Part 1 is here if you missed it.
First off let's agree on this: there is no such thing.
- The rockstar / high performer will have zero social or soft skills.
- The rock steady consistent performer probably won't wow you with their ingenuity.
- The friendliest most agreeable most likeable person will probably be useless.
This isn't news to anyone; there's tons of strategies out there where people tell you what characteristics or traits to look for, or guidelines to judge how much a fit is acceptable and still keep the team moving. I personally don't believe in either of those routes; my teams function like ant colonies or beehives where every member has a role to play.
There are no perfect candidates. There are however, perfect roles for people. My job as a hiring manager is to find the right person and role match.
There's an excellent article on LinkedIn by Hootsuite's CEO Ryan Holmes; in it he talks about balance between rock stars and homegrown talent and how startups need both. I would take that a step further and say most teams need that balance as well. You can go read it here- I'll wait.
It's a light article to be sure but it highlights one of the key characteristics I look for in candidates. For me the best trait in any potential employee is an unstoppable desire to learn. I want hungry employees who always want to expand their minds and can demonstrate a history of pushing their limits. There's too much information at our fingertips for anyone with passion to not be able to pursue it in any field thanks to Google, online blogs, classes, and seminars.
Some of my best teams have had a diverse background and education, but similar work ethics. It becomes a self managing and regulating system that leaves managers free to make decisions and not wonder if Bobby finished his work this week. When you foster the right environment anything is possible.
One extra good link to read: Passion Trumps Talent.
Next: Letting Go Effectively.
I managed to re-sprain my ankle to some degree this weekend during the Spartan run so I'm less than happy.
The trip wasn't a total wash; I got to play with some alpha tech from work and broadcast a buncha podcasts from everywhere along the way. If you're bored give it a listen!
But who has time for that crap? Not me, that's who. Going to be traveling to Vegas this weekend for a race and hope to use the airplane time to polish on the 2nd post in my series on hiring.
Until then, toodles.
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?