From Silicon Allee to Silicon Valley

Siniša Mikulić
Jun 12, 2018 · 3 min read

4.5 years ago I decided to move from my home in Croatia to one of the most promising startup cities in Europe (now in the world) — Berlin!

During my transition I was already freelancing as a frontend developer and actively looking to join one of the glorified startups that the city had to offer.

Naturally, I googled ‘Berlin startup jobs’ and started submitting my CV and applications to any job that had Frontend, JavaScript, HTML or CSS keywords in them.

I was pleasantly surprised when I started receiving email responses and phone calls a few days later. Statistically I had over a 70% response rate and out of that 50% of startups were interested in hearing more about my skills and my ‘potential’ role.

It all seemed very casual. Some had phone screening, others invited me for a coffee at the office the next day, but one thing that struck me was the interview process I was so meticulously preparing myself for.

They couldn’t care less about my algorithm skills!

Not to paint a bad picture here, I had all sorts of questions about problem solving, technical competencies and my understanding of the languages and frameworks they used. Even the “notorious” FizzBuzz popped up here and there.

There was definitely a focus on culture, my career goals and day-to-day problems they encounter and how would I tackle them if I was to join the team.

A lot of the times I would sit across the CTO or even CEO of the company discussing how I could help them reach the next milestone or if I prefer coffee over Club-Mate and did I try the best kebab in the city (Mustafa — without a doubt!).

Needles to say, Berlin is not your typical German city. It is very casual!

Over those 4.5 years I went through a few startups and most of the changes happened due to different challenges I wanted to tackle. Ironically enough one startup that wasn’t too happy with my performance had the most intense technical screening and the most algorithm heavy home task!

But the key thing is that in all of them I left a trail of good work, accomplished projects, a team that learned from me and code that was in better shape than before I joined.

SO, why I am writing this?

I’m tackling a similar challenge as I did when I moved to Berlin, which is getting hired in Silicon Valley!

The process is to say the least, different. I’ve noticed a pattern of talking to a lot of recruiters before even speaking to the company CTO or at least someone from the team I would be working with.

A lot of the filtering is done with algorithm challenges. Other factors, such as team fit, career goals or understanding if the developer even has an idea how to contribute to the project aren’t considered early on.

Also, this isn’t a rant against algorithms as a way of determining developer skills for the job. I firmly believe there are high scale problems that no matter the role (frontend, backend, etc.) need a complex solution (that isn’t only looping items through arrays). I know there are certain stages of a startup’s lifecycle where you need to have strong mathematically skilled developers. The product scale could also be another deciding factor, and let’s not forget, the giant pool of talent where you might have the luxury of being pickier.

My purpose is only to help clarify the process for people that might consider moving ‘across the pond’ and to help them understand that the Silicon Valley companies and startups might need or expect different levels of technical skills, regardless of if the job itself might still be abstracting React components into their own npm packages.

Of course, it works the other way too. It might clarify some ideas of how casual is or isn’t the next big startup hub in Europe. =)

This is purely my experience so far. I’m hoping to be surprised by an interview process which would focus on my ability to help the product rather than just being able to quickly remember a mathematical equation. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Siniša Mikulić

Written by

Owner, Web consultant at | Co-founder of | frontend and UX specialist

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