9 LA-based startups reveal what they look for in engineers

by John Siegel
January 19, 2017

Engineering roles often come with very cut and dry requirements: fluency in a particular coding language or experience with a particular system. That doesn't mean recruiters are only looking at an applicant's resume and moving on, though. We talked with nine tech companies and found out what they're really looking for when hiring for engineering positions.

 

Legacy Talent Acquisition Specialist Trent Bounds said he believes creativity and consistency are the two major keys to being a successful engineer with the company. 

What is one non-technical attribute Legacy looks for in engineering applicants?

Here at Legacy, we grant the opportunity for our engineers to display their innovative talents. Creativity is one of the key attributes both managers and recruiters find appealing during the recruitment process. 

What stands out on a resume?

A stand out resume provides both examples of skills and experience using software associated to what Legacy uses in a big data platform.  

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you?

'Please state your strongest characteristic; tell me how this characteristic is an advantage and a disadvantage?'

What sort of skills test does Legacy offer applicants?

Legacy offers both code testing and whiteboard interview questions for screening engineer talent.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant?

While attending a recruitment fair, a gentleman invites me over to his booth for a presentation of his final project. The student was able to capture my attention by his professional ensemble and his legal background. I later scheduled him for a phone interview, unfortunately, the team felt experienced candidates should move forward.

The following week Legacy held an open house, and I decided to invite the candidate. The candidate was granted the opportunity to display his professional ensemble and legal knowledge once again to the team. Following the open house, the team asked for the candidate to return for an on-site interview. Next month, will be his 1-year anniversary – consistency is the key here at Legacy!

 

Laurel & Wolf VP of Engineering Dave Arthurs joined the West Hollywood-based interior design startup after first patronizing the company when redecorating his home. It's this sort of passion that he looks for in applicants.

What is one non-technical attribute Laurel & Wolf looks for in engineering applicants? 

We look for engineers that are both technically talented and passionate about our business. They have to convince us they will not only be excited about our technology — but also enthusiastic about re-inventing the interior design industry.

What stands out on a resume?

Experience that dovetails with their passion. 

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you? 

'Why did you join Laurel & Wolf?' I was a customer before I was an employee. Frustrated by traditional and expensive interior design options, I turned to the web and found Laurel & Wolf. The cost and results of our project far exceeded our expectations! 

What sort of skills test does Laurel & Wolf offer applicants? 

We have a fairly reliable process. Applicants must first pass a phone screen with the hiring manager. If successful, we do a code-pairing exercise with several of our top engineers. No matter the outcome, we try to make our candidates feel respected and good about the process and Laurel & Wolf.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant? 

Regardless of how well a candidate does at any stage of the interview process, we adhere very strictly to our process. Through experience, we've learned that our process minimizes costly onsite interview time for our staff while also reducing the risk of a mis-hire. 80 percent of candidates that make it to the onsite interview are extended an offer. During my time at Laurel & Wolf, we've had zero regrettable attrition and no mis-hires. 

 

Earlier this month, Santa Monica-based Klickly was named as one of Built In LA's 50 LA startups to watch in 2017, and for good reason: the company's unique take on remarketing will benefit both consumers and brands. For CEO Cooper Harris, individuality is as important as being a great team player.

What is one non-technical attribute you look for in engineering applicants? 

We look for a healthy ability to learn quickly and translate business goals into product developments on our roadmap. So, basically, the ability to care about the reasoning behind implementing a feature and paying attention to the goal rather than just implementing the ticketed story is a rare and valuable skill! We also like folks who are excited about learning and growing and who aren't cynical — that's an underrated skill, believe me.

What stands out on a resume? 

We recently reviewed the resume of a guy who dropped out of Harvard to enter the military. The ubiquitous founder-who-dropped-out-of-Ivy-League-school story suddenly became really interesting. We learned that this individual hadn't felt challenged in Harvard Law and so tried his hand at self-taught analytics to improve his team's performance while in the armed forces. Obviously, an intriguing and unique story, but it points to something I find so key: individualism and drive. I don't want to hire a robot to do my coding, I can do that with a variety of off-shore services; I want to hire a dynamic, dedicated and passionate real person to come in-house and join my team.

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you? 

The best question I was ever asked was: 'What's the biggest challenge or most annoying quality you've encountered with others in my prospective role? What hasn't worked well in this position within your particular team?' This question prompted me to be really honest about what aspects of the new role got me excited — and what didn't. And I think my answers helped the new candidates understand potential pitfalls and challenge of the role — all good insights to have when embracing a new job and new 'work family.'

What sort of skills test do you offer applicants?

For an initial interview, we spend time getting to know the applicant's interests and passions and then delve into their general skills sets (past experience, languages, frameworks) by asking theoretical, problem-solving questions. For candidates who make it past that round, our Head of Tech will usually pull in 1-2 'outside eyes' who are unbiased and the three of them will each give a short code test, focused on different areas. 

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant? 

I've had many moments when I know I don't want to hire the applicant! Moments where I knew a candidate was a 'right fit' are rare!  I vividly remember sitting with an engineer last year, describing the product – he listened intently for a while and suddenly his eyes lit up, he got excited, and he started brainstorming on various ways to build out more functionality and efficiency. What struck me was not only that his ideas were GREAT (and not 'gotcha' nit-picking), but that he had listened and understood the business needs of what we were building and then had gotten almost as excited about the product as I was. That moment stood out as what a 'good fit' was and has been a benchmark for me ever since.

 

Amobee didn't get to where it is as one of the world's premier digital marketing technology developers. According to Manager of Talent Acquisition Michael Bright, there are very specific ways prospective engineers can stand out.

What is one non-technical attribute Amobee looks for in engineering applicants?  

Strong relationship building skills, as at any point, they could be working directly with a key stakeholder.

What stands out on a resume? 

Cleary defined accomplishments that show the impact on the business.

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you? 

'Can you give me examples of how your company has invested in developing its people, and what has been the impact on the business?'

What sort of skills test does Amobee offer applicants?  

For Engineering candidates, we give them a technical problem and have them diagram a solution on a whiteboard.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant?  

We don’t let our first impressions rule our decisions. Each candidate is taken through a thorough behavioral interview process where we evaluate a variety of skill sets against our target competencies, allowing us to make the most informed hiring decisions.

 

Markett just moved into its own space after spending time at Amplify, and as the team looks to onboard a number of employees, Co-Founder and COO Erin Pederson looks for passionate invidivuals looking to making a difference.

What is one non-technical attribute you look for in engineering applicants?

From a non-technical perspective, we look for creativity. This includes the ability to solve problems independently, communication skills and ability to work well with teammates (technical and non-technical). We also love when someone is able to demonstrate out of the box thinking and tackle complex challenges from new angles.

What stands out on a resume?

If someone has worked at an established company in a similar role, that carries a lot of weight and cuts down on some of the vetting process. However, a strong GitHub or the ability to really nail a small project we task them with during the interview process would also go a long way.

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you?

'When can I start?!' Not that it will guarantee them the job, but enthusiasm and passion for what we're working on makes a big impression. We need to hire the most talented developers, but if it's close between two candidates, an indication that they genuinely care about the product and our mission can be the tiebreaker.

What sort of skills test do you offer applicants?

It is not standard for us to offer applicants a skills test, but we will if we want to give an extra chance for a less experienced developer to show us they've got what it takes. Most mid-level to experienced engineers can talk through product in a way that shows they've done it before, but we're not expecting every candidate to be a smooth talker.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant?

One time, a very talented developer who we wanted to work with had the most awkward interview, but was so charmingly quirky and memorable they ended up really standing out in the applicant pool. When we brought the person back in for a second interview we were able to laugh about it and they became an absolutely wonderful addition to our team.

 

At Retention Science, being able to interact with team members is vital. For People Architect Matt Glickman, someone who can take a backseat while still being a cog in the machine is something he seeks out in applicants.

What is one non-technical attribute Retention Science looks for in engineering applicants?

Humility is important to us. Someone who likes helping others and teaching. We want someone who strives to make an impact, someone who is ambitious and is always trying to learn.

What stands out on a resume?

Overall, brevity and clarity. Relevant work experience, using similar technologies, having worked at companies that have gone through similar growth phases. Having worked on large or complex systems with lots of data is very important, as well.

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you?

We like them expressing interest in the job and company, in what we do, what tech we use, that sort of thing. Specific questions about our tech stack and the problems we are working on are great.  

What sort of skills test does Retention Science offer applicants?

Overall we try to be collaborative during the interview process. It's a mix of working together, writing code, designing systems, problem-solving and algorithms. The tests typically range from rapid-fire questions, mini take-home projects, phone/online screen share sessions, pair-programming in person and whiteboard questions.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant? 

We had a prospective intern once who show up 30 minutes late because he took a bus for an hour, then got out and walked 30 minutes to our office. He showed up drenched in sweat, was very inexperienced, but was super-passionate and had a great go-getter spirit. We gave him an internship and he's since become one of our best data science hires to date!

 

GoGuardian's Head of Talent Tyler Bell is very clear in his expectations of applicants: technical expertise is only one part of the job.

What is one non-technical attribute GoGuardian looks for in engineering applicants?

One non-technical attribute we look for is the ability to be a problem solver. It's not just in the reactive sense either. We test for your constant ability to seek out new problems that we haven't even encountered yet.

What stands out on a resume?

We love to see a well-balanced resume that shows how your passions intersect with your major engineering accomplishments. What typically stands out is significant industry specific or open-source accomplishments.

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you?

The best question that I've heard is: 'Why are you still with GoGuardian?' 

What sort of skills test does GoGuardian offer applicants?

In addition to our team values assessment, we have pair-programming and whiteboard exercises.

 

FloQast Co-Founder and CEO Cullen Zandstra believes that engineers should be able to take a complex situation and describe in a concise manner.

What is one non-technical attribute you look for in engineering applicants?

The first thing that comes to mind is a genuine passion for their field. This is evident to me when an applicant almost gets “lost” in a topic or story about a technical project they've done in the past and, better yet, the impact it had on their career, team or company.

What stands out on a resume?

What stands out most to me is a resume that is concise and easy to digest. Of course, the baseline technical requirements are important, but listing every project you’ve ever done can cause high-value differentiators to get lost among information that might be less relevant. If you can't organize everything on one page, it often means you’re being too thorough. I respect an engineer that has the ability to communicate the depth and breadth of their experience in a succinct way.

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you?

"How does your company culture value the contribution of the development team in providing value to your clients?"

FloQast is solving a real problem in an industry that is underserved and ripe for innovation. The ability to approach an engineering problem and find an innovative way to solve it is crucial, but we’ve found the employees who really thrive are those who understand the big picture and take the same approach at market scale.

What sort of skills test do you offer applicants?

Our skills test will vary depending on the position, but it always involves dissolving high-level requirements into an actual technical implementation. All interviewees must write code during the interview.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant?

We had one applicant (who is now a member of our team!) who really impressed us because this person spoke our language. By that, I don’t mean they just knew all the buzzwords. Any question we asked, they hit on all the technical points related to our specific tech stack and, beyond that, had the ability to justify their approach to the problem space we were working with. It was easy to see the vernacular was just second nature — that’s how we knew they were going to relate and communicate well with the team. There’s no silver bullet here, but I’ve found that this lack of friction in the interview process often translates naturally to very little friction in the onboarding process.

 

Loot Crate, the geek subscription service that caters to gamers and nerds (their words) had a big 2016 and is currently in the process of hiring for a number of positions. We talked with Recruiting Manager Allen Fei and Recruiter Megan Tamisiea to learn about what they're looking for.

What is one non-technical attribute Loot Crate looks for in engineering applicants?

"We love to have engineers that are passionate about something — whether it's something in their free time like gaming, anime, comic books, sports or even software engineer, we're looking for candidates that are passionate about one thing or another," said Recruiting Manager Allen Fei.

What stands out on a resume?

"Accomplishments really stand out and the way applicants can address those accomplishments in a relatively matter-of-fact way can be very enlightening; that tone means that they could do it again in any environment," said Fei. 

"Also, The format. Candidates that have resumes that are hard to follow along or too many graphics or fonts that are hard to read will really stand out in a negative way.  Keep resumes fairly clean and if you need to add creative flare, that's great, but not at the cost of clean."

"I like it when a candidate's resume has concise experience — if you put too much information your main wins and responsibilities with a job can get lost," said Recruiter Megan Tamisiea. "Use bullet points — don't write your experience in narrative form. Again, we can miss your main wins and responsibilities. Also, a little bit of color/creativity on a resume helps you stand out, but don't overdo it so it overshadows you."

What is the best question an interviewee has ever asked you?

"For me, the best question interviewees can ask have to do with a broader picture of the company — where are we going, what are our challenges — but includes something that is specific to our company rather than a generic question," said Fei.

"If someone doesn't get the job, what do you want them to take away about their experience with the company anyway," added Tamisiea.

What sort of skills test does Loot Crate offer applicants?

"For engineers, we do a collaborative onsite or remote coding challenge. For all other applicants, we will typically include a case study for applicants to complete and submit," said Fei.

Has there ever been a time where you knew very quickly that you wanted to hire an applicant? 

A candidate approached us at a career fair. We didn't know if he had the technical skills yet, but by the end of the career fair, we had talked with him enough (and had a fun Nerf battle) that we all felt like old friends," said Fei. "It was clear he needed an interview with us. In the interview, he wowed us with his technical abilities and was offered a full-time role. He still works with the company today."

 

Images via participating companies. Some answers were edited for clarity and length.

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