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The Real Reasons I Don’t Hire You (charity.wtf)
99 points by mooreds on Oct 18, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 117 comments



> I really want to work at a startup. Also the things that are really important to me are: work/life balance, high salary, gold benefits, stability, working from 10 to 5 on the dot, never being on call, never needing to think or care about work out of hours

Do we still need to discuss about the barn that long hours do to health and productivity. If your business model needs developers that don't sleep enough and have no personal live then your company does not deserve to exist.

It is frustrating how entitled business are. Work/live balance is a human right. You have to sacrifice your life so I earn more money is a horrifying statement.


It's batshit crazy to ask workers to "sacrifice" for their job. Unless they're co-owners. Talking 5%, minimum, of the company, and even that seems low to me to start asking for ownership-level commitment, which is to say anything at all beyond what any normal job would reasonably expect. Otherwise you're just taking advantage of people. Congratulations, you're an asshole.


Isn't it obvious? You have to sacrifice your life so your employer can afford to feed their extravanagnt ice cream cone habit. Seems like a fair arrangement to me.


Counterpoint: Most start-ups are going to have crunch times periodically where extra effort is called for. At least if they are trying to solve an ambitious problem. I doubt she is talking about a 24/7/365 death-march.


Every company is going to have crunch times periodically, but that isn't touted as "standard" like with startups. She's saying that if you care about work-life balance you're not the person they are looking for, which is complete bullshit.


There's a difference between crunching at a company with thousands of employees, and being on-call for the first year of a startup because if you aren't the entire business could go under overnight


> It is frustrating how entitled business are

I think that, on the whole, in the long run, unionization ends up doing more harm than good… but if tech workers ever _do_ unionize, business owners will really, really, really have brought it on themselves.


it's less that startups want to milk you for their own personal gain; it's more that they can't afford the things that BigCo can, such as gold benefits and perfect 8-hour schedules (because you might not be able to afford enough people to make this happen!)

that said, there are, absolutely, startups that milk their non-founders purely for the founders' gain


Overall I really like this article. There are a couple of points others have mentioned are a bit problematic like #8. Empirical studies have shown the only effective way to reduce errors in code and ship reliably is to get enough sleep and maintain low levels of stress.

On #10 I would caution you, startup founder or engineering manager, that while we mostly feel this way about most people that we run into, at the end of the day, it's the person on the other side of the table who gets to decide what will make them happy. I've seen people get turned down for offers because the company they were applying to thought they were "too senior," and "wouldn't be happy," and so on.

The definition of happiness for some people is having a job, providing for themselves or their family, and doing good work. That doesn't make them lazy or any less committed to your start up. In fact you might want to consider whether your culture and team could use a mix of people who are dependable, stable, and reliable -- people who don't see your company and their work as extensions of their selves but simply want to do good work and be professional.

The really passionate people can burn out quickly and bring down the morale of the team when things get tough and aren't going their way. They can see problems as personal failures. The person who isn't invested emotionally in their work but in themselves, in my experience, can reliably weather the ups, downs, and shifts in the wind.


Articles like this seem reasonable on their face, but in practice I really think what they come down to is "I have prejudices, I don't want to admit them, so I have all sorts of soft criteria like 'happiness' that allow me to exercise my prejudices with a good conscience." It's not necessarily simple racial prejudice, it's usually something more subtle around age or social class, etc.. It's a lot like "cultural fit", which often comes down to "something about this person made me uneasy and I don't want to quantify it".

Compare this to Amazon's famous first job ad, which was just "we want top developers". Top devs are going to learn the tech skills that are needed. And hiring managers don't have the magical ability to peer into peoples' souls to determine what makes them happy.


I wish I had read this a few years ago when I was having difficulty finding a job. I saw every rejection as a personal failure. In reality, whether or not you land a job is largely a function of circumstances that are not only out of your control: they are out of the hiring manager's control. Headcount targets, the number of applicants, and the specific needs of the company at the time you apply are fixed before anyone even looks at your CV.

As a general principle, it's always good to focus on areas where you have leverage rather than dwelling on areas where you don't. You can always improve your skills and your CV (and you should!) but you also shouldn't take a rejection email as strong evidence that you're not heading in the right direction.


Should be reposted into almost every HN discussion on startup hiring. Conclusion summarizes nicely:

> If we brought you in for an interview, we already think you’re awesome. Period. Now we’re just trying to figure out if you narrowly intersect the skill sets we are lacking that we need to succeed this year... We know this is as much of a referendum on us as it is on you. And we are not perfect.


… if the only person you’re thinking about is yourself, sure. But it’s really shitty to ask somebody to take time off (from the other job that they likely already have) for an in-person interview if you’re not already pretty sure that it’s going to be a good fit. If you’re rejecting 90% of the in-person interviewees without pre-screening them first, you’re a bad person and you should feel bad.


How would you pre-screen for culture fit an personality?

I think there’s a prejudice here for huge American cities where an in-person interview might be hours of commuting both ways on top of the actual interview.

In Europe it’s most likely a 20 minute drive or a short bus/metro ride away, something you can tackle just by arriving a bit late to your actual job or leaving early. Or just during a long lunch.


I think the reasonable way to do this prior to an onsite interview is by having two different phone screens, first one with the recruiter, second one more technical or with the hiring manager. They can then compare notes and see if the candidate checks all the requisite boxes from a social/professional interaction viewpoint.


I think this applies to some companies and not others. In my personal experience, if you aren't interviewing for an exact role and you don't speak with the manager you'll be working under before going on site, you're going to have to impress random people in the room and convince them that you're some kind of superstar.


Yeah, I'd replace "awesome" with "interesting," "has potential," etc.

Not always. Sometimes it's someone people know or their resume seems just a perfect fit if they're half as good in person.

But, in my experience, more often than not making it to the onsite stage means they got through some pretty preliminary screening.


The flaw in this approach is that it assumes that people aren't capable of adding to their skill set in the time that it will take the company to find another 'awesome' candidate.


I'm curious, what are specific tangible steps someone can take to foster a team environment?

I assume things like:

* regular meetings to ensure people are in the loop

* blameless post-mortems

* allowing people time to mentor/work together

But was wondering what y'all thought.


I think those things can help, but what seems to really do it for our team is a couple things:

Don't hire toxic people. We had one interviewee who, when asked a question by my female coworker, would only talk to me, a male. It was quite obvious that this wasn't going to keep us working as a team.

Allow social time. We have always had a freeform morning meeting that was supposed to be kind of like a standup, but we talked about anything and everything, and stopped when we ran out of stuff to talk about. One of our team went remote and that meeting went from something that Management didn't worry about to something that was mandatory to keep up the team. We're about a month or so in, and I'm happy to say that everything feels basically the same as before, just without that team member physically in a desk here. The real test will be when we next hire someone for the team, but that's a very infrequent thing.


None of these in particular.

You foster a team environment when you find ways for every one to care for/after every other one, in the perspective of the group (because the group cares for each part of itself, and each part cares about the group).

Ways may be motives/needs/desires, stories, behaviours (part of which are rituals).

So the specific steps depend highly on the chemistry of the team you get to start with, and where you want to go together. And that is why generic methods are just like cooking books: interesting, useful, but not enough to get a good dinner and a good spirit.


> You foster a team environment when you find ways for every one to care for/after every other one, in the perspective of the group (because the group cares for each part of itself, and each part cares about the group).

Basically this only exists if all the profits the group makes are shared equally between members. (if not all profits are shared, like being employed by an organization that takes a cut, the group will care enough to leave and form their own organization)


and/or reinvest them according to the team/organization stories.


This is true. It's complex, takes time, trust and spirit is not something you promote but something you build, then care for forever.

Here's a more verbose take on SE Project Management: https://pm.stackexchange.com/questions/26952/how-to-guide-a-... (disclaimer: am the author)


I think people drastically underestimate the long-term benefit of functional teams where everyone generally shows each other respect.

They may not look sexy, but that basic dynamic will keep your best talent around for years, prevent people from making horrible mistakes driven by politics, etc. etc.

And I think the key is showing respect for everyone and having very little tolerance for successful assholes. Or, if you're in a position of power, paying attention to how well your stars treat people beneath them, not how well they treat you.


IMO:

In general, make sure to hire people who can do the job. It's still okay to take a chance on someone; or hire people who can learn. The problem is that someone who is fundamentally incapable, or has an attitude problem, will drain on goodwill within the team.

The second thing is to make sure that your internal processes are agreed upon, well-known, and trained to newcomers. There are the basics like ticketing systems and code reviews; but then there are things that are specific to your business, like the design patterns you follow; the specific information your testers must collect when they find a defect; and basic troubleshooting procedures your support team needs to follow. Training newcomers when they make a mistake, because they were blissfully unaware of process, or because the managers decided to ignore it, hurts a team environment.

And finally: Fire toxic people, and people who just can't do their job. This doesn't mean firing people who make mistakes, but it does mean firing the support guy who just can't handle basic troubleshooting steps; or the manager who won't train their team through basic, agreed upon, processes.


Pretty much all relevant questions about teambuilding were answered in Peopleware in _1987_.

People who are in a management position in software or end up somehow instructing more than one person should definitely read it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peopleware:_Productive_Project...


100% endorse reading Peopleware.


'Something, something, hiring feels like a referendum on whether candidate is good enough to join a fancy club... ...FAANG have a straightforward entrance exam... ...on the other hand Honeycomb's club is smaller and more exclusive.'

Wait, what's the point here?


They are saying that FAANG can hire just on generic skill because they are large and can probably find some way to use anyone smart and can afford wasting money on unproductive employees, while they (and startups in general) need people to fill specific needs so they select for the specific need instead of generic skills and they don't have money to waste so they try harder to not make mistakes.


Yep. You could replace FAANG with, say, a large aerospace company. If someone graduated from a good school with an appropriate degree and (possibly) has some relevant work experience, they'll [ADDED: most likely] be fine. Or at least fine enough. Way back when I even got an offer from one such on the basis of a resume and generic cover letter. No phone screen. They didn't even care if I came in for an on-site interview or not.

Smaller organizations can't afford to just play a numbers game and bank on hires being good enough to fit in somewhere.


Generally agree with your characterization. IMHO, It's not even about absorbing unproductive employees, just that there are arguably ways arguably harder to make an employee productive in a startup environment.


Sure, but why start off by trying to seem nice? Can only assume they've been wasting time interviewing people likely to be fooled by that level of bs. Or is it that they don't have a clear view of what level bs is required to fool people? Either way it shows a reliance on bs and some flavour of incompetence.


Self promotion.

Plus where else would you show off your collection of pictures you have of yourself eating ice cream?


I don't have any qualms with this article. To be fair, like 90% of tech articles I read are just self-promotion. Someone comes up with a half-good idea that works in their company (at least for now) and they're like "THE ASFMAN123 METHOD OF CHANGING EVERYTHING" and "THE ONE RULE OF BUSINESS THAT YOU CAN BOIL EVERYTHING DOWN TO" without accounting for individual variation.

I read an article by a Netflix hirer who basically bragged about how arbitrary and capricious their hiring was. "I noticed most of our staff were musicians, so I made sure to hire plenty of those, too, and they did great." People in my cubicle block have names with N in them, too, and we seem pretty good too.

Honestly, it sounds cynical but I think that's the primary reason people write these articles, to appear to be thought leaders when people search for their names.

But good on them, I suppose. It is useful to share ideas, and eventually the good ones will percolate up to the top (hopefully).


> To be fair, like 90% of tech articles I read are just self-promotion.

You need to filter more :). Good technical articles don't read like self-promotion, but more like someone discovering an idea and playing with it, or someone explaining an idea in detail, describing relevant trade-offs.


Straightforward? :D


Ego


This is a creative way of expressing concerns that ultimately always boil down to a few personality metrics: objectivity, honesty, and empathy.

In objectivity everything is a data point and each of those data points have competing levels of validity with regards to a given problem. It doesn't matter what you want or find more important or even emotionally compelling. What matters is what collisions of data express to your planning calculus. This sounds dry and mathematical like some machine calculation, but it is actually a personality component that some people are more capable of applying than others. This is the chief reason Magnus Carlsen refuses to play chess against chess software applications.

Honesty is a skill and its hard to really nail. Honesty includes things like directness, transparency, communication, and most importantly listening. If you are a person who is easily offended your honesty skill is weak. If you are a person who has trouble communicating something important to the business that may hurt peoples' feelings your honesty skill could use some improvement.

Empathy is the ability to perceive the emotions and needs of others. Empathy in absolutely not a means of sharing or expressing an emotional state, which is sympathy. In order to solve people problems and really, I mean REALLY, gel as a team you need empathy. In army warrant officer school we had 7 minutes to wake up, be dressed, make our beds, and be outside in morning formation. I didn't have time to feel sorry for people, but I did have time to help people be ready or help make other peoples' beds.


My brother interviews for McKinsey and he says the number one thing they look for in new hires is a sense of understanding of someone else's mental state. He had a good technical term for it, but I forget what he called it.

It's basically though the ability to not think, "this person is a jerk who is wrong," but "this person has his reasons for reaching his conclusions and although I am angry with him after our disagreement, I see the personal factors that must have gone into it."

It's very useful to work in teams of people who have that sort of basic emotional intelligence. How do you work with someone that just gets angry and projects everything onto you? I think the model of the "pissed off code badass" is thankfully going away, because programming is becoming more collaborative and more professional.

Yeah, it's extremely important to have strong technical competence on your team, but it's more important to be able to work with others and integrate everyone's perspective. Because no matter how technically smart you may be, you have your blind spots. It's important to listen to the junior who is worried that the implementation strategy might lead to X, Y, Z, that only she sees because she is seeing it with fresh eyes.


>My brother interviews for McKinsey and he says the number one thing they look for in new hires is a sense of understanding of someone else's mental state. He had a good technical term for it, but I forget what he called it.

>It's basically though the ability to not think, "this person is a jerk who is wrong," but "this person has his reasons for reaching his conclusions and although I am angry with him after our disagreement, I see the personal factors that must have gone into it."

Avoid the fundamental attribution error?[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error


> My brother interviews for McKinsey and he says the number one thing they look for in new hires is a sense of understanding of someone else's mental state. He had a good technical term for it, but I forget what he called it.

Empathy?


It wasn't a buzzword but it was a useful way to describe it. It's kind of like "not just going with your snap judgments about people."


Empathy is different than that. It is about really reading peoples' emotions, like micro-expressions and body language. Empathy allows you to dig into a person's personal space when uncomfortable and pry out things that might be hard to discuss.

I conducted some ethics investigations last year. I had to interview people and make assessments that resulted in potential harms to persons careers, forfeiture of pay, and possibly other legal consequences. You don't want to pass harmful judgement lightly. You really want to get the most detailed picture possible and recommend solutions that do more benefit than harm. You need to have a feel for what people were thinking, at the time, and why even when they may lie to you or withhold necessary information.


Excellent points, but how often have you heard of programmers being hired because of objectivity, honesty, and empathy? Change the context to construction: how long will a team of objective, honest, empathetic builders last who can't complete the construction of a building last before they are either fired or the company folds because nobody wants to hire a group of nice but inept builders?

Perhaps another analogy is worth considering: the military. How can a group of incredibly diverse individuals form effective teams? Things aren't always socially rosy but there are two things which allow them to gel as a team: common purpose and they are stuck with each other.

How often do programmers find common purpose with the other members of their team or the company as a whole? Maybe this was the genius of Steve Jobs, turning Apple (and later Pixar) into a revolutionary crusade and preaching sermons more than giving leadership at times. As programmers we're frequently hired to solve a problem nobody else could or had time for. When's the last time a new hire was put on new feature development so that more seasoned devs could go tackle technical debt? I'm not saying that would be a good thing but without a sense of common purpose it's hard to build a team.

And that second aspect that allows military teams to gel... we're not stuck with our co-workers in civilian life -- we're free to leave (or be let go) at any time. It's very rare to find teams where three or more programmers (who are keen on keeping up with technology) have been there for more than ten years. I can only think of two where I've worked: one was an RPG/AS-400 shop and I was the boat-rocker being brought in to move things to .NET (and was resisted every step of the way until I left) and the other was a shop where I was brought in to help convert a VB6 app to .NET Core microservices.


Almost nobody hires first by psychiatric assessment, but Bridge Water does and has written case studies about it. Ray Dalio wrote extensively about this in his book: Principles.

https://www.bridgewater.com/

Also, I have been in the military 22 years. Diverse people form excellent teams all the time. By diverse I mean different career interests, national cultures, economic backgrounds, and so forth. I have never experienced diversity on that level as a developer in the corporate world even though a good number of my coworkers have always been from India. One thing the military is really good at enforcing is group failure and group consequences. The closest thing I have seen to that in the corporate world are layoffs.


“I really want to work at a startup. Also the things that are really important to me are: work/life balance, high salary, gold benefits, stability, working from 10 to 5 on the dot, never being on call, never needing to think or care about work out of hours …”

These are all necessary evils when you work for yourself, but if I was interviewing with a potential employer and they had this attitude? No thanks.


Thus you don't want to work at a startup.

It's not 'attitude', it's just reality: you simply can't have all of these things and a thriving startup. You'll have to give in on some or all of them at some point in time during the next 2-5 years. This is the life of any entrepreneur by the way, any sector.

Organization helps, tremendously — night and day, quite literally (sigh) — but doesn't magically create more time.


> entrepreneur

You are not an entrepreneur if you work at a startup. You are just a worker, and more often than not, a worker who is not well compensated for the work you do.


Exactly. Horror stories abound for workers at startups who were promised high compensation after the company succeeded, but instead were totally shafted when management figured out some way to make the employees' shares worthless.


It's effectively doing the work like an entrepreneur with anywhere between too little to no upside, indeed.

I'd agree you shouldn't work at a startup unless you're personally vested in its success — the core team, with equity.


Why does this blog post carry a series of instagram style selfies that have nothing to do with the content? Seems weird as hell.

Seeing the photos evokes the same reaction as seeing ads: I'm being forced to look at side-loaded content that I don't care about, in exchange for content that interests me.


Came here to say this. However, I wouldn't find it as problematic if the pictures had anything to do with interviewing at their company.


It’s an insightful piece especially if you’re early in your career and you’re not sure which kind of company you should be working for.

My beef though: point #8.

I don’t understand why early stage startup has to equal long hours and uncompetitive salary and benefits, especially in an industry where early engineers are often not getting the kind of equity they actually deserve.

Remember, many of these startups including Honeycomb are funded by immensely wealthy venture capitalists, they aren’t bootstrapped. These <0.5%-ers can afford to hire a proper amount of staffing but choose not to in order to maximize their return on investment.

In reality, no tech employee (actually, no person) should have to work beyond 8 hours a day, and I’d argue that 8 is even stretching it. Working nights and un-rotated on-call is not sustainable and will burn out literally everyone.

Having a smaller number of employees should mean that stellar benefits and salary are easier to provide, especially since you’re more selective on those candidates in the first place so their productivity is maximized (while larger companies are inevitably less efficient on hiring).


Pretty much the same from me, agreed with every point except that one. Why does "startup" have to mean "shitty hours, poor work-life balance"? That's basically selecting out older people with families and/or rich social lives, which you'd think contradicts point #2 about diversity...


Before I made a bunch of edits I kind of pointed that out, but I took that out of my comment because I wanted to stick with the main point I wanted to argue.

I’ve got another comment on this thread about that topic - having crappy/nonexistent 401k matching, bad healthcare, and an expectation of after-hours availability is effectively ageism.

You’ll end up with employees who don’t yet have families (young), employees without health issues (young), and even employees who don’t yet thoroughly understand how many important benefits work (young).


The contrast between hiring at a FAANG sized company and an early stage startup is worth underlining.

If you are big enough, you are basically looking for some level of fit and talent, and to avoid bad hires. It's hard to get right still, but it's basically a crank you turn all the time at a rate to fill your growth/turnover.

When you are hiring early stage, especially for the initial team it isn't the same at all. You have overall goals for the team but nothing is really fixed yet. Lots of the time you may be looking at three good candidates, A/B/C but reasoning along the lines of I can hire A & C, or B & C, but not A & B. B & C might not work. But B is strongest candidate, do I look for a D?

At the very early stage of hiring nearly every hire can change what you are looking for "next". And if multiple people have hiring authority, you can end up having this conversation: "We just hired X, they are great and we didn't want to miss to opportunity. Maybe they're a better fit for your team though?" It sounds stupid but happens quite often in the crazy first months/years of a startup.


Is it really impossible to build a startup with employees working 9-5?


No. But then the founders can't offload their surplus stress onto the employees.


It's pretty difficult to start any kind of business, let alone a tech startup, by working 9-5. Think the owner of, for example, a new restaurant is working 9-5 hours? Nope.


I didn't ask about the business owner, I asked about the employees.


It's not only possible, it's the law. Unfortunately it's rarely enforced.


I've never heard of such a law. Could you cite it?


Not that I'm accusing -them- of this, but it did get me thinking.....

How many times at different companies did people not get hired because of illegal reasons?

Has there been research done anonymously that would show when illegal criteria was used?


I think it’s way more often than people think.

I’ve overheard coded conversations by my DEI department about holding off on hiring candidates because the ones they found immediately weren’t “diverse” enough.

Of course, that doesn’t make sense. A single entity can’t be diverse.

Instead, “diverse” is a code word for “not white male.”

Look, I don’t want to work in a boys club, either, but there has to be a better way to do diversity right.

And the thing about hiring is, as long as you don’t say the illegal thing out loud, and you use that coded language, you can do whatever you want.

Not truly illegal, but I also think that companies with poor 401k and healthcare benefits have no interest in improving them even if the business becomes wildly profitable because the kind of employees who know better are either older or not docile enough, i.e. they’re not going to drink the kool aid and work long hours and give up competitive compensation just because they’re “changing the world.”

The last thing a startup wants is a transactional employee who considers employment an exchange of cash for time. They want “believers.”


>And the thing about hiring is, as long as you don’t say the illegal thing out loud, and you use that coded language, you can do whatever you want.

This, seems like as long as you say a candidate "isn't a good culture fit", then it's fine to discriminate based on whatever criteria you want as long as you aren't stupid enough to say out loud or in an email "we don't need any more blacks/latinos/asians/whites/women/men/etc."


> do diversity right.

Well, I don’t know about you, but every place I’ve worked in the past 20 years has been mostly Indian (men and women, pretty equally). By any definition of the word, I’m actually a diverse candidate in those offices… but I still get dinged with the “is a white male” penalty.


To be clear, my original comment wasn’t meant to say “think of the poor white men are getting discriminated against!” And similarly I don’t think you’re getting “dinged” at your largely-Indian company for anything.

I don’t think being a white male prevents one from getting any kind of job. Being a white male is about the most privileged one can be in Western society.

I’m just saying that the solution to imbalances isn’t to introduce other imbalances.


>> The last thing a startup wants is a transactional employee who considers employment an exchange of cash for time

which is unfortunate because transactional employees will generally be less impacted by the various ups, downs, and drama that startups typically experience


Is that really true though? I would tend to think a transactional employee would be the first to think "I don't make enough to deal with this bullshit" in the face of drama/downturns in a start-up. If it's just a "time for money" trade, after all, then there's no reason to not just jump ship when the going gets tough.

My intention isn't to shame this attitude, by the way, I generally hold similar attitudes and start (casually) looking for new employment if things get too spicy at my place of work.


There are a lot of factors for sure but I think transactional employees would be less impacted by the bullshit because they are less exposed to it due to their not socializing as much during or after working hours.

Depending on experience, I would also expect them to be better at identifying potential bullshit and to be motivated to resolve uncertainty and ambiguity earlier in a process so that they can avoid working unnecessarily long hours.


What really bothers me with this, although a few interesting points are made, is that there is absolutely no way you can correctly assess most of what is discussed in a job interview, and you'll just build a subjective persona that you'll then plug, successfully or not, in your model.

What scares me is that recruiters actually believe they can.


“I really want to work at a startup. Also the things that are really important to me are: work/life balance, high salary, gold benefits, stability, working from 10 to 5 on the dot, never being on call, never needing to think or care about work out of hours …”

My wife works at a YC startup and has great work life balance. We just got back from a vacation in Europe. She tried to check in on slack halfway through and they basically told her to gtfo, you’re on vacation!

She’s definitely worked late nights by choice. But in my experience those are rare, and they’re also usually voluntary. She’s a highly motivated self-starter (which is probably why she got the job) so she and I are often hacking on random things outside of work hours. Sometimes her hacks involve stuff she’s doing at work. But I never got the impression it was anyone’s decision but hers.

9 to 5 working hours are also important for parents. And if you think parents shouldn’t be in startups, Vlad from webflow (YC) has lots of persuasive reasons why that’s not true.

I think startups are figuring out that the way to win is to be generous. pg even said as much about 10 years ago when a piece “Why I won’t work for your YC startup” came up on HN.


Easy to say when things are going well. The whole premise of startups is that when things don't go well, the company dies, so if you're trying to sit here and tell us your wife's company would rather go under than have some of its employees work longer hours, either you're sorely mistaken or that company is throwing dice against the wall and hoping nothing bad happens.


Can't blame people for playing the game.

* Many companies have bonuses tied to individual performance goals. * Climbing the ladder is competitive and, again, tied to individual merits. * It is ingrained in our language and mentality. We talk about Rock stars, not Rock Bands or Orchestras.


>We talk about Rock stars, not Rock Bands or Orchestras.

We do? Who's "we"? As a metal fan, when I talk about music with other metal fans, we're talking about bands, not rock stars. And for all the other people who don't like metal, they don't like bands or rock stars or rock music at all; they listen to manufactured pop groups or singers. The whole "rock star" thing died in the 80s.


I found many of the reasons questionable, most notably 1, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 10. I also found the off-topic ice cream selfies to be alarmingly flippant for a piece that talks about a topic as serious as who does and does not get hired -- is that the kind of flippancy I want to see in a leader I work for? But before I dig into them in more detail, I'd like to note that folks who come from big companies who have never stood up a team from scratch before in a startup environment, or seen it done by someone else (both competently and not) have can have some terrifying blind spots when it comes to building a team properly from a kernel to an entire team. How can these founders approach product innovation with so much reverence, and then approach hiring and org building with so little of that zeal?

What is often not addressed is the elephant in the room -- startup hiring is /mutually/ risky. As much as a company takes a risk on candidates, so too does the candidate take a risk on the company -- a much more larger and more dedicated risk. If a candidate doesn't work out with a company, the company can find a new candidate, backfill more capacity to soft replace them, etc. But for the candidate, if the company doesn't work out, they've got to find a new company. Those stakes are high. Additionally, the financial incentives attached to startups, even in a best-case scenario, are not competitive with big companies for senior candidates. So, what do you do if you want to hire in an environment where a lot of your top options for talent are going to be unavailable to you? You might try to find out where you can outcompete other companies in attracting candidates. You might figure out where you can find candidates that will be a great fit but may have been passed over by more conventional shops. In short, you innovate with your hiring.

You figure out where, from a candidate's eyes, you're more competitive than other companies. In particular, autonomy over career growth, culture and team formation, and white space to set up a project from scratch are things that can be hard to find at big companies, or which are reserved for candidates who are able to successfully angle for them. If you get a chance as an early engineer to work directly with an impressive CTO on a hard problem, that mentorship and experience can really level you up as an engineer. Startups can compete by offering these things to folks looking to pay for that with risk, which is a high cost indeed.

You figure out what you need, where there's wiggle room and where there's not. For your leaders, you likely cannot compromise on several fundamentals, such as communication skills, ability to reason from first principles, and systems thinkings as it pertains to design and analysis. However, for your ICs, you likely just need to answer affirmatively that the candidate will be competent, consistent, curious, pleasant to work with and able to grow. Many candidates check those boxes, but of those candidates who are interested in working for startups, it's challenging to get them to join your one in particular.

It's easy to gloss over how hard seed-stage recruiting and engineering teambuilding intrinsically is if you've never had the responsibility fall on your shoulders before -- it's REALLY hard. Not only is it exhausting, but you need to have the proper mental model for what its success and failure modes are. Success comes from curiosity, persistence, collaboration, and a baseline of autonomous capability. Failure comes from poor decision making regarding data modeling, build vs buy, organizational planning, hiring, roadmap planning, and even more things that may not have to do with engineering but will impact it. It's with this mental model that one sees an overly romanticized and infantilized idea of fit, which is that certain engineers aren't a fit for the startup world, and certain ones are. What makes it so? What specific engineering role is being hired for that makes it that way? Has that been thought through enough for it to be specific? While it may be true at a shallow level that some engineers will not succeed at startups, it conflates correlation with causation.

--

With that analysis in mind, here are the issues I had with specific points:

1. Scarcity: This is a dubious rephrasing of reality. The truth is that while there are on the whole not that many slots for engineers at an early startup engineering team, there is quite a bit more scarcity on the other side of candidates who are competent enough to handle all the responsibilities necessary to execute well.

3. Team vs Individuals -- "We simply need what we need and you are who you are" this is another questionable thought that foreshadows poor leadership and begs further questioning. What's the next dubious reason?

4. "We can't make you successful in this role" -- ah, here's the buried lede. Two things, competency, and training are conflated into some kind of fuzzy idea of "fit" that allows the company to elide its own responsibility in teasing those two apart. What things are fundamentals that an engineer must have to be successful? What things can and will be trained or learned while ramping up? Not putting this into clear enough detail almost ensures that this lack of proactive planning will not be addressed.

6. "We don't have the work you need or want" -- more muddled thinking here. You see the phrase "we couldn’t spare an engineer to pair with them full time" which belies the authors thinking, which is that pairing is necessarily a less efficient way to get things done. There's no thought given to whether a pair of junior and senior engineers produce better work and more momentum for the organization long term as a whole. The idea of certain tasks being "entry-level work" is also ridiculous -- a junior engineer can learn a lot from working on challenging engineering project with a senior engineer, and if they do so with the right support, will level up immensely in the process. It's one of the cheapest ways to grow your own talent in a more cost effective manner than you can purchase it on the open market.

8. "You don't actually want to work at a startup" -- most candidates I've talked to have wanted the same things. Respect, autonomy, growth opportunities, work life balance. That the author belittles "work/life balance, high salary, gold benefits, stability, working from 10 to 5 on the dot, never being on call, never needing to think or care about work out of hours" just speaks to their own idea that those things must intrinsically be sacrificed to work at a startup. For others, this idea is anathema to having a healthy culture that doesn't burn out -- if those things are occurring regularly, there's an internal problem in organizational process, culture, product roadmap, technical debt, and resources (or maybe all of the above) that's not getting addressed.

10. "I truly want you to be happy" -- more red flags ahead. "I have no interest in making a hard sell to people who are dubious about Honeycomb" " I want to join with people who see their labor as an extension of themselves" -- all coded speak for a desire to find exploitable labor. How do you convince yourself that in the competitive hiring market, you don't have to at least make a compelling soft sell to candidates that would consider working for you who are competent enough to have compelling competing offers? Do you fool yourself into believing they weren't good enough for you anyways because they don't want to make it their "life's purpose" to build a better APM tool?


awesome post. agree that the photos were distracting...but mostly because i didn't get why they were there. they seemed random.

i do disagree with one thing: i've definitely turned people down due to not being technical enough ESPECIALLY when their resume suggests otherwise. tech can be learned, yes, but you've gotta be willing to learn it too


It's rather bizarre how fixated HN commenters are on the photos in this article.


Number 4 is one of the main reasons I went the self-employment route and will never ever again apply for a real job.

My confidence is what counts for me. Why do you think that your confidence in me counts? I am not going to make myself dependent on somebody else's confidence.

No offence meant, but no, just not.


How does self employment make yourself not dependent on somebody else's confidence in you?

Your customers (whoever you're selling your labor or products to) need to have confidence in you and your ability to deliver whatever it is they are paying you for.


The difference is, I don't need the confidence of the market in order to start working on the project.

Sure, I need it to sell, but that's a different part of the job or a later stage if you will.


1. The photos in that post are really distracting.

2. "We're trying to build a team here, not hire individuals." I can't stress how important this is, and how many companies SAY this in the interview and then do jack squat to foster a team environment once someone is hired. It's also hard in an industry where individual merits matter so much and we all know that our individual skills are such we can walk and be hired somewhere else immediately: the motivation for individuals to become team players can be lacking, especially when it's not made clear what the benefits of being a team player will be.


I really like the photos. It reminds me of the internet how I remember it before it was taken over by the mono-culture of social media. Where blogs was a means of personal expression. She (I assume) doesn't care if the photos turns a few people away, because that's the way she choose to write the blog post.

I miss people just expressing who they are with all their quirks and originality. I feel that the internet is too bland these days. Or maybe I should just stop frequenting medium.com....


It reminds of the days of Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, when everything was possible and even dogs could build websites: https://philip.greenspun.com/panda/


Since there are multiple complaints about the photos in this thread, I think I should point out that the photos appear to be a metaphor for the hiring process. All of those highly-diverse ice cream cones look dazzlingly yummy, but we can only pick one.

It's totally okay if you didn't get the metaphor... there's lot's of symbolism that goes over my head in lots of media, but I don't think it's fair to say the photos aren't relevant to the content.


The reason why the pictures are distracting is because it turns, what arguably is the best blog article I've read in years about hiring, into a glamor post. The pictures changes the tone from "it's about our business" to "it's about me."

There's a easy way to adjust the tone: Keep the headshot at the beginning, and crop the ones in the middle of the article to just the ice cream.

After the conclusion, include a blurb that says something like, "hiring is like choosing an ice cream cone; you can't have all the flavors," and then put in a ton of face shots with ice cream.

Keeps the focus in the article and still allows personal expression!


I think an important theme of the article is that there are human beings making the decision. A list of hiring procedures under a banner is a very different article.


Theme and tone are two different things. It's why everyone's complaining about the pictures. They set a tone that distracts from the theme.

(And, otherwise, it's a damn good article.)


>I should point out that the photos appear to be a metaphor for the hiring process

I took it more along the lines of a metaphor of the power dynamic of the interviewee/hiring manager. Whereas the interviewee may be stressed and concerned about getting a job to put food on the table to feed their family or keep a roof over their head, the person in power doesn't give a shit about you...its all about them and their desire, which happens to be eating ice cream while flexing their power to deny you a job.

In the authors own words:

>Why take the outcome personally?

Yeah why take the outcome of your career and livelihood personally


I've screened a lot of people for technical roles.

When I reject someone: It's not about me, it's about your ability to do the job.

Getting a technical job is like dating: I had to interview at a lot of different companies before I chose the company that I work at. It took me about 6 weeks, full-time, to find my current role.

Software engineering involves some learned skills, but also an aptitude that can not be learned. The same is true for athletics, musicianship, entrepreneurship, ect.

If you're frustrated in your job search, it may be time to evaluate both the kind of career you're trying to have, the lifestyle it affords. Sometimes making ends meet means living more frugally with a more appropriate career.


>Getting a technical job is like dating:

The author said something very similar in her blog.

Maybe interviewing and hiring isn't anything like dating, and the people in power who treat it as such should reflect on that.

>It's not about me, it's about your ability to do the job.

If it were, you probably wouldn't equate it with dating. Or you wouldn't hear SV companies continually talk about cultural fit.


Also, they're fun and serve to lighten the tone


> The photos in that post are really distracting.

It was as if you were reading along and then every paragraph your coworker would tap you on the shoulder and shout "ice cream!"


Maybe I'm reading to much into it but they seem to be purposefully chosen.

* 3-tier ice cream cone - fancy club

* vanilla ice cream - looking for scarcity

* multi-flavor ice cream cone - assembling a team

* giant scope with tons of flavors and toppings - different level

* 3 scopes with one on the side - team fit

* just a cone - low bar


You’re hired.


The photos really creeped me out. I like ice cream too, but sometimes there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.


I am under the impression that she eats an ice cream cone when interviewing candidates.


“We found that interviewing at Ben&Jerry's removes most of our circadian bias (a.k.a. how an empty stomach turns us back into evil predators), while reducing candidates anxiety.”


Perhaps the photos are an unusual way (to you) to convey the same (augmented) message of the text they sideline.

Only, you don't know how to read them. And that distracts you.

It makes sense/speaks to me, in a reassuring way.

And it reminds me how the web was, a few years ago, so free from judgement in how "messages are supposed to look such or such".


> And it reminds me how the web was, a few years ago

The web was never a place where technical blogs included vapid selfies. There'd be a bio pic at the most. What message do the vapid selfies convey on this page? What sense do they make to you that others are missing out on?


....what was even the point behind this post? Did they really need to tell the internet why they don't hire people? Is it to stop people from applying?


> stop people from applying?

Well, I'm definitely never going to apply there after reading this, so it's working!


Honeycomb isn't a bad jobs site. They helped me get a job once, which lasted for about three days, but still, i am grateful for any kind of job, especially at the time. that being said, would i want to work for someone who starts to personally dislike people because they assume the male co-interviewer is the technical one? I am not sure. Although i understand that technical women might feel slighted by this and perhaps she cannot help it, it's a really easy mistake to make. it follows people will need to be on their toes arround her in order to not be on the receiving end of a moral judgement and I obviously would not want my boss to think that way about me.


I can understand your concern, as it's often raised by conscientious people when women interviewers mention this.

While I can't speak for the specific people at Honeycomb, this request for clarification usually results in the interviewers clarifying that they're talking about the case where the interviewee _never_ responds to them, even when they are the one asking the questions. Responding to the person who asked the question is 101 conversation stuff.

In my experience, while some sexist folks who would be terrible coworkers hide it well, many don't. I interviewed someone once whose answer to the over-the-plate softball question of "What's a weakness of yours that you're working on?" was "Women don't get along with me. We're like this. mimes punching hands together" This was for a role where he'd be expected to work with customers who were primarily women. Amazing.


Well i guess he can always try out for a clown role somewhere. As for the other part, I very much hope you are right and what she wrote isn't to be taken as strictly. It also very much depends on the situation.


Honeycomb is not a jobs site (not the one referenced in this blog post, anyway)




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