After nearly three months since being laid off from Tumblr, I’ll be starting my new job this week. I’m pretty excited about it, but before I go into that, I thought I’d write a bit about what my time off and job hunt have been like. I’ve been pretty quiet about this whole thing on social media compared to the way I am about most things, so there’s a bit to catch up on here.
My plan for my unemployed time was to take at least a few weeks, but probably closer to a month, before doing anything at all. I was going to decompress and relax. Maybe even, I don’t know, enjoy the time off????? I haven’t had more than two weeks off from working in about 14 years so I felt like I deserved to enjoy just a little bit of time.
After a few weeks, I was going to start applying for jobs and asking around for who might be working somewhere that’s hiring. But with six months of severance, I was going to take my time with things.
The reality was much different than planned. I actually wrote a 3,000 word blog post going into a lot of detail about it, but I decided to scrap it for something a bit different.
While I wanted to take the time off before doing anything, I also wanted to at least deal with my inbox first. The layoffs at Yahoo (who owned Tumblr prior to being acquired by Verizon) weren’t exactly a secret, even before they officially happened. So a lot of recruiters blasted out emails to people they found on Linkedin with Tumblr/Yahoo listed as their employer.
At minimum, I wanted to reply to a few of the non-gross sounding recruiters so their messages weren’t just sitting there forever. In addition to this, I had one recruiter I had been working with for a little bit before I was laid off. I wasn’t looking to get out of Tumblr ASAP, but I had started looking. I just didn’t have a strong motivation to get out because I loved Tumblr.
From here, things ramped up immediately. Before I even caught my breath, my schedule was filled with phone calls and tech screens at companies. This was in addition to trying to schedule plans with both friends I hadn’t seen in a while and former coworkers for catching up.
My schedule quickly became busier than when I was employed. I was on the go non-stop from waking up until late evening. It was exhausting, but also good. Any free time between scheduled stuff, I spent doing practice coding exercises online so I could be prepared for interviews.
Trying to schedule things was a whole new level of hell. Each company/recruiter would ask for 3-4 times I was available so they could schedule on their end, but there were points where I had a ton of things scheduled already and then had two or three companies I was waiting to hear back about, but had to hold multiple spots for until one was confirmed. A couple companies did make this easier, though, by using system that allows you to just pick a time from what they have available. This was super helpful! If your job entails scheduling with people, you should do this!
My first five weeks of unemployment were the exact opposite of what I had planned for them to be. I could have decided to put all of this on hold, but I was interviewing with a few companies I wanted to work for, so I didn’t want to hold up those processes. Additionally, Tumblr/Yahoo wasn’t the only NYC tech company that had layoffs this summer. Etsy and SoundCloud, among others, also had layoffs. Typically, there are way more jobs in development than there are developers to fill them, but I knew there might be a bit more competition for the jobs I was looking for.
What are tech interviews like?
If you work in tech, you can skip this section, but for those who don’t, I figured I’d give a quick little overview of what it’s like to interview as a developer. Note that none of this is an endorsement of the process; I think the tech interview process is incredibly flawed.
Things start off probably the way they do for a lot of other jobs. You’ll have a call with a recruiter (or someone performing the role of a recruiter). This is just a quick screen where they ask a little about your work history and what you’re looking for, as well as tell you a bit about the role and the company. On one level, they’re just trying to get a quick feel for whether you might be a fit for their company and the role, but they’re also trying to sell you on working at their company. At a really small company, this might actually be with an engineer, but it’s separate from any of the technical interviewing.
And this is, of course, after any email or Linkedin correspondence you might have before. If you’re working with a third party recruiter, that conversation would also be before this call.
The second step could be one of two options, both are designed to suss out if you actually know how to code at all and to get a quick sense for whether or not you’re worth the time to bring in. This step could either be a take home coding exercise or a phone-based one. Some companies will give you a choice between the two, but most will just give you one or the other.
The phone-based exercise is typically you and an engineer on their end. The call might start out with a quick chat about their role, the role you’re interviewing for, and/or your past, but this is brief. Some interviews just get right into it. Your call is either via video chat or the phone, but will (almost) always have a shared screen for coding. The interviewer will ask you one or two questions and you’ll work through how to solve them. Sometimes, you’re expected to write code that will run and produce the desired results. Other, you’ll be writing actual code, but won’t have to actually run it. These calls are typically 45-60 minutes so it can be hard to solve the problem and produce bug-free code. Generally, you’re being evaluated on your approach to solving the problem and the efficiency of your solution. At the end, there is typically some time to ask questions about the company and the role.
Take home exercises are similar in idea, but a little different. Here, you’re given a problem or two to solve on your own time. You usually have a few days to a week. Then you submit your solution afterwards. In my experience, these are expected to take three or four hours, but I’ve done some that take longer. You’ll be expected to produce an actual working solution that is (relatively) bug-free. And because you have more time, you’re usually expected to write higher quality code than on a phone-based screen.
Between the two, I prefer the take home exercise and would opt for that when given the choice. They’re a little more involved and take longer, but I always feel like I can better show off my ability when someone isn’t actively watching me write code and I have a little bit of time to think. They’re also just wayyyyy less stressful, I think.
The final stage of a tech interview is the onsite portion. This can be between three and six hours and may or may not include lunch. Basically, it’s a long ass thing.
The onsite interview will consist of a number of different sessions. Anywhere from three to six, in my experience, but usually four. Each will be 45-60 minutes and with one or two interviewers (most of mine were with one). These sessions will include any mix of coding on an actual computer, writing code on a whiteboard, solving system architecture problems, having a sample of code you brought with you reviewed, reviewing a sample of code given to you, figuring out and fixing a breaking issue or code with a bug in it, and a more values-based subjective type of interview (what most non-technical interviews typically are). It’s common for multiple sessions to be of the coding on a whiteboard type. Here you’re typically evaluated on your approach to the problem and the efficiency of your solution.
The onsite portion of tech interviewing is exhausting and stressful.
I went on a total of six onsite interviews since being laid off. The shortest was 3.5 hours and the longest was 6 hours. Two were 5.5 hours. 😴😴😴 And the first five of them were within a three week period. For the most part, I thought they all went pretty well on my end. There was one company I was really excited for and thought I would love working at until the interview which made me lose all interest in wanting to work there.
If I’m remembering correctly, I did eight take home and phone screen evaluations with seven different companies (one company wanted me to do two 🙄). Of those seven companies, all of them invited me in for onsite interviews. The seventh one, I canceled after accepting an offer, hence having done six and not seven.
Three of those eight were take home style evaluations. There was also a fourth that I started, but didn’t submit because of accepting an offer. For the most part, I actually sort of enjoyed working on these. They were fun little projects and they also gave me an opportunity to get more practice writing Go (the programming language I was teaching myself at the beginning of summer).
There were a few additional companies I talked to without actually having anything go anywhere. One didn’t seem to have any interest in pursuing things with me, which was fine by me because the person I talked to there sounded like a massive douche…
(I didn’t literally hang up, but mentally, I was done with that)
Me: What's the diversity of the engineering team like?— meelz (@EntirelyAmelia) July 11, 2017
Recruiter: All male. We're...
The rest of the companies I spoke to seemed interested, but got caught up with scheduling and timing issues or ended up filling the role before I would have gone in anyway.
In addition to all of the above, I had one onsite interview with one company and a take home evaluation with another before being laid off. The onsite interview did not go well at all. I was totally out of practice and rusty on interview-type stuff (which is usually nothing like what a developer actually does day-to-day). It was my first technical interview in three years. I also had gotten a bad vibe from the company beforehand and wasn’t super excited for the interview so that may have played into my performance as well.
In total, I got two offers. Because of the timing of the second one, I had about 3.5 hours to make a decision between the two. Company A had come the week before and was expiring. Company B, I was expecting immediately following the interview (I knew I nailed it), but the timing made things really close.
Choosing between the two was agonizing. Even though I had three and a half hours to make the decision, I did find out the night before (a few hours after the interview) that I would be getting an offer from Company B. I just didn’t know how much it would be for. This started my decision-making process, but it was hard to really make a decision without having the offer in front of me.
Between the two companies, I was really excited about them both and knew I couldn’t go wrong with either. Company A is a very stable, but smaller company that is profitable. Company B is a small startup that hasn’t yet launched (they’re targeting later this year), but has funding and should be good with money for a while. Their product was something that looked great and I knew I would be very excited and passionate about working on.
Both companies offered me working in languages I wanted to work in. Both are Go, the language I most was hoping to work with, and Company A is also Python, which I’d like to finally learn anyway. I felt like I could make a big impact at either company, but Company B would allow me to really own what I was working on and drive a lot of it. It would likely be much more challenging. Both companies came across as having awesome people that I’d love to work with.
So choosing suuuuuuucked. I was really back and forth on it. Luckily, they both were through the same third party recruiter so I was able to talk things through with her without her being biased over which direction I went. Danielle definitely made clear where she wanted me to go.
Company A was offering me more money, better healthcare that’s also trans-inclusive and 100% covered premiums, 401k (with employer match), commuter benefits and a better commute (literally one block from Tumblr HQ 🤣🤣🤣), a dog-friendly office (not that we have a dog, but I want to hang out with other people’s doggos!), and a few other small perks. Because Company B is a small startup, they couldn’t offer most of that and the offer was lower.
In the 3.5 hours I had, I asked Company B for more in the base salary, but they could only offer me a signing bonus making up the difference between the two offers. Of course, that only makes up the difference for my first year there. Between the two, Company A also offers a better work/life balance and no on-call rotation, while Company B isn’t at a stage to be able to offer that.
In the end, I had to make an actual adult decision. At 34, things like a 401k matter. If I was in my early 20s still, I would probably approach things differently and even be disappointed in myself for approaching this how I did, but 🤷♀️. Even though I only had a little bit of time, I decided to at least rough estimate the true difference between the two offers. I estimated what it would cost me out of pocket to make up for the 401k, the health and commuter benefits, the commute itself, and the other differences. In the end, I would be coming out about even with what I was pocketing at Tumblr, at best—a salary I felt was no longer where I should be.
After agonizing, I made a decision. Despite the above, I chose Company B and went with the role that would be more challenging and the product I would get to have the most impact on. That was at 2:52pm, with 8 minutes until my call with Company A to tell them my decision.
At 2:55pm, Danielle asked me “are you happy with your decision?” And, honestly, I couldn’t say yes. Something felt off. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn’t. I think in that moment, it really hit me the difference in what the work/life balance would be between the two and how much the benefits really mattered. I could have been fine with the work/life balance if it was only lower salary or worse benefits, but I couldn’t do it with both.
At 2:58pm, I messaged Danielle and said “I’m going with Company A. I think that’s the right decision.” Two minutes later, it was official!
So that was that!
Company A is Bitly!
Yup, Bitly! The link shortening company. I’m pretty excited for it! I got a really good vibe from everyone there and it’ll be nice to work for a company that is profitable. Plus, it’s the same short and easy commute as I had at Tumblr and just a block away so I can meet my favorite old coworkers for lunch.
The company is small enough that I think I’ll get to have a pretty solid impact, but also stable. While I am in a place in my career and financially that I could have taken a risky position at a startup without too much worry, I think it’ll be nice to have have some stability in my workplace. As much as I loved Tumblr, it wasn’t really the most stable company to work for in the last two years because of Yahoo being up for sale and, eventually, selling to Verizon. And before Tumblr, I was at a company that made money, but had been acquired by a larger company and had been slowly but consistently changing with processes and such in flux for years.
I’m also excited to work in Go and Python. I’ve really been loving Go and I’m surprised I’ve gone this long without needing to learn Python. I think it’ll be a good skill to have for my career.
Additionally, I’ve been starting to realize just how bad it was the way I let Tumblr invade my whole life. I’ve always been a very big proponent of keeping a good work/life balance and had never let myself stray from that. It’s one thing to have friends from work whom you hang out with after hours and on the weekends, for sure. It’s another thing when you let your life start to revolve around that whole world and you’re constantly checking Slack all the time. Your job shouldn’t be your life. I made that mistake with Tumblr. It became everything and sucked up so much of my life. I don’t want to do that again. I want to work at a place that I really enjoy being at, but that is only part of my life, not the entire thing. While working after hours wasn’t a thing I did at Tumblr, I think Company B had a strong potential to try to suck me into doing stuff well beyond 40 hours/week.
Some other interviewing bits
In the end, both of my offers came from companies I got in the door at because of the recruiter I was working with before being laid off. She’s, honestly, fantastic. She was super nice and really made me feel like she cared about finding me the right fit. If anyone is looking for a job in tech in NYC, let me connect you with her!
Not everyone I worked with was like this, though. I worked with one recruiter who did just about everything he could to annoy me. I talked to a few companies through him and did one phone tech screen. That company wanted me to come in for an onsite interview, but that was the interview I canceled.
This recruiter constantly texted me about opportunities, which just like…no. Don’t do text me unless it’s urgent. And his texts were always like “do you have a few minutes to hop on a call?” Then the call would just be him telling me real quick about the company and asking me to email him some times I was free to schedule. Like, dude, just email me. Don’t text me. Don’t make me talk on the damn phone for something that’s better emailed. Eventually, I had to ask him to stop texting me. In addition to those two strikes, he also didn’t really listen to me with the companies he was trying to set me up with. One of the companies, in particular, I told him wasn’t interesting to me. They seemed cool, but it wasn’t a product I had any interest in working on. He set up a call anyway. And then, it turned out the role wasn’t even a senior level even though I told him I was only looking for senior roles. Still, he kept pushing me to interview there anyway. He was clearly more interested in filling roles than he was with fitting the right people with the right roles.
I know recruiters make money by filling openings, but he made me feel like nothing more than a product he was trying to move. He was otherwise a nice guy and we talked about cats a bunch, but when it came to business, it felt totally cold and impersonal.
I had two companies I expected to offers from give me the same reasoning for not moving forward. They both said they liked me a lot and thought I might be a good fit, but not for the roles they were currently hiring for. They each said they wanted me to connected back with them in a few months. The first company really irked me with this. It should have been super obvious from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be a fit for the role they were hiring for. Nothing in the recruiter call or technical phone screen should have indicated my background was right for that role. They shouldn’t have even brought me in for an onsite interview. Instead, they wasted 5.5 hours of my time. During the process, they made no indication to me that they weren’t hiring for a role I thought I’d be a fit for.
One last thing to sort of mention here, it’s weird to be interviewing for a new job when you’re, for lack of a better term, notable. By notable, I mean, if you Google me, not only am I the only Amelia Gapin, but the results aren’t just like my blog and Twitter or the typical things you get when you search most people. Because of the magazine, there’s all this other stuff that comes up when you search me. If you go beyond the first couple pages of search results, you’ll find a few other articles about me that aren’t related to the magazine. Some are other articles about me as a vocal trans athlete and some are about the startup I co-founded. Still, they’re things that likely stand out.
I always hate bringing up the magazine or doing anything that might come across as humble bragging or whatever it sounds like when you read this, but it was a thing. I expect companies and interviewers to Google people before interviewing them, but it’s weird when there’s actually something for them to find and all of it is just out there.
It came up in one interview when the CEO of the company mentioned he Googled me. He didn’t say it to particularly talk about the magazine, but instead to talk about what all of the results he found for me, in addition to the way I talk about things on my blog, say about me to him (it was a good thing). Still, it was weird. It’s one thing whe people read my blog or Twitter beforehand—at this point, everyone has some public-facing internet presence that can precede them. It’s another thing when there’s stuff about you.
And besides the magazine itself, I’m also walking into a interview with someone who likely already knows I’m trans before I get there. This would be the case anyway thanks to my openness on my blog and my Twitter, but it’s definitely a thing to consider. It means I might basically be “the trans one” to them. Not necessarily in those words, but that’s the thing about me that sticks out. I guess the good thing about this, however, is I likely have to worry less about getting a job offer and finding out my transness is going to be a thing there after starting. This would, in theory, have already played out.
ANYWAY, I’ll stop throwing words at you now and wrap this up here. I start at Bitly on Wednesday and I’m excited for it. I’m not really ready for my summer vacation to end and I absolutely hit a point where I no longer want to ever work again, but I’m excited for my new job!