Strategies for Interviewing and Hiring: Part 1 of 2
“Humans are the most complicated thing out there – judging human skill is extremely hard, there’s all kinds of ways that people can be good.”
There are some big unanswered questions in our world that might eventually be solved with enough data and the right scientific approach: nutrition, or drug discovery, or image classification. The hiring process is like this. How can you predict whether an engineer will make a good hire? Ammon Bartram, Chief Data Officer and cofounder of Triplebyte, is working on solving the hiring process for engineering organizations. Previously, Ammon was lead video developer at Justin.tv and also cofounded SocialCam.
Triplebyte is a technical hiring platform that vets engineers using a comprehensive evaluation platform and connects them to companies that are interesting in hiring them. Triplebyte was part of the Y Combinator summer class of 2015. The Triplebyte team has interviewed thousands of engineers, and is discovering which aspects of the current hiring process make sense and which are based on superstition, or tradition.
Engineers apply, interview with Triplebyte, and then they get introduced to about 200 companies including Apple, Facebook, Dropbox, Stripe, even to companies like Cruise, working on self-driving cars, and also to smaller startups that are just a few months out of Y Combinator.
“What we found is that the applicants that different companies look at actually vary pretty significantly, but they don’t have a great way of sort of telling applicants this, and so what they have to do is just reject everyone who interview who doesn’t have these specific skills that they’re looking for. Often, they’re not even aware exactly to the extent to which they differ from other companies. What we can do is basically match people based on all those different strengths, and so what we see then is that after we do that matching, the offer rate at the companies goes up by about 2X. Candidates who go through us get offers after about twice as many interviews as general applicants to those same companies.” – Ammon Bartram
THE INTERVIEW ALGORITHM
The Triplebyte team is constantly iterating on a way to create a repeatable standard in interviewing. What is the golden hiring formula and how can you create one without introducing bias?
“I totally agree that strength is what matters, not lack of weakness. Problem is how do you do that in a repeatable standardized way that’s taking these sort the problematic bias decision. Also, a second problem with that is that communication ability. You give people a total freeform interview, often salesmanship and communication ability on their part ends up dominating the actual technical ability. If you have people talking about work they did in the past, often being able to pitch that work effectively influences your perception more than how technically impressive the work actually was.” – Ammon Bartram
Triplebyte has a small group of people who interview full-time. The group has weekly meetings where they discuss what they’re evaluating and discuss making changes. Sometimes they decide to record a certain trait for three months and then go back and see if it correlates with the outcomes of the companies.
“People have all kinds of different strengths and weaknesses and skills. We spend a lot of energy experimenting with what are the concrete things we can record that are predictive of who will do well at companies.”
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS: COME AS YOU ARE
Many people on the job hunt don’t have a specific company in mind that they want to work at. Sure, some people will have companies like Google or Amazon in mind, but in general, jobhunting is like dating. A lot of applicants would rather get into the mix and then be matched with a company based on desired characteristics. This becomes both a healthy and productive scenario for engineers, and for the hiring companies, because Triplebyte has a lot of insight into finding the right match — they become the matchmaker.
Figuring out what the unconscious biases are that occur widely in the hiring process is something that Triplebyte is well-suited to because they see so many different people and data points.
“We view all our assessments background blind, so we don’t know what the candidate’s background is when we evaluate their skills.”
The first step in the Triplebyte application is an automated programming quiz. “When we do the interview with the candidate, we know their name because it pops up in the screen, but we don’t know if they’ve worked for 20 years or three months. We don’t know what school they went through. We know none of that.” When you interview with Triplebyte, they see the skills you show in your problem-solving, without looking at any other data points.
While companies, on the other hand, are much more likely to hire someone if they have a name brand company or a name brand school on their resume. Ammon explained, “We can find [talented] people and then give them a leg up over the screening process to an interview at Facebook or Stripe or companies that would not have spoken to them if they didn’t have our validation.”
COMPANIES ARE LIKE SNOWFLAKES: UNIQUE HIRING NEEDS
As Triplebyte has grown and scaled up, they started hiring for everyone including Apple and Facebook. Bartram notes that teams at those companies are a lot more involved than you would think in the hiring process:
“As companies move up in size, often recruiters are hired, and this is what you get some of the more problematic, just cured, spinning on resumes and things like that. We’re surprised to see that as we move into the bigger companies, they actually get much more engineering-driven. Once again, we see hiring managers making phone calls to help close candidates and really very sort of drastic in process.”
What Triplebyte found is that the big companies are very interested in expanding the pool of who they speak to. Since all Triplebyte screening is background blind, the goal is to be able to directly assess programing skill rather than rely on credentials and where someone’s worked in the past.
“Facebook, for example, is actually explicitly interested in talking to people through us who have already failed their process. They’ve seen that we can — because we’re directly measuring skills, we can find people who’ll get screened out during the early stages of the process who are still actually strong engineers,” explained Bartram.
This is mostly due to the supply and demand problem in the modern world:
“The starting point being, it’s really hard to find good people. I want to hire all the good people that I can find. Anyone who’s smart and a good programmer and has reasonable soft skills sounds like a great employee. That actually is the position of the majority of companies we’ve spoken to.” – Ammon Bartram
Software engineers are in incredibly high demand in almost all fields and most companies are eager to get engineers on staff. The interview process can be intimidating, but stick with it and bring your best to the table. If a big company is right for you at this point in your career, it will work out. But there may be some hidden perks in gaining ranks at a smaller or medium-sized company on the way.
Triplebyte is a company that connects engineers with top tech companies. We’re running an experiment and our hypothesis is that Software Engineering Daily listeners will do well above average on the quiz. Go to triplebyte.com/sedaily and take the multiple-choice quiz, and in a few episodes we’ll share some stats about how you all did. Try it yourself at triplebyte.com/sedaily.