I’ve been focused on hiring great people the last couple of months. Vinted, the company I work for, had a fantastic 2017, so now it’s time to scale our team a bit. Hiring well is the most important thing a company can do. Hiring includes rejections. On both sides. Potential candidates reject Vinted. We reject potential candidates. We receive a bunch of applications from motivated people, who’d love to work at Vinted. It’s not easy to say “no” to them.
I was reminded of my own story. Before Vinted, I worked at Adform as a software developer. It took me three tries to get hired there.
The first thing you have to know - I’m an introvert. I enjoy both, but prefer solitary to social activities, as the latter ones tend to dwindle my energy. Software development tends to attract introverted people, and I’m one of them.
Because I prefer solitary activities, primarily due to lack of practice, I used to have poor social skills. I’ve improved over the years, but I was awful at having human conversations nine years ago, in 2009.
At that time, I was in my third year of bachelor studies and working at “Sistemų Integracijos Sprendimai.” It was a tiny company, I had a lot of freedom, and I’ve learned a lot while working there. But I had no one to learn from, so I wanted to work for a more prominent company, to be in a position to learn from others.
Adform was the primary target. Their team seemed fantastic. They put high focus on people. And in three years, they grew from 5 to 60 people.
I’ve submitted my CV to Adform, and in autumn of 2009, I was invited to the first interview.
I did additional research about the company. I’ve read up on common interview questions (“what do you imagine doing in 5 years?”). I prepared the best I could.
A person from HR interviewed me. I don’t remember too many details. I do remember feeling that I’ve failed the interview. I was extremely nervous. I was able to answer questions I have prepared for decently. But I’ve stumbled with everything else.
Some days later I received an email informing that they won’t proceed with me further and look forward to contacting me in the future.
Time went on. Nine months later, in summer of 2010, Adform had job openings again. Stubbornly I’ve submitted my CV again.
This time I got one step closer. I was interviewed by their senior tech manager. I distinctly remember two parts of this interview.
I remember being asked what sort of books I was reading. I gave a huge list of titles, most of them from “must read” lists for software developers. It included Code Complete, The Pragmatic Programmer, The Mythical Man-Month, Peopleware - all of them I’ve read mostly during university lectures. I timidly highlighted my dissatisfaction with the university. That book list also included Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit.
Since that senior manager had strong agile/lean knowledge, he gave me questions on the subject. I’ve managed to list the seven principles, but couldn’t go much more in-depth. Just reading a book on Lean, without seeing a bigger software development team, didn’t give me a firm understanding of how Lean functions.
I also remember being asked “why are manholes round?”, the classic Microsoft interview question. While nervous, I came up with a couple of ideas for possible reasons.
Just like the first time, my social awkwardness certainly didn’t help. I was denied again.
Sometime in winter of 2010/2011, I gave a presentation in .NET User Group. It was not very good. But it was decent enough to be noticed.
Sergejus Barinovas was the founder of this user group. He gave presentations himself pretty often. He was someone I looked up to. It made my wish to work at Adform even stronger.
At that time, Sergejus had recently joined Adform himself. Seeing something in my presentation or from talking to me, he recommended me. A couple of months later, in February of 2011, I was invited to an interview.
I was not aware of his recommendation. Instead, I decided that my previous interviews were not as terrible as I thought.
I was interviewed by HR again. Not someone I’ve encountered during previous interviews. At some point during it, I’ve pointed out that I’ve engaged with Adform two times already. Surprise. She was not aware of it. That’s when I learned how I got this interview.
I’ve managed to get a technical interview this time. I’ve passed it with flying colors. It included questions about .NET and practical programming exercises. I was left alone to solve them on a piece of paper. I’ve finished them in half the allocated time. I believed that I managed to impress the senior developer, who interviewed me. Reading programming books, listening to podcasts, following various .NET-related blogs, coding on weekends finally seemed to have got me the job I wanted.
Not so fast.
I was invited to another interview. The senior manager from my second attempt wanted to speak with me again. With the help of my social ineptitude, I managed to fail again. From what I learned later, he decided not to hire me. That senior developer had to convince the manager to give me a chance.
I got an offer. I declined it. It was a lower salary than I wanted. Significantly lower than I was earning. I felt lowballed and angry. I thought that I did very well during the technical interview and couldn’t understand why I was assessed this way.
Next day I’ve got another offer with a long list of reasons on why it would be the right career decision. Salary was still not what I wanted, but high enough for me to choose growth over money.
I’ve joined Adform.
I’ve proceeded to work 1.5 years at Adform. I’ve learned a lot and was very happy with the choice. I thought that I’d spend more time there, but I couldn’t resist joining Vinted. Funnily enough, I’ve spent less time at Adform than how long it took for me to join.
I remember this long and winding road. I remember my social awkwardness. When I interview software developers, social skills is something I note, but not something I judge. I also understand that being interviewed by Head of Engineering can seem scary, no matter my attempts at putting people at ease. A lot of software developers, which I note to be shy and introverted, manage to become quite talkative during tech interviews when given the opportunity to shine.
I also tend to care most about what the person actually did. I try to glean details on what a person accomplished and how they contributed. And if they’re quite junior, I care a lot about how they learn and how much effort they put into learning.
While software development is indeed a team sport, you can get a lot done without knowing how to have a human conversation about the weather.