Q1 2023Joining Replit, and musings from the Job Hunt


As you might remember from my last newsletter, I started looking for the next thing after Ink&Switch at the beginning of the year. I'm happy to report that I'm going to continue working on Future Of Coding efforts as a Design Engineer at Replit. I'm excited about the opportunity to work on these sorts of problems, and at the same time be so much closer to authentic users, the industry, and work on a great product — exactly what I was looking for!

Because January and February were dominated by the interview calls, and in March, I took some time off to recharge, I don't have anything else to share other than notes from the process itself, which you'll find below. I managed to squeeze in a couple of hours here and there on a consulting project for Livebook, but I'll leave that for another time.

Firstly, a huge thank you! to everyone who chatted with me, to friends who connected me to other friends, and to my partner's support through the whole process.

Secondly, this is not a generic guide on how to find a job, but rather observations from my personal experiences. As with every advice, a lot of it only applies to the person who gives it — so here are some unusual aspects to take into account:

  • This was my first time explicitly looking to join a company, and be a part of a bigger team. Previously, I was mostly independent, and I joined Ink&Switch through a set of opportunistic coincidences (words which could describe my whole career really) — not through a process like this one.
  • I have an unusual set of experiences (and over a decade of them under my belt), and I'm also pretty weirdly specialized — a mix of researcher/designer/developer in the field of complex/computational interfaces is a quite uncommon thing.
  • I also built up some online presence over the years, with a lot of public projects and writings, which definitely helped with getting my foot in the door. About half of the interviews I've gotten were inbound, and the other half came from reaching out through my network.
  • I'm in central/eastern Europe, which adds an additional dimension to navigate through the process: is the company thinking about me in terms of "cheap outsourcing" or actually needs my skill-set and doesn't care where I am? (the red flag was someone mentioning that I'm in Poland one time too many — fortunately this happened only once)

Thirdly, I chose one of the worst possible times to look for a job, as most of the tech companies were laying off huge percentages of their workforce. Luckily, I only felt this once in my whole interview journey, when a company that I was getting excited about had frozen all their hiring during the process. Also, the phrase "in the current economy" had an appearance on a couple of calls. Overall, I'm very grateful for not having to think about this too much.

With all that out of the way: through January and February I've spent 63 hours on 75 calls (not including the preparation time that easily doubles this), decided to go through seven interview loops, resulting in six overlapping offers. This was probably excessive, but: I wanted to be thorough, get a full overview of my situation, and I used these calls to dial-in what it is exactly that I'm looking for (though having some vague sense of that beforehand was very important). For example, I very quickly learned that the sets of problems that people deal with in the tools for thought community (which often means note-taking), are not something that resonates with me a lot, or that there actually is a difference in a role at a Pre-Seed startup compared to a Series C one (who would have thought?). Generally, "have a lot of conversations" is great advice.

Having alternatives as I interviewed was also very helpful for my anxiety — no single call was infinitely important, which made it easier to stay in the flow of conversation, and not feel pressure that things have to work out. Again, a mutual fit was what I looked for, it wasn't always there, and that's ok.

During the first calls, the whole point was to figure out if there's a space for someone like me. Usually, I hit one of three approaches:

  • A company hiring only for very compartmentalized roles, or
  • a company accepting an unusual/mixed role, or
  • a company really looking for someone like me.

The whole high-level theme here was about leaning into, and capitalizing on, the weirdness (Play Your Own Games), so obviously the latter was my preference, and this is where I spent the bulk of my time.

I generally took "we don't really have an interview loop for this specific position" as a good sign, and tried to work with the company to figure out what's the best way to evaluate the potential fit (and again, the evaluation was bidirectional). When describing myself, I leaned into a "designer with strong technical background" rather than "engineer with some design skills". I also discovered that some companies now have a Design Engineer role, which usually was a pretty good fit (and where I ended up in the end).

Most (but not all) of the interview loops I went through included a portfolio review and a design exercise, sometimes also a deep dive into one of my past projects, including a code walkthrough. All of the companies I interviewed with, had me work on a design-engineering problem, and I've got to play around with designing a VPL, a projectional editor, and tightly integrating code deployments with an IDE. The idea wasn't to solve these problems completely, but to show how I work and think about things.

I drew the line at a coding exercise — at this point I tried to debug the process a bit with the company. My thinking was that with my specialization, the other side wouldn't learn anything seeing me write a binary search or parse some JSON from an API, and that this was not the measuring stick to use for what I'm after.

I spent the most time preparing for the behavioral interviews. I grabbed a ton of questions I could find online, from "why are you looking for a new job?" to "describe a conflict with your manager", and tried to really ruminate on them, and write down my thoughts (some of them were great reflection prompts actually). I didn't memorize the answers, but having a couple of points I knew I wanted to talk about in advance was very helpful, instead of coming up with things on the spot.

The only technical preparation I went through was creating a slide deck for the portfolio reviews. A ton of my projects are online, but I wanted to also walk through the process, give additional context, etc. I strategically picked two projects: Crosscut which shows the research-y and team-lead-y side of me, and Glide's Code Components which was the most recent, most production-resembling, solo work.

During the calls, I took notes on everything, and then transcribed them into a single document where I had a section for every company, with dated notes for the calls I made, including whom I talked to. Through this process, I settled on a set of questions that were important to me, and moved towards creating a structure to compare these companies and their offers against each other. The common set of questions included: company size, runway, funding situation, goals for this year and next five years, and their worries (both about where the company is going, and about the possible role we were discussing).

Coming up with a (somewhat arbitrary) timeline on my side helped move things along. I was saying that I wanted to go through the interviews and make my decision by the end of February ...and that's pretty much exactly what happened.

Setting up a Calendly account was crucial. Navigating multiple daily calls during the reasonable overlap I get with PST would be impossible without it. Also, setting the call duration to 45 minutes, and having a 15-minute break between calls worked out great — there was always space to go over time if necessary, but usually gave me time to make fresh tea, and switch mental contexts before jumping from one call into another.

As for the details of the offers, I don't feel comfortable sharing any specific numbers on the world-wide-web, but I can say two things:

  • one, that the distance from the lowest to the highest offer was over 2×
  • two, that the offers I were getting rarely were correlated with any of the ranges on the job offers for these companies that I could find online (and still, rarely there were any), or with how well I felt the interview process went, or with how excited the company seemed

Doing actual preparation for the process (asking around, and reading up on how to do this properly) paid off, and as cliché as it sounds — it was definitely an important learning experience. Interviewing and selling yourself is a skill, but as with every skill — it's learnable, and improvable.

I'm extremely happy to have signed with Replit, and very grateful for where I've gotten, and how (somewhat) easy (straight-forward?) this whole thing has been (but don't get me wrong, it was exhausting, and it took me two weeks of doing nothing, to get out of a brain fog that it caused).

Career advice:

Preparation, and non-technical interview questions:

Reverse-interview questions:

Salaries and negotiation:

What is equity, and how to value it:

As a palate cleanser, I've spent the quarter reading up on (mostly molecular) biology, some highlights below:

On the web:

Let me know if you got some value out of my job-hunting process write-up, and if you have any questions, feel free to email me.

Have a great spring, and see you in a couple of months!

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