Written by Sara Mauskopf, Director of Product at Postmates. This article was originally published on TechinMotionevents.com.
Now that I’ve been at Postmates for almost 8 months, a lot of people have asked me the difference between Product Management at a larger company like Twitter where I worked from July 2010 to July 2014, or Google where I worked from 2007 to 2010, and at a startup like Postmates. I too was curious before I decided to join a startup.
So first, let me define Product Management at a larger tech company. As a Product Manager, you are responsible for defining a roadmap for your area and ensuring that roadmap meets the goals or objectives you set forth for your team, which should align with the goals of the company. You’re responsible for ensuring the items on the roadmap are prioritized, and that there are clear product specifications for those items. Finally, you work closely with the team to build, launch, collect data/feedback, and iterate to a standard of exceptional quality. Through all phases, including planning, you are working closely with engineering, design, and other key stakeholders across the company. And because everyone looks to you as a leader for your product area, it is important you are inspiring those around you to do their greatest work by setting the right context, establishing a sense of urgency, and working collaboratively.
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As it turns out, all those fundamentals remain the same at a startup. In fact, the fundamentals are so important that having experience at a larger company as a Product Manager is one of the best forms of training for startup Product Management. But on top of all that, at a startup you have responsibilities and challenges that do not exist at a larger company. If you are thinking of making the transition from big company PM to startup PM, here are some things you’ll want to know.
1. You’ll often have to do things you have never done before and probably suck at.
Working at a startup, you quickly discover where your personal weaknesses are because on a daily basis you need to do something you have never done before and probably are not good at yet. Executing out of your area of familiarity manifests through needing to do something that larger companies have a person or team dedicated to doing. For example, at a startup you will most certainly not have a user research team that helps you assess how your feature will be received in the market. If you want user research or early feedback on a prototype, you will have to find and interview users yourself. Although it can be daunting to roll up your sleeves and try something you have never done before, it’s also the fastest way to learn how to do it. If you are lucky, you may discover a talent you didn’t know you had!
2. You’ll need gymnast levels of flexibility.
Imagine any company has 5 “fire drills” a quarter. In other words, 5 times per quarter, the average company has to quickly react to something in the market, change a plan due to unexpected data or user feedback, or get in a war room and really focus on a hard problem that has not been given enough attention. At a larger company, those 5 instances are spread out between a lot of people and teams, so you personally probably only experience a "fire drill" at most once per quarter. At a startup, any fire drill usually involves most of the product, design, and engineering team because the team is so small. It’s important at a startup that you can quickly tackle these fire drills, avoid getting thrown off course, and reprioritize your roadmap when needed. Most importantly, you need to mentally be able to deal with plans changing more frequently. It’s ok!
3. You’ll do less talking the talk, more walking the walk.
At a startup, there is nowhere to hide. People who can step up to the plate and tackle the challenges will shine and get even more responsibility. Underperformers who can’t cut it will quickly make their way out. In addition to not needing to worry much about whether your individual performance will be recognized, if you ask any good PM at a larger company they will tell you they spend some percentage of their time carving out territory for their team, evangelizing the great results of their team, and other activities generally thought of as “managing up”. It’s not because large companies are full of evil political people, it’s just because when you have a lot of people working in one place it’s easy to get lost in the noise if you aren’t making it clear what your team works on and the results they have achieved.
You don’t have to worry about that much at a startup. Now, I spend my time working and moving the company forward rather than evangelizing my team internally. With fewer people to communicate with, you can spend more time doing the work, which is great because there is a lot of work to do.
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About the Author
Sara Mauskopf joined on-demand delivery company Postmates in July to build and run its Product Management team. Postmates is transforming the way local goods move around a city by connecting customers with local couriers who purchase and deliver goods from any restaurant or store in a city in minutes. Prior to Postmates, Sara was a Group Product Manager at Twitter, having joined the company in 2010. She started her career at YouTube and Google as a Partner Technology Manager (a role that's a mix of partnerships and engineering). Sara graduated with a bachelors degree in Computer Science from MIT.
Article by Steve Vaughan, Practice Manager at Jobspring Partners Philadelphia and Philly Puppet User Group champion
DevOps– Development Operations, Automation, Cloud Deployment, and Continuous Integration – what does it all mean? Why is everyone talking about it?!
To be honest, there is not one true answer of what DevOps really is. The title used to be Agile Systems Administrator and now the same responsibilities are posted for any one of a 100 different titles - all of them related to DevOps.
There are many tools used by a DevOps team or engineer and sometimes choosing those tools can be a difficult and convoluted task. Should one go with the old, battle tested route of CF Engine for configuration management? Jenkins for continuous integration or give Gradle the old college try?
One of the best ways to go about this choice is to communicate with others in the space – what better way of learning about the intricacies of these tools than speaking with like-minded professionals who have tried, failed and then ultimately succeeded in implementations?
An excellent opportunity for learning and discussing is by joining several technology groups in your local area. I recommend checking out meetup.com to begin. You can also find some devops professionals at Tech in Motion, the national event series that Jobspring Partners sponsors. With monthly events in ten different cities across North America, there isn't a problem connecting with someone in the IT field who will talk tech with you all evening long. Find out more at techinmotionevents.com.
Whether you choose to attend one or all, these are some tremendous opportunities to meet people in your area, learn about the technologies and share war stories about successful implementations!
Written by David Belsky, Regional Director of Jobspring Chicago
If you are looking to hire tech talent, Downtown Chicago has one of the top 2-3 total tech candidate pools in the country partly due to the infrastructure and public transportation available. This results in a hotter tech market because so much of a company’s ability to attract and retain talent comes down to their location. People who have skills that companies demand (Software, IT, Web Design) can be very picky on where they are willing to commute to when there are lots of options for them in the job market. The idea that the CTA has the potential to bring 3 million people to downtown and the METRA has the ability to bring 7 million people monthly to Downtown means that you have increased your chances of hiring top talent if you have offices in downtown Chicago than most other places in the country, aside from NYC or San Francisco.
This trend is a result of the City of Chicago having one of the largest suburban transit systems in the country. There are 3 million people in the city of Chicago and 10 million people in the greater Chicago area. Most of the major suburbs actually have a train station at the center of their town with direct daily access to Downtown Chicago. A lot of major metropolitan areas are plagued by lack of adequate light rail infrastructure (D.C., Atlanta, San Jose area, Los Angeles). Chicago’s suburban transit system (METRA) may be old but it is huge and already takes 1 million people to their jobs in “The Loop” every day.
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We’ve seen examples lately of companies taking advantage of the transportation system and opening offices in downtown – even if they keep their main business center in the suburbs. Everyone is looking for a piece of the pie and these companies know the only way to do this and stay competitive is to stake some ground in downtown. Huge companies that have always done business in the suburbs are creating office space downtown in order to attract and retain younger employees. Examples of this include McDonald's, Walgreens and Sears. There's a huge draw for millennials to work downtown and the infrastructure of Chicago makes it easy to do so. Companies are relying on this to attract new employees to their work force.
Written by Graydon Klassen, Lead Recruiter in Jobspring NYC.
I get it. The idea of starting a new job can certainly be scary.
I have been working in the staffing industry for most of my professional career, and this potentially daunting experience is something that I discuss with both my active & passive candidates on a regular basis. Couple that with the fact that my family moved around frequently while I was growing up, and I have built up quite an informed perspective (if I do say so myself) of what the move should be when you walk through the doors on your first day. If you will, we can call it “Graydon’s Guide to Being the New Guy.” This tried and true guide has three critical components: Listen first, be yourself, and don’t jump to conclusions.
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Now it is important to note that these three stages are in chronological order and should be implemented as so. Listen First. You might be saying “Graydon, I know how to listen. What do you mean?” I know that the act of listening seems obvious but when you first start a job, sometimes its importance can be overlooked. More specifically, one of the most common errors a “New Guy” commits is not a lack of listening but as I like to call it just “waiting in line for your chance to talk.” Typically when you first start, you are eager to impress, share knowledge and stories, and as a result, can sometimes interject these already pre-packaged anecdotes with little to no relevance to the conversation at hand. Sometimes this works. But sometimes these interjections can leave your new coworkers with a poor taste in their mouths. This is especially a tough thing to get over during that initial first impression stage. Diving into it a little more, after several off topic comments, or even worse long winded responses, your colleagues might not come back to you with their water cooler banter, or even worse, their professional insights and responsibilities. You need to demonstrate that you not only have the knowledge to be viewed as a worthwhile colleague, but that you know when to apply that knowledge. Listening to your co-workers is the best—and really your only—way to position yourself advantageously in those early conversations. Trust that you are better than a Rolodex of go-to sayings.
Now that you are listening, it is equally as important to be yourself. I sometimes hear people talking about starting fresh by pressing the reset button, and while I think that this transformative presentation of yourself can be done in a real way, I see this backfiring more often than not. A valued employee is someone who is consistent. Consistency is one of those golden attributes that every employer looks for. The unfortunate fact is that most people who start off trying to be someone they are not cannot maintain this new persona. In hopes of avoiding this flip flop, it is important to be yourself from the beginning. Be honest with your abilities and desires. Starting off on a genuine note sets the proper dynamic for you and your employer and colleagues.
The “coup de grâce” of this guide is the oft-difficult mastery of not jumping to conclusions. Just as you might be feeling anxious to present yourself in the right way, your colleagues are going through the same thing. You need to find your place in the office, so it is important to come up with a realistic timeframe for seeing the true picture. It is easy to hop on a bandwagon at work just because everyone else is but that might not be the best play. You might be blinded by the initial bells and whistles and then next thing you know, you are somewhere you don’t want to be. So the only way to truly find your spot is by owning the first two steps. Now if you are listening and being genuine, the appropriate method of how to conduct your business and how you fit in will reveal itself.
There is a reason that the notion of things “falling into place” is a popular one, and it’s because that’s how the universe works. It applies to people too, but only if you are listening to the people around you and responding in a genuine fashion. So please take my guide to heart while you walk through the front doors of your new company, and get ready to climb that corporate ladder.
Written by Melissa Tobia, Practice Manager in Jobspring San Francisco.
The world of coding camps has been expanding, especially in this booming market where everyone in San Francisco is looking to hire a Software Engineer. Coding Camps are a great way to get a foot in the door and not only learn about software development, but to also expand a skill set.
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In my previous blogs for Jobspring I spoke on the benefits of enrolling in coding academies and how they can benefit a tech career. Today, I am looking into the bootcamp experience on a personal level. I represent many candidates who went to coding camps and they all possess similar qualities; they’re passionate about development, eager to learn more and excited to pursue new opportunities. I helped Brian Kang who went to a coding academy called Hack Reactor in finding a new role about a year ago. I wanted to get his insight on his overall experience and where he is at today. Here is what he had to say:
1. Why did you decide to go to a coding camp?
I decided to go to a coding bootcamp because I wanted to build software for a living. I wanted excellent instructors and structure to my learning, but I didn't want to go through another four years of college.
2. What was the most valuable thing you learned at Hack Reactor?
The most valuable thing I learned at Hack Reactor is that nothing is out of reach. I had never been in an environment with so many smart and driven individuals. The enthusiasm to learn and build amazing projects is infectious, and my frame of mind quickly shifted from assessing my ability to accomplish a seemingly impossible task to diving in and figuring out how to do it.
3. What was the hardest part about Hack Reactor?
The hardest part about Hack Reactor is the initial adjustment to the pace of learning and the amount of work involved. The first two weeks were tiring, but the program is very well structured and by weeks 3+ I felt comfortable with the pace.
4. How long did it take to get a job after graduation, and what did the process of getting a job look like?
My job search experience was different than most of my cohort. I decided to stay at Hack Reactor for three more months as part of the Hacker in Residence program where I conducted technical interviews and assisted students with projects part-time. The rest of my time was free, so I decided to build a project with a friend and also contracted for a startup. Towards the end of the contract, I began my search and was contacted by Melissa at Jobspring. Melissa quickly found a few companies that were a good match, and I talked with engineers from one of the companies a few days later. The week after, I went in for an onsite interview and accepted an offer that night. It took roughly two weeks from beginning my search to accepting an offer. I decided to end my search early because I found a company with an amazing team, culture, and opportunity for personal growth.
5. What is some advice you would give to someone who is looking to get their first job as a software developer?
I would advise engineers looking for their first job to pursue personal projects while searching for jobs. You will learn, gain experience, and have something to talk about.
From what Brian has said, his experience going to Hack Reactor was very rewarding. It gave him an opportunity to expand his skill set and grow while offering an alternative to four more years of college. If you are trying to pursue a career in software development, I would highly recommend signing up for a development bootcamp.
Article by Sandra Zawacki, Practice Manager in Jobspring DC and Co-founder of DC Security Meetup
Did you know that there are over 100 technology focused meet up groups in the DC metro area and in most other major cities? I’ve been in the technology recruiting industry for almost eight years, an industry that most would argue heavily relies on networking, and I have been pleasantly surprised to see the huge increase in groups and events over the past few years. People from all different verticals of the technology community are stepping out from behind their laptops, standing desks and online forums to, wait for it, engage with others face to face! While the technology field heavily relies on email, web conferences, virtual server environments and code repositories to make important decisions and move products forward—in the recruiting field—we still see most important hiring decisions made when a face to face meeting has occurred. How good are your face to face networking capabilities? The opportunity to improve on this skill is only one of the many reasons you should be an active member of your local meet up community—let’s explore a few others!
First, let’s lay a few common misconceptions to rest. One: community driven meeting groups are an “old-school” way of engaging with people in your field. Judging by the explosive growth of sites like Meetup.com, which boasts 21.6 million members world-wide and powers over 9000 groups meeting each week, meet-ups are clearly the “new-old” way of getting together. Two: techies are introverts who don’t like engaging outside of the comfort of their screens. There are thousands of registered meet up groups focused on different areas of the technology market. To use a more specific example, when my company founded Tech in Motion (a nation-wide technology focused meet-up) we grew our membership to over 40,000 members in under five years—clearly techies are getting out! Three: “If I want more information on something I can just find it online, I won’t get anything ‘extra’ out of attending an actual event, plus traffic is terrible at rush hour!” Well, I can’t argue on the traffic point…but there is plenty of “extra” to be gained at these events.
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At most of the events I attend, and host, it’s as Forrest Gump would say “a box of chocolates—you never know what you are going to get”. But that, in my opinion, is what’s so great about it! There will always be the real experts at whatever the topic of the event is; the people truly passionate about that technology who are eager to share their knowledge and exchange ideas. There are others at the event who are just there to learn more and who serve as a grateful audience to the first group. Inevitably, there are also a few who just came for the free food and drinks—that’s ok too. The point is to not be afraid to put yourself in a position where, even if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you learn something new or share some of what you know. This is not only the best way to actually gain some new knowledge but also an important networking skill that may have gotten rusty as you tapped away at your keyboard for the past few years!
That brings me to my next point—don’t underestimate the value of human interaction. As mentioned previously, despite much of business being conducted in online capacities these days, most companies still make important hiring decisions after face to face meetings. As much as you have to be “good at what you do” you have to also be able to explain what it is you do, and to some extent “sell yourself” to get the job you really want. Meet-ups are an excellent forum to practice these skills by talking to people you’ve never spoken to before (like you would in an interview), describing what you do and then connecting with them over what it is they do. These interactions can greatly help improve the thing most people struggle with during interviews; nerves! Additionally, you are meeting people at these events who are in your field; the bigger you can make your network the easier looking for a job will be, if or when you choose to do so.
One last point from a hiring perspective; the number one quality hiring managers tell me that they are looking when they describe the “perfect” candidate (outside of technical skills) is passion and desire to learn. These intangible skills can be difficult to qualify and even more difficult to represent on a resume. Consider the approach high school students take; they fill their free hours with extracurricular activities that will look great on a college application, ideally a variety of them to suggest a broad and general interest in being an active member of their communities. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to take a page out of the book we wrote as 17 year olds and incorporate it into our professional lives. Being an active member of your professional community and attending events that further your skills and knowledge is an excellent way to show potential employers that your application should stand out!
So join your peers; take a night or two a month and find an event that interests you; a topic that you could learn more about. Wear your nametag proudly on your chest and don’t be afraid to walk up to someone you don’t know to ask them what they do. You might meet someone whose knowledge helps your project, whose network impacts your career path or who you simply enjoy exchanging ideas with. Or just come for the food and drinks…
Written by Chris Walek, Practice Manager of Jobspring Chicago
After studying why Chicago companies are choosing rails, what I'm realizing is that not everything is being considered. Making a decision on the initial technology and tools for building your product is a huge choice, so why not make an educated decision? A lot of companies don't, but then again it is difficult to find full information on this stuff without a consultant like myself.
Rails is GREAT for startups, right? Let’s evaluate: it’s cheap (linux is free and it's open-source), it’s supported (amazing community - especially in Chicago), it has lots of great built-in features within rails like an ORM, and tools/gems like capybara, RSpec, etc. It's also easy to read, so if someone leaves your company, someone else can pick up right where the former employee left off, and a lot can be done in small, agile teams with full-stack engineers. While these are all great reasons, companies often forget to consider what it’s like to hire for ruby.
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Rather than just choosing the best tool for the job programming-wise, companies need to consider the culture and market for hiring that comes with that decision. Ruby on rails is by the far the biggest technology written remotely. When a company chooses ruby on rails, they must also choose to operate a virtual environment and let people work remotely. If not, in the world of hiring on-site, full-time rails employees, you will probably lose to the Bigs who offer personal chefs and unbeatable benefits (oh, and $150-200k). That's the other thing about hiring for ruby that people tend to forget - it's a free market; there are a lot of choices. The people that choose ruby go through the hurdles of learning a new language (ruby isn't easy to pick up) and they do so for one reason; supply and demand. When the supply is low and demand is high, price goes up. Just think about how many new training programs for ruby and mobile (iOS/Android) there are. None of these programs teach you C# or Python, so that should say something. Ruby engineers are very expensive, so while it may look cheap, it's not.
You will also need to hire me to find the talent you need, so that's another cost. Not to mention, turnover is 1.5 years in the market, so you need to use me over and over again (yes, I have a ton of tips on how to keep your employees there and my clients do this very well, however that's another article). Ruby engineers already have jobs. They're looking (passively), but they have a job and don't need to leave for something slightly better. What actually happens is that they assess things they dislike about their current environment and convince themselves to take a few interviews and find an improvement on these non-tangibles (culture, commitment to quality software, commitment to best practices, growth within an organization). While money isn't the initial catalyst for them to look, it will be for them to leave. It’s something almost everyone can wrap their head around: You’re comfortable in your seat but a new company wants you. They add an extra $5-10k to your salary. Is that $5-10k really worth the hassle of putting in your 2 weeks, dealing with upset boss/colleagues, doing a huge knowledge transfer, then getting sped up in a new environment, etc.? Most people would say no (plus after taxes, that extra bit isn't a new Ferrari by any means). While money isn't a driving force behind why a lot of people stay at their jobs, or what most people complain about, it IS the catalyst for getting them out of their current, comfy seat and going through the hassle of changing a job. It will also buffer against them getting headhunted easily in the future, and against counter-offers.
These are just some facts about the current market. But every engineer knows things can and will change. The best are diversifying their skillsets to be in demand when the next wave comes along—perhaps functional languages? Only time will tell.
(Sources): I work for a nationwide technology recruiting firm which has individual offices in every major city (pending Dallas and Austin, but that should change) and have studied the consistency of these facts. Chicago, by far, does the most ruby on rails placements and thus sees the most transactional data on it.
Article by Patrick Tafua, Practice Manager in Jobspring Orange County
My fascination and curiosities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) began at Disneyland. It was my first job and I worked on attractions in Tomorrowland, the futuristic themed area of the theme park. While working at the resort you really gain an appreciation for the innovative or ‘magical’ mind of Walt Disney. One particular favorite innovation of mine is Audio-Animatronic figures throughout the park. Audio Animatronics is a form of robotics animation. These robots move, make sound that is generally recorded and are often fixed upon whatever supports them. Although the movements and sounds of the robots are prerecorded it brings these figures to life for its audiences. I feel that this innovative technology sparked the wishes of engineers to make AI more of a reality and a part of our lives. Which asks the question; should all wishes come true?
AI has the potential of making lives easier by understanding our desires or driving our automobiles and more. If uncontrolled though, the technology could be a serious threat to society. At least that is what many of the top scientist and technology leaders in world, such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, are proclaiming. A letter written by Musk, Hawking and other prominent scientists, stated that, "Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.” Also stated was that these systems should be controlled to do what we want them to do and add benefits to society. Stephen Hawking had gone further stating that AI development could “spell the end of the human race”. So where do you stand on AI?
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It seems that there isn't much you can do at this time to stop AI developments from happening if you were opposed. This battle to bring AI to the hands of consumers has been in motion for long time. Recently we are seeing developments of robots to be personal caregivers. For example Robear, a high-tech teddy developed in Japan with a mission to help make elderly care much easier. There are many other technological advances being made in AI. These robotic figures do not have prerecorded audio or movements like those at Disneyland. Some of these machines can process regular spoken language and not only recognize human faces, but also read our expressions. It only seems fitting to discuss what AI will become in the workplace.
Zeynep Tufekci of the New York Times wrote that computers do not just replace humans in the workplace. She states, “They shift the balance of power even more in favor of employers. Our normal response to technological innovation that threatens jobs is to encourage workers to acquire more skills, or to trust that the nuances of the human mind or human attention will always be superior in crucial ways. But when machines of this capacity enter the equation, employers have even more leverage, and our standard response is not sufficient for the looming crisis.”
AI could have machines doing our jobs well enough to make it cheaper for employers and easier to control than an employee that would have their own opinion on work matters. Certainly, engineers in technology may not have to worry about their job security right now because of the high demand recently in our county for engineering talent, but these engineers may create the reason they are out of a job in the future. In Orange County, there isn't much AI development being done, but we still have Disney’s Audio-Animatronics to inspire local engineers to come up with the next big AI. It’s just - do we really want to make these dreams become reality?