How I was interviewed at Skimlinks

Skim what?

This time I am going to share how I was interviewed for Software Development Manager position at Skimlinks - one of the UK’s fastest growing tech startups. Skimlinks’s major product is a content monetisation platform for online publishers, but the company is doing much more than that.

Lyrical digression

I attend interview regularly because it keeps me in shape and brings new connections. However, more importantly, if you’re privileged to interview developers - you have to constantly remind yourself what does it mean to be interviewee. That said, becoming interviewee makes you better interviewer.

In rare cases, I attend interviews because the company looks very promising on the surface and, somewhere deep in my mind, I imagine myself working for that cool company. However, most of the time I end up disappointed. I don’t exclude that my overall expectations are way above market average and tastes are unusual, so let it be. Life is too short to spend it with company that doesn’t fit you.

Skype screening

I applied for a job through LinkedIn, because product seemed very interesting to me, job ad was one of a kind, no bull shiitake, very catchy. Shortly I’ve received an email with invitation for Skype interview. During an interview happy and kind HR professional told me a lot about the company culture, values, visions and asked traditional questions about my past, current situation and expectations. All questions made perfect sense, interview was quick and concise. I was asked about the salary, but my Lean mentality taught to negotiate money as late as possible, so I managed to keep cards (almost) undisclosed. HR professional immediately revealed approximate salary for this position. Fair enough.

Since my profile was not scam and everything I wrote at LinkedIn was true, invitation for the next interview came to my mailbox immediately.

Interview with Head of Tech Delivery

Delivery guy was very positive and friendly. I had this rare feeling when you and your companion are on the same wave. This is something that caught my attention immediately, because my wave is not easy to catch. Because of this (or because I didn’t sleep all night, reading “What Internet Says About High Scalability”) I don’t really remember most of the questions - conversation was very natural, it didn’t look like check-list scanning. We discussed software development process and how to choose one, how people should work together, whether ATDD is always a good thing or not etc. I think that by telling about my past and present I automagically answered most of the questions.

We wrapped up in ~40 minutes and I spent the whole day in excitement, because 2 of 2 Skimlinkees I know are super-duper.

Interview with CTO

Woo-hoo, looks like previous interview went well, because I was invited to CTO interview. HR professional asked about my travelling schedule to London, but since visiting London in this year was not part of my plans - we decided to stick to Skype.

CTO was a deeply technical guy who enjoyed talking about “hard” problems. Several general questions, few situational questions (e.g. what to do when cross-team communication doesn’t go well, what to do if developer is stuck etc.), my past experience story, discussion of Java 8 additions, Hadoop, Kafka, Storm, Flume, Spark, Docker mentions and we’re done. Quite technical for Software Development Manager position interview. Suggestion for techies who move to management - keep up to date with technology and write code regularly, otherwise you’re dead.

Special thanks goes to Ask.fm for giving me opportunity to work with you. For most companies numbers you have sound cosmic. Size matters!

Discussion went very fast without pauses so CTO quickly ran out of questions :-) I suggested to improvise and burn prepared questionnaire in fire. Improvisation led to “What if…. Oh, I don’t know why I am asking” and laughter, followed by decision to finish the interview.

I spent one more day in excitement because 3 of 3 Skimlinkees I know are super-duper.

On-site interview

Skyping is good, but face-to-face is better, hence on-site interview. The interview was planned on Monday, but I came to London on Sunday to have beer with ex-colleague of mine (one beer on Sunday can be used as a reasonable excuse if you don’t pass interview).

Skimlinks office is located in Silicon Roundabout area in London (refers to the high number of web businesses located there). Notably, Skimlinks is one of the first technology companies headquartered in Silicon Roundabout.

Since interview time was not fixed, I came to the interview at 10:00, entered “ordinary” office building and my first reaction was “OH MY DOG!!!”. Skimlinks has the coolest open space office I have ever seen. I didn’t take a picture (taking office pictures during interview is a bit weird).

There was a pleasant noise in the office - people were talking, laughing and coffee machines working. I watched people attending daily standup in front of projector. Number of WiP items was small and it made me happy. JIRA made me cry.

I was ready to sign work agreement immediately :-) But there was a challenge ahead - I had to pass “only” 4 more interview rounds.

Round #1 - Meet Delivery Manager & QA Manager

In a closed room, guys asked about my management style (I believe it’s open gangnam style), how to improve teams’ morale, how to deal with situation when someone doesn’t agree that particular technology/practice such as TDD is a good thing, how to deal with situation when, at the middle of the Sprint, team realise that it can’t deliver planned scope, leadership by example, branching strategies and how to interview developers.

However, my favourite part was a role play, where I played development manager’s role, QA manager became Product guy and Delivery Manager wore a developer’s hat. The challenge:

Product guy wants to show demo to a prospect customer. In order to do so, developers have to deliver huuuuuge amount of functionality. Developer complains because there are too many things to do - refactoring, painful data migrations etc. In other words - it’s impossible to do it on time. Job of development manager was to perform arbitrage and make sure both parties are happy. By asking questions - what is minimal scope (MVP), what client expects and what promises have been given, we managed to come to agreement - at this point it’s enough to build quick (and dirty) MVP w/o spending much time on polishing code because we only can assume that client will like our MVP and it’s worth investing in “well-crafted” solution. We also agreed with Product guy that, once demo is shown, developer has to either spend time on “making things right” or completely remove functionality. No junk on trunk!

Round #2 - Meet UI Team Lead & CTO

Coffee break and the next round! This round was solely technical - I had to explain architecture of products I’ve built in front of the whiteboard. In order to find my weaknesses, guys were asking questions on various architectural and technical aspects - front-end, back-end and their interconnection, API, service integration, resilience, data synchronisation, security etc.

Since I can blab about architecture endlessly, we quickly ran out of time.

Round #3 - Meet Senior Product Manager

We continued without coffee break. Traditionally, Product Managers have different concerns than techies. So we spent half an hour discussing how product and IT should collaborate, how to specify requirements, how to priorities work and manage demand, how to measure outcomes etc. During discussion I realised that product & development interaction is huge challenge for the company (not a big surprise, most companies suffer from it).

Luckily Skimlinks has treasure that most companies can only dream of - passionate and talented people. I don’t yet know the nature of the challenge, but with such people it’s should not be a big deal.

Round #4 - Meet company co-founder

It’s cool when co-founders spend time with potential hirees. This meeting was completely informal. We spoke about life, goals and Skimlinks in overall. Co-founder pitched Skimlinks and struck my heart irreversibly :-)

Late Lunch

After interviews, we went for a lunch with Delivery Manager. I ordered beer. Delivery Manager ordered water. Great London beer overweighted my solidarity, so I had to apologise :-)

Overtired by interviews, I was eating burger with “monkey fingers”, sipping beer and listening stories about life in London. It’s very expensive, a-ha. So, if you want to live luxuriously - become a drug dealer.

Later on, airBaltic brought me to rainy Riga.

Interview with VPoE

It was planned to have 5 rounds in London, but VP of Engineering was not in the office, so I had one more Skype interview upon arrival. VPoE said that the goal is to build kick-ass team and mediocracy is not an option. I agree, mediocracy is on another street.

We touched requirement specification challenges, balance between just-in-time planning and having an inventory, change management, motivation questions. I want to emphasise importance of modern change management which starts with observation. Our human nature tempts us to bring processes / practices from previous workplaces which worked well. Whether you want it or not, every time you join new company, you have to start from scratch, experiment and observe.

VPoE revealed that my Java background is important for Skimlinks, because architecture evolves rapidly and JVM is the way to go. It’s also hard to find someone who fits Skimlinks culture, has sound management skills AND technical background. I am very self-critical, but it gave +1 to self-esteem :-)

Reference checks

It was time to handover control over my destiny to others. I didn’t inform my referees about expected call, so thanks you Maris and Valery for helping me out.

Reference check led to me to important conclusion - 5 years ago I couldn’t predict that a guy whom I reported to will become my referral in foreign country. World is big, but extremely interconnected. Always do you best and behave professionally.

Final words

I can easily say that interviewing process at Skimlinks is one of the best I’ve ever seen - well-thought, fast (in spite of many rounds), ethical and professional.

Skimlinkees have plenty of open positions in London and I encourage you to give it a try if you consider moving to London - they’re awesome!

Finally, I got the offer.

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