Hiring and onboarding at issuu
Once we interview candidates, we ask ourselves questions.
My last post laid out the touchstones for engineering culture at our company and how the team is devoted to delivering value for users. The key components of this vision, of course, are our people. I wanted to elaborate on issuu’s approach to hiring and onboarding, since the beginning is the best time to introduce our working principles of autonomy, mastery, purpose and trust.
Technical skills are indeed paramount in seeking potential additions to issuu, but we are looking for a cultural fit as well. Candidates meet myself and other issuu members — a team leader, engineers, fellow VPs and our CEO, among others — over five interviews, and we generally talk about whether we’re hiring for a specific team or for the engineering group as a whole (which is the norm). We go over programming languages and CS points and architecture patterns relevant to issuu, our penchant for iterations, demos, post-mortems — most of it straightforward. Then later we ask ourselves some questions: Do we think a certain person would help the team and have a clever and collaborative approach to solving problems? Are we anticipating working with that person on projects? Would she or he be receptive to peer feedback and our flat hierarchy?
Candidates with five thumbs-up after their interviews get an offer, and then the fun begins: onboarding.
Bringing on a new person is fun — everyone is excited to share skills and discover novel opportunities for growth at the company. We are also mindful that the time and effort in finding a candidate, doing the interviews and tendering an offer will all be for naught if we don’t take the onboarding process seriously, and disregard how new technical members are incorporated into our team.
Our first order of business at issuu is for new hires to spend some days with each engineering team doing prepared and impromptu tasks. After that, the team leads and myself meet with the new engineer and agree on a particular team. (Recall that every engineer at issuu at some point has the right to switch.)
It’s instructive to hear from someone who has just joined issuu recently to illustrate the importance we place on onboarding. A great example is Joshua Davis, our new full-stack engineer, and the second technical team member in our Palo Alto office. Given that Joshua had to come up to speed with colleagues on a separate continent, the onboarding proved to be crucial not just for him, but for the whole group. I’ll let Joshua describe what this was like in his own words:
“I had done a couple of interviews over Google Hangouts with people in Copenhagen and talked mostly about tech in a free-flowing conversation, broad things to get an idea about how I think and build software. Meeting with [issuu CEO] Joe Hyrkin was very nice, because we had 30 minutes to talk about companies. He gave his perspective and was very down to earth about the business. Some companies don’t do that.
I finished my old job on a Friday, came down to Palo Alto to sign papers and then flew out Saturday morning to Copenhagen. I was a little bit shell-shocked: It was my first time in Europe, in a new place with a new language. I spent Sunday exploring the city, hoping I wouldn’t get lost finding my way to the office.
Once I got to issuu, I literally met 40 people. After getting set up, I got an overview of how the entire system, in all its complexity, fits together in a nice big diagram on the whiteboard. I talked to the DevOps guys maintaining this. Then they gave me a task to automate something. You spend a day with them and then go off to the next team.
The first of several teams I worked with was very front-end heavy. I had several projects to help me understand the nitty-gritty details by refactoring code. These revealed other things to figure out how issuu does software. The next team was very back-end heavy. My task was building a tool to generate a visualization for the database schema. It was the most Python I’ve ever written, and I’d like to do that again! It’s what a programming language should be.
I honestly feel the most important aspect was the human part — that’s what you can’t substitute, especially if you have an international company. I joined the team at the de facto issuu bar on Friday nights. I participated in a 5K where we all trained together, doing some CrossFit. Building those connections, that is the hardest part about building software.
Getting a glimpse of issuu’s engineering culture is a big step forward to understanding why things are done the way they are. I hop on Slack and know immediately which person handles which piece of software. The weeks where I had all my questions answered helped me be extremely productive when I got back to the United States.”
The onboarding doesn’t end with that initial trip; engineers are constantly checking in with me and the leader of their new team. In addition, we all have to be sure to spend time at the other company office at least once a year. Though we work remotely, we strive to sustain personal connections.
If you think issuu is the kind of place where you can be at your best, by all means check out issuu Careers.
Alexander Grosse is VP of Engineering at issuu. Follow him @klangberater.