How I found my startup job

The first thing I had to learn when leaving Google was how to find a job.

Back in 2005, when I was about to graduate from college, I didn’t get the chance to develop any job-searching skills. Instead, my first full-time job found me. Someone referred me to Google, a recruiter contacted me, interviews were organized, and I got a job offer.

I was terrified at the time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a purely technical career (I’ve always had a strong interest in organizational behavior and management of development). I didn’t think I would fit in the computer-geek paradise that Google marketed itself as (I didn’t code in my free time, I didn’t contribute to open source, I wasn’t a “real hacker”). But I didn’t have anything else lined up, and I thought it would be madness to reject a perfectly fine job offer without having an alternative. So I accepted.

As a consequence, when I quit Google I had to learn to find a job. This is how I went about it.

Pre-work: talk to people you trust about your situation

Before looking at job listings, I sought out folks that had experience in the Silicon Valley job space and asked them for advice. This led to a few inspiring conversations about what is available, how to look and what to look for.

Some of the best advice I got at this stage included:

  • Decide what do you want to maximize. That determines which type of companies you should be looking at. For example, if you care about maximizing economic gain, then it’s a good idea to try to join a larger startup in the “about to explode” category.
  • Company success is chiefly determined by a combination of team and market, and not by product they are building right now.
  • Beware of companies that have been around for a while, but their user growth has stalled.

But the most important thing I got from these conversations was not the advice. The most valuable thing about these conversations is that they helped me clarify my thinking.

Armed with good advice and a better idea of what I wanted, I moved onto the next stage: looking at job listings.

One of the reasons I had decided to leave Google was a sense of personal stagnation. As a consequence, one of my main requirements for a new job was good opportunities for personal growth.

I decided that searching for something different from what I knew would be a good place to start. One obvious way in which I could change things up was company size.

I started investigating the small startup landscape.

Collect some data

I started by looking at the more traditional tech job listing sites (Indeed, Dice). Despite containing rivers of listings, the interface of these sites made it difficult to find the openings that might be relevant.

I browsed through the Hacker News monthly Who’s Hiring thread. This thread contains a good number of high-quality listings, but the interface is not conducive to an efficient search experience. Besides, I discovered that most of the listings on the Hacker News thread can also are available on AngelList, which became my preferred job listing site.

AngelList helps startups find investors and talent. They focus on giving you a quick sense of what a company is about and who are the people involved. Once you’ve found a company (or a candidate) that you like, AngelList gives you the tools to get in touch, and then gets out of your way. They are also particularly favored by smaller startups, which was my area of interest. In short, AngelList was exactly what I needed.

At this point all I knew was that I wanted somewhere small (I was thinking 5 people or less), and in the Bay Area. That’s it. There are many listings on AngelList that meet these criteria, so how to narrow things down? I started looking for companies that had interesting mission statements.

I saw some intriguing listings, clicked the “I’m Interested” button, and got some introductions. We talked.

I talked to a broad set of companies, including:

  • GoodLabs: increasing charitable giving by inserting themselves at the point-of-sale / checkout stage.
  • Coolan: better enterprise hardware management, as a service.
  • Heyday: a mobile app that does “automatic journaling” for you.
  • Plaid: a banking data API.

From this first batch of conversations I learned two important things:

  • Lots of interesting stuff is going on. There is definitely more learning potential outside of Google than inside of it (for me, at this point in my life; YMMV).
  • People at startups talk openly about what they are working on, their goals, their worries, their funding situation, the state of their codebases… You can learn a lot just from these preliminary meetings (or phone calls, or video chats).

Use the data collected to refine your search criteria

After these initial conversations, one thing became clear: I needed to narrow down my search. There is too much interestingness going on.

To refine further my “learn something new” theme, I decided to avoid all the “consumer internet” startups. I set out to find an interesting job in an unfamiliar user space.

An area that intrigued me was the emerging world of bio-tech / life-sciences / healthcare startups. I knew nothing about that field, and a lot of the work in this space is worthwhile.

So I went back to AngelList and searched for “life sciences” or “science” startups. AngelList has some helpful “vertical” and keyword search features that help with this.

This took me to a second batch of conversations. Among the companies I contacted at this stage was Science Exchange. They offered me a job I just had to accept.

How I made my decision

If I had to pick one variable that helped me decide to work for Science Exchange, it would be my impressions of the team.

I know from experience that working with a team that I like is the main factor that influences my happiness at work. I’ve also seen first-hand the huge impact that interpersonal dynamics have on the output of a team.

Not only was the SciEx team working on a meaningful mission, but they were a well-functioning team, with a well-balanced set of open and humble set of folks. I jumped on the opportunity. So far, so good.

(By the way, we’re hiring.)

Next time I’m looking for a job (not anytime soon!), I think I’ll tweak a couple of things:

  • Be better at trusting my instincts when it comes to deciding if a company is a good match for me. I didn’t do a great job at trusting myself to stop talking to a company even if I was starting to suspect that we were not a good match. I could have saved myself (and some companies) some time.
  • Ask for more information about the internal workings of teams. Again, it would have saved me some time to ask about this upfront. Some companies are not going to be a good fit for me, no matter how smart their team or worthwhile their mission. Some interesting questions:
    • How is the team structured? Does it have a formal head, sub-heads, is it entirely flat?
    • What is the team’s decision-making process? Is there a Supreme Decider? If so, who is it?
    • What are the engineering team’s development practices?
    • Is there any “performance review” or other formal feedback process? What does it look like?

Did you change jobs recently? What was your process to find a new gig?

PS Interesting conversation about this post is happening on Quibb:

Tags: jobs, startups

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