Gaining access into the world of tech hasn’t been the easiest thing for me. I grew up in East Baltimore; I know how unfair the system is. People talk a lot about diversity in tech. Seems to me they think of diversity as what can be seen on the surface, but I believe it’s much deeper than that. For example, most of the other African American people I know in tech came from homes that had both parents and went to really good schools; I grew up with a single mother and went to community college. I dropped out once I finished all my core CS classes so I could start working. People in the Valley get admired when they drop out of elite schools, but if you’re not dropping out of Stanford, you don’t get congratulated. It’s all dependent on your demographic situation.
When I came to San Francisco and started looking for work, I felt as though no one was like me. Interviewing was very difficult. Before I come into an interview, I’ll always do research on the person interviewing me so I can find something in common to talk about. But often with the people I encountered in my interviews I couldn’t find a single thing we had in common. I heard people making up their own stories about me, that I was “the engineer from Baltimore who taught himself to code.” It’s not true: I’m classically trained. I wish I could say I taught myself. I want to be Good Will Hunting. I guess people needed to tell themselves that.
A lot of the interview processes I went through felt pretty cold; it didn’t feel like they showed a lot of care. And I don’t mean even care toward me as a person. The technical interview process, as I saw it done, is a poor way to assess someone’s ability to write software. While interviewing I would encounter things like questions about graphing algorithms that you could find in Cracking The Code Interview. It told me they didn’t care about the person they were interviewing, because they must give the same interview to every person. If I pass your interview by solving only abstract academic problems, all you know about me is that I’m a person who can read that book. Anyone can do things verbatim. There are a lot more skills that go into being a good part of a team: like how well you work with others, and how much hard work you’re willing to put into a real problem.
As much as I wanted a job, I had a negative outlook most of the time I interviewed knowing I wouldn’t fit in most of these companies. They were trying to sell me on the fact that they had top talent from big tech companies. But that didn’t impress me. I don’t care about where anybody comes from; I want to work with people that want to really do something together. Telling me where people come from doesn’t tell me about the culture at a company. All it tells me is that people care about credentials more than about what people really bring to the table. Trust, loyalty, and honesty were the values from the neighborhood I come from, and I recognized that in the culture here. As long as you have those things, you have a strong family that will work together at anything to accomplish a goal.
I knew I had found the right place when my interview process with CircleCI started. Lev Lazinskiy [our Release Manager] was the first person that I spoke to for my first technical screen. I was prepared for five minutes of “tell me about yourself,” which didn’t even happen. Lev had my name already, and had done some research into my experience. He spent the time asking me philosophical questions about programming paradigms, questions about my familiarity with Linux systems. It was the first time it didn’t feel like hazing. Usually there would be some question about the runtime of Quick Sort, or about what algorithm I would use to create a library book tracking system (Answer: I would use an Associative Array. Duh). Lev showed me a lot of respect and made me feel that they were just looking for the right skillset to do the job, not running me through a rehearsed array of brainteasers.
One thing I noticed about the employees once I got to CircleCI is that we don’t just hire people that went to Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley. People come from all walks of life here which already shows that we value people for their skillset and not their pedigree. The first day I got here, what I noticed is how bright some of the personalities in the office were. Everyone seemed not uniform, but respectful. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill startup that had a cult-like culture. Everyone here is built off of motivating each other to go further in their endeavors. I see a lot of people help build each other up. Eugene and Hannah are taking the same Coursera course and keeping up with each other to learn new skills together. Justin had me start working out again, playing basketball again. Anton has been helping me learn Clojure. I highly respect him and I think it’s always cool to meet other people that are thinking about personal development. It’s the first place I’ve worked where I haven’t felt friction between employees; it’s a very adult-like environment where people take charge and set out to accomplish their goals.
This company values people that work hard over people that have impressive resumes. At the end of the day if you have people that are passionate, you’ll have a team strong enough to keep the software lifecycle up. Not everyone came from a typical background, but they are all passionate about the company. Hannah didn’t go to school for CS but she’s one of the hardest working people inside of here. Tad was pretty much self-taught, too, and he busts his ass. A lot of places hire people that have good skills but I think if you don’t have people that are passionate then the software is gonna suck. I mean… if I didn’t like the basketball team I was playing on, I wouldn’t care about defending the court.