How do you stand out as an expert amid tech layoffs?
The first step is to treat interviews as a sales process because that's what they are. You are selling a $500k+ service and you can bet your ass companies want to see a return on that investment. Especially in the current climate – VCs are starting to look at fundamentals over growth.
See this graph?
That's what happens when companies hire fast, miss profits, and the market says it now prefers profits over growth. You can read more about why in this short lesson on economics – Rising Interest Rates are Hammering Tech Stocks. I liked it.
Ok so what can you do?
The good news is that engineer hiring shows little sign of slowing down. Several friends have said their companies went on a hiring freeze or slowdown. Except for engineers.
And in my own hiring, we continue to lose candidates because they get jobs faster than we can make a decision. There's an MMA cage fight for good engineers out there 😅
If you look and feel like an expert, you'll be fine. Downturn be damned. There are dump trucks of money out there looking for a good home.
The quickest way to see if you're an expert is to ask a simple question with lots of hidden depth. Like when Leonard in The Outfit explains what goes into a suit.
For web engineers that question is "What happens when you click on a link?".
Answer 1 – 5sec: assuming it's a regular link, the browser opens a website.
You need the short version when talking with external stake holders who don't want the details. Explicit assumptions signal that you're simplifying.
Answer 2 – 1min: if it's a regular link, the browser issues a GET request to the URL in its
Getting long, but staying high level. Good answer to show you know what you're talking about without putting your audience to sleep at a party.
Answer 3 – 5min+: this is where the answer starts branching. Best to present it as a decision tree that lets your interviewer (or audience) ask follow up questions. What in the above would they like to dig into?
Could be how the server handles those GET requests, could be the rendering process in the browser, the computer network stack, DNS routing, client-side routing shenanigans, how webapps work, accessibility concerns, process sandboxing ... the rabbit hole is never-ending.
You really could teach an entire college degree on answering that question in full detail.
Part of your skill as an expert is to adapt the depth of your answer for the audience.
The story Phil Knight shares about hiring his first sales manager in Shoe Dog, Nike's origin story, is a great example of how expertise shines in interviews.
Phil interviewed a bunch of amazing sales people. He asked every candidate "How do you train a sales person?". A manager doesn't do sales, they teach others.
All he got in return was hemming and hawing. Until one day a guy looks at him in shock, pulls out a binder, and says "Phil, I don't think we have that kind of time here ...".
That's what you're aiming for. To be the person who doesn't have enough time to answer what looks like a simple question.
And remember to boldly say "That's a different expert" when you reach a level beyond your ken. No one person knows how to make a pencil after all
PS: the Senior Engineer Mindset Ebook is past due for a price bump, but I was on vacation. Gonna press the button tomorrow ✌️
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Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
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