This is the first post in a series centered on hiring in Silicon Valley. My approach is hardly a unique; a certain excellent post on LinkedIn is what sparked me to write this series in the first place. I hope through a series of posts to take the concept a bit farther including things like interviewing strategies, candidate qualities that I find myself looking for, team balance, and last but not least letting go. I'm not historically great at keeping up with writing blog posts but technology management has become such a passion over the last year or so that I'm having more problems NOT writing about it.
Overall I've been in IT / operations for close to 17 years and not once has finding the right candidate got any easier. I started back in the good ole days when there were no degree programs and only MS had (frequently ridiculed) cents. You were judged on what you knew and what you could figure out. Google wasn't a thing though we had usenet, a loose equivalent. I can remember seeing someone print out the manual to this new web hotness called PHP, and thinking a t1 was a lot of bandwidth. It's safe to say that at 35 I'm probably an old fogey here in the valley but I like to think in that time I've picked up a fair amount of useful knowledge along the way. It a also goes without saying that these are my views and aren't the views of my employer.
The Culture Club
As someone in a managing capacity in technology it's not a question of if but when I'm going to have to play the hiring game. It's possibly the least favorite part of my job (even worse than budgets), but since the core tenant of our profession is that "our people" want to learn new things and will inevitably outgrow their position, it's an inevitability. If they don't you've probably hired the wrong people.
I can't begin to stress the importance of culture enough and it's one of the first things I look for in a candidate. It's also one of the hardest things to figure out in an interview setting. If you don't understand your team or company culture how do you know if a candidate fits? You also have to nearly set aside personal bias as it might YOUR values and point of view that are out of alignment. On top of that most candidates have done this many times over and are practiced at telling interviewers what they want to hear. For start ups making sure that the company and candidate cultural values align is vital; there are frequent long hours and high stress levels that can easily sink the company over resentment and lack of cooperation. For larger organizations in-team culture is generally sufficient, though if the team's culture is far enough from the official company one then it often requires extra management overhead.
So what do you do? Social media these days has permeated every crack and crevice, so use that to your advantage. Not one applicant that makes it past a resume screen with me doesn't get a full scrub over Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google... and not because I'm being nosy.* Chances are a candidate is doing the same to me and preparing their answers accordingly. (Hint:I like pitbulls, photography, my dorky cat, and I take too many pet and/or food pictures on Instagram.) Many candidates are professional new hires, either by choice or by circumstances, and they know how to land a role. The Bay Area is now in it's second tech boom with the competitive job market that goes with it which means there's either too many jobs and not enough candidates or vice versa depending on the time of the year. On top of that with every company billing itself the next Twitter or Facebook greed is at an all time high and everyone is out for a piece of the pie.
Tunein is of course the exception; we're totally the next big thing and folks should come work for us.
So at this point you have a guy or gal you like, and they don't seem to be enjoy ritual kitten sacrifice or Nickelback so you think you want to talk to them. "Let's do a phone screen!" you cry. "Everyone is busy and this will be quick and impersonal and I won't have to make a commitment or feel guilty if I pass." This is a pretty big mistake in my book. I'd rather have an unofficial meeting over a beer or lunch or at least a Skype call if they can't meet you in person. Body language is one of the biggest 'tells' for me if someone is fibbing and can even give clues about a candidates true opinions. It may also help to offset those brilliant candidates who interview poorly- they exist, I was one of them for a long time.
In the first meeting I try to keep the dialogue centered around the candidate. I want to know their passions, what gets them out of bed in the morning, and what's the last thing they think about before falling asleep. The ideal candidate for me doesn't think about this and will answer almost immediately; they know themselves and by understanding what motivates them in their life outside of work I can hopefully start to draw parallels to what our company cultures and values are.
Next up: The Myth of the Perfect Candidate.
I figured what the hell. Maybe I can keep up with it this time? Content shuffled a bit, new theme, more to come.
Damn you awesome caterers >_<
So tomorrow closes out my first week living in the Bay Area- coincidentally enough my cable is hooked up, furniture delivered, and my first delivery of groceries also hit tomorrow. I also want to go on record as saying that grocery delivery is the SHIT. There is no part of me shopping online and having people BRING IT TO ME that I don't like. The only way it could be better is if Amazon did it so my Prime membership would cover shipping and handling. Moving on.
So this week has been split between living in a hotel and camping out in my empty apartment which to be honest is just depressing as hell. It's jacked up how much an empty home affects your mood. I remember being in the same sort of funk when I moved to SD initially. It's totally like when you break up with your gf (or politically correct non-contractual spousal partner) and they take their stuff and move out and everything is all hollow and echo-y like your heart and there's this void and maybe this Loreena McKennitt album will make the pain go away and...
Uh. Yeah. You get the idea.
Anyway in my efforts to keep busy I noticed I had 800+ photos on my phone and Holy Jesus did the camera roll ever take forever to open. I decided it was time to clean it out and spent um, 3 hours deleting the bad and blurry ones and archiving the naughty ones for 'later review'. *wink*wink*nudge*nudge* I came across a lot of good memories- about 70ish- dating back over the last two years. Apparently my camera roll dated back to the week I came to San Diego to do some vacation / job hunting, which was exactly a week ago two years ago. Here's a gallery of a few but check out the Flickr stream here. There's actually like, captions and junk there on Flickr explaining them.
I've sort of been procrastinating which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone frankly. Writing is hard, mkay?
Two years ago today I was on vacation in San Diego. At the precise hour of this writing in fact I was in my interview of a certain large Japanese gaming company; it had been bumped from 11am to 8:30am and I was definitely still feeling the effects of splitting a bottle of Jack with Dorian and Spaz the night before. I wasn't hungover and I wasn't drunk, I was just really REALLY thirsty. We're talking Saraha during the dry season here. So what if I did fall back in bed the first time I tried to get up; don't judge me. The point is tipsy me apparently knocked it out of the park (or I was cheapest) and I got an offer before I flew home on my birthday two days from now.
I first visited San Diego probably close to 4 years ago now. I don't remember what I was thinking when I flew in, but I do remember what I thought when I flew out; I knew beyond any doubt that I WOULD live here. San Diego clicked with me in ways I couldn't fathom or explain. Everything looked somehow familiar and yet was glisteningshinywetnew at the same time, and that feeling that hasn't dimmed in the slightest over the past two years. I'm perfectly content to sit at home reading while ocean breezes waft through the apartment, driving to work along the 101 with surfers as my fellow commuters, or even walking around downtown looking at the unwashed masses of humanity. I've never encountered such a diversity of experience in such a concentrated area- seals and sea lions basking 3 feet away from you in La Jolla, sharks and dolphins nosing you while surfing in North County, coyotes skirting you with their sideways walk out in the desert, the list goes on and on. Even after all the time I've spent here I MIGHT have seen maybe 10% of what there is to see here. The idea of moving and leaving it all behind was pretty lackluster to say the least.
Frankly it went way beyond just not appealing to me; I outright dreaded it with the cold shivering certainty that I'd hate it. It was the cold and clammy lump of iron dread coupled with the blind unreasoning panic that prehistoric man felt in the dark. I was grumpy and I certainly wasn't sleeping well. I kept trying to reassure myself that it would be fine, that I would come down to visit San Diego on the weekends like that would somehow make it OK. It didn't work of course; it was a repetitive mantra that was overlaid with an overpowering stench of fear and a subtle touch of desperation. Why was I so determinedly unhappy with this? Was it because it San Diego first city that I ever felt like I fit in, somewhere I could call home? As it turns out, that was pretty close to the truth- I had put down roots in San Diego in 2 short years which was something I hadn't ever managed in 30 odd years while living in Alabama. Perspective is a bitch; this must be what most people went through when leaving home for the first time. Once I realized that everything began to make sense. It wasn't so much that I didn't want to move up to the Bay Area, I felt safe and secure here and I didn't want to give that up. I was more fighting mentally for that security and comfort than anything specific to San Diego. I was willfully locking myself in complacency, like the little kid with their eyes screwed up tight and fingers in their ears singing at the top of their lungs.
I like to think that's not me. While I don't espouse change for the sake of change, I don't think we as human beings can grow without constant change and stimulation. We should fear stagnation in our lives; it's an insidious rot that erodes you from the inside out and we're generally incapable of seeing it in ourselves until it's too late. I made the conscious decision to embrace this move as a chance for that and haven't looked back. It might be a year, it might be for 10, but it's a new experience and I want to learn from it and enjoy it to every extent I'm capable of. I'm trying to approach it with the same outlook and enthusiasm as I did moving here and it's working. I've already got stuff lined up to do in September and October, including trips to Yosemite, Monterrey Bay, San Francisco, scuba diving, and going out to see the giant redwoods. I'm sure there's a Napa trip going to be wedged in there somewheres. *ahem*
My friends here are still my friends, just like my friends back in Alabama. I can easily come down to visit just like I go back to the South now. The mistake that I almost made is in assuming that my old life would be somehow closed to me now, and I don't think it has to be like that. There are people who will write you off for sure- I saw that firsthand when I moved to San Diego originally. Some folks just take you leaving personally, like they're only in your social circle due to physical proximity. I expect it's some a heady cocktail of subconscious envy and feelings akin to betrayal. They'll either get over it or not; so far in my limited experience it's been roughly a 50% turnover rate.
Funny how life comes full circle. Why does it seem I always move on Labor Day? In two days I'll be camping out in my apartment in San Diego with most of my worldly goods making the trip to Sunnyvale. In one week I'll be on a sightseeing tour bus in San Francisco. In two weeks I'll (hopefully) have started unpacking. With all that living to do, I should probably get out of this freezing Starbucks and start getting ready for the packers and movers huh?
I was playing around with updating my site layout when I noticed it's been over a year since I've posted anything. I didn't think its been THAT long, but apparently my temporal awareness is as bad as my spatial awareness (ie, I'm a clutz). So let's post something(s)!
Something #1 - something old
I'm turning 33. Sweet Jesus Crimminey. The actual date is August 23rd, but due to Something #2, I'm probably having a gathering the weekend of the Aug 20th.
Something #2 - something new
Some people know, some don't, but I'm relocating to Palo Alto in 3 short weeks. I'm still working for Playdom/Disney Interactive, the relocation is just an effort to cut down on the sheer amount of travel I've been doing for the past 8 months or so. I still plan to be in San Diego for at least a week of every month for a while. My combo going away/birthday bash will probably be the 20th.
Something #3 - something borrowed
I had an early exposure to photography (pun intended) in the 5th grade. For the past few years I've been using a Sony A100 DSLR I borrowed from Dad- as of last week, that's changed! I've upgraded to a Canon 5D Mark 2, which is just...unbelievably sweet. The pics in the header up there come from it With the new camera also comes my new side gig as a freelance photographer which I'll be talking about later.
Something #4 - something blue
Uh, at this point the theme fails me. The only things blue right now are:
- Me! I hate to leave San Diego behind!
- This sweet sweet panorama background you can download for free! If you like it, you can download the full size version all with some color variations here.
We'll call it here for tonight- it's a teaser post. I got lots to say on each of the subjects above but the laundry is done and it's time to pack so I can fly out in the morning.
You measure yourself by the people who measure themselves by you. - Carter Chambers, as played by Morgan Freeman.
Every year I make a list of things to do that year. I refuse to call them resolutions because no one ever does those anyway. I am slightly OCD and organized in life (otherwise I procrastinate horribly) but it's written on a list, I'ma friggin do it. It's a weird little compulsion that I've harnessed as a way to Get Shit Done(TM). At some point, an enterprising young woman will figure this out and try to write "propose to me" on a piece of paper and slip it to me. Meh. Might be easier than doing it on my own. At any rate my equivalence of resolutions is a public list of all the stuff I want to get done for the year. This year's was actually not half bad. I was going to link it in this post to give an example of my weird to-do list mentality when I realized- holy crap, I've accomplished most of my list already. The year is barely half over and I've got like 2.5 items out of 10 to go.
So what does this have to do with anything? Other than pointing out to all you slackers how much I've done so far, I was going to announce that I took my first stab at surfing today and could cross it off the list. That's when I noticed- it wasn't even on the damn list. I had put it off in the past because I thought I wasn't in good enough shape or coordinated enough (newsflash, I'm still not!) but the idea was still kicking around in the back of my mind. "Must be a bucket list item or something", I thought. Not that I maintain one, or even like the idea of one mind you, but I've been kicking around the idea of learning ever since a friend offered to teach me. While we're on the subject, had anyone even heard of the phrase before the Jack Nicholson movie came out? I certainly hadn't and now it's a cemented into everyone's vocabulary to the point you couldn't get it out with an Urban Dictionary sized crowbar. I've come to the decision that I hate this damn phrase and everything it represents.
Because it makes people lazy, that's why.
Life is about goals people. Wait, no, I take that back. Life is about having and accomplishing your goals. This "bucket list" bullshit encourages people to put their desires on a magical list and get to it before they die. It's the ultimate New Year's resolution / procrastinator bastard love child. It's resolutions for lazy people- don't worry about accomplishing them this year, you have your whole life. You don't need that kind of pressure man!
F that. I got junk to do and no magical "eventually" wish list is going to make it happen for me. There is a list, it is short, it has an expiration date, and shit is getting done man. Each year's list builds off the previous years. Bucket list. Whatever.
And yeah, I'm going surfing against next weekend. Probably every weekend from here on actually, until I can actually manage to stay upright on the board for longer than 0.2s. I will however be buying a rashguard because right now my chest looks like a slab of raw meat.
I really need to make better lists. 2010's already needs more stuff on it.