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In the Fight for Talent, it’s All About Speed

photo-of-phil-hordOnce Phil Hord changed his status from “not looking” to “actively seeking,” what followed was like a blender of job offers swirling in his brain.

Few professionals are hotter commodities today than Phil. He’s a senior software engineer and technology team leader who’s worked on some of the hardest architectural problems in technology for decades at Cisco.

Today, Phil’s skills are the next best thing to priceless. Take a look at this trend graph, courtesy of Indeed, which compares the ratio of job-seeker interest versus postings for software engineers (blue line) and senior software engineers (orange line):
Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.52.35 AM
While there are more than two job seekers for every software engineering job posting, there’s only one job seeker for every two or so senior software engineering jobs.

But before he joined one of the most sought after professions of the 21st century, Phil was the quintessential “nerd”—the first generation of programmers to play with computers as young preteens. We sat down with him to pick his brain about what it was like growing with the industry, his recent job searching experience, and what he look for from companies while juggling multiple job offers:

Jump ahead —

Phil, how did you get into computers/software?

Phil: At the time, it was unusual but I started playing with computers in middle school. That was the late 70s, early 80s.  And they didn’t come with much on them. You had to write code to get them to do anything. I taught myself to make them do things. 

Technically, you were part of the first generation to use commercial computers at home?

Phil: Yeah, I suppose that’s true. My generation was the first to play with them as children. When I was playing around with it in middle school and high school, I wasn’t aware that it could be a career.

And so you went to Florida State to get your Computer Science degree, and have been working on software development ever since.

Phil: Yeah, I’ve been working at Cisco for 15 years. And before that, I’ve worked at more than 6 other high-tech companies, including Hayes Microcomputer. I’ve lived through the dot com boom, so I always have a good pulse on how hot the market is by the number of recruiters sending me messages. It definitely feels hot right now.

And what’s changed for you recently that warranted a change?

Phil: My group at Cisco’s been bought by another company recently, and the new company’s practices and development expectations don’t mesh with the way I like to work and get things done. My kids are now off to college, so we’re empty nesters. Now happens to be a good opportunity to find another job. It was just about a month ago that I decided it was time for something different.

Breaking into the tech job market


So tell us about your job search experience today:

Phil: So I changed my job status to “actively looking,” and within 24 hours I was contacted by a recruiter at a major financial company in New York City.

I knew that a lot of companies use coding interviews with HackerRank challenges so I was playing on HackerRank to get a feel for interviews again. I actually first found HackerRank a year or two ago when I wasn’t being intellectually challenged enough, and I was looking for interesting puzzles to solve.
7I did a few Coursera classes, like one on functional programming in Scala, and that was great but then it was over. So, I enjoyed the challenges on HackerRank; I thought I’d build some reputation on there.

So were you challenged?

Phil: Yeah I really enjoy the HackerRank challenges – of course there are some that are too easy, but they’re marked as such.

Awesome, so tell us about your job offers:

Phil: So, with this NYC company, we went through the discovery process to figure out whether or not it’s really feasible for me to move my wife and I all the way to New York. We’d never considered it before, but we got to talking and it sounded like—given the right compensation package—we could sell our car and enjoy the city life. We’re living in Georgia now. We were pretty much getting into the mindset that we’d relocate to New York City.

It was kind of a scary idea for us, it’s such a new environment. But we moved forward and were ready to fly me out to NYC. There was a lot of angst and uncertainty, but I added a day to my trip to explore the city to help me feel better about it. I interviewed with the team for 5-6 hours in NYC that Monday. We all forgot about lunch. That Wednesday they called me and wanted to make me an offer.

So, verbally, I said that the company, team, and work sounds exciting. And the change to the city could be interesting too. My wife was on board. After some negotiation, I verbally said yes, if they could meet my number.

An unexpected opportunity


So you were pretty set on this big NYC company?

Phil: Yeah, I had wrapped my head around it and felt it was a good move. But a day or two before I flew out to NYC, I got this email invitation to complete a HackerRank challenge for a common app. This sounded interesting to me. I said why not since I was already in this coding challenge mindset. I didn’t think much would happen from it.

As soon as I got back from the NYC interviews, Amanda Crosby, from the HackerRank candidate success team, called me to ask me a few more questions about my background. That was quick. But I told her that I just got back from interviewing with another company in NYC.

The next day, I got a call from Pure Storage saying they were impressed with my HackerRank challenge on the common app. So, I had to tell them… I’m sorry but I’m in final negotiations with another company. I felt really bad about it. But the recruiter was telling me more about the opportunity in Silicon Valley, and he really did his job. He emphasized how the place is very fascinating and fun.
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Phil: He said we can make this really fast. We can do a phone screening in the morning, fly you out Friday and get an offer for you by Monday.

I said…well, I really need to consider all of this and take some time.

Anyhow, we ended up doing a phone screen at 11:30 AM, and I really enjoyed our discussion. We talked about compilers, we explored the internals of C++ and I guess I did well. But while I was on that call, I got a voicemail from the NYC company saying they agreed to my number. So, I wanted to be a man of my word, so I verbally said yes.

But Pure called me 20 minutes later and wanted to fly me out on Monday, but I said I just accepted another offer.

Honestly, I really didn’t feel like playing them against each other for the offer. I did my negotiation upfront with the NYC company, so Pure was working hard to match this number.  All of the angst I felt in making the NYC decision just doubled down on me. It was a really hard decision. Both teams were offering interesting challenges, great teammates and both had dynamic cities. Ultimately, I leaned more heavily toward Pure Storage which looked really fun (with better weather). And Silicon Valley has a lot of opportunities anyhow, so the move there seemed like it was a lower risk.  Also what really intrigued me is they recently became a public company, so it’s an exciting time. And they granted RSU’s, which was a great, interesting advantage.

Fortunately, the recruiters at both companies were really understanding when I told them the entire backstory of how fast everything was happening.

Evaluating two job offers


Wow, that does sound like a whirlwind. So it came down to the extra qualities, like ego-free workplace and the stock options

Phil: It was a tough decision — both companies had great people — and both had really tough challenges in live interviews. I really appreciate that because it means they’re selective about who they’re bringing in. Ultimately, I was intrigued by Pure’s RSU – not many startups have that.

But again, it was a primary selling feature that they look for personality fit and they want people who are going to be supportive, communicative and helpful– not a bunch of defensive egos guarding their territory.  There’s a lot of smart people, but inflated egos you have to be careful about.

Meanwhile, there was a third company who wanted to talk to me through, and I just completely forgot about them through all of this. This was taxing enough. It helped to have supportive recruiters at both companies, and Amanda from HackerRank. These are tough conversations to have, but these folks did their job well.

At this point, I just wanted to be settled. And they understood that.

Wow, sounds intense. So, from your perspective, is there really a shortage of senior engineers like yourself, justifying this instantaneous battle for you?

Phil: It’s certainly hard to hire someone at my level because partly because I’m a little less inclined to change jobs. People just 10 years older than me are looking towards retirement, and they’re really cautious about changing. They don’t want to go through this. They’re generally paid well, they’re experts, and the company really doesn’t want to lose them either.

In my case, the company and teams were going through a transition.

Interesting. And how do you like this new way of job searching through coding challenges versus the traditional resume and job app?

Phil: It’s amazing, really – as a programmer, it feels like HackerRank and this common app, in particular, gives the recruiters the tools to find the talent and a way to measure them objectively and quantitatively.
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Phil: My wife’s going to have to find a job in the Bay Area. She works in genetics in cancer labs. And I know a lot of other people not in software who are going to have a hard time getting follow-through on jobs.

Especially at this age.

I like the common app because it becomes easy. I can sort of pick a test, but it’s not like a multiple-choice test. It’s a real evaluation. It’s real insight from people. I’ve had a lot of sudden recruiting interest from HackerRank, and because of this kind of code visibility and social credibility from just putting myself out there. It’d be great if this could be extended to other fields.
It was like a feeding frenzy once I got exposure.

Advice to job seekers


Do you have any advice for other engineers juggling multiple job offers?

Phil: Wow, there are so many things to consider.  Be upfront with the different recruiters, once you get to the offer stage, and let them know you are expecting or have another offer.  If they’re serious about hiring you, they will want to help you by reminding you of the reasons you should choose them. They may even sweeten the offer. Remember they’re not objective in this decision, but let them give you their sales pitch so long as it helps you focus.  If you know any other recruiters or HR people in the industry personally, ask them for advice and insight.  I had a family friend coaching me along the way, and Amanda (HackerRank’s candidate success team) was a valuable resource, too.

Another thing to worry about is the cost of living.  If you’re going to move for a job, look seriously at the cost of living there, including the difference in taxes and other expenses.  I’ve been hesitant about the Bay Area in the past because of housing costs there, but looking at NYC prices for a week gave me a new perspective. I found some online paycheck calculators that gave me a dose of the reality about my new after-tax monthly income.  Make sure you understand the benefits offered by each company, like health insurance premiums, 401k matching, commuter programs, and so on.

But something that helped me a lot was to ignore the actual numbers and just think about the companies. I thought, assuming the pay will be the same, which company excites me, or is the most welcoming, is in the best city, or has the best work or team fit for me?  This helped me eliminate a couple of local offers that would have been much easier to take, since I wouldn’t have to move, but which were ultimately not as good a fit for me.

Try to get some sleep.  Don’t drag your feet, but also don’t let the process rush you into the wrong decision.  And, if you have multiple interesting offers, remember that there isn’t really a wrong decision.  

 

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