As I settle into my current job search I’m making refinements to how I tell my story and present myself: the skills that I have, the value that these capabilities can provide, and the path that led me to having these skills. Some industry professionals call this your “Elevator Pitch”, for my purposes I’m extending that idea a bit and mostly seeking to perfect my answer to the classic “Tell me about yourself” question that is common in the first and second interviews. When engineers talk about interview preparation most are talking about studying algorithms, completing practice whiteboard problems, and putting polish on side-projects to demonstrate their skills. This technical preparation is important, I’ve been spending my time in each of these areas. In addition to being able to demonstrate my problem-solving skills I’m keenly aware that it’s important to be a well-rounded candidate who pairs technical acumen with a compelling message that makes corporate representatives excited about me as a whole person, not just a machine that can crank out sorting and searching on-command. Many engineers, myself included, could benefit from spending a bit of their interview study time practicing their ability to summarize their skills and how they came to be where they are.
In order to facilitate my ability to deliver a clear picture of myself and my professional mindset beyond my “hardcore” programming skills I have taken some time to reflect on how my past work experiences have influenced what I can do. I already had a good handle on delivering this message as related to my time at Pandora, but crafting this for my time at WeWork is still an ongoing process that has been made slightly more complicated due to the slew of press (both good and bad) that the company has gotten over the past six months.
Since most of the individuals I’m talking to as part of my job search have heard something about WeWork in the news recently, I’ve had to keep preexisting assumptions and perceptions of the company in mind throughout the process of integrating my time there into my overall professional message. The most important piece of information I want to get across when I talk about WeWork is that I enjoyed almost every part of working there. I liked my team, the problems we were tasked with solving were challenging and allowed me to grow, I felt able to make an impact, and I wasn’t overly bogged down by process. I want others to know that working at WeWork was a positive experience, no matter they might have read in the news. I view my time there as a formative part of my career from which I have and can continue to learn a lot. I do not regret any bit of it.
Another key part of the message I deliver when I talk about my experience being an engineer at WeWork is that I am a developer capable of thriving in dynamic situations. I am able to handle the ambiguity and constant change that comes with reporting to four different direct managers over the course of ten months in stride, continuing to deliver on my promises and make progress towards both career and product development goals. In talking about these capabilities I like to always be able to cite a piece of evidence to support my claims: data drives my decisions as a developer, so providing supporting references to each of my claims seems only natural. This practice loosely follows from an article that I recently read titled “How to Write like an Amazonian”, in which tips for writing are presented to new hires at Amazon. The principals laid out in that article encourage the writer to preemptively answer the “so what?” question that is commonly the result of claims made without backing evidence. In my case the broad claim made above is supported by my achievement delivering an Android SDK capable of visualizing WeWork spaces since I did so during the most publicly-tumultuous period in WeWork’s life: the weeks and months surrounding the failed IPO. I believe that this is an important skill set for a developer to possess, ignoring distractions and not allowing them to impede forward progress keeps teams productive, leads to greater happiness and job satisfaction in the long run, and helps companies emerge from challenging times stronger than when they entered.
In environments like WeWork I also have identified that approaching news, change, and communications with a healthy skepticism is important. Rumors fly, the media is loud, and conflicting messages become the norm when individuals fear the future. Since many decisions and directions came from well above the heads of those I was in contact with daily, I made it a point to take nearly everything that was being said around the office with a grain of salt. It would have been easy to get caught in the rumor mill, paralyzed while trying to parse meaning from conflicting information collected piecemeal; to do so would not have served me at all and would have detracted from my happiness and productivity. The skeptical perspective was especially important when it came to media coverage: there’s no reason to believe that a reporter or external source would have impactful information well ahead of when I would be informed of it as an internal employee. I’ll admit, in the depths of the uncertainty my patience with the media coverage was challenged: constant public negativity is wearing, but I am proud to say that I was able to bend and not break from the situation. I believe that the patience that I developed from this experience will serve me no matter the role I take on next: most large companies have some amount of negative press on the daily, and smaller startup operations headed for IPOs can equally garner unfavorable attention. In either situation, remaining levelheaded and patient no matter the noise (external and internal) is most conducive to productivity.
I finally want to stress that there is a lot of power in asking a simple question for each challenging situation encountered in life, including in the working world: “How much do I need to care about that?”. This question forces you to put your situation into perspective, assessing how impactful whatever you’re facing will be on your daily life. When I was working at WeWork I found that a majority of the changes and public struggles didn’t have any impact on my daily life, thus I was mostly able to ignore them. I made the choice to avoid wasting time and energy on anything that wouldn’t directly change my situation, this gave me freedom to continue to drive myself and my work forward. In any situation we find ourselves in we are empowered to control how we react, making the right choice in that regard can heavily influence the outcome. Asking myself how deeply the situation at hand will impact my daily life helps me to temper and control my reaction, scaling it appropriately to the circumstances.
Delivering the WeWork portion of my message to recruiters, hiring managers, and future coworkers in a manner that is respectful of the company, accurately describes all that I gained from my short time there, and brings to light how I can leverage the experience in service of being an effective member of my next team has taken some practice, but I know that the effort that I’ve dedicated will be rewarded with a new set of challenges for me to get myself excited about at my next job. The reflection process itself has been rewarding in its own right and has allowed me to truly internalize and recognize the growth that I experienced while at WeWork, I’m enjoying the journey of self-discovery that I’m on as a part of seeking out my next role.