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Hard truths I learned when I got laid off from my SWE job (stevenbuccini.com)
1012 points by sbuccini 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 570 comments

I survived the dot com crash (yes I'm old).

I have hired (interviewing team member, or hiring manager) hundreds of engineers.

If you are hearing "let me know if I can help" (number 5) you might be doing something wrong. You should be hearing some version of " I will talk to my boss" or "I will call for you" or "XXX person I know is looking".

I have a list of about 30 people who if they call me I'm going to go out of my way to get them a job. That means make a spot for them on my team. Or I will reach into the non overlapping parts of our networks to see if someone is hiring.

Im going to do this because they are good, because they don't suck, because they will get the job done. They will make me look good as the person who brought them in/onboard.

Those of us who survived the bubble did so on hard work and a network. We brought along the people we thought were the best, who we got along with, who would get the job done.

Its the new year, it is the perfect excuse to figure out who your network is, and what they can do for you. Make a list of folks you know, call them up, tell them your thinking of changing jobs. If you don't hear a lot of "send me your resume"/"is your linked/site in up to date" then you need to make some changes.

"We brought along the people we thought were the best, who we got along with, who would get the job done"

I really appreciate the sentiment. In my experience such networks have been self-serving and mostly exclusionary, rewarding loyalty more than competence.

"You need to make some changes" is not particularly helpful when you're outside the fold. What's typically unstated is something about loyalty, esp. not disclosing the mistakes of others.

The best advice someone could give?

1. Achieve impressive things

2. Never give anyone a reason to dislike you

> In my experience such networks have been self-serving and mostly exclusionary, rewarding loyalty more than competence.

I think that's all true except for the "more than competence" part and it's a good thing. Competence is directly related to loyalty. When you recommend someone for a job and they excel, it makes you look good. It makes you loyal to them and giving the opportunity makes them more loyal to you. If someone isn't recommended you for job openings they know about, it's because they think you might make them look bad, either through experience with you or the lack thereof. Unfortunately, it takes time to prove you're competent and gain that loyalty.

Sometimes nepotism can creep in and someone can use their influence to get someone under qualified into a position they shouldn't but that influence was, generally, built through competence, including a history of recommended qualified and competent people.

> The best advice someone could give? > 1. Achieve impressive things > 2. Never give anyone a reason to dislike you

I think the real advice is be reliable and don't be abrasive. A recommendation for a position goes a long way because it alleviates the risk of hiring an unknown person that may be unreliable or not be able to work with other people.

Loyalty, like love, can be blind. One of the best SREs I work with, is just a stellar performer. Over delivers, solves complex problems quickly and with well thought out and reliable solutions. We needed another SRE, so we hired his best friend. Terrible employee, both in what they deliver and how they act. Night and day difference from the first SRE.

> We needed another SRE, so we hired his best friend.

Well there was your mistake. You should have hired the best SRE he knows, not his best friend.

I’m good friends with many software engineers, but the strength of our friendship has no correlation with their engineering capabilities.

I think the point is that they were brought on on the strength of the first person's recommendation, not because they were the best friend.

I agree. There is different mindsets though. If someone was my best friend, I would not recommend them because of that, if they were a bad fit. That would be unfair to both the employer and the friend.

Not sure why anybody would do that. Even for inexperienced people or people that need more guidance in general there's usually spots, just in other other companies.

Companies still hire people that chose the completely wrong career and fields. And in many companies there is demand for them for all sorts of reasons. Worst case they have to do shitty jobs, nobody else wants to do.

With the current lay-offs I think it's mostly the result of "hire everyone" during covid.

I agree. Hiring friends and family is dangerous in my view, unless you are running your own small company.

Alan C. Greenberg, former CEO of investment bank Bear, Stearns & Co. said (to paraphrase): "The problem with hiring friends and family: You hire 100% of the dummies." Bear had an incredibly strict policy about not hiring friends and family. As a result, I am always suspicious when people recommend to hire friends and family.

Obviously I left out that the bad apple came from his recommendation. That's where trusting the judgement of a great employee can have blind spots.

And I bet you didn't ask that guy next time you needed to hire someone.

Seconding this. I'm wondering if the person you are replying to might be having a bit of a dunning kruger issue

I only recommend the people that I have worked with that I would want to work with again. Not because of loyalty, but because they are good, and will make me look good for recommending them

To clarify for other users, "dunning kruger issue" means:

    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias[2] whereby people with low ability, expertise, or experience regarding a certain type of task or area of knowledge tend to overestimate their ability or knowledge. Some researchers also include in their definition the opposite effect for high performers: their tendency to underestimate their skills.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

> 2. Never give anyone a reason to dislike you

I'm someone who tends to get along and work well with others. That part definitely has its advantages for employability (and life in general), and is recommended. However, taking it to this extreme is just dangerous advice. Constantly being a people pleaser can carry enormous risks, especially (but not limited to) to yourself. It's important to learn to be ok with people disliking you sometimes.

People pleasers can cause people to dislike them in a workplace, ironically. Being a people pleaser in software dev very often means you will over-burden yourself because you'd rather say "yes, I can do that for you" than "no, I don't have the bandwidth for that".

I'd rather a teammate who is honest about their current limitations than someone who tells me what I want to hear. If someone admits they are stretched thin, it's now an "us versus the problem" to find why you are so overtasked. If someone consistently takes on too much (because they can't say no) and causes the team to miss deadlines, it's now an "us versus you" problem.


The most hated guy at my old job would start every request with an elaborate hand-wrung introduction to make sure no one could possibly be offended by what he was asking for.

Because of this, everyone had to read one or two paragraphs of niceties before they had any idea what he actually needed.

It was incredibly annoying and actually quite selfish in practice since it wasted so much time.

A good manager would have broached the subject with the employee and gently moved them in the direction of adjustment and likely some therapy.

That sort of people pleasing behavior can easily come from a past where asserting even a minor need or boundary was met with abuse from caretakers or peers.

Not saying it's not maladaptive and irritating behavior. It is! But they probably came by it honestly.

I totally agree; unfortunately he was a contractor hired through an agency, which meant his management resources were poorly defined and somewhat diffuse across the two companies' reporting chains.

I'd imagine if he was strictly an FTE he would have been getting that guidance and support, but I guess the politics of trying to do so across company boundaries made it too much of a career risk for the "manager" he was assigned from my company.

Totally, that has been me in the past. You also burn yourself out and start underperforming.

Everyone has different and possibly ridiculous expectations;w whether they dislike you or not is not really within your control.

Edit: I'd maybe clarify that trying to get people above you not to dislike you is essentially the nature the politics of careerist ladder climbing. If you get laid off, it's just pretty common for people to see themselves as inherently superior because they weren't let go, and therefore think, right or wrong, that you'll reflect poorly on them, because they're careerist ladder climbers. So maybe it's best to carefully cultivate the people from the very start of meeting them which ones still have souls.

Your first comment re: exclusionary is simply a filter for the flip side of your 2nd point.

The damage of a bad hire is 10x as bad as the positive impact of a good hire. A network of competent, easy to get along with people allows one to avoid the truly bad hires that we've all experienced.

Sure you may view it as exclusionary, but if you're hiring for seniors, and been in your niche a decade or more.. the likelihood of someone no one in your network has ever heard of being a great hire vs a terrible hire weighs heavily on a managers brain. Many of these niches are small and are the same few dozen people recirculating over and over. If you are going to spend more time with these people than your spouse or kids, you would like it be be minimally painful.

Joel Spolsky has written extensively about avoiding bad hires. Average and above is the ultimate goal. I agree the impact of a bad hire far outweighs good hires because they consumer the time of managers. Good hires only need a quick steer now and again. Bad hires need a manager to spoon feed them until layoff season arrives.

> the impact of a bad hire far outweighs good hires because they consumer the time of managers

Sounds like a lot of bad manager hires...

I'm not sure about the 10x part. On my team I have roughly 15 coworkers. Two are pretty useless, or at least perform at a level dramatically lower than the other 13. So how do we deal with it? Like the Internet, we route around them. Sure they're a waste of company resources/money, but big companies often waste so much money in IT that it's not really a significant factor.

Now if your team is very small, one or two bad apples can be quite damaging.

Maybe you've not gotten the truly bad apples, or have enough process in place to mitigate.

I've been in environments with people who are breaking things at a rate that causes a day of their work to cause more than a day of work for others.

Fighting with management for months and then shunting them off to their own 'strategic branch' for 6 months was the only way to protect the team until they were fired.

Most people don’t understand how bad “average” is.

It’s true that a bad hire has a large impact. But people assume this means the folks like you’re describing. When not taking money into account I view those types of people as net neutral.

A good litmus is to answer the question “would the team be any better off if we replaced them with no one”, and usually the answer is “no” or at least close to it.

Factoring money in does change things. Especially for smaller companies. But even then people overestimate what “bad” means when they cite the massive impact of a bad hire

Yup - there are actually net negative contributors that simply removing would cause in an increase in team output.

Whether it be rate of damage to codebase, manual interventions in prod, hurting morale, time suck in meetings/idle chitchat, causing drama with stakeholders that needs to be triaged, etc.

They are rare, but they happen, and the process of onboarding, feedback, giving a chance, documenting, and off boarding can take a year.

The people whom I’d recommend are not on the basis of loyalty but rather on some dot product of competence and willingness/propensity to do hard work.

It’s true that a network referral will inherently be of someone that I worked with (or have other [rare] reason to vouch for). That’s the value of it: if you know me enough to trust my judgment, that vouch has information value for you.

I don’t see any other way it could work more effectively.

The people I would recommend are usually never needing help finding work and are probably already in their ideal role: I never have anyone to recommend!

Something I noticed in tech is that loyalty is generally a consequence of competence.

If competent people are valued, recognized and promoted that leads to more interesting projects and compensation. That's how you build loyalty.

We all know software shops that are always whining about the "tech talent shortage" and whose technical employees don't stay more than two years. And we know why nobody is loyal to those!

I think you are discounting the social aspect of the advice. Most people do great things, but very few can stand out only on the strength of their work. So for the vast majority doing good work has to be coupled with having a network that knows about one's work.

And frankly looking for a job is probably one of the most self-serving efforts in one's life, by definition. That is a good thing.

That's pretty good advice. Get stuff done and be likable is good.

I have a colleague who almost feels like he's actively trying to make me hate him by throwing completely unrelated to work off-hand remarks in the most basic thing I do, like telling people that I'm gonna take a lunch break or just opening up a terminal prompt while we pair program.

I know it's off-topic but It's hard for me to try to be likeable with people who are actively trying stuff like that, and I don't know what else to do. It feels like I'm sitting on a table and the other side ignores their table manners because they're just that valuable to the company that they can.

Have you told this person what they’re doing bothers you and asked them to stop? If you haven’t, then you are partially to blame for not speaking up for yourself. Good opportunity for you to learn how to tactfully set boundaries with people.

I think I don’t fully understand the opening up a terminal prompt part of that comment.

Not the one or replying to, but I’ve encountered this too. Some pair programming takes the form of two people operating one computer. When I’ve done this style and I’m driving, certain people wouldn’t let me finish my thought on what I’m doing. They’ll grab their keyboard or mouse and change programs, or just start typing in stuff while I’m typing too.

I like pair programming with the right person. It is very rewarding. What you describe sounds awful. I would tell them to stop immediately. If it continues, I would stop the pair programming session. What a pain.

Yeah, I like it when it’s good. That experience happened at a company where it was full time mandatory, and with our clients’ engineers too. I had positive experiences from that, but also really frustrating ones.

>In my experience such networks have been self-serving and mostly exclusionary, rewarding loyalty more than competence.

The point being? That is how human social network and constructs work. The ultimate point is to help yourself and not based on some ephemeral grand concept. No matter how competent someone is why would I want to work with them if they will stab me in the back one day? Incompetent people will indirectly stab you in the back eventually so you really want an adequate level of competence and loyalty.

Dislike and loyalty are also very different things so not sure why you're equating them. There's people who do things I dislike that will support others that support them. There are people I like greatly who have a record of stabbing others in the back even if they were helped by that person. Guess which ones I'd recommend for a job?

Loyalty is not a quality that should be selected for. Someone could be "stabbing you in the back" because you're doing something wrong, either morally or because your choices are not good for the business, which is ostensibly what you both should be working towards. Demanding or expecting loyalty blinds you to important signals.

Loyalty is a huge failure of human reasoning, and it's frankly bizarre that people see it as a moral virtue given how easily it can be and has been exploited in the past.

You're confusing giving feedback or pushing back with stabbing in the back. Someone loyal will tell you the truth to your face or confront you directly understanding that you mutually trust each other. In fact the people I consider most loyal are the ones most likely to call me out in situations and give me a different perspective.

Loyalty is defined as devotion to a person, institution or idea. I think"devotion" is somewhat stronger than what you're describing.

I'd say someone calling you out is not exhibiting loyalty to you, but more like integrity, or loyalty to some other ideal, like truth, or business success, that you also value. Devotion to ideals is better than to people, though devotion by definition can still be blinding and dangerous (religion? Laissez-faire free markets?).

I'd say that what you're describing is a respect for people with who will fight for principles that you agree with, and that generates a kind of camaraderie, but don't confuse camaraderie for loyalty.

Anyway, not to go down a rabbit hole, the danger of loyalty as a concept is just something I happened to be thinking about lately. I just can't think of any valid instances of loyalty that didn't have very bad failure modes, so I'm inclined to write it off entirely as a value one should aspire to develop.

> No matter how competent someone is why would I want to work with them if they will stab me in the back one day?

Let me say this bluntly: everyone has the ability to stab some anyone in the back. Maybe some have had the unique pleasure of not needing to be in a position to do this, which is great for them, but highly unrealistic for an overwhelming majority of people.

Bad situations bring the worst out in people.

Bad situations take competent people and make the incompetent.

Bad situations can make good people behave poorly.

I'd gamble the attitude you've expressed here will cause you lots of issues down the road. The most successful career folks I've met take chances on "incompetent" people but they're systematic. Part of their process allows for tolerance and growth -- i.e. taking a chance. I don't mean to solo you out but this is a very harsh attitude and definitely makes the industry a much worse place to be in.

Nothing in life is absolute but that doesn't mean everything in life is equal. Some people will stab you in the back more likely than others. Other will be more likely to provide support for you in a difficult situation. Likewise competence isn't an absolute value but changes with times and there is both current and future competence. Consequence for actions and judgement of others does not mean absolutes.

If you want to actively aim to have coworkers that in your own judgement are more likely to stab you in the back and more likely to be incompetent for the job at hand then you do you. I'll go with having mutually supportive coworkers who are capable of doing the job at hand.

> If you want to actively aim to have coworkers that in your own judgement are more likely to stab you in the back and more likely to be incompetent for the job at hand then you do you.

No need to be dismissive only pointing out that your valuation of people will likely cause you more grief than benefit (imo). Also, incompetent people would probably be far less likely to actually be a threat because, well, they're incompetent... It's the smart people that you write off as incompetent that stab you in the back (in my experience). Having some coined judgemental framework will definitely cause oversights eventually.

There's no single way to define someone as incompetent or smart. It's all context and job specific rather than some blanket absolute judgement of someone. Someone not competent for the job at hand will have gotten that far in their careers for some other reason. A fairly common reason is being able to play office politics and sacrifice others for their own benefit.

>Having some coined judgemental framework will definitely cause oversights eventually.

Yes, nothing ever is perfect, everything is tradeoffs and likelihoods of certain outcomes. I'd like to note that judging something as broken because it is not perfect is in itself an inflexible judgmental framework.

> Im going to do this because they are good, because they don't suck, because they will get the job done. They will make me look good as the person who brought them in/onboard.

This maybe makes sense from a hiring manager's perspective, but I think a lot of the people who say "let me know if I can help" are non-management peers. At most companies, the best they can do is enter their recently-laid-off colleagues information and resume into the internal referral system. Yes, that's usually better than going in through the "random applicant from the internet" funnel, but it's still limited. Even if they have a good relationship with the hiring manager, often the applicant still has to go through the funnel, and it's easy to get lost there. This usually isn't an issue with smaller companies that have less process, though.

Regardless, on the few occasions where I (as a non-manager) have referred someone and they've been hired, I don't think it gave me much of a reputation boost as someone who brought someone good onboard. Regardless, there are certainly some people for whom I'd go above and beyond to try to help them get an interview, but I'd do that because they are close friends whom I want to help, not because I of any professional perks of successfully referring someone, which I absolutely don't care about.

I wrote the comment your replying to...

> This maybe makes sense from a hiring manager's perspective, but I think a lot of the people who say "let me know if I can help" are non-management peers.

A good number of my management gigs were PEERS hiring me in as a fellow engineer, and me getting promoted to be their boss. Much of the hiring I have done is peers of the good engineers on my team. If your peers think your great, that your going to make them look good by doing well then your name will come up.

Every manager is different, "hire this person" with some sort of resume is going to get my attention! Your peer can do that for you!

I thrived in the dotcom crash while I watched many of my friends go to companies with generic names like "Global Digital Media" with silly business plans like putting Internet kiosks in U.S. airports. It was incredible - their entire business plan was to ramp up over the next 5 years with a massive capital outlay just in time for smart phones to make them completely obsolete. This is an actual example:


I thrived by staying put. I got retention bonuses while my friends got tons of equity in companies that became 0. When they lowered their salaries to conserve money, they gave them more equity to compensate. Again, all the equity became 0.

Everything you said about networking is spot on. I would add to it - don't waste time. Don't think, "I'm going to ride on my severance and unemployment for six months and start on x date." Start literally today. If it's the holidays and nobody is hiring, get a certification. Learn a new technology. Work on networking. Exercise. Do 8 hours of productive something every day.

I have a friend who has been unemployed the last 2.5 years. He now wishes he didn't take a year off without improving himself / looking for a job.

>I would add to it - don't waste time.

In the dotcom crash, when I was laid off I think the first email I sent the next day was to someone who we were a client of at a previous employer. And we had stayed in touch because I had moved onto a competitor of his (until I was laid off). Just a "Hey. I was laid off. Love to pick your brain." sort of thing. Took me out to lunch with his COO the next week. Discussed some contracting but they ended up making me an offer in about of month.

Things got rocky for the company later. And it was touch and go for a bit. Not the greatest period for me financially but I was never really unemployed and it was a pretty great job in a lot of ways which set me up for my current one. Had I decided to take the autumn off, I could easily see myself being unemployed for 2 or 3 years. Other people I knew never really recovered from the dotcom bubble bursting.

This advice boils down to "be the best of the best" because you'd only go out of your way for someone if they're that good.

I don't think people who haven't reached that bar are necessarily doing something "wrong". It takes hard work to reach it and some people prioritize other things in life over hustling. Others simply don't have the talent to reach it.

I would argue most if not everyone has the talent to reach being the "best of the best" but it takes time. Time, Time, Time... It's everything. Some can reach higher bars sooner simply because they were exposed to something earlier and more frequently.

Competency is only ever recognized over time.

Hear, hear, agree wholeheartedly.

I, too, survived the dot com crash, and, too, benefited from and serve as part of the kind of network described above. When it comes to job hunting, my two favorite career stats are having helped a friend get a job I was interviewing for and working at least a second time for four different former managers. I actually just talked to one yesterday, we hadn't worked together in 20 years.

If this is what's necessary for experienced devs, imagine all the students and upcoming devs that are not allowed a foot in the door. The great social barrier that keeps jobs in very specific parts of the U.S.

Mainly agree, but maybe can be a bit more generous.

"30" sounds low to me, having worked in large companies for many years. Sure, the number of people you worked super-closely with for years is maybe in double digits but you probably know a lot of other people by reputation (which is still good signal) and there may be low effort things you can do for them. I try to, anyway.

This is a hidden danger that I only understood late in my career. I like working at small companies. You can contribute big things relatively easily when there are only a few contributors to begin with. You can build something and nurture it over time - anything from a technical asset to a working relationship with a colleague. You get a more diverse range of things to do because not everyone has to be pigeonholed and not everything needs approval from three different committees. You don't need to constantly try to do "high visibility" projects that will show up in your promotion panel because everyone in the company knows if you're good and the right person to take the lead on the next big thing anyway. You don't need to job hop every year or two to find interesting and well-compensated work for the same reasons.

But then after a while you've only worked in a few different places and with a few different people at each one. Your professional network is much smaller than someone who worked for a variety of big name tech giants in that time doing no-one-really-cares-what and climbing the career ladder by job hopping.

I'm really not bitter. If I could go back and tell my newly graduated self how their career would have gone a few decades later they'd probably still have made very similar decisions even with that knowledge. I've enjoyed many of my roles at small companies immensely and I can't think of many less attractive jobs in this industry than being a cog in the machine at some tech giant whose primary contribution to humanity is turning us all into spyware targets and then ad targets.

But it's undeniably true that sometimes in a tough market - even many years into a career and having reached the equivalent of staff/principal level or followed the independent/entrepreneur route - you can still end up knocking on the front door of an interesting employer or doing the recruiter thing to make a move when habitual networkers with similar YOE would not need to stoop so low because they'd find something via someone some other way.

Doesn’t necessarily apply to every industry… sure to a growing sector like software then maybe yes. In other parts of the economy, teams can have fixed sizes and budgets. This means no wiggle room to bring in new people. I manage a team but can’t hire a new full time person right now…I would put resumes in a pile..

> Those of us who survived the bubble did so on hard work and a network.

What did non-survival look like? I assume you’re speaking metaphorically.

This is very generational and depends on what sort of work circle you’re in too. There’s people I know would do this sort of thing for me but they literally couldn’t. This sounds like the equivalent of “hit the pavement with your resume” advice

> Hard Truth #6: Honesty can only hurt you

I think the author has come away with the wrong lesson here.

Many engineers, particularly those that don't pay too much heed to social mores, think they have some God-given right to share details of all their private interactions publicly. Every tech test they do is pushed to GitHub with an accompanying blog post. Every interview has a transcript (somewhat one-sided) published and shared to Twitter. This is typical oafish behaviour displayed by mamy engineers and frankly, it annoys people. It's often considered a red flag when hiring. Understanding when to be discreet is an important skill for any employee.

Lying about why you're looking for work is a bad idea. That small lie will escalate, you'll have to start stringing together more lies, and when you get found out it won't reflect well.

This has nothing to do with radical honesty. I'm not suggesting you air all your dirty laundry during an interview. But don't lie. And don't publish all private interactions because you're a fan of free software. It's not the same thing.

We've heard "transparency" so much lately that it now gets confused with honesty. They're not the same.

If a company asks where else you are interviewing an honest but not transparent answer would be something like "I'm exploring other opportunities at various places but don't feel comfortable providing more details." If you were to ask a company who else they are interviewing for the same role, you would expect the same answer. It would probably cause alarm if they actually told you the names of other people they were interviewing!

during one of the first interviews I ever had, the interviewer took me to a private room where I could do the coding part on my own

on the desk was the laptop they wanted me to use, some pens and paper, and a stack of resumes from other people

the interviewer made no mention of the stack as they were leaving or when they came back, and when I asked about it at the end of the interview, they chuckled and changed the subject... to this day I'm wondering if it was some test to see if I threw the other resumes out (didn't get an offer btw)

Pretty sure the test here is to see what you do when you discover them. I'd give them more benefit of doubt and guess that they wanted you to report it immediately, and letting any mention of it wait until the end of the interview was the wrong answer. If you're the sort of person that believes in these sort of tricks (I don't), you'd probably jump to the conclusion that the person ignoring the pile of resumes was okay watching the place burn down around him as long as it wasn't his job to fix it. That's a huge leap of logic to make, except in the whacky world of job interview shenanigans, where it's basically par for the course.

> If you're the sort of person that believes in these sort of tricks (I don't), you'd probably jump to the conclusion that the person ignoring the pile of resumes was okay watching the place burn down around him as long as it wasn't his job to fix it.

Alternative theory: since the information on a resume is not exactly sensitive (it's not the same thing as a job application), then someone who doesn't take the opportunity to study them is labeled as incurious

If a company asks you about stuff that isn't any of their business you have my permission (not that you need it) to lie your ass off if you think it will help you. The power asymmetry is such that unless the counterparty is extremely careful about abusing that power that you will end up being cornered and taken advantage of. If you present yourself as more desirable than you are based on your current situation and it lands you a job at a higher salary than you otherwise would have: more power to you. But don't overdo it and realize that there is some risk involved.

I think it's healthier to instead develop the social skills and confidence needed to answer any questions confidently while enforcing boundaries about what you will and won't answer. Outright lying can come from a place of weakness and fear which isn't good to encourage.

Let me give you an example: you're gay and your employer has a thing about gay people. They will not ask you outright 'are you gay?' because that, while legal might result in an anti discrimination suit upon rejection of the candidate which they could very well lose.

Lots of other situations and questions like that which are strictly speaking none of the employer's business. When given the option between telling the truth, evading the question, enforcing your boundaries or lying the only one that might result in you getting the job (assuming you need a job and wouldn't mind working for a bigot because a paycheck is better than no paycheck) I'd be fine with you lying. That is still problematic, but you don't have any moral responsibility towards your employer if they transgress themselves.

The same goes for questions about unionizing, wanting children, having chronic diseases and so on.

Maybe you picked being gay as a hypothetical out of a hat but it's a terrible example. Unless we're talking about extremely repressive societies where there are literally no professional options available for LGBT people, almost no LGBT person would recommend going back into the closet to find work with a bigoted employer. LGBT people regularly run away from home as teenagers and become homeless to avoid bigotry, that's how serious it can be for LGBT people to live authentically. A key part of the emotional growth involved, what a lot of it goes back to is, as I said, having confidence in yourself and being willing to enforce boundaries.

Leaving aside this particularly bad hypothetical, lying about yourself to get a job probably won't set you up for long-term success. What's the end game of claiming you don't want kids when you really do, after you get the job and then become pregnant? Now you need the job even more and your employer both resents you being pregnant and for having lied to them.

If you're really saying it's okay to lie to employers if you're truly desperate, then sure, why not. If you're actually starving then a lot of things become options, but this isn't really good long-term career advice.

There’s a difference between going into the closet and not wanting to share personal information

You’ve drastically shifted the goal posts from the topic of “are you looking at other companies?” to discrimination. It’s hard to have any meaningful insight with those in the same bucket.

The former is completely standard procedural (do we need to accelerate the process to compete) and competitive (who are we up against).

From the first comment in this thread that I made my position has been consistent, I have no idea what you are on about.

Lying is always risky, though. If the truth comes to light, you are screwed. Even if it doesn't, you have to remember and internalize your lie, and make sure anything you say in the future is consistent with it. That requires extra work and can be stressful. (And if you mess it up: again, you are screwed.)

I don't buy the "you don't want to work for a company that would ask you XYZ anyway" line. Sure, in some cases that may be true, but sometimes someone (that is, a random person on the interview loop, not a "professional interviewer" like a recruiter) will ask or say something they shouldn't, and that doesn't need to reflect poorly on the company (or even on the person; who hasn't said something dumb on occasion?).

If you think a question is inappropriate, politely decline to answer, using whatever verbal finesse you have available to yourself. It takes practice and confidence to do so, but it's the right thing to do.

"Are you married?"

"What is the name of your spouse?"

"Have you ever been a member of a union?"

"Do you have children?"

"Do you want to have children?"

"Do you have a chronic illness?"

"Have you ever been arrested?"

"Which bathroom would you like to use?"

"How large is your household?"

"Are you the sole breadwinner?"

"What are your hobbies?"

"Do you have pets?"

"What is your current salary?"

And on and on...

The right answer to those questions is: Sorry but that’s quite a direct question, why do you ask? (And how is it relevant to this interview?)

Those are bad questions to ask as an employer, and you should probably move on to the next opportunity anyways. Still, faking to have children when you don’t, or the other way around, is worse.

Gosh, no - strongly recommending not doing this. (The lying part)

Lying is one of the worst things you can do, it usually speaks to an issue with integrity, a concern that comes before almost all of them even intelligence, education, aptitude, skills.

Learn the skill of polite deferral, of saying things without saying them, diverting or embellishing a bit - and then only if it's an issue not relevant to the job.

If someone in an interview asks you your 'political orientation' (which obviously they shouldn't do and it would raise a big red flag anyhow - but just as an example) you do not have to be candid, but don't lie. You can say "I have a variety of opinions, I try to keep an open mind" - so long as you are comfortable with it and it's true. You have not lied, but not fully answered the question because it's none of their business.

I also think the OP here has misinterpreted 'transparency and candor'.

Engineers who 'over share' are a bit annoying but then again, you don't have to read their posts - but this is not the issue.

The 'issue' here is the absolutely truthful information that is 'just too much' for an interview setting.

Everyone needs to be honest and candid but not transparent like you're talking to the IRS or your accountant.

Suppose they ask you why you might want to work at the company, and you don't really feel hugely inspired, well, instead of saying literally that, you can find at least something interesting about the situation and allude to it. There's something interesting about every situation. And of course, if it's truly a bad situation just say that politely and assume you won't be working there.

It's ok to ask 'Elephant in the Room' questions especially if they are asked politely, if they can't handle that you don't want to work there.

It's ok to be turned away for something arbitrary or mundane (or any other reason) there will be other opportunities.

Getting turned down can make you very cynical and brings out our worst, even conspiratorial tendencies so try to stay grounded and keep your head on straight, don't be sucked into the vortex of weirdness and 'ultra competitive civility' of getting job shenanigans, it's not real, it's a big of a game, recognise it a such.

Kind of like telling people to 'don't be nervous' on a date, what I'm about to write is super glib but I think it's true: stay true to your basic values and identity and I think it will be easier to be more relaxed and authentic in interviews. The 'game' will pull you towards negative behaviours I have found it's a lot easier not to do them if you literally just decide that you are not going to do so for reasons of morality or values or whatever.

Companies lie to their prospective employees all the time. About how much runway they have, about the work that you'll be doing, about what it is like to work there.

I wish companies lying to users (in terms of service), shareholders, public announcements, employee announcements were all illegal and criminally prosecuted.

It is not because it is morally wrong that you should not lie. It is because it is very bad for you. Lies beget lies and no one trusts a liar.

It is morally wrong to lie. You should not do it

The fact that they do it, when they face different incentives, is not a reason for you to

You are generalizing a lot. I outlined a very specific situation: A company inquires into aspects of your life that are none of their business.

In that particular situation as far as I'm concerned - and not as far as you are concerned - you are free to lie. Because the alternative is going to end with you not getting the job, no matter how qualified you are.

Lying about being arrested is a quick way to get fired when the background check comes through. Your antisocial suggestion has now escalated from something you could have preemptively explained into termination of employment. Nicely done.

If a background check is done there is no point in asking. And arrest records are confidential unless they resulted in a conviction.

Of course there is a point in asking, to find out. The background check is verification.

Did you know that employers frequently ask for your employment history in the form of a resume, but then they’ll contact one or two recent employers to confirm you were employed?

Trust, but verify. It’s a leaky but effective check against con artists.

The moral issue is definitely a factor.

Mmm objectively (black and white) lying is a stupid but man taking a moral high ground is even stupider. If you're caught into a position where you either need to lie or divert it's likely a bad situation. The right people, the right job, the right opportunities won't put you in a situation where your boundaries will be tested or you need to lie.

It shows to me that some people have never been in the situation where they really needed to eat and/or feed their families. The moral high ground is a fantastic place to be but the wrong hill to die on when it comes to employers prying into your private affairs as a means of possibly discriminating against you.

> And of course, if it's truly a bad situation just say that politely and assume you won't be working there

Or "this situation sucks, that's why I'm excited. I want to lead the charge out of the darkness and into the light" or some such self-aggrandizing metaphor. Assuming, of course, you are willing to take a job whose primary function is fixing a broken team.

I always lie (through omission) in job interviews, because there's no federal protection against discrimination on basis of sexual orientation.

> there's no federal protection against discrimination on basis of sexual orientation.

The agency that enforces federal anti-discriminatiom law disagrees.


Even when applying to companies that are LGBTQ friendly? I sometimes self identify on applications if the company has a good reputation with that kind of thing because I’d expect It would give me some diversity points. But maybe that’s not the best idea.

> Even when applying to companies that are LGBTQ friendly? I sometimes self identify on applications if the company has a good reputation with that kind of thing because I’d expect It would give me some diversity points. But maybe that’s not the best idea.

Pretending to be LBGTQ friendly is a good PR while changing actual company culture is hard, expensive and takes time. So don't get fooled by PR stunts and changed policies because they will always be eaten by real company culture.

> Even when applying to companies that are LGBTQ friendly?

Ah, so sorry, we found a candidate who had more relevant experience than you, but please do keep applying.

I do not trust "LGBTQ friendly" companies, unless their board of directors is predominantly LGBTQ.

Once bitten, twice shy.

A ruling by a court isn't the same thing as federal law.

There is no federal law establishing my rights, so if a company tries to ask about my personal life (wife, kids, etc.) I politely decline to answer, or I answer vague enough that doesn't give them any useful information.

> A ruling by a court isn’t the same thing as federal law.

A ruling by the Supreme Court applying a federal statute is binding federal law nationally, it can be overturned either by the Supreme Court itself, or by changing the law that the Court applied, but that’s actually stronger than federal statute law that superficially seems to more directly protect a right but which does not have such a confirming opinion.

How often does that happen though? I'm straight and I don't recall ever being asked about my family or love life in a job interview. Not that I'd keep it secret if asked, but why the hell would they be asking?

Yeah I'm also curious. When I was at Google there were a list of things you were never supposed to ask a candidate because that's Super Illegal(TM) and could expose the company to lawsuits. That included sexual orientation and marriage status. That was more than ten years ago, I'd expect most IT companies would do the same by now, at least in the US.

I've never been asked this sort of question at a large company. Mostly "startups" (scare quotes because they're not Silicon Valley startups; think Orlando or Chicago instead).

They also tend to ask a lot about things that might sound innocuous, like hobbies.

If I was being stupidly honest, I could talk about my involvement in the furry community. Most furries (~80%) are LGBTQ (versus ~3% to 5% of the base population).

Instead, I make vague allusions to being a gamer. (I play video games less than anyone I know, but it's not zero, so that's still technically true.)

The annoying part is that you are essentially cornered, being either LGBTQ and/or furry is a large part of your identity and it is hard to have to divorce yourself from that for the purpose of getting hired. Companies really need to get over this desire to know more about the private lives of their employees during the run-up to being hired than they are willing to disclose about their own affairs (such as: financial health of the company, maturity of leadership, attitude to quality of life issues, health care and so on).

There are ways to ask those without being illegal and these are employed quite frequently. Essentially any kind of probing into someone's private life should be off-limits.

> There are ways to ask those without being illegal

Strictly speaking, its not illegal to ask the question. However, because it is illegal to base hiring decisions on it, asking the question is legally dangerous in two ways:

(1) Asking the question in an employment interview is evidence which can tend to support that you intended to use it in a hiring decision, and

(2) The interviewee answering the question is evidence that you had the information, and thus the opportunity to use it in a hiring decision.

As a result, the usual legal advice is to strictly avoid asking the question: you can’t legally use the response, and by asking it you make yourself unnecessarily vulnerable. The idea that it is illegal to ask the question is probably a consequence of this.

I guess it might not be fraud for the employee to lie about it, too, since it can't be material, riiight?

That's exactly the sort of exchange that I had in mind. Likewise for work at a previous company, your current salary, whether or not you plan to have kids and so on. Depending on where you live some of those may be illegal but still, you need that job...

I don't know about that. Something that makes me sick to my stomach is the current only accepted behaviour to react to being laid off by being grateful to such a wonderful company to have given me opportunity to learn and blah, blah, blah. There is so much dishonesty and fake gratefulness around that anything departing from that, including just sharing that you interviewed a lot and only found dead ends, is a black flag.

I get that this is marketing, and that's the game in an employer market. But sh*t, no-one is calling out the fact that maybe the responsibility is not only on the incoming recession, but also how dumb a large portion of the industry has been in trying to ignore as best as possible a freaking war, a pandemic, and flying oil prices, and carried on over-hiring at high wages. I'm grateful mine didn't go in that game and froze hiring very early on.

Maybe it's an emphasis, the way I read it is that you should keep your unpalatable opinions to yourself, because being critical of the system is cause to be rejected by it.

> stomach is the current only accepted behaviour to react to being laid off by being grateful to such a wonderful company to have given me opportunity to learn and blah, blah, blah.

No. You have missed the point.

Nobody wants you to e grateful when you're not. But you do not have to say what you think just because you think it

I was shocked by that too. Maintaining such a sheet is a good idea, but never _ever_ share it. It's bad operational security. It's also revealing more about you (what other companies think of you) than it is about the companies in question.

Also in making it public—even with operational security flags aside—if I’m seeing that a candidate has been through 30 interviews (arbitrary number), at a certain point it’s a flag for me about why they haven’t reached an accepted offer by that point, regardless if they’re a strong candidate. Would you approach dating the same way? “By the way, here’s all of the dates I’ve been on in the past year and I’m currently still single”—maybe there’s a perfectly valid reason for it, but it’s still going to be off-putting to someone who you’re trying to make a good first impression on. It’s got a non-zero chance to put them in a suspicious place instead of an inquisitive or curious one, which, if you’re still looking for dates (or work), probably isn’t what you want.

Edit: I think it's the difference between "honesty" and "oversharing". It's being honest to say "I've interviewed with multiple companies and we haven't been able to come to a mutually beneficial agreement." It's oversharing to give a pile of details about each of those interviews.

Hard Truth 6 does not rhyme with my experience.

Just got back into the job market, and every potential employer has expressed gratitude for my level of honesty and transparency.

I'm "weaker" at negotiations since I've laid out my cards on the table upfront. The other side of the coin is companies are less likely to waste my time unnecessarily, or play hardball too much when you appear to roll over so easily.

My take on Hard Truth 6 is to be careful and strategic with your honesty. It may not always be interpreted the way you intended, so be honest but be wise about what you're disclosing.


I was mortified at the simple description of that twitter post.

To lump that with honesty is probably unhelpful long term for OP, certainly unhelpful as advice.

Why scrub social media early only to taint it later!?

I was laid off in April 2020 as well, and while some of my experience matches the author's some of it was very different.

Being laid off was not a relief -- it was terrifying. All indications were that a severe recession was coming. Frankly, it was quite surprising to me that companies were hiring at all given the uncertainty. It was not obvious at the time that broad sectors of the economy could seamlessly move to 100% WFH. It was also my first experience in fully remote interviewing.

I am a software engineer over fifty. I also have three children two of whom were in college, and my wife works in a travel related industry which was very much affected by the pandemic.

Given those things I approached my job search aggressively and with a sense of urgency, and I made it out OK. I was out of work for about two months and accepted a role at flat comp.

Being laid off is profoundly lonely. I was part of a mass layoff (approximately 2/3 of my company was laid off.) So while I was not alone in that sense, we were all very much alone together. Where you had been a team, you were now five people looking for jobs, each with their own problems and constraints. My wife could not have been more supportive, and yet the process of interviewing and landing a job is one you have to do by yourself. One of the hardest things is to maintain an upbeat outlook, and yet it is so necessary because no one is going to hire a miserable sad sack.

On the other hand, I had no stigma whatsoever attached to the fact that I had been laid off. Part of that might have been that the size of the layoff was such that anyone with any glancing familiarity with the place I was at would know that 2/3 of the company were laid off.

One thing that I would emphasize would be maintain your professional network in good times and in bad. I got a number of good leads that way.

> I had no stigma whatsoever attached to the fact that I had been laid off.

This point in the article was weird to me, that you should creatively avoid saying that you were laid off. Sure, some layoffs are just an excuse to get rid of people who the company believe are low performers, so if you were laid off from a prominent company where recruiters know why the layoff happened, this could be a problem for you when looking for a new job.

But if you were caught in the string of layoffs happening this year (or at the beginning of the pandemic), I can't see how there'd be stigma attached to that. And I'd worry that being evasive about why you're no longer at your previous company could be a red flag to recruiters; just doesn't seem worth it.

It is none's business about why you left (or are leaving) your previous job, unless perhaps it is due to some legal issue that would show up on a (criminal) background check. Interviewing for a new job is all about the future, and it's totally up to you to reveal only the facts about your past that paint you in a favorable light.

Whether or not saying you got laid off would hurt your chances is a separate question. My guess is most of the time it wont. But as a flip, would saying you got laid off improve your chances of getting the job? If the answer is no, then its not worth saying - focus instead on the things that for sure portray you positively.

The same goes for jobs with short tenures - if you stayed at some place for a few months and left just leave it off your resume. It doesn't do anything to sell you, so why waste time on it?

Just remember, an interview is a short period of time to sell the best parts of yourself that are most applicable to the job. It is not a 100% confession of all the good and bad things that happened to you.

Yes, when lots of companies are cutting back to their most essential employees, it helps provide a little cover.

But, y'know, regardless of the environment, what does it say about your abilities that your employer didn't consider you essential?

This is a very pessimistic way to view things that I don't fully believe, and of course any reasonable person knows that being part of a layoff is very rarely just the employee's fault. But to perhaps state the obvious, being laid off is never gonna look good, or even neutral. There will always be stigma.

Being able to reframe your layoff in as positive of a light as you can is important.

> But, y'know, regardless of the environment, what does it say about your abilities that your employer didn't consider you essential?

In the case of a startup, there's often not much you can do to be seen as valued if you're not a founding engineer.

I've been a part of 3 layoffs. 15%, 90%, and 75% reductions, all at small or medium-sized startups. At a startup, they're going to keep founding and early engineers first. There's a selection bias, but those engineers aren't probably "dead weight" if they were there since the early days. Plus, there's a cliqueness to startups that will favor them.

Yeah, and all of this is relevant, and the kind of stuff you would wanna talk about with a new potential employer. Maybe you did really amazing work with a killer team, but that team got cut as the founders tried to reduce scope.

But... it's still set against the default backdrop of "they kept some people, but not me", so it's important to be able to tell your story well.

To add, usually companies layoff low performers first.

At my previous job, the company laid off 1000 people, but only 3% of engineering…

    But, y'know, regardless of the environment, what does it say about your
    abilities that your employer didn't consider you essential?
I think it depends on the company. If you're laid off from from a small or medium sized startup, with more or less one product, then I can understand how being laid off can be seen as a reflection of your skills (or lack thereof) as an engineer. But if you were laid off from a larger company, all it means is that some director saw a team (or teams) which were working on more speculative projects, which could be axed as a way of saving money during a recession. It doesn't mean that you're an unskilled engineer. It just means you were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the ax fell.

I have a bit to go before I’m a software engineer over fifty, but I have a lot of anxiety about it primarily from an ageism standpoint. I don’t really want to go into management because I love coding and solving problems, but I fear that one day I’ll will struggle to find work due to my age.

What has your experience been with this issue?

I worry about it too. What I have found is that it's important to keep your skills very, very current. It's OK to be reasonably skeptical about the latest hotness, but it's imperative to know about it and why it's the latest hotness. No one cares (OK very few people care) about the systems you built in perl in the 90's. They will care about your opinion Go vs. Rust vs. C++, even if you are not an expert in any of them. You needn't have used every no-SQL data store, but again you need to know about them.

On the other hand if you are a subject matter expert in a particular domain, then your twenty years of experience are indeed very useful, and while no one wants to replicate the risk reporting system you built in Motif/X in the 90's, they may well want build it in React.

Over 50 in 2022 is very different than over 50 in 2000.

I’m GenX and grew up with the internet but I know life before the internet. I know technology more than most and keep up with it. I play video games (finished elden ring earlier this year) and watch TikTok 2 hours a day. I’m not young but the gap between me and someone younger isn’t a vast canyon like it used to be.

My last job hunt a year ago I got over 5 job offers. I wouldn’t be too worried.

Well, the issue unfortunately is that we know that but a thirty y-o hiring manager doesn't. A few years back I saw folks commenting on YouTube about the "good old days" of 2013 and had good sensible chuckle.

Also, tiktok is like smoking—wouldn't recommend.

I myself lead a software development team. I am 31 and the last two people I hired were almost 50 and they are very good devs. In my opinion age alone isnt a reason not to hire someone. What is the "common reason" older people are not considered to be hired? I guess because people think they cant adapt or are stuck in some ways in theire thinking. If your future you can show that this is not the case, I guess you are fine :) Only "REAL" age related reason is (and I have to admit that I myself didnt hire someone because of that) if the person wants to retire in the near future and you think you want to invest your time in someone who will, hopefully, stay longer.

It depends on what part of the industry we’re talking about. One aspect of this is startup culture and needing to “fit in.” Or in other words “culture fit.” You see it on HN all the time where people mention many of their friends are coworkers. Sometimes that means not hiring the person who has a life outside work, isn’t going through the same issues everyone does in their 20s, and is perceived to not fit in. In some cases, I think it is simply the threat of possibly having a life outside of work and not signing up to overwork yourself by default.

Another is pricing yourself out of the industry. And another is the mistaken idea that all an older dev knows is older out of date technology. The usual stuff.

I’ve found that firmware and regulated industries in general do not have as rampant of an ageism issue.

Some IC roles do fit more younger candidates than older. E.g. in a startup - often better they not have outside commitments like a family, or need for a healthy work-life balance. Sometimes "work smarter not harder" falls apart and they need to work like a maniac. On balance I've found older colleagues less willing to do that. That isn't meant as a criticism, just an observation about role-fit, those people usually didn't last long.

The underlying belief to this is, is that more hours = more results = better results. I highly doubt that this is the truth.

That's not the underlying belief in a startup. It's more like: we have not fully figured out market fit. We may need to build something very very quickly (I'm talking about hours/days, not weeks/months) and then maintain them for while.

That's why I say "work smarter not harder" can fail - that only works if you make assumptions about the future, in a startup that can only take you so far.

Okay, I didnt thought about such an early state.

> Only "REAL" age related reason is (and I have to admit that I myself didnt hire someone because of that) if the person wants to retire in the near future and you think you want to invest your time in someone who will, hopefully, stay longer.

If you're in the US, you might want to ask your HR about whether that can be a factor in hiring criteria.

If HR says "Don't do that", then they might prefer not to hear that it was already done (so maybe don't volunteer the info, unless they ask), in which case it's a for-future-reference.

I think age gets thrown around a lot but it's never really appeared to me from my singular data point. I think the larger (at least post screener perspective) is that you always need to stay relevant. If you're working for a company 10+ years doing roughly the same thing doing amazing work, that doesn't mean you're employable in the market at large. You need to feed the trends to at least know what the larger community is doing, and keep relevant skills in your resume (and actually know them) to show you aren't a dinosaur (not in age, but in competence in obsolete tech). I update my resume every couple years if I'm looking for work or not. Not helping, there are a bunch of dead end companies that are the only companies willing to employ the people at the level they do, so it can lead to bleak perspectives when you're forced out and try to work outside your comfort level. I've known more than a few exit software entirely as they were unable to find suitable alternatives.

Hey everyone, author here.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I decided to spend Christmas break in CDMX[0] by myself in order to reflect not only on the past year, but just how far I've come since I got laid off. This is the result.

Thanks for making all those hours at the café (instead of at a museum or bar or whatever) worthwhile.

[0] I'll be here for a few more days if you'd like to meet up!

When I was laid off in 2010, I found another way in which honesty bit me. Or maybe it was a lesson in recognizing the limits of offers of help, because it wasn't my "transparency" which was the problem.

Of course I had my friends looking for opportunities and making referrals. One of them had a kind of clunky opportunity for me as an independent contractor for their company. It was a lengthy process to get it done, in part because they didn't really have their own contractor infrastructure so I organized an LLC, got my proper insurance, etc. Of course, I didn't tell me other friends about this opportunity because it wasn't a done deal yet, and I kind of knew the contracting thing was going to be short-lived anyway. Well, it turned out to fall through completely, which wasn't a huge surprise; but I found out that the hiring manager had told all my other friends to stop looking for jobs for me, because I was coming to work for him! So I was back to square one.

> Only in retrospect did I understand the connotations that post broadcast to potential employers.

So, you wanna share with us what the connotations were? Is it just that the recruiter read "oh, you're failing a lot, you must suck"? Or is there something else more interesting to this?

I'm disappointed that this post is somewhat vague on specifics. But on the one situation that is set up very specifically, we don't get the punchline.

Not OP, but I'll take a guess that it makes the OP look like a troublemaker. Someone who has the nerve/gall/gumption to be so open as to name/shame other companies may not pull any punches when it comes to naming 'company X' in the future after something bad goes down.

Posting "here's a list of companies that haven't got back to me" (which is possibly implicit in an open spreadsheet sort of post) is likely perceived as a troublemaker.

The connotations I had in mind (although I obviously cannot be sure what the recruiter thought):

- what mgkimsal said

- "This employee is applying to really big companies. I'm not sure they know what they are really looking for. This is a mission-driven company, and we want people who want to be here"

- "This person has applied to 30+ places and hasn't landed a job yet? Must not be that great after all"

- "Someone who posts this information publicly has low EQ, I wouldn't want to work with them"

I'd also add:

- "Oh someone here is treating our company as if it was a commodity. I don't like them."

- "This person is trying to game interviewing, probably best to steer clear."

How could interviewing be anything but a game? I understand some wouldn't want it spoken of however.

Part of it is, indeed, talking about unspoken rules. But part of it is that the hiring managers and CEOs are humans like everyone else - some may have ego issues, or buy a little too much into their company's branding.

Exactly this. The first rule of fight club is don't talk about fight club.

What surprises me more: Many people don't think interviewing is a game. They think it is straightforward and "rules-based". I guess those same people also believe PR. :)

Or want the world to be fair and honest, and - per the well-known saying - they are themselves the change they want to see.

Well written thoughts! I've definitely shared many of your feelings more times than I would have thought at the start of my long career.

Corporate jobs disappeared due to the financial crisis one time and a hostile takeover another time (both of those I was personally happy about). And a couple startups were acquired sooner than expected. There can be upsides, yes, but it can still leave you with months of trying to figure out what to pursue next, and that can be a weight on your mind even when you're making the most of your time off. When you are committed to a full-time job, something you have to do every day, you may dread going to work sometimes or just wish you could hike up a mountain or something, but it helps frame your day and reduce the number of decisions you have to make, so when you don't have that there can be a significant cognitive load trying to decide how to spend your time in a way that others may not understand. "Oh, that's nice, you're consulting, how flexible, lucky you!"

Early in my career I learned about how to come out of the gate blazing fast since when I graduated from college a couple decades ago half of the tech jobs were gone, and I had to work hard for months after graduation just to find a specific kind of application development work I wanted at the time. I was fortunate to find that but many others were not and had to take whatever came their way. But it wasn't easy, and like you said, I found out early that lots of interviews on your calendar isn't necessarily promising, so over the years I've tried to find alternate routes to work by meeting with people inside the company first to find out what it's really like, and how much they want to fill a specific position, etc.

And more important than all the above, I recommend finding a listening ear to share your journey with, someone who will try to understand where you're at! I have some friends who have had the same job for a couple decades and even though they may not relate well, we can still try to share our different lives with each other and it's more helpful than you might think!

Great article, I really enjoyed it.

Given that you now know what it will be like if you get laid off again, have you changed anything about how you approach your non-work life? Things like non-work friends you hang out with, non-work activities that you do for fun, Etc. Sort of "if I'm laid off again, then I'll fill my days with interviewing and ..."

Glad you're back up and running and have processed the layoff!

One of the best articles I've read about the experience of being laid off, thanks for writing and sharing!

thanks for the post Steven. I especially appreciate Hard Truth #5. Most folks end up not knowing exactly how you may want to be helped and having a clear and specific ask helps a lot.

Super post. Thanks a lot Steve.

Try the tuna tostadas at La Capital.

#1 it's lonely? April 2020, 1 month into the pandemic.

I found the pandemic lonely. I saw less than 1 person a month for the first 14 months of the pandemic. And i find WFH incredibly lonely. I haven't recovered. I'm utterly alone most weeks. I see no one. Even if I go to work, no one is there. I moved cities a year ago and have only 1 friend and 2 acquaintances in the new city. 2 of those 3 are married and I see them maybe once a month, if I'm lucky. The 3rd I haven't seen since August. The pandemic as killed meetup.com. It used to be full of activities. I don't think there is 1/20th of the activities there used to be.

For what it's worth, I've been working from home for about 8 years now. The only way to make it work for me was deliberate social activities with my neighbors, people from church or local charity orgs (Rotary, etc).

I met them, I got their numbers and I started asking them to lunch at least once a week (sometimes more). That small, very determined activity just leads to more. You have to do it very consistently.

Hosting a poker night is very similar. It will start small and sometimes not happen, but you have to be relentlessly consistent to get it established.

Loneliness is bad in itself, but it can get worse if you are:

- Not going outside every day

- Not keeping yourself fit

- Eating junk food

In my region there is a lot of office only/mostly hybrid (3+ days in the office) jobs, probably for the reason that you mention. Of course when I ask why I need to be in the office people tell me about culture and stuff... But the true reason is probably more along the lines: loneliness, small baby crying at home, apartment not appropriate for remote work, annoying roommates/spouse/during divorce.

Maybe changing jobs right now is not the best idea - so I will not suggest it. I will only suggest to get real human contact, as being on-line and talking on forums/social media does not work (at least in my case).

If you have a chance you may try to find some meetup for startup entrepreneurs, even if you are not interested in startups. I find people there to be really hyped and full of positive energy. Usually there is also a motivational speaker there. YMMV but in my city there are some free and open meetings like this.

> I will only suggest to get real human contact

Isn't this the crux of the issue? If OP was getting real human contact, they wouldn’t feel lonely.

This pandemic has really thrown us for a loop. New habits have been formed that are hard to break.

One of the first times I dipped my toe in the social pool in early 2022 was at a tech meetup. A bunch of us who went got COVID. I recovered but was the sickest I’d been in about 20 years. It doesn’t take much to withdraw more.


- Not exercising

Loneliness is a killer[0]. And we're doing ourselves no favours with the way increasingly we meet people through apps and not face to face.

I'd be lost without the friends I made in education settings. This might sound silly but any chance you could swap a meetup group with some sort of class? Art, writing especially something that involves discussion?

[0] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/loneliness...

Hey, author here. I get it, trust me. This post meant to encapsulate my feelings during the one year I spent unemployed. During that entire time, I was alone. I had a falling out with my parents. I moved to a foreign country where I knew no one in order to stretch my savings. I totally get it.

If you need to chat with someone, I'm happy to lend an ear. Contact info is in my profile.

> I moved to a foreign country where I knew no one in order to stretch my savings

I have found NomadList (nomadlist.com) and NomadSphere (nomadsphere.io) invaluable for meeting up with people when abroad, although usually people who are there to work remotely.

Another option for meeting people is volunteering.

And almost any sport, appreciate you may not play any, but a group of the same people go to the same thing week in week out. You can even pick something where you can get lessons first then join a club.

Sometimes there are more social sports clubs that aren't really competitive. Here in the UK for example there are social badminton clubs and competitive badminton clubs. You will get a real mix of skill levels at the social clubs, and these might have regular meetups outside of the badminton. The one I'm part of do meals, theatre, outdoor events, etc. together. It depends on the people running it.

Meetup.com seems to be sort of back where I'm at (Chicago area). Some of the groups are now toast (including the one I used to admin), but several are back to regular events again, and there have been some new groups since.

I've tried to be a little careful still (still haven't gotten Covid as far as I know, I don't know if I'll be asymptomatic or end up in the hospital or something in between), and yet I've gone to several picnics, hikes, board game nights, outdoor hangouts, karaoke, movie nights, trivia, dinners, etc. via Meetup.com this past year.

Also supplemented that with Facebook events and the local forest preserve and local library's posted events.

I still have a core friend group (who I met thanks to Meetup.com many years ago), but several of my other friends have drifted off since the pandemic started (married and started having children), so I started doing meetup more again to compensate.

Could you work “from home” from somewhere with a thriving community of remote workers, like Mexico City? Or lookup Wifi Tribe or similar?

My circle of friends shrunk some during the pandemic and after the vaccines came out I put a lot of effort into building it up (larger than before). Some data in case helpful:

Friends made over 1 year, 3 months:

Meetup - 1 friend. Had a poor time-to-friend ratio for what I put in, but that's an n=1 and I mostly frequented just one meetup, although I tried like 3. Negative experience overall (for me, ymmv). Friend is great.

Local discord group around a hobby of interest - 2 friends. Many friendly acquaintances. Had to find the right group as a few I tried didn't feel like as-good fits. Positive experience, the friend making process was enjoyable and the friends are great.

Meeting at an intro class for another hobby (a semi social one - need at least one partner) - 2 friends. We were all new at the intro class and it was hard to find people, so we swapped numbers. Got to know each other through the hobby then became friends. Probably would be difficult to replicate intentionally.

Friends of Friends - 1 large group. 5 that I'd call friends and several more that I'd call group-friends or friendly acquaintances.

Friends of Friends are exponential. There's an excellent time to friend ratio, and the people you meet come pre-vetted. But note that some friends may be hesitant to make inter-friend connections even after they know you well, depending on how closed-off their other groups are. It's, of course, also not generally accessible until you have enough of a circle that like/trust you enough that you're getting invites to their other group things.

We may revert the hard truths to get soft precautions:

- Always have savings that will cover at least 6 months of expenses, now probably a year (if indeed it takes so much time to find a new job).

- Socialize outside work, ideally have a network of people that work at other companies that you are in touch with. Sports, charities, churches etc. If this is hard, ask yourself if you are overworking yourselves/spend too much time at work.

- Be careful what you are posting on social networks. Employers are more and more concerned about the image that you have on the internet. I propose to have 2 profiles, the first a professional one with portfolio of projects, blog, articles and what's not and the second for your private views (nobody should track that profile to your person using publicly available information).

Also I wonder what the author is doing professionally. I don't see any hard tech articles on his blog. Maybe he is into niche tech or doing some no longer hyped stuff like data science? That would explain why it took the author so long to find a new job. Maybe if this is the case the author should reflect on his skills and maybe change his niche to something more marketable?

> I propose to have 2 profiles, [...] the second for your private views

Or just don't post about your views on anything (controversial or otherwise) on social media. Just opt out. There's no inherent reason why you need to post about anything on social media. If you must, perhaps because you use it to keep in touch with family and friends, just post about things that are going on in your life. There's no reason you need to use social media to air your grievances about society.

The issue I take with this is that employment becomes a form of restriction of free speech. Unfortunately, the reality is most of us can't afford to truly speak our minds because we need a job to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. Still, even with that in mind, I think the best compromise is to provide strong support of your opinions and not just shout whatever political slogan happens to be in vogue.

Honestly if you're going to(hypothetically) rant over the economic system from an extremist viewpoint(like many people on the internet do) i won't be surprised nor blame the employer for not giving you a job in that exact economy you just spent 2k words ranting about; and you shouldn't neither, if you have any integrity that is. Free speech doesn't mean denying any responsibility over what you say, so if an employer refuses to give you the job over some rational reason regarding what you wrote(e.g. hypocrisy in the example before) i really don't think there is anything wrong with it.

Obviously i'm not saying there are no employers discriminating candidates for a political view which may have nothing to do with the job itself, or that they aren't a problem, but i don't think the number of employers that are actually problematic are enough to say that they restrict your freedom of speech. Just find another, and if you can't, well then it's probably on you more so than the employer.

Complaining about capitalism doesn't really stop you from being proficient in participating in it though.

> I propose to have 2 profiles, the first a professional one with portfolio of projects, blog, articles and what's not and the second for your private views (nobody should track that profile to your person using publicly available information).

As someone involved with online privacy&security for a long time... I think almost no one on HN (including myself) can keep multiple online personae unlinked by commercial data brokers for as long as the threat model would seem to require.

If you have alt accounts, consider them low-security that eventually will be revealed, and figured into many employers' data science ranking&filtering, and their AI-model-summarized profiles they can pull up on you. Ideally, it won't be revealed before there's a more enlightened US culture of social tolerance, and more comprehensive and serious US data protection laws, but you can't bet on that.

You might also want to simplify by minimizing use of alts, and instead trying to self-moderate how you put yourself out there. For example, if you voted for a political candidate who rubs a lot of people the wrong way, either own it, or don't rant about it with alts in online public forums. For another example, dating -- without data brokers spying on some of your most intimate private interactions -- is nigh-impossible, but with an awareness of this, you can still try to save some things for offline pillow talk only.

When I created an HN account, I knew I'm more liberal/progressive than a lot of tech people, and that there's some currently popular practices in the field that I'm inevitably going to be outspokenly critical of, and that's going to alienate some techbros and employers. Having my name on the account is partly a reminder to me to try to only say things that I'd be willing to stand behind. (I'm certainly not perfect, but it's an attempt, and always learning from it.)

The number one thing I've learned from being laid off was never to trust your employer. Trust people, if they've shown to be trustworthy, but never, ever trust a company.

A company is not family, they're not your friend, and the perceived loyalty you think you've "earned" doesn't mean a thing if layoffs are coming.

Treat your employment as a business arrangement. You get a paycheck in exchange for labor. Nothing less, nothing more.

Ahh yes. I think most people end up going through this bitter disillusionment at some point in their careers.

Humans are tribal by nature and companies are setup like a big tribe. We even call the guy (and it’s mostly a guy) at the top the chief! Feelings of “family” and “loyalty” are built into humans operating in tribes, and a real tribe looks out for its members.

So when the sudden wholesale internally orchestrated slaughter of a chunk of the tribe happens (metaphorically), it comes as quite a shock (the first time). Both for the people that go and the people that stay. The lesson is that a company is not a tribe.

That said, a company is also a collection of people and the relationships you develop as you work are just as meaningful as the ones you develop in other aspects of life. Loyalty to people is a perfectly good and reasonable thing.

So my take is, you should focus on fostering good relationships with your coworkers and hold loosely to the concept of the “company”. The company may screw you over, but good people will always try to do what is right.

the weird part for me is why I keep falling into that trap again and again. I like the work, I like the employer and I do good work and so I think that there is some kind of safety in that. I guess maybe it's a natural human impulse to think that you're somehow settling into a tribe. But the reality is that you're not in a tribe, you don't have safety and the business has a very calculated view of your value: You already got paid for your time, years mean nothing. There is no sense of "past achievements" (which could be construed as loyalty). There is only: Can you keep working right now for price X, yes or no? If no you go. I keep forgetting that everytime I settle into a job. Perhaps because I do too much compared to others, that somebody must surely see my massive value. But eh, your extra 20-50% is nothing in the grand scheme of a company, they won't mind paying 1.5 people to replace you. They just take it and say "thx buddy". I'm always far happier in the beginning of a job than at the end, I am starting to think that it's because I don't have any delusions that I have safety or loyalty from the people around me.

I second this. Institutions come and go but the people and connections you make throughout your working life is what counts and transcend your workplace. This is especially true for technical people, if you are middle management/executive your skills are far less transferable.

Contrary opinion:

If feels very very very wrong to compare a search during April 2020 and now.

Why? The year after April 2020 was a booming job market for SWEs. Hiring managers were competing for talent, 2021 was a boom year of low interest rates, euphoria in private and public markets.

This blog post _should not_ be considered a response to the WSJ article.

And sorry, grinding away at leetcode should only take about 2 months tops if you don’t have to worry having to balance leetcode and your job, and not a tall ask for a 250k+ job in tech. if you don’t need that high a salary, smaller companies generally are more lax about leetcode

Ok looked the guy up: https://www.stevenbuccini.com/about/

- Studied at Berkeley

- worked at Apple and Uber

And I’m supposed to feel bad for you not wanting to spend a few weeks grinding at leetcode?

This reeks of someone who is very well off, and not an “Everyman” engineer.

I actually agree with the parent here;

grinding leetcode is some dumbshit waste of time that I'm not going to bother with -- I've got code to put in production and this simply is never a good use of my time. When you have an obnoxious hiring process that will take multiple hours for your special company, why would I even waste my time? I can click a few more buttons and have offers elsewhere anyways...

> dumbshit waste of time that I'm not going to bother with

You're leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table. The hours/money ratio of studying leetcode is pretty good.

> for your special company

At least 1 round of leetcode questions is a requirement for every company I have interviewed with.

> I can click a few more buttons and have offers elsewhere anyways...

If that's actually true, then nevermind.

I hate leetcode too, but I think it's unwise to not conform.

Well the guy who wrote the post had the same opinion as you and his job search took a year as a result…

Author also mentions that he didn't have any savings at the time he got laid off. So maybe not the normal person that's worked at Apple for 10 years and cashing out RSUs but someone who did short stints at each.

> The year after April 2020 was a booming job market for SWEs.

Did we know that at the time, though? From what I remember, it was all doom and gloom: public markets were trending downward, people were talking about recession and corporate belt-tightening, and the assumption was that we'd see a lot of layoffs, and the labor market would get tight.

True, that's not what happened (at least in the case of knowledge workers) -- in most cases it was the opposite -- but I don't think we had that foresight back in April 2020.

Anecdotal but over the past 20 years I've held about eight different positions in various companies as a software engineer, and I've never even so much as glanced at leetcode. I've been able to live comfortably and put plenty away for the future with 150 to 200K salary.

I feel like companies that emphasize interviews prioritizing rote memorization aren't going to be a good culture fit for me anyway.

Stepping back for a moment from the content, I think it is worth noting what an exceptionally well-written essay this is. Being able to write well is a super power for engineers. It is a reflection of the lucidity and clarity of one's mind, and the ability to understand the needs of the reader. Writing well is an exceptionally useful and powerful skill that can be improved with consistent practice. I would be tempted to add that as hard truth #9!

He is a good writer and clearly a thoughtful individual, which further reinforces truth #6 (honesty can hurt you). I subconsciously approached the article with a bit of negative bias around the fact he had been laid off. His writing has more clarity than many successful CEOs though so who knows.

As someone who also writes and thinks a lot, truth #6 applies particularly to us. People REALLY don't want to hear hard truths from people who think about what they are saying. If you are saying something that is less thought out, honesty can be a good policy - after all, they have probably heard whatever you are saying before.

I will say - most people don’t like hearing that. And you’ll certainly not be a hit at parties if that’s your style.

There is a high correlation between specific types of high performer and people who do like (and benefit) from hearing that type of truth though. At least unless it hits too close to home.

Which is why the article is getting upvoted.

> I subconsciously approached the article with a bit of negative bias around the fact he had been laid off. His writing has more clarity than many successful CEOs though so who knows.

That’s because most people get laid off because of no fault of their own. There’s a false idea that people that are laid off are low performers, but the truth of the matter is that more often than not it, it’s entire teams.

Yes, and if you're in the game thru a few downturns, you will be laid off during them a few times in an otherwise successful career. Severance package FTW.

How charitable of you for the poor laid off person.

Verbal and math ability are highly correlated, as suggested by IQ and SAT scores. People who are good at math tend to be above average at writing too.

It took me many years to figure out how to write. Finally, I figured out how to apply that math side of my brain to writing: I treat sentences like math exercises; that is to say I learned how to show my work.

Ironically, I feel that this also helps me identify AI writing since it never shows its work; it has a tendency to mix together multiple "answers" in a swirling morass of leadership-speak (a mixture of management-adjective-soup and the avoidance of direct points). That kind of speech pattern coming from anybody that's not a C level executive stands out. Even executives tend to drop the leadership style speech patterns on forums.

> I treat sentences like math exercises; that is to say I learned how to show my work.

Comports with the advice from _The Sense of Structure_ by George Gopen. You start every sentence with context that links back to the sentence before, and end it with the new information you want it to emphasize. Like a string of steps in a geometry proof.


SAT-type verbal stuff is very different from being able to write well. It's much closer to math with a different alphabet--I've met more than one math major who did better on the verbal sections of standardized tests.

And the author is.. also good at math?

For sure. So utterly penetrating, incisive, soulful and relatable. There can be no suspicion that the author relied on ChatGPT for this piece!

I hope everyone takes this as sarcasm

The author mentions the "diamond-in-the-rough" strategy used by organizations, which in my experience can be particularly disrespectful of the interviewee's time. One thing I try to figure out how before applying to a job is how many applicants the organization is considering for the position. If they're interviewing a ton of people for one position, it's probably a waste of my time to apply. This is particularly true for organizations that use marathon interview sessions (doing a series of interviews over an entire day), and/or organizations that expect the interviewee to give a talk of interest to the organization (common in research positions). Customizing an old talk I have takes several hours. I know that I could use an old talk without modification, but I feel that I'd be at a significant disadvantage to do so.

Good thoughts, but (not as a criticism of the author), some of the pain points are at least partially self-inflicted:

To minimize post-layoff loneliness (and not only for that!) make sure you have a life outside of work: the people you like to spend some time with and things you like to do. To minimize money-driven stress of the layoff, build up a cash cushion that can last at least 6 months; with unemployment, vacation time and any severance it can probably be stretched for a year.

And #7, "think whether you want to work for that company after getting an offer" seems off the mark. Sure, reject an offer that is not the best and stretch time on a safety offer until you get a better one. But do not go through the motions of getting an offer with a company you have no interest to work for. If you do not want to work for a company at all, do not apply there. My 2c.

> But do not go through the motions of getting an offer with a company you have no interest to work for.

Strong disagree. In this economy, you regularly want to hip pocket job offers.

There’s some truth to what you’re saying, but it can be taken too far.

If you have the posture of “I’ll take anything I can get” I think that actually puts you at a disadvantage in an interviewing situation.

In my experience employers can tell who is actually trying to evaluate fit themselves, and who is just saying what they think needs to be said.

I find it’s easier for both parties to make an offer, if they know the counterparty has done their due diligence.

For me when accepting an offer I’m also doing the same, evaluating whether I think the company has actually vetted me properly and has reason to think I will be a good fit.

There is so much mystery in the hiring process, I really need the other party to be doing their half of the work. And that means saying no to opportunities that don’t feel right.

That doesn’t mean I walk away from anything that’s not perfect. It just means I am looking out for reasons to say no, in addition to the reasons to say yes. I think interviewers pick up on that and it helps me get offers.

The problem with going through to the offer stage with companies you do not want to work for is that this is likelier to limit your options rather than increase them.

This is not a very strong prior, but re-applying after rejecting an offer can indicate that you are using the company as a fallback and may bolt as soon as you get a chance.

Being unemployed, I can't support this. Keeping an offer on hold blocks the company from making the offer to someone else who actively needs it. Maybe you meant something else, like a handshake agreement with a manager friend who works there that they'll try to make room for you if you ever want to join.

This, and interview practice is a plus too.

My advice:

Have one or more side projects going all the time. If you get laid off, immediately start doing a startup, open-source project, or volunteering full time. A year of unemployment? Lonely, depressing, and not good on a resume.

A year of launching an unsuccessful venture? Running coding classes for the underserved? Focusing full-time on contributing to pytorch? That's a lot better, both at the time and in retrospect.

Side projects are also a good way to get hired. You meet people.

You also learn stuff, and stuff of the type you can't learn in a job.

You can also do the equivalent of an acquihire. If you want to work for the world's #1 drubble maker, and you spend 6 months developing a drubble startup, guess who'll come out the most knowledgeable and passionate about drubbles at the interview? And perhaps even bring in some helpful IP?

Your back story is "I tried to go it alone; I think I can do a lot more good with the backing of a company."

This is terrible, possibly toxic advice. Software devs are people too. They burn out, take time off to travel, reflect, take care of family, or just down on their luck being unemployed.

The only advice I'd consider paramount is to take stock of themselves financially and mentally, to assure themselves that they can take on the chaos and uncertainty that follows.

Honestly, if someone showed up with a gap in their resume and claimed that they were doing start-up, open source, etc. for an interview, I'd dig deep into that hard. The open source contribution/project would have to have a sufficiently high bar for it to be even considered. Else, I'd just assume they were being less than honest. I'd rather someone tell me they spent a year working on themselves, playing video games, hiking, etc.

> Honestly, if someone showed up with a gap in their resume and claimed that they were doing start-up, open source, etc. for an interview, I'd dig deep into that hard.

This is just as, if not more toxic than the advice that you're opposed to. I've had similar experiences with interviewers for non-technical questions, and it comes off as aggressive, antagonistic and traumatizing; especially in your example where they left it off their resume as a gap. The interviewee's perspective might have been to say that they've been spending some of their spare time keeping their skills sharp and now you're hammering them to see if a project left off their resume qualifies for some "high bar," while all they see is a negative and dismissive attitude.

Personally, I would much rather be programming my own projects or doing leetcode than play video games, but I wouldn't judge someone negatively if they told me they played games on their own time.

If you're not passionate about coding, that advice isn't for you. There is a class of people for whom coding is 'work', as in the actual act of coding is work and they would prefer to be doing anything else, but they have bills to pay.

There is another class of developers who like to code so much, that 'work' is merely a project that they don't have directional control over, but the act of coding is a relaxing activity. I know because I'm one of them. I am pretty relaxed at work when I can just sit down and code, then I go home and if I get some free time to work on my own code, I find it relaxing too. It's not that I don't enjoy work and have to supplement with a personal project, I just like the feeling of having absolute control over the project and trying to write the best code possible, because making money or providing some shareholder value is not the goal.

For people like me, I think this is a great advice. I am always thinking of side-projects that can become startups anyway, and I'm tinkering every day to the extent that time allows. I've been doing that for 20+ years. If I ever got laid off, my only hope is that at that point I will have a side-project that can magically be launched to make enough money to keep paying the bills.

>There is another class of developers who like to code so much, that 'work' is merely a project that they don't have directional control over, but the act of coding is a relaxing activity.

I'm in the middle. Imagine you like playing football. You do it for fun. But, if you do it too much, you'll be exhausted and maybe strain a muscle or something. I code for fun, but it still wears me out; it's still a kind of "work" psychologically distinct from, and more taxing than, watching a show.

The only way I would describe it as "relaxing" is if I put little-to-no thought into it, but that's how you end up with very buggy code.

>There is a class of people for whom coding is 'work', as in the actual act of coding is work and they would prefer to be doing anything else, but they have bills to pay.

I always see this set of people highly vocal and against people who actually like to code. It is like they have a tough time accepting that a lot of technical people love to build things.

> This is terrible, possibly toxic advice.

There are two sides to every coin. Possibly toxic advice for some, but why should anyone give up platforms or avenues that make them standout from the crowd? OP's suggestion is a perfectly valid piece of advice for anyone who has the energy, time, resources, ability, will, and integrity to keep chopping at a meaningful side project. It is not easy, sure. But I don't think we can say it is toxic, either.

> The open source contribution/project would have to have a sufficiently high bar for it to be even considered.

We'd do well to not write this advice off by subjecting it to the most extreme possible treatment?

> There are two sides to every coin

And there are six sides to every cube. In a world of tortured dichotomies, nobody ever mentions those.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

With three kids, my current side project is my day job, at least if measuring by workload. Taking on more work, voluntarily or not, will be at a significant personal cost for me.

I don’t get the constant peddling of hussle porn in SWE circles.

Terrible advice. One year of lazing around and playing videogames is a good way to lose any self-discipline you would been building up to this point. There is nothing toxic in working to improve yourself and/or building projects you are passionate about - quite the contrary. The feeling of accomplishment can do wonders to one's mental health.

> One year of lazing around and playing videogames is a good way to lose any self-discipline you would been building up to this point

Do you really want people to devote their life to their jobs, even while unemployed?

I don't see a thing wrong with spending your down time doing whatever makes you happy.

Speaking of toxicity, this idea that the primary means of valuing ourselves and being "healthy" should be through our job or independent job-related work... ugh, super toxic.

I don't think the grandparent was suggesting they literally sit around for a year and do nothing buy play video games. But, hell, taking time off between jobs is a great idea, and if video games are your thing, spending a chunk of that time off playing sounds like it could be great for your mental health. But, just like anything else, moderation!

> Honestly, if someone showed up with a gap in their resume and claimed that they were doing start-up, open source, etc. for an interview, I'd dig deep into that hard

Hah, and you called gp's advice toxic! Taking stock if your financial well-being after being laid off is too late. I fear your advice (take time off) may be toxic - depending on circumstances. My advice is this: as a general rule, avoid interviewing while desperate. Getting an offer generally takes longer than one might think, so interview early and often, before you get near the end of your mental/financial runway.

I think we're abusing the word "toxic" here. Sure, for someone who hasn't planned out their finances and built a cushion, advising them to take some time off would be... well, bad advice. But "toxic"? That's a bit hyperbolic.

> The open source contribution/project would have to have a sufficiently high bar for it to be even considered. Else, I'd just assume they were being less than honest. I'd rather someone tell me they spent a year working on themselves, playing video games, hiking, etc.

You think working on a passion project and trying out a startup is toxic and then you come out with this pessimistic bucket crab viewpoint? You’d be doing people a favour not hiring them, I’d feel bad for anyone working for you.

The comment you're replying to said the advice was toxic, not the activity itself. That is, making people feel guilty for not doing "enough" (contributing to side projects, open source, etc) is the arguably toxic thing.

I don't know if I agree, but let's not twist the words of the comment.

Edit/Addendum : Uff this blew up. If I came on too strong, that wasn’t my intention and I’m sorry.

I was primarily replying to this particular line from OP : > If you get laid off, immediately start doing a startup, open-source project, or volunteering full time.

The ‘immediately’ didn’t really jive with me. A job loss can be very traumatic to an individual, and I still believe in taking time to recuperate from it rather than diving head long into yet another thing.

I’ve interviewed quite a lot for my employers, big and small, including two of FAANMG companies for about 7 years now. From my perspective, I’m interviewing a candidate to see if they’re a competent engineer and a pleasant team member. I have absolutely no issues with passion projects / open-source and startups, just not if it’s aim is to be a resume filler.

>Focusing full-time on contributing to pytorch?

Yes! That is amazing and I already know that they’re a far more adept engineer than I am. But, if we were to dive in and I find out it was mostly fixing typos and nits in the codebase to show GitHub greens, then someone else who did something else entirely during their time off would come off better.

As someone who's been in that position at least twice (been fired or laid off and haven't been able to find _anything_ for over a year), I wouldn't go so far as to say it's wholly terrible or toxic, but at least partially so, or a little naive in some way. I'd say you should take at least a few months of personal time if you can afford it, and it's worth having something to chip away on eventually, but not necessarily to have something on your resume. Doing this full-time is borderline stupid advice, it will very likely not be worth trading your otherwise personal time for, unless you're literally charging for consulting services or something. Even still, if you're aiming for employment, just take your time.

Looking back on the times I've had to deal with this, and looking forward to the times I almost certainly will again, I'd do nothing different than what you've recommended or that I've done, with the exception of haplessly paying rent hoping for that next absurdly long and thoughtlessly designed interview process to work out.

> Honestly, if someone showed up with a gap in their resume and claimed that they were doing start-up, open source, etc. for an interview, I'd dig deep into that hard.

As a counterpoint, I probably wouldn't dig into this too much. But even if I did, would I find it strange that someone got laid off and then used their time to build up a company that didn't work out? Probably not. And if I realized that it was a half-assed effort... so what? Why is that worse than time spent playing video games? Sure, if you told me you were working on building a company and you didn't have any progress, I might feel that you were dishonest. But if you've got at least something to show for it (a basic product, even with zero sales), I think it's fair game.

> This is terrible, possibly toxic advice.

[Continuing working] is the single biggest thing someone can do to avoid depression after a layoff. The best idea is a paying job because it fills both requirements.

It also keeps you ready to interview and ready to start immediately. When you're on the couch it's always easy to wait till tomorrow.

> I'd rather someone tell me they spent a year working on themselves, playing video games, hiking, etc.

If they were independently wealthy that might be okay but for most people this is self-destructive behavior.

What if they showed up with a gap and simply said "I have plenty of money and took the time to myself, my family and my interests"?

(I've never had a resume gap but that's going to be my explanation if/when I do.)

It's bad to say that. Companies don't want their employees to be financially secure and have the leverage to quit at any time.

This is a live-to-work attitude. Have some other hobbies and goals, and a year of unemployment will be neither lonely nor depressing. Personally I've gone farther in the work-to-live direction, with an easygoing, "boring" (still fulfilling enough to see some javascript doodad come to life, but not world changing) WFH job I perform well in that supports my homesteading and other hobbies.

Or its "if you enjoy what you do you will never work" attidude

I have met soo many sysadmins and devs that absolutely hate computers, hate programming, hate everything about IT. They were in some career fair at some point in high school and simply picked that because it had high pay with out the 6 or 8 years being a Doctor or lawyer took, and it seemed easier than Electrical Engineering or something.

Me, I have always loved programming and computers. They are both my work and my hobby

Two other factors to consider: 1) people grow and change and 2) working a job is very different than doing "the same" activity as a hobby.

I enjoy gardening and cooking as hobbies, but I don't want to work a job as a landscaper or line chef. After 20+ years of coding, I absolutely hate it despite having started out loving it, but I recognize that my cushy job is less hours for more pay than I could get doing anything else.

> working a job is very different than doing "the same" activity as a hobby.

This is very true. I've been fortunate enough to be able to take a break from working. For a while after quitting my 9-5, I didn't want to touch code at all (hooray burnout). But after a while I started working on my own projects, and have gotten involved in open source again. I'm not doing 40 hours of OSS work per week, but it's much more than I'd be able to do with a full time job.

It's very different to get to work on whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. "Working" like this feels completely different from working for an employer, even an employer that gives a large amount of autonomy.

> I have met soo many sysadmins and devs that absolutely hate computers, hate programming, hate everything about IT

> Me, I have always loved programming and computers. They are both my work and my hobby

I think you're being too harsh, and clearly, you've never experienced burnout, which will make you loathe programming as work and as a hobby. Unless you are self employed, it is possible to hate your programming job while enjoying coding at home, without being in it for the money.

"If you enjoy what you do you will never work" is such bs, and leads to exploitation (see AAA games' low pay and crunching, or underpaid airline pilots)

This is incredibly true for me.

I like problems, but mostly the technical ones. Starting programming young, loved computers and networking. Became a sysadmin.

Turns out that at work, the problems are often different to what I want to be solving. Approvals and process can be a real downer. Some problems are people problems and not technical problems at all. Waiting on somebody else to complete their part while you wait sucks. These are the things that burn me out.

At home, I am the approval process. Maintenance is whenever I think is reasonable. Don't like a service/app, throw it away. Found a new project, tinker away. Something is down, I'll get around to it.

Completely different.

I guess that depends on how much you enjoy your side projects.

Over the Christmas holidays, I rooted the vacuum robot, built a workstation from parts, worked on a new compression algorithm, and enhanced my papwrcraft design software... Because that's what I enjoy doing in my free time.

I work a job to pay for my side projects. If I could just work on those, taking care of the house, etc, and still make a living, I'd be very happy.

I've gotten back into enjoying tech projects again too. I just try to make sure my life isn't revolving around employment.

The author anyway had this mentality:

> If you’re like me, work is the primary shaper of your life. Work gives your life rhythm. It is the gravitational center around which the other activities in your life revolve.

I think this happens to a lot of people. Especially for people who really enjoy the work they do, rather than see it as a necessary evil to put a roof over their head.

This late in my career, I've found 5 of my 7 SIEMs are gone, and the last one is on life support. The one I'm managing now will not be around by the time I retire.

You start to see the patterns and futility and cycles and think 'maybe my career is not making things better, it's keeping the mortgage paid?'

That and while I'm I can get rehired past 50...do I really want to do that dance again?

Same here, past 50 and while my job doesn’t fulfill me, I can do it with little effort and it pays the bills. I’m too tired and lazy to try something new, rather look for fulfillment in my spare time. Actually, all my previous experiences say that every job sucks, no matter how promising it looked like at the start.


I see other comments aggressively criticizing this suggestion (& I'm happy to see it) but I think staying busy with something fulfilling outside of your job is generally good advice. It doesn't need to be resume filler. The constant grindset-mindset is toxic, but staying engaged/fulfilled with something can be tremendously beneficial for your mental health & happiness during a period of setbacks & struggle.

"A year of unemployment? Lonely, depressing, and not good on a resume."

A year of unemployment seems significantly less depressing than this statement. What if you were to travel (or hike/explore your local area), focus on quality time with your family, friends, or dog? This to me seems way less depressing than grinding on some meaningless side-project, and as a hiring manager at a FAANG I would absolutely look at a year on someone's CV spent on these activities as a positive rather than a negative.

I've had bouts of unemployment lasting a year and a half. It's really hard to focus on side projects when you are worried about being able to pay the rent and health insurance and your pittance of unemployment insurance has run out.

My advice to anyone in the tech field is to try to have a lot of reserves, because tech is cyclical, and layoffs are inevitable, like every two to five years.

I've taken time off between jobs without taking on any meaningful projects, and I generally haven't found it to be an issue. When I tell recruiters I just wanted time off to relax, they're sometimes skeptical, but hiring managers more often than not either respond with some variety of "Oh yeah, I did that too and it was amazing" or "Oh man that sounds so great, I'm jealous."

I do apply almost entirely to smaller startups, so that may skew the response vs. what you'd get in the more process-oriented recruiting flows of a larger company. Also it probably helps that my resume has a couple of jobs where I was a very early employee at startups that went on to be extremely successful.

I also really like to just be left alone and read books, so it's something I enjoy - I recognize that many folks need the structure of work, and that's fair.

It's important to quantify how long your time off was for this anecdote to be meaningful. No good employer will bat an eye if you worked at a place for five years then spent three months on a tropical beach. A year spent job searching with no luck like the OP is a different situation altogether.

I actually don't think that's as much of a problem as you'd think - I did nine months off after 2.5 years. I just wouldn't say you've been searching and not getting jobs - much better to say that you've interviewed at a few places, but you're very focused on finding a company whose mission and team you're excited about (particularly if that's true). If they accept that as true, then you're creating a positive sort of scarcity of yourself, as opposed to framing it as jobs being scarce and you being desperate for one.

hiring managers more often than not either respond with some variety of "Oh yeah, I did that too and it was amazing" or "Oh man that sounds so great, I'm jealous."

This only works if you get to even talk to a hiring manager.

Most applications are filtered by automatic systems. Many of those will penalize or discard your application for gaps.

The same AI bots we built when we were employed are now being used against us.

True, though I don't think it has anything to do with AI - the filtering mechanisms are much simpler than that.

That said, I like early-stage startups, so less of a problem with that kind of thing.

This is a statistically horrible idea. The chance that your startup is going to replace even the compensation of entry level grad in any large city in the US doing enterprise development is almost 0.

The “story” that has worked for me is that “no I’m not going to reverse a binary tree on the whiteboard while juggling bowling balls riding a unicycle on a tightrope. What we can do is talk like adults and we can discuss your real world business problems and see if I can bring my skills and experience to the table to help you solve those problems in exchange for money”

I’m not going to spend 40 hours a week working and more time on the side working on a side project.

Just wondering, what is your TC? My understanding is that story works at Tier 3 companies that lack a structured interview process and are desperate for candidates (e.g. startups).

Seeing that I work at the alphabetically sorted first “A” in FAANG, I don’t think it could be considered a “tier 3” company.

When a recruiter from Amazon Retail reached out to me about an SDE position, I wasn’t interested in either relocating, working as a software developer at any large company or doing the prerequisite DS&A monkey dance.

We kept talking and she suggested that I apply for a fully remote role consulting (yes it’s a full time position) in AWS Professional Services.

I specialize in “application modernization” which is a fancy term for cloud enterprise application development + “Devops” + the standard type of work architects do at other companies.

But as far as the startup I worked for being “desperate”. I got hired at my previous company because of an informal lunch with the then new CTO who needed someone to lead the effort to make the company more “cloud native” and help them pivot toward a micro service architecture because they wanted to sell the services as backend to large health care companies.

Hint: I did that well enough to go from never opening the AWS console in mid 2018 to working at AWS two years later.

My interview was all behavioral where I talked through some of my previous company changing successes at a startup and a company where I led the integration effort when they were on an acquisition spree.

My “TC” is fine. It would be better if my unvested AMZN RSUs didn’t drop by half since I got hired.

(Yes I knew the gatekeeping was going to start when i wrote the first post above)

That's a long story to hide the fact that by refusing to do LeetCode interviews you were not offered a software engineering position.

You most likely are an SA, which is a position open even to business degree holders and is barely technical, no wonder you didn't have to LeetCode.

You mean not being “offered” a position I didn’t want? I have never had any desire to be a software developer at a large company. I like being able to:

- be on pre-sales calls with customers

- writing the proposals/statements of work

- deal with the decision makers from the customers side

- architect the entire solution from the development side and the infrastructure/“dev ops side”

- do the actual work

- lead the user acceptance testing

- move on to another project

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I care about titles? I go to work to exchange labor for money to support my addiction to food and shelter. My “TC” allows me to do that very well.

I a not an “SA”. I do hands on billable software development that goes in production at the client site. In the past two years I’ve done hands on keyboard coding in Python, C#, JavaScript, and Go.

BTW, by the time I graduated from college in 1996, I had been a hobbyist programmer in 4 different assembly languages. I’ve maintained proprietary compiler tool chains for Windows CE devices and spent half my career bit twiddling in C and C++ with a little inline assembly.

I doubt that you’re going to “out geek” me.

Just for context, people in scarface’s type of role can “out-TC” many platform/product engineers of the equivalent level, depending on how rewards are structured.

The downside that I’ve noticed is that field roles tend to be cut first in response to market weather/customer focus. But a skilled engineer doing field work is a valued commodity in general.

Yes and No.

If I worked for an outside consulting company that would be true - with the inherent risks you stated.

Working at AWS in ProServe, our compensation structure is the same as SDEs - 4 year initial offer, large prorated signing bonus, 5/15/40/40 RSU vesting schedule. It’s different for sales.

The bright side is that there is always work. Worse case, I can be “hired” by another internal team that needs someone to implement a solution to show off a new service.

I think you’re misrepresenting your story in your original comment. If you want to be an SDE at a Tier 1, you have to leetcode. There is no persuading the interviewer to pass you without testing your leetcode.

If you are comfortable taking a non-SDE role, then there are opportunities at tech companies that don’t require programming skills or leetcode.

I’m happy you have found an alternative career path, but you’re comparing apples and oranges.

There are 2.7 million developers in the US. Most don’t work at a tier 1 tech company.

My original story said nothing about where I work. I was originally referring to my process to get a software development job from 1996-2018.

But it’s not an accident I make “FAANG money” without doing “leetCode”. While I fell into a position at AWS, high level consultants make more with the same skillset than your typical BigTech SDE once they build a base. It’s higher risk and more hustle though.

I only brought up where I work now when someone brought up the r/cscareerquestions type reply of “TC”.

I am very sincere about my lack of desire to ever be a software engineer for a large company. I would give up my current compensation and jump back over to the enterprise dev/architect side of compensation before I ever did that.

Again, I already had the big house in the burbs, retirement savings, etc before AWS ever reached out to me.

If I leave my current job at the time of my choosing, it will probably be a compensation cut and probably for some unknown company.

I know for a fact that I could call up a few former managers who now work at different companies and they would give me a job faster than I could say “I am looking for…”

I don't care that you have software engineering experience, you are answering to a thread talking about leetcode interviews by saying you didn't have to leetcode because you took a non-software engineering job. Good for you, but nobody cares.

I didn’t do leetCode in:

2008: when the director of software was looking for someone with a weird combination of VB6, C#, and low level C and C++

2014: when the new director of software engineering was looking for someone to be on a “tiger team” to go after a new vertical

2016: when the new director of IT was looking for someone who could lead the effort to move from PowerBuilder to C# and JS and to lead the integration efforts as they were acquiring companies

2018: when the new CTO was looking for a developer to lead the effort to make their development and CI/CD processes cloud native

2020: current job.

From 2008-2020 it was mostly developing in C# and JavaScript with a little C++ early on.

In 2018 I started getting into Python.

It’s amazing what you kind of crap you can avoid when you have 12 years of professional experience (in 2008) and a good network.

Yes my career before 2008 was unremarkable and there is a pattern that I gravitated toward positions where I was one of the first technical hires by a new manager.

Each of the jobs I mentioned between 2008-2018 were a recruiter reaching out to me that I knew from network where the director/CxO was looking for someone to help them with some type of strategic initiative. All of them were more interested in my ability to technically lead strategic initiatives than whether I could reverse a binary tree on the whiteboard.

When you can talk to a technical director about how you optimized 65C02 code as a hobby in the 80s and how you wrote inline x86 assembly to speed up a batch processing system, they don’t wonder can you maintain a compiler for Windows CE devices.

You seem to be implying "software engineers" require much more than a business degree, in which case I believe you to be a young person (< 30) and I forgive your naivety and the trolliness of your comment.

SWE is not a profession that requires deep education in math and science, like a physicist or neurologist. Having anything beyond a bachelor's in CS is not worthwhile outside of maybe ML..maybe.

A person with business degree who grinds toy problems on LC will almost always do better on FAANG coding interviews than a CS new grad with no grinding full stop.

The degree is just a stamp for junior engineers to get their foot in the door, which is no longer needed once you have a stamp from a reputable tech company.

Yes, SWE's require Computer Science, if you don't think so you've never done any real SWE work. Business majors do not teach you the problem solving ability required for even basic SWE work.

CS fundamentals can be readily learned without obtaining a degree. If you don't think so, then you've never met a self-taught programmer and are probably (no offense) someone with limited professional experience.

If you read his past post history he has had what you would call "technical" jobs before, even if you don't count this one.

Reversing a binary tree is a reference to a FAANG interview.

Money makes life easier. It isn’t the goal of your life. We aren’t playing a video game where the person who made the most money “wins” at life.

I’ve worked at small startups and dev shops with low hiring hiring bars and I find way more “princesses” than I have working at Tier 2 companies with leetcode interviews.

“Princess” - people that don’t take feedback, are extremely opinionated about their work, and act irrationally in regards to career or business decisions.

So do you consider a “low hiring bar” the director talking about strategy and finding out from the candidates past history that he can probably solve their real world issues?

If he needs to be at two potential customers sites (large health care companies) does he need someone who can “grind leetcode” or does he need someone that can talk to the CxO, the infrastructure team, the development team, etc without embarrassing himself?

See my other reply for more context.

But given a choice in 2020 of working at any large company as a software developer where I would have had to relocate and staying at smaller companies, I would have definitely chosen smaller companies.

By 2020, I already had the big overvalued house in the burbs, decent retirement savings, a good work life balance, etc.

I fell into a role at BigTech almost by accident doing the type of work I enjoy - seeing a company’s problem, solving the problem, training, and putting myself out of job and moving on.

Heck, my expenses are lower now than they were in 2020. Within the past year, I’ve sold my house, we sold our cars, and now we have a cheaper investment property/winter home where we stay half the year and we fly across the US the other half of the year staying in hotels. We own nothing physically can’t fit in three suitcases - two of which have to stay under 50 pounds.

Your situation seems unique - not many people are game for 50% travel as they hit mid career.

Consulting does offer an alternative path to engineering at big cos - usually the interview focus is on your experience and ability to interface with a customer rather than leetcode, etc.

That’s true. But there was nothing stopping us from staying at home and traveling like normal people.

The intent is to learn and produce and be an able to talk about rather than try to make money.

So if you aren’t “learning and producing” at your day job, what are you doing 40 hours a week?

I believe the gp was talking about the year of unemployment referred to in the original post.

I was laid off for about a month earlier this year and it was the most productive I’ve ever been, open source contributions wise. Pragmatically, I should’ve grinded leetcode but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was really enjoying the open source work though, a combination of react and lisp. I did talk about it during the interviews and maybe that came across.

Speaking as someone who has juggled both a full-time job and a part-time startup on the side before, I can answer this: both of them contributed immensely to my professional development, but in different ways, since the business domains were very different (which also meant developing proficiencies with different technologies and tooling).

My perspective is different - not disagreeing with yours.

My goal is to constantly be “putting myself out of a job”. That means I need to be able to recognize a problem or opportunity, understand the business context, do enough of an MVP or POC that the rest of the organization understands, train and move on.

Sometimes the internal organization doesn’t have the desire or capacity to maintain or evolve the solution. In that case it’s my job to find an outside consulting company.

I don’t do staff augmentation.

> A year of unemployment? Lonely, depressing, and not good on a resume.

I'm 4 months into a break from work and the only thing that is depressing is the idea of going back to work.

I think if this quote resonates with you, you probably need a break from work and analyze your life.

Nope, I need that time to grind leetcode.

This is exactly what happened to me when I quit.

“Now I’ll have time for my projects!!”

Instead it’s been “Grokking Algorithms”, “The Competitive Programmers Handbook”, Alex Xu’s “System Design”, and enough leetcode that I’m actually doing more than I did at work.

What sucks is that there are still lots of medium problems I cannot do. Hards are right out. Dunno what I’ll do.

What situation are people in that they have to result to this? Is this an issue with getting laid off and trying to find a FAANG job?

I was laid off from one consulting company back in 2018 or so and had a new gig with more pay a week or so later. No leetcode or dev tests, just talking with people in phone interviews. It was a company I had previously done contract work for, and they called me, but nothing at the FAANG level.

Is it an experience issue (are the people getting laid off junior devs?), because I had maybe 6 years of dev experience across various stacks by that time. In my 10 years of being an employed dev, I have never had to do leetcode interviews.

>I was laid off from one consulting company back in 2018 or so and had a new gig with more pay a week or so later. No leetcode or dev tests, just talking with people in phone interviews. It was a company I had previously done contract work for, and they called me, but nothing at the FAANG level.

There's your answer: consulting companies and contract works.

You have a different bubble compare to the LeetCode crowds. The Leetcode crowds tend to work for Product companies as a Full-Time employee in major Hi-Tech cities. Product, Full-Time, major Hi-tech cities, hit those 3 characteristics => higher chance of getting the Leetcode interview jackpot.

Unpopular opinion: If you’re competing for a cattle job, you have to do leetcode. If you want to be a pet, you have to stand out to people who are looking for you (what you have to offer), not just any fungible developer with a pulse.

The challenge is that cattle jobs in tech have historically paid very well thanks to the free money environment. It looks initially like the right strategy: Cushy job, cushy work, much money. But the glass ceiling is hard and you won’t see it coming until suddenly you’ve had the same day-to-day for 10 years and no amount of grinding leetcode gets you to the next level.

Fortunately standing out is easy: My girlfriend got a (not-coding) FAANG-level job out of 2000 applicants in part by being one of the three people who actually read the job description and could hold an insightful conversation about what she can bring to the table.

>What situation are people in that they have to result to this?

Widespread interview advice targets the "worst-case technical interview scenario" which is doing leetcode and running a gauntlet of interviews. This casts the widest net possible in terms of how many interviews you'll pass. There's also a little bit of reasoning like "if you can handle this, you'll be able to ace the easier interviews".

The other things for job hunting - like using your network and being contacted first - are additional layers that you go through.

>In my 10 years of being an employed dev, I have never had to do leetcode interviews.

I think the reason you hear prep advice so often is that no one has any real data on how many companies are doing leetcode interviews vs. non-leetcode interviews. Because of this ambiguity, that's why you hear so much advice about preparing for the worst case.

I get interviews with "coding challenges all. the. time. IDK why, I'm a Linux systems engineer, not a programmer.

But I constantly keep getting jerks wanting btree sorts that are like a college exam or take home challenges that assume I have industry type applications on my home network. No, folks, I don't run containers and terraform infra in my personal network. When I have to spend three hours to install a dodgy application just to start your janky "8 hour project" I lose all the enthusiasm I had for your job.

In very large part what your interviews look like depends heavily on when and where you're searching, what type of job you want and what your background is. It's hard to overstate this. 2018 might as well be an entirely different universe.

That said I would be a little suspicious as a mid/senior-level developer if I got hired at a place that didn't ask me to do any coding for them at all beforehand.

20+ years in. Don't be afraid those positions can lead to a greenfield development project or come from departments that don't have someone to vet your coding preferences. Usually these positions offer more technical freedom. A company who spends more time vetting code will generally be a place with less freedom and more micromanagement.

> That said I would be a little suspicious as a mid/senior-level developer if I got hired at a place that didn't ask me to do any coding for them at all beforehand.

I'd be suspicious if they didn't ask me to do any coding, but I'd be just as suspicious if the coding they asked me to do was leetcode.

Why are you opposed to leetcode?

While it annoys me as well to have to brush up a little, someone who has both the discipline to review their fundamentals, and that can demonstrate they have the smarts to be good at it, that's a great sign of being a good candidate.

It serves as a great arbiter, if two people seem to have the same experience, how do you pick between the two?

And when hiring a junior, out of school, there will be no experience to go by, so what else would you assess on?

> Why are you opposed to leetcode? > It serves as a great arbiter

I'm opposed because I don't think it serves as a great arbiter. At best, it selects for logical/academic ability, whereas IMO the most important skill as engineer is pragmatic decision making and building an appropriate solution. In practice it just selects for people who have studied leetcode (and to a lesser extent, those who have a CS degree)

> if two people seem to have the same experience, how do you pick between the two? > And when hiring a junior, out of school, there will be no experience to go by, so what else would you assess on?

You use a technical challenge that resembles the work that the person would need to fulfil in the job. Perhaps creating a single view of a website/app for a frontend role. Or creating a few API endpoints for a backend role. Or whiteboarding through a technical architecture (with plenty of opportunity to ask clarifying questions).

> Perhaps creating a single view of a website/app for a frontend role. Or creating a few API endpoints for a backend role

Those things are relatively trivial, and easy to coach as well. If someone never did it before, you can easily show them how on the job. You also wouldn't have time to have them work that in an interview, so you'd need to do a take home, and then you can no longer validate they truly did it themselves, how much time they spent to do it, how much googling they had to do, how they approach the problem or delt with issues, etc.

I also find they tend to be framework/language specific, some companies even have internal frameworks and all that so they'd have to relearn part of it anyways.

> Or whiteboarding through a technical architecture

This is normally included as part of a "leetcode" like interview.

It tends to be a half day, where you're asked one or two system design questions, which are of the format you describe, and are asked one or two data structure and algorithms questions, and one or two small programming questions that checks your ability to write readable and maintainable code that is well structured, well organized and well factored. Sometimes the latter two are combined into one bigger question that tests both code design quality and requires an algorithm or special use of data structures to solve.

I'm sometimes involved in the interviewing process for my employer and we don't do any kind of coding tests. We do ask for them to submit a sample of their work and use it in the interview. I ask questions about the problem and about how they solved it. The code itself isn't usually that interesting, but the tangents we wander down usually are. If the person can't communicate well about a technical topic that they essentially chose, then they probably won't get an offer.

That said, I work for a small company and our turnover is pretty low. I haven't been involved in all that many hires.

This is pretty close to what my experience has been on the interviewee side. The conversations have been technical in regards to talking through problem solving, and esoteric coding philosophy conversations over lunch.

The only coding exams I've ever had to submit were while working at consulting agencies for clients that require an interview process to pick what the client regards as the best candidates for the contract.

I also worked at "very small" (15 dev consultants) to "medium-small" (300 or so technical consultants) companies, hence why I was curious if this was a bigconsulting thing or not.

Submit a sample of their work? What employer lets their ex employees do that?

So far it hasn’t been a problem. Junior candidates have shown code from a school project and others have submitted code from a personal project or from something they contributed to an open source project. I think the personal projects are the most interesting to talk about.

Expecting people to have personal projects outside work is very much selecting for a certain type of person. You're ruling out people who devote their time outside work to their families, or sport, or hobbies that don't involve programming.

I’m not ruling out anything. So far I have yet to find somebody who can’t come up with a code sample to bring to the interview. When that happens, I would probably give them a (paid) assignment. Maybe something like “fix issue #12345 on open source project X”. I’d have to think about it a little and discuss it with the candidate.

> What situation are people in that they have to result to this? Is this an issue with getting laid off and trying to find a FAANG job?

It's reflective of the type of company you're interviewing for.

I lived in Seattle for a while, and almost every startup in the area did some form of algorithm lottery interviewing, because the startups were created by ex AMZN/MS/etc employees and they just took the process they were comfortable with to the next company.

I lived in Atlanta and a few other smaller cities for a while before and after that, and no company did anything like this, because the successful tech companies were all born of people with no FAANG experience, with different backgrounds and with different experiences.

For what it’s worth in my 15+ year career I have also never had to do leetcode interviews… until now.

Part of it is that I’m pivoting from systems software (Linux kernel) to webstuff. I have zero network here, if I wanted to do systems again I’d have an easier time of it.

I am into systems and I still get Leetcode type questions. For a USB position I was asked code to solve certain regular expressions.

FAANG uses them because they're effective and scalable: https://old.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/comments/zhgtmr/o...

They're derived from cognitive sciences research and they have a high false negative rate, but it's more valuable to these companies to capture the true positives.

If you've been working 10 years you're in the peak desirability age. A few more years you'll be nearly 40, after that people are much less likely to hire you.

Unless you make the move to management...in which case age can be an advantage.

Last time my job was threatened, I spent a few weeks brushing up on my algorithms, going through coding challenges, reimplementing the basics (in my case, a concurrent consumer-producer queue, an IPC mechanism, etc.)

I'm an experienced systems developer with a pretty good resume, I didn't want to look stoopid if I was asked any such question in an interview.

Worked pretty well. I wasn't laid off but I ended up changing job for something more fun than my then position.

Not a widely shared opinion here, but this process will make you a better engineer. Keep at it.

I see this all the time, "coding interviews suck", "leetcode doesn't test if you're a good coder", but in the end it's better than nothing, and having worked at places without coding interviews there's almost no bottom to people's abilities. So a low, but existing, floor is a good thing.

The biggest issue IMO is lack of flexibility. Leetcode is a specific format with specific questions, but is not necessarily the work you'll do day-to-day.

What would be great is if companies offered multiple formats including leetcode, take home, pair programming, Github review, project review, just talking, etc.

There are several issues that leetcode solves that the other ones don't work as well with or have flaws that prevent their use in some hiring processes.

Leetcode has a single rubric. The same questions and the same answers. Conducting it has minimal additional effort on the employer's side. It does have false negatives, but it has fewer false positives.

Take homes are often similar to leetcode, but some less scrupulous companies have used them for unpaid work (note that this becomes more and more of an issue as the take home becomes more and more relevant to hiring company) the and unless the interviewer has done the take home themselves to benchmark it (this should take between 1-2 hours), it is possible that the request be "do this thing that will take 20 hours."

GitHub review requires that the person have a GitHub project of sufficient size, that it isn't just copied from someone else and that they have time to work on it. There's a joke in /r/adventofcode that shows a GH repo that only has activity in December.

With pair programming, project review, and just talking the lack of a rubic becomes an issue and it becomes more likely that biases get into the interviewing process and leads to possible issues of discrimination.

When mixing any of these so that some people do leetcode, others do pair programming then it becomes an issue that not everyone is considered using the same scale and those biases and discrimination issues become even more something that legal starts wondering about if they'll have to deal with a lawsuit.

If one person can do the interview with "just talking", then that should be the same criteria that everyone uses (no leetcode) and "just talking" has an abysmal false positive rate.

You're definitely correct, I've learned a lot while practicing leetcode. Especially about my chosen language (Python). I do feel I'm a better engineer because of it.

I don't think much of what I've learned will be useful in the day-to-day SWE grind. It's really quite interesting, but I cannot recall ever having to remember the skeleton of an iterative DFS before now.

I've taken away more useful lessons from system design studying. If I had my way, I'd spend more timing finishing "Designing Data Intensive Applications" (AWESOME book), instead of figuring out why my oranges aren't rotting correctly or trying to remember how to solve the coin problem using dynamic programming instead of a greedy algo.

On the plus side, once I've got a good memory base and can solve random Mediums and some Hards, I should be OK to pass basically any technical interview - barring random chance. Right now I took a break for xmas and need to go back to it, and that is the hardest part :)

Memorizing decks of leetcode problems improved your engineering skills?

Who said anything about memorizing

Shockingly, sometimes Software Engineers are asked to write algorithms for their job.

Frankly, Leetcode seems like a more objective test to me than a panel of interviewer grinding me on behavioral questions checklist.

And you don’t resort to memorized algorithms when that happens. You research.

And you would never plunk down a memorized verbatim fix in such a scenario.

No, but I'd be far more likely to choose the appropriate data structure or canned algo since I know how they all work

I was in the exact same situation. What I did was take a web manager job at a non-profit. I run their Wordpress website. It isn't what I was hoping for when I left marketing in the SAAS space, but it's a start and I finally enjoy going to work.

I have complete autonomy in this role and am setting things up so I'm not just managing a WP site, but actually working on the code base and learning as I go.

My thinking is it's better to get paid to learn than grind Leetcode at home (which I did for six long months).

God I wish I could get to suffer leetcode interviews, but right now I can’t even get past automated ATS screens.

leetcode IS the side project 8)

The only value of having a knee-jerk 'startup' going is to not appear unemployed.

If it's for the optics, then I'd just move the dates of my previous side-projects around and call it a faux-startup. It's not lying. It is work you have previously done as a side-project/school-project at some point. But saying you did it in the last few months helps give the appearance of being continuously employed and not being rusty.

SWE interviewing IS a fulltime job. When unemployed, it is especially important to use that time to: [1] Reflect on what job you want for your future & [2] Work on achieving that job. Together, they will take up ALL your time. Tech recruitment wants to have their cake and eat it too. You are expected to have an excellent primary project and have time for the months it takes to Leetcode. It's unrealistic and leads to a period of overwork for candidates.

Jugaad is never optimal. But sometimes, Jugaad is necessary.

I have a decent amount of savings and a side project I want to do which could potentially earn money. Are you saying if I quit my job and do this for a year or so, it'll fill a hole in my resume and not affect future interviews?

Everytime I read these comments I feel like I work in another industry. Who cares about the gaps in your resume? Truly, have recruiters commented in anything but passing? Your interviewers?

I've hired candidates with large gaps in their resume and their reasoning for the most part was I wanted time off or I went traveling or N other things that have nothing to do with work. We. Did. Not. Care.

Pass the interview. This is the only thing we cared about at Big Tech Co.

I have the same feeling, unless your response to the question about the gap is "yea I was on the run from the law for a while because I killed some people while robbing a bank, then I had to spend some time in prison but I had a really good lawyer" I dont know how much impact it really has

It's not so much the (closed) gaps, but the time since last job. The first job after you take a year off will be harder to get. After that, most people won't care.

I don't think it matters as much as people here seem to think.

You're the current CTO of a unicorn looking for a more technical role with stability so you apply to be a staff+ engineer at Google. Now the opposite: you've taken a year off to take care of an elderly parent. In both cases, your resume is one of the lowest signals we have. You're going to need to pass that interview.

HR folks aren't even looking this closely as long as you have a resume with the right prior experiences. And almost none of these resume concerns matter with a referral.

All else equal, people with resume gaps are going to get sorted to the bottom of the pile. Maybe at the high end of the market, the FAANG staff level, there aren't enough applicants so it's not a big deal, and they'll get to those applications eventually. At the lower end of the market however, there's more competition and more likelihood that someone else from the top of the pile will get hired before they get down to the bottom.

Are you working for FAANG etc? I work a mid-level IT job, there is competition. I have no evidence but it seems like candidates who are currently unemployed (especially for a long time) will end up at the bottom of the pile. That at least would make finding a new job harder.

I've taken most of a year out to travel the world while doing nothing work-related whatsoever and nobody seems to care.

I would only hope to use that as a substitute for paid employment if you actually incorporate, give yourself a title, put your company on LinkedIn and otherwise treat it like a business. Noodling around on a side project that you might monetize eventually is not a substitute.

I disagree. Incorporating, giving yourself a title, and a LinkedIn page are things anyone can do. People who "play business" spend tons of time on this stuff, along with designing company logos, hiring accountants (for their zero revenue business), and lawyers (for NDAs to protect their non-existent idea.) I've seen it first hand. They'll do anything to avoid actual work: building and selling a product.

I suspect what Anon means is: if you plan to tell people your side project was your job, you should start treating it as your job.

I play around with some side projects where I don’t give a shit about user counts or GitHub stars or commercial viability, doing perhaps 4 hours work per week. If I told people this was me at the height of my powers, I’d expect them to be unimpressed.

Yes, exactly, I'm saying that what will matter to future employers is how much you treat the project as a job, and not the project itself, no matter how interesting or challenging it is from the technical side.

It won't matter as much as you think. They'll probably spend 5 minutes discussing it, if that. If you have a demo or something to show for your time, that will be a plus.

No need to incorporate or give yourself a fancy title IMO. "Founder @ sideproject.io" works well enough.

me and my co-founder did the same this year

thanks to our project's success we now get more and higher offers now that we ever did in our lives

however, there's no way back for us

we left for a reason, with a concrete goal in mind

not just because we could

Probably! I've done this to good success (gotten better jobs when I come back to industry after failing)

Did you get a job this way? Do you know anyone who got a job this way?

Almost every single job I've ever gotten is because of a side project or because I incorporated a small company to legitamise a side-project I was hacking on.

Over the years:

I built a video capture system for the Commodore Amiga as a neat side project for that lead to me working on Transputers that formed the heart of a non-linear editing system (no interview)

The Transputers were really fast, so I wrote some neat 3D demos that ran on the Transputer boards in the Amiga & PC => contract work with SGI (no interview)

Wrote a demo for the SGI video capture system to scan a magazine at high resolution => machine vision & robotics that was changing the printing industry (no interview)

Wrote a C compiler for an 8-bit micro so I could learn C => leads to writing a C compiler for a 16-bit micro at a company (no interview)

Created a "smart home dashboard" for a side-project => leads to writing a mobile app to manage a WiFi router => leads to becoming Lead Firmware Engineer on the project (no interview)

I wrote some stuff on the Unity3D forums => game development job offer (no interview)

Ran a number of in-person developer meet-ups over the years => various jobs & offers & contract gigs (no interview)

Got asked by a friend to teach a class on device driver development at USC, video recorded it, he sent it to his friend at Intel => wind up teaching many, many week long, rocket-science level classes on Linux & Android & device driver development & board bring-up at Intel (no interview)

Recorded all of my lectures at Intel, shared them with a friend at Facebook who was trying to get in to device driver development => Which lead to me teaching a couple of classes at Facebook (no interview)

Asked to critique a ReactNative class at Facebook due to my other teaching there => Which lead to me consulting/contracting for Facebook for a few years (no interview)

Video tape my classes at Facebook, which get shared with people at Microsoft & Apple without my knowledge => end up consulting and teaching at both Microsoft & Apple (no interview)

Created a bot for a popular MMORPG coupled with machine vision and some AI techniques => contract job to detect bots in the self-same popular MMORPG (no interview)

I created a C# package and published it that done some fancy stuff with random numbers => company hired me to work on their project that used the library (that was an "interesting" interview)

I wrote some SONY PlayStation developer tools => leads to getting a job at a game development company creating a PSX game (no interview)

Create some tools to theme websites and pull data from a database => accidentally create an adult entertainment empire (no interview)

Document how the Gameboy works, write some developer tools, maintain some developer tools => multiple jobs developing Gameboy games (no interview)

Port MAME to a bunch of consoles, write emulators as side-projects for other consoles => hired to write emulator of their classic consoles for "big console development company" (no interview)

Hacked on some gstreamer code => connection with a guy at a Canadian who says "if you're ever looking to move to Canada..."

There's lot of other examples in my career where building a side-project leads to an interview or a straight-up offer.

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