I’m working with one of the largest global hedge funds actively looking to build out their Software and Infrastructure teams. They are urgently looking to bring skilled engineers to build out their team as they move into a pure CI/CD environment.
You would play a key role in the long term vision and strategy for one of several teams across research, trading and critical infrastructure. My client offers great career growth and can offer VERY lucrative compensation packages ($300k -$500k total doe).
Please let me know of a convenient time for us to have a brief chat to discuss this opportunity.
Hmm. That money looked great, but I went through the ringer the last time I interviewed with a hedge fund company (see Bridgewater Associates – 2012). Still, I could not ignore that money, even if it meant moving to New York.
We traded messages back and forth, and setup a phone conversation.
Eventually, she responded:
Thank you for chatting with me earlier today. Just wanted to follow-up with a reminder to pass me along your resume at your earliest convenience so I can proceed with those introductions.
I got an update from Two Sig and it looks like they would like to schedule you for a preliminary phone interview. This would be an HR call in nature, mainly to see what your overall interests are and to tell you more about their teams.
And I talked to them. The fellow I talked to was very interested in infrastructure, and architecture of systems. Very skeptical of latency and security of cloud-based systems. I don’t felt like we really connected.
They did not get back to me for a long time, so I poked the recruiter, and she finally responded:
Hi Syd, it seems they are looking to pass at this time – no feedback was provided. However, I can pass along any opportunities that fit your background in your area as they come across my desk.
I told her that I was happy where I was, and thank you.
And that day, the world shut down. NCAA cancelled March Madness, MLB cancelled the rest of spring training, and the NBA suspended the season. 10 days earlier, Indeed had sent everybody home to work.
I got a note on LinkedIn from a recruiter working with HEB:
I hope your week is off to a great start. I am reaching out to you because I wanted to see if you might have some interest in Software Engineering opportunities I have over at HEB. I would specifically be looking for someone with Microservices experience to work on our E commerce Platform for Central Market. HEB has a lot of fantastic things to offer its employees and has been voted a top company to work for on glass door 6 years running now by its employees.
I know you are currently in a position and may not consider yourself actively on the market, but it never hurts to see what is out there. Hoping to hear back from you soon.
Here in Texas, HEB is legendary. They are a Texas-only grocery store chain, and their stores are generally excellent. My mother used to complain that their produce went bad quickly, but I figured out that it was because they did not put stuff out until it was actually ripe, so you could just take it home and eat it.
When Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, HEB revealed to the public that they had used their data science department to allocate supplies and groceries that were most needed in the hardest hit areas. (link, link, link, link). In 2019, they opened a Digital Tech Center in East Austin, along with Favor Delivery.
So, from a cool company perspective, HEB was an interesting prospect. So I agreed to talk to them.
The position was doing more of the same of what I was doing already at Indeed. And the commute would be much worse that what I already had. When they mentioned the salary range, I was not impressed. So, I turned them down.
Thank you for talking to me this morning.
H-E-B sounds like a great place to work. The job presented also sounds fun.
But I think that my job here at Indeed is awesome, and the commute is very good. I think that I am going to take my name out of consideration for this position so as not waste everybody’s time. Good luck to you, and to H-E-B. We always shop there, and it is a great company.
If something changes in my world, I will let you know.
As I have mentioned before, lists like these make me kick myself for ever going into management, QA, project management, release engineering, automation, etc. Now that the most recent position on my LinkedIn profile is “Software Engineer”, I get many many more recruiting messages that I ever have before. What might have happened if instead of going into management in 1998, I had joined a burgeoning dot com startup? I know it would have probably failed, but still… Or if I had managed to write an app during the early days of the App Store….
Still, things are going really well now, so I am just documenting the state of the world.
This is probably-not-complete list of companies who had recruiters contacted me in 2019. It does not include recruiters who did not give me a company name, and does not include a lot of staffing/temp agencies. Those recruiters were generally looking for contract IOS guys, but I also got a lot of low-paying QA leads, and some C/C++ and Embedded Linux leads (why???).
I received an intriguing email from the former general manager at Spawn Labs one day:
Hi Syd – Hope all is well with you these days! I’m writing you because I’ve formed a new startup company. It’s a really strong concept with a very high ceiling, and I think we can launch our first app in about 6 months. I have 4 engineers working on it now, and I am planning to add 6 more guys (on a side gig basis, 10 hours per week) to get things done quickly, while keeping the load reasonable on everyone as a side gig. I sincerely believe this will be big, and at the same time it’s very manageable in scope. I enjoyed working with you on Spawn Labs so I wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in learning more about what we are doing. I am allocating solid equity chunks to our core engineering team members. Please let me know if you’re interested. If not, no worries, and I hope you’ve had a great 2019!
I really enjoyed working for him at Spawn. He was as honest as he was allowed to be when the wheels start falling off; in May of 2012, he called me into his office and told me that I should probably start looking for another position, as things did not look great. Turns out I actually resigned a few months later before they laid me off, but still… Those last few months were very strange, as they paid me not to work.
I met with him at a local barbeque joint and he gave me the pitch. I can’t talk about what the company was going to do (I signed an NDA), but basically, the gist was exactly as he said. People were already working a few hours a week. No pay at this point. Significant equity instead. They needed server engineers and mobile engineers. They all worked from home. They were all independent contractors.
This sounded to me like a good opportunity to keep up my IOS skills. I said yes.
It took a few weeks to finalize the paperwork, but in January of 2020, I signed everything, and was given keys to the kingdom.
He had hired a mobile lead and another engineer to work on IOS, and he had hired out an initial design of the application. I met with the lead, and we initially hit it off. He assigned me to work on logging in via social media, as that was initially the only way the app was going to have users.
I started trying to figure out how to login using Facebook. I banged at it for a few weeks, but was unsuccessful. I really only had time to work on it on Sunday mornings, and when I ran into trouble, I had nobody to talk to at Facebook. If I were in an office five days/week, I could have found somebody to help out.
In the meantime, I discovered that I had a fundamental disagreement with the mobile lead. I was under the impression that we were trying to get a proof of concept app out into the world as fast as possible, so we would put together something with a very small feature set, ship it, and then replace it with a richer and more robust code base over time. And I thought we were going to be agile about it, doing one feature at a time, and refactoring and overhauling as needed.
The mobile lead did not want to do it that way. He wanted to develop a robust application framework that addressed the weaknesses of the classic IOS application up-front, and he wanted to use a technology framework that helped achieve that, called RxSwift.
There is nothing at all wrong with RxSwift; it is a tool that solves a fundamental problem with writing user-facing applications, namely, communicating data between the various pieces of the application in an automatic way. The mobile lead wrote a huge amount of code based on RxSwift, and as a result, there was a skeleton application.
My problem was that I had never used RxSwift before. I also disagreed that this was the way to go; I thought that if we were going to buy into a declarative framework, that we should be using SwiftUI, Apple’s own reactive framework. While it still needed some more work, to me, clearly it was the future.
I did not have time to learn RxSwift. Once again, if I were full time, and saw this everyday, the investment would be worth it. But it was going to take me weeks if not months to learn it.
On a personal level, we had challenges going on at home, and we made the decision to sell our house.
So, I talked to the president. I outlined the fundamental disagreement in the approach that the mobile lead and I had. I still though that shipping something small and fast and iterating was the better approach. I disagreed with the underlying technology we were going to use.
We agreed that the mobile lead and I were not going to resolve this, so we agreed that I would be let go.
I have not heard anything from them since; the website is still up, but it has no content except a logo. It is not even encrypted (accessed via http: instead of https:). I guess that they have never bought a certificate to do so.
I got to keep the equity had accumulated so far, but I don’t expect that I’ll ever see a penny from it at this point.
I have absolutely no hard feelings about this; I learned a lot, and would try it again. But it has to be an approach I can get onboard with, and I don’t need to be learning entirely new paradigms at 8-10 hours/week.
So, when a job entitled “Full-Stack Developer – Houston Astros” appeared on Teamwork Online, I applied, despite being happy with my current job. The job listing is not online anymore, but this is the email I got back:
Thank you for your application to our Developer, Full-Stack role. We look forward to considering you as a candidate. As your application moves through our process, you will be notified of your status. You do not need to take any additional steps at this time.
We appreciate the time and effort you have put into this process thus far and wish you the best in your pursuits.
Pretty standard form letter; did not expect much.
A few weeks later, however:
Thank you for your interest in the Houston Astros’ Full-Stack Developer position. After reviewing your application and resume, we are pleased to move forward with the next step in the process. Attached is a short technical questionnaire designed to help us gauge your skillset and learn more about your coding experience and style. The goal of this is to evaluate how you would perform as an employee, not to provide a test. We understand that you have a limited amount of time and other priorities besides this questionnaire, and it is our hope that the time required by this assessment does not serve as a deterrent for your continuing with the application process. We ask that you return the completed questionnaire via email by . If you’re not able to spend as much time on it as you’d like, please feel free to note that and tell us what you would have done if you’d had more time. Please reply to this email with any questions about the assessment.
If you are no longer interested in being considered for the position, please let us know. We look forward to hearing back from you and will be in touch about potential next steps once we’ve had a chance to review all questionnaires.
This was a ballgame of a different color (to quote City of Angels). I was incredibly excited. Maybe this would work?
The assessment that they sent me had three parts:
Write a 200 word essay, stating who the one hitter and one pitcher you would build a team around. 200 words was pretty tight, but I think I defended Ronald Acuña and Jose Berrios reasonably well.
Write an inning simulator. They defined a set of events that could happen in an bat, and simple language, and I had to write a simulator of how the inning would proceed. This was all kinds of fun for me, and wrote a good test suite to go with it.
They gave me a lot of StatCast data for two Astros games. They wanted be to write “a simple interface to allow a user to explore the data from at least on of t games files”. They wanted a paragraph that explained my thought process, and they stressed that they did not want me to spend more than 3 hours on it. I wrote a program to map the pitch data onto a frame representing the strike zone. Each ball would be as a circle. The faster t pitch, the bigger the circle. I used gray for a ball, red circles were called strikes, green were swinging strikes, and blue were balls hit into play:
I then mentioned, that with time, I would add filters for pitches thrown by left/right, specific pitchers, batters hitting left/right, specific batters, etc., along with numerous other filters.
I closed with:
Thank you for this opportunity. I am sure that you have many qualified candidates to choose from, and am sure that you will do a thorough job interviewing everybody. Good luck in your search, and I hope to hear back from you soon.
And the I waited several weeks. I was about to give up, when got a phone call from an admin working for the Astros. She told me that they had been having problems with their email being flagged as spam, and that I should check my spam mail, because they had been trying to get in touch.
I found the email from a mid-level Astros executive:
My team reviewed your assessment and was quite impressed. Assuming you are interested in continuing the interview process, as a next step I would like to schedule a phone call with you, which should last about thirty minutes. Please let me know what time (in Central time zone) and day work best for you this week and I will schedule something.
Thanks, and I look forward to speaking with you.
I was on Cloud Nine.
When we talked, he opened with how he and his team had been impressed with my assessment. He then said, “Normally, I have six to seven questions I ask each candidate. But I think today, I need to skip to the end. We originally envisioned this position as a junior level position. What kind of salary would you expect?”
I told him what I was making at my current job.
He said, “I was afraid of that. That’s way out of our budget.”
I told him that my salary was competitive with salaries at major tech companies, like Google and Facebook (actually, it was probably lower, but still).
He sighed. “Well, if I were hiring you to manage the team, or to architect our system from the ground up, and I could get approval for that, we might be able to talk. But there is just no way I could bring you in given where we are on the budget for this team.”
I thanked him, and mentioned we should get a beer the next time I in Houston. He agreed.
If they had offered me anything close to a competitive salary and relocation to Houston, I probably would have taken it. I relished the thought of working the front office on one of the best baseball teams that just happened to be my boyhood team. I looked forward to living in Houston again. I knew that there was a significant chance of the Astros going to the World Series, or at least the playoffs, a couple of more times.
Turns out, according to the press and Twitter, the organization apparently was run as a sociopathic tech-bro startup, in the image of Tesla or Über. Misogyny and cheating were the order of the day. And then COVID hit, and baseball started going through a rough patch.
I really dodged a bullet with this one, and only because they were too cheap. I still root for them, but I am so glad not to be working in baseball right now.