At AddThis, we believe our team is our most valuable resource. Building the best team we can is something we care a lot about. Traditionally, years of experience has been the go-to metric for hiring managers and recruiters to filter potential candidates. At AddThis, we take a different route.
We think candidates should be vetted by how well they know their craft and how well they’ll fit with our team’s culture. For example, we have team members who came to AddThis with no experience and have added tremendous value. At the same time, the right senior hire can be the missing ingredient that helps a team reach their full potential.
In my time as Sr. Director of Engineering at AddThis, the following three attributes have been constant when it comes to finding great people to join our team.
1. Problem Solving
The problems we’re faced with on a daily basis can be significant because we work at an absolutely massive scale. This requires the attention of focused and sound engineers, which means understanding the problem presented, using empirical thinking to identify the root issue or need we are trying to solve for, and then applying training and experience to identify a solution that’s elegant, efficient, and pragmatic.
Graduating from a top tier computer science university is a good indicator that the candidate has this capability, but every candidate must prove their mettle. We’ve seen candidates from great schools fail and candidates with no degree at all knock it out of the park.
Problem solving abilities should be tested and observed during the interview process with a few different kinds of coding/algorithm problems (ideally by different interviewers). Syntax and minor bugs are not the focus here. We want to understand if they “get it” and if once they understand the issue, can they present a reasonable path to a solution.
Curiosity sets apart the superstars from everyone else. It’s always nice when a candidate has exposure to a specific tech stack, but what gets us really excited is when they dig into this technology on their own so they aren’t reliant on another team to solve a problem. Individuals like this are usually eager to have an open discussion with you (but if you think the candidate is introverted or nervous, try starting the conversation yourself and see if they latch on and offer their own original thoughts).
We foster a developer culture that owns dev, testing, devops, releases, outages, etc., so team members must understand the stack they work on in order to successfully deliver great products.
Another indicator that the candidate is curious is their work on personal or open source projects. However, be wary of candidates uploading old school projects to github just to have an “active” profile. We love what we do and we want to work with people who are similarly passionate. Dedicating your personal time to a side project is a great indicator of the love you have for the craft and your desire to share your work with the world.
A mentor of mine a long time ago said that only one thing can stand in the way of success when you have assembled a team of good developers: ego. He was so right. I have seen teams be slowed down, demoralized, and even torn apart by egos. I think it’s our fear of failure and ridicule that leads us to behave a certain way, hiding our faults and mistakes while at the same time claiming superiority over others. It’s incredibly counterproductive and destructive.
Camille Fornier, the CTO of Rent The Runway, recently tweeted that she is “Constantly reminded that brilliant people become indispensable not by their brilliance but by their ability to work with others.” In other words, the best people make everyone around them better. The engineering culture at AddThis is incredibly open about communicating mistakes, a la post-mortem write-ups where people very openly admit errors (there’s also praise for good work as well). The super-productive aspect of this is the thinking that goes into how not make the same mistake twice, which leads to significantly improved quality.
All of this is great, but how do you test for it in an interview? It’s not an exact science, but usually when a candidate is faced with an uncomfortable question, their true colors come out.
Importance of Codified Company Culture & Values
These three principles reflect the core values we instill within our company culture. It’s difficult to uphold them and not compromise because candidates that exhibit them all of them are rare to find. However, every hiring manager is taught that hiring the wrong candidate can cost the company a ton, so when the right one comes along then everyone wins.
If AddThis sounds like a place you want to work, then check out our open positions!