Silicon Valley Bullshit

Its been a busy couple of weeks…

Today I resigned from my job. I have no gripes with the company that I am leaving and they have some great people, but the job I accepted didn’t happen. There was work for me to do, plenty of it, but ultimately I realised I needed challenges they couldn’t quite offer me.

I was transparent with my manager and peers that I was looking for work and I began the process of accepting communications from recruitment people around the place and reached out to my network to see what things were on offer.

I was practically bombarded with opportunities. I filtered out the least attractive ones and committed to interview for a few, while keeping others hanging on while I sorted through the ones that I was actively involved in recruitment processes.

To be clear I am a very experienced engineer with over 25 years experience. I have worked with a lot of people and I don’t want to sound arrogant but most former colleagues rate me highly. I had no problem in attracting recruitment interest.

The best of the processes I engaged in were very casual. They generally involved people I know and the companies were very open to letting me meet with their CEOs, CTOs, engineers or whoever might be appropriate to see if we were a good fit for each other. As I said, I had a lot of places to sort through and I didn’t want to waste my time or other peoples time on recruitment processes for roles that I didn’t want or I wasn’t a good fit for.

There were three outliers in this process. I will refer to them as CompanyA, CompanyB and CompanyC. 

CompanyC was relatively unknown to me, although I discovered they had a couple of former colleagues working for them when I interviewed with them. I had one interview with CompanyC and without a doubt it was terrible. I really was unsure if they simply hated every word I said, were running to a proforma not diverging enough to even engage in conversation about my answers or they were simply robots. I mulled over this interview for a while and decided to send an email withdrawing my interest in the case that they may have actually planned to move me on to the next stage (I doubt they did). In utmost professionalism they failed to even acknowledge my voluntary withdrawal from their process.

This moves us on to CompanyA and CompanyB. Both have a lot in common. I have a significant number of former colleagues working at both companies, with at least 20 that I know of working for CompanyA. Both have reputations for “generous” remuneration, benefits, shares etc. Both have a presence in silicon valley, with one growing out from there. Finally both have recruitment processes that include five or more interviews, with the bulk of them being aimed at measuring technical skills. I was aware of these recruitment processes prior to engaging with these companies.

Former colleagues had previously encouraged me to apply to both companies. I was ambivalent and certainly didn’t want to commit to a process of many interviews when I had no idea if I would even want to work for them. What I decided to do was reach out and see what could be done to minimise the process and/or get some information upfront that would help me decide if I actually wanted to commit to going through their recruitment processes.

I reached out to CompanyA. Pointing out that I had existing relationships with a considerable number of their staff and companies that they had acquired, I asked if there was a way to short circuit their process. They provided an option to join as a contractor first, but this still involved half a day worth of interviews mainly consisting of technical hurdles. Questions about remuneration were evaded, saying it was “generous” and depended on the “signals” from the interviews. At the end of the process was a meeting about what role or roles may be on offer. I maintained my ambivalence and took a risk on this recruitment "lite" option. Ultimately I got the feeling that the type of roles and the company’s culture were not for me. Wasted was half a day of theirs and my time.

The technical hurdles that CompanyA provided seemed deeply rooted in the Silicon Valley “FAANG” (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) culture. There were arbitrary and disconnected algorithmic exercises. There was little discourse about roles during the process and it was almost entirely geared towards measuring the technical skills of the candidate. It seemed implied that the candidate would graciously accept any offer that may be sent their way. 

Lets be clear FAANG companies receive tens of thousands of resumes from ambitious graduates and such must have an efficient process to weed out the good from the bad. Due to the ambition, lack of experience and a strong desire to work for a “FAANG” company this may be appropriate.

CompanyA is not a “FAANG” company and probably are tier three or lower in the ranks of Silicon Valley companies. Their local presence is more or less just another place to work, competing in what is a currently a candidates market.

CompanyB asked to interview me, presenting a similar six interview process as CompanyA’s. To their credit they were able to give an answer to the remuneration question and what was on offer was attractive being above average. I made it clear I was not interested in committing to a six interview process (an entire day) until I could establish whether I would actually want to take the role(s) on offer. I was flexible, suggesting that perhaps we could move interview six, the discussion of company and roles to be the first interview. I made it clear that I didn’t want to waste their time or mine going through the process, when I was ambivalent. The response was flatly a “we cant do that”. I made it clear I wasn’t interested and moved on.

I have accepted a role at one of the easygoing places where we had a series of focussed, mutually beneficial chats about our suitability.

I have been in this industry a long time and over that time I have too much of my time wasted with robotic recruitment processes focussed on endless technical hurdles. I have pulled out of these processes in the past and I flatly refuse to enter into them anymore. 

For CompanyA and CompanyB, you lost a good candidate due to your Silicon Valley arrogance and bullshit. I thought that ComapnyA deserved some feedback about their process as their people on the ground did their best to try and accommodate me. I will share this at the end of this post (TLDR its another essay lol).


Hey Helpful and Best Intentioned Recruitment Person,

Thanks again for the work you did regarding the CompanyA recruitment process and myself. I reflected on the interviews and discussions and I thought it may be useful to give yourself and CompanyA some feedback regarding the process.

Firstly I do appreciate the efforts of people at CompanyA to organise the contractor hire process, interview me, speak to me and assess the coding exercise. 

Criticisms of the process
When I approached CompanyA I was completely unsure if it was a place that I really wanted to work at. In the past when former colleagues suggested I apply I flatly declined due to the sheer volume of interviews and effort that would be required. From my perspective I would need to be almost 100% sure that I was going to want to accept a job if I was offered the position to put that much commitment into a recruitment process. The contractor hire process was some compromise and allowed me to commit less to a process, although to be honest it was probably still more than I would usually commit to.

Of the technical interviews I had I would say the interviewers were nice, but they felt 100% geared towards measuring me. There was no clear feeling or indication coming from these interviews about the roles/company's suitability for me. Looking at the content of the other interviews in the "full" hiring process, I assume these follow a similar trajectory.

I have always been critical of recruitment processes that include many technical hoops for people to jump through. I can report anecdotally that these can have unintended consequences;

1. Inducing imposter syndrome in the candidate. 
A perfectly adequate candidate may feel inadequate as a result of a process like this. If an offer is made they may feel compelled to accept it because the organisation has communicated (subconsciously) that they have a level of superiority. Once they join the organisation the new recruit continues to battle with these feelings of imposter syndrome risking adverse mental health effects. I can say that at least one recruit at CompanyA has confided such feelings to me, along with other colleagues at other organisations who have been through similar processes.

2. Wasting peoples time for limited value.
Interviews have diminishing returns. They can measure certain things, but they can't measure everything. The employer needs to take on some risk in the hiring process, that's why people have probation periods!

3. Creating a disconnect between the person, their skills and the role.
So testing people on algorithms etc might seem like a good idea. Its just CS101, right? They should be able to find an optimal solution to X problem, right? 

Maybe not. Most of these things don't matter in the day to day life of a developer. If the role is producing automation tools for cloud deployments and the like then this stuff absolutely doesn't matter.

Yes it may just be an arbitrary problem solving exercise to see how someone collaborates or pairs with people, but it also may not. I don't know the exact intention here of CompanyAs need for multiple pairing exercises around algorithms, but a process with greater transparency would have at least left me with the answer to this.

Other observations
Although it was implied that CompanyA is a diverse workplace everyone that I spoke to was middle aged, white and male. Yeah I know I fit that description also, but I saw less diversity in CompanyA than I have in other places. This definitely isn't representative of the IT industry in Australia as a whole.

Closing thoughts
As I pointed out I never entered this process with it being a foregone conclusion that I would have accepted an offer if it was made to me. Therefore it was an experiment on my behalf and the onus was on CompanyA to convince me to come work for them as much as it was for me to convince CompanyA to hire me. As I stated the technical hurdles provided me with no additional information regarding whether I would want to join. As I communicated regarding imposter syndrome, the unconscious message to the candidate may be "we are a superior technical organisation, why wouldn't you want to join us"? This claim of unconscious messaging is not without basis. I have had former CultishConsultancyEmployees tell me they joined CultishConsultancy because they felt compelled to join an organisation whose profile and recruitment process made them appear to be a superior organisation.

I acknowledge that "generous" remuneration motivates some people to join. On this front, I could never get any answer to what my remuneration at CompanyA might be. The answers were on the lines of "it depends on the signals we get from your interviews".  I support pay parity and transparency in level assessment, especially in light of addressing such things as the gender pay gap, but you have to at least give some information about the levels and what they are paid. Waiting around until an offer to get an idea of the remuneration is ridiculous. I acknowledge that this may have been a specific anomaly of the process I was in and/or due to the newness of the staff involved in coordinating my recruitment process.

My specific reasons for not wanting to proceed were mainly around the role that was available via contractor hire. This role was severely misaligned with my own goals/interests and style. CompanyA was sold to me as an "engineering led" organisation. This is in fact a very troubling picture for me. I like diversity, I like people with different skill sets coming together and working to deliver value for customers. I couldn't see how an engineering centric model would ever be satisfying to me. I do acknowledge though that for many engineers the notion of an engineering led organisation would be almost utopian, just not for me.

Please do whatever you see fit with this email, socialise it, trash it, whatever. I thought that both you and the organisation may benefit from the feedback within.