enjoys spending his time with his family, windsurfing, surfing, and cycling.