My ideal tech company

Culture, pay and challenge: pick two

I didn’t think interviews would be this stressful.

To be honest, it’s my first time going through the traditional apply-and-interview-at-a-bunch-of-companies thing. The first and only job that I applied to right after grad school was listed on Craigslist. The offer was good and the work was interesting, so I took it. I quit that job once someone had offered me another career path, literally over drinks at a commencement party. Shortly after that gig ended, I met someone over coffee who suggested that I come on board as a cofounder, and so I did. And now that I left that company, I’m interviewing for jobs.

It feels like every place I look scratches one or two itches but never all of them, which is to be expected. Perfection is impossible. But if I were to come up with a perfect tech company to work for, it would be one that:

  1. Understands that at the end of the day, they are offering a job, not salvation, and that I am going to be selling my time for money. This understanding forms the basis of respect for me and for you.
  2. Doesn’t try to up-sell me with how they are “changing the world” — please, save it for the pitch deck. Or better yet, have a little more philosophical depth than to seriously think that you’re changing the world even if you are changing the world. I would love to work for a company that is skeptical about its own mission and whose leaders dig deeper into themselves and the society that created them than to just say “we want to change the world because we want to make it better.” If you are openly skeptical yet push ahead anyway, then that probably means you know something about life that I don’t, something that I can learn from you: and so I will follow you to the gates of Hell.
  3. Is a place people can show up as their whole selves. I would love to see a place where the CEO can come to work and say “I gotta tell you, I’m feeling depressed and don’t really want to work today.” Doesn’t mean that she’s off the hook. Doesn’t mean that she’s always or usually feeling depressed. Doesn’t mean that anyone has to fix her. Just means that she can be honest about how she’s feeling. Leaders should be humans who show up for their coworkers and subordinates and help them work through their shit without getting dragged into the hole without losing sight of the mission and the work. But how can that be possible? Simple: value emotional intelligence and honesty when hiring and promoting leaders.
  4. Won’t make me feel afraid or ashamed for writing a Medium post entitled “My ideal job,” knowing that they don’t meet or don’t want to meet all my ideals. (See point 1!)
  5. Is woke. I mean real woke. I don’t mean “yes, of course we take diversity seriously.” I mean, tell me specifically on the screening call: how you define diversity (e.g., gender, sexual orientation, race, life experience, age, number of kids, technical knowledge, academic background), how that definition was arrived at/where the mandate comes from (e.g., you voted on it as a group, the cofounders consulted several thought leaders and specific books, it’s being driven organically by individuals in the organization with management’s blessing), what best practices that are highly correlated with equitable workplaces you have implemented and do you plan to implement (e.g., parental leave, gender-neutral bathrooms, appropriate hiring policies), and what tradeoffs is the organization making or does it believe that it’s making in its approach (this shows me that you are serious about diversity and not just using it as a slogan to raise more money/assuage guilt). I want to know your philosophical underpinnings.
  6. Pays well. I mean real well. Please do not try to pretend that equity is the same thing as pay. I’m not some wide-eyed new grad. I like equity and I’m happy to discuss sliding scales, but don’t lowball me on base salary.
  7. Doesn’t ask me algorithm questions during an interview. Whiteboarding actual problems that you’re facing or features that you want to build is fine (paying me for a take home is even better), but what does reversing a string have to do with me helping you hit your KPI’s for the month? How can you possibly get a measure of me as a StackOverflow-cognizant, scientific paper-reading developer or as a leader from that kind of a question? Give me a chance to show you that I know how to make you money, not that I know how to go to leetcode.com and drill for the SAT’s.
  8. Doesn’t have a really long drawn-out interview process. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to tolerate that amount of uncertainty/risk (see point 5).
  9. Is working on a genuinely interesting technical problem.
  10. Isn’t full of jerks.

My list can broadly be divided into three areas: culture, pay and intellectual challenge. Interviewing makes me feel like I can have two at most.

Is there anywhere that has it all?