Wednesday, May 02, 2012

How to get your resume "Silicon Valley Ready" - Part I

Per my last post, I've been given the opportunity to review a nice pile of resumes. As I am prone to, this got me to obsess a tad over how the resumes were put together and more importantly, what each told me.

What I perceived as issues are, in retrospect, my fault, not the resume owner's. That's because, per the entire point of my last post, the start-up environment is radically different than the corporate IT department. And the latter is where many of these resumes came from (which is exactly what I wanted and asked for).

In many cases, I received a resume from someone that included the regular set of data - experience, education, skills, etc. But the ones that got me excited were the ones where the person included in the email links to the websites or mobile-apps they had built. As I've said - the number one selling point for you as an engineer to get a job in Silicon Valley is that you love this stuff. There's an age-old conundrum of new grads who say "Employers want me to have experience before they'll hire me - but how do I get experience if I can't get a job?"

In our business I'm happy to say - that problem does not exist. Simply because you don't need anyone to give you a job to build something. A website. A mobile app. Heck, a program that finds smaller sets of strings in larger ones.

I realized that's probably the number one thing I'm looking for. You can show me, with no doubts, that as a software engineer - you can build something. Start to finish.

Interestingly, I like to think that I also don't put that much weight into whether a project was a commercial success. If it was, that's nice but and maybe it's because you are not only a great engineer but you have an awesome product sense - who knows (it just might mean you were lucky too). And unless it wasn't a commercial success because it was poorly engineered, that's not really the point. The point is that you built it. Or at least some non-trivial part of it.

With that in mind - this article sprang forth on what I like to see in resumes. I'll point out that this isn't very different from what I looked for when I was on a hiring committee at Google (so there are at least some current Google engineers that are partially there because of these thoughts).

First - I propose a new section to resumes - at least for software engineers. In addition to Experience, Education, Skills, Interest, and References (not suggesting we remove any of those) - I propose we add Cool Stuff I Have Built.

If your resume is going to go over one page (which, personally, I don't mind) - I'm hoping it's because of this section.

Any project you did solo or had a major hand in - whether paid or not paid, million users or just your mom, I'd love to know about. Websites, iphone apps, android apps, desktop apps, open-source projects, github accounts - you name it. Solo or as part of a team (indicate that). But it has to be, in one way or another "finished". Even if your iphone app was rejected by the app store - you can point me to a link to see it. It doesn't have to be a product either - maybe its an open-source project. The bottom line is it is something that you "finished". You executed. Your idea became a living breathing application or piece of code that in some way some how you could show to people.

The section might be broken up into individual projects with bullet points about each. For example:

Project Name: Mailinator
Technologies used: Java, tomcat, (no database)
Team Size:5'11", 175lbs (haha)
Implementation details/challenges:Custom server architecture built as an experimental test-bed for highly-multithreaded server design. Custom SMTP server. No database as emails are stored in RAM with a custom compression scheme.
Notable Metrics: up to 25MM emails per day, ~20k users per day, runs on a single server (on purpose as part of a personal experiment to optimize the system).
relevant links: www.mailinator.com, http://mailinator.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-mailinator-compresses-email-by-90.html


Surely you could add other bullet points too (and suggestions welcome, leave a comment to this post). But you get the idea.

My previous post resonated strongly with some people - that is, they were in "IT departments" feeling like they weren't growing technically. And as you can imagine, a resume telling me you did a payroll system is great - but it's not what (most) start-ups are building. But what if you haven't built anything? And your "Cool Stuff I've Built" section is empty?

Well .. fix that.

No one is stopping you from building something. No one said you're ready for a transition out of your current job today and as with much of life it's up to you to take yourself to the next level. But nearly any person that already writes software with a penchant for learning and some ambition can spend the next few months of nights and weekends learning and building. (And it's absolutely possible that your day job accomplishments belong in that cool stuff section too).

So if by day you're a payroll guy, but by night you're in iphone ninja - you've got my attention. Not only because you have the skills that I'm looking for - but that in your spare time, you're out doing great things. And instead of going out every night drinking with your friends - at least some of those nights, you chose to stay home and learn and build cool stuff. And why would you do something like that? Simple - you love this stuff.

(My start-up is located in Palo Alto and I am right now interviewing for the initial engineering team. We're well-funded, building cool stuff, and plan to change, ya know, the world. No matter where you are - if you're a software engineer, willing to relocate to San Francisco/Silicon Valley (and of course, love to build great things) send me your resume. paul@refresh.io or check out www.refresh.io/jobs)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why you should join a start-up - and maybe why you shouldn't

I've recently been interviewing engineers for my new start-up (fyi, this is wholly separate from Mailinator). We're well-funded, have a world-changing idea, and as you can imagine, I plan to build an awesome engineering team. (Regardless of where you are, if you're a passionate developer, I'd love to hear from you. Check out the Job Description here and email me your resume at paul@refresh.io ).

I've been talking to engineers from all over hearing their stories. There's really amazing talent everywhere and honestly, a non-trivial amount of it seems to be idling or even decaying in environments that aren't using its full potential. A bunch of moons ago I used to work for Dow Chemical in the dreaded "IT department". It was pretty clear to me then that I was not growing technically in that job. I left to start my Ph.D. but I always vowed from then on that if I was going to be a software guy, I was going to work for companies who's business was creating software. In other words, at Dow I was an expense, I'd much rather be an asset.

Eventually and with that goal in mind, I ended up at Google. Without reservation I can say it was a fantastic experience.  I have said before, "if you're the smartest person at where you work - quit". And trust me, nothing makes you realize how smart people can actually be by working at a place like Google. (To avoid any implications - I did eventually quit Google, but rest heavily assured, it was not because I anywhere even close to being the smartest person - read on!).

I did over 200 interviews while at Google and it was actually a bit fun to interview someone who was coming from someplace where they were the smartest person (at least about tech). I could always tell. It's no surprise that if you're the smartest person somewhere for a long time, you get used to it. You get used to waiting for people to catch up to where you are.

By no fault of their own they walked into the interview with some attitude. An attitude of impatience if nothing else. After someone like that started at Google however, it didn't take long for them to realize the situation they were now in. It was humbling in many respects and I don't mean that negatively, simply they'd not recently (or ever) experienced a place where many of the people they met were at their level or better. Obviously, there are smart people everywhere but almost universally, smart people enjoy the company of others like them, the synergy makes them all better. This is why Silicon Valley is a magnet for them.

As I said, Google (and similarly Facebook, etc) are great places to work. At some point after working there however I thought to myself what a wonderfully steady and safe place to work it was. My responsibilities, expectations, and compensation package were well outlined. I was working with awesome people and learned a ton but I still felt it was far too big for me to have any real impact.

For a time, I worked on the Google Web Server which I could best describe to non-techies as "well, sort of the thing you interact with when you do a search" (this is a bad definition at best). A woman I was dating thought about that answer a moment and condescendingly replied - "what do you mean you work on that - isn't that done?"
In one sense she was right, I worked on that darn thing every day but to her it all worked the same. To her, I was having no impact.

It occurred to me that Google would be a fantastic place to work if what I wanted was a meaningful 9-5 job that after each day of work I could drive my minivan back to my home in the suburbs. But I didn't have a minivan. And I didn't own a home. And I didn't live anywhere near the suburbs. What the heck was I doing there? The smart-person environment was at start-ups too - I could get that there and even have some ownership of what I was building.

It's a relatively normal course of life in our sea of first-world problems that you'll have many chances to take risks early in life and those chances diminish as time goes on. Simply put, Google will always be there. And if Google isn't - the next big, awesome company will be. Every decade or so has a "company" (or two) where the greatest things and the greatest people are happening. At times it was Microsoft, Cisco, Apple, Google, Facebook, etc.

I left Google not because Google was in any way bad, but because I wasn't done swinging for the fence. And I still had the luxury of trying. If I ever got to the point where I wanted to realign my life's risk profile, Google (or Google-next) would be there. And this is a pretty common theme - places like Google and Facebook incubate some set of people into entrepreneurs who then go start their own start-ups. But with big ideas, agility, and impact. And they don't tend to fall far from the tree. You might think Google doesn't like this - but I doubt that's true. This is a constant stream of risk-takers that go try stuff for them that they can buy back if needed.

What gets me today is how vibrant Silicon Valley is right now. And even for Silicon Valley this place is on-fire. It seems cities around the world try to copy it but that's really hard to do. The start-ups are here because the investors are here, and the investors are here because the start-ups are here. Guy Kawasaki wrote a great article several years ago partially about why Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley.

I am fully aware that Silicon Valley has a nasty habit of simply not being able to darn well shut-up about Silicon Valley. Other cities are hotbeds for tech too (Austin, NYC, etc), but truth be told, you could find a cadre of smart engineers doing a great start-up in a Des Moines, but it's not easy. There's LOTS of great companies in Silicon Valley that can take you to the next level.

We're in the midst of a huge wave. Depending on your risk profile, joining a start-up or joining "a Google" is the best way to put your chips in the game. Regardless of where you are - if you're a crack-shot engineer looking to change the world, you could do worse than coming here. Again it's all about your risk profile and what's keeping you where you are (which may be great reasons). Start-ups will not only pay to relocate you, we'll put you up for a few months (in the corporate crash-pad) while you find your own place. Joining a start-up now will get you experience both technically and start-up-wise that you can't get anywhere else.

I'm not thinking the start-up life is for everyone. I can definitely see a point in my life or where I have life-constraints where I'll want my job to be a less important part of my life (probably because my life will be more about, well, you know - just "life"). But for me right now, and maybe for you - I'm swinging for the fence. And love or hate IT departments, I couldn't do that there.


Again, if you're a software engineer that loves what you do and lives in commuting distance to Palo Alto, CA or is willing to relocate, I'd really love to hear from you. We're well-funded and I'm literally building the first engineering team right now. It's a fantastic opportunity to get in on the ground-floor of a great start-up. Refresh.io jobs