Aug 31, 2012

Viking laws for tech teams, part 3: find good battle comrades

This post is part of the "Viking laws for tech teams" series.

It boils down to this: you need to join the right company.

Many of you will disagree, I'm sure: "the daily job is more important", "there are good teams in bad companies", "yes, it's a shit company, but I'm still learning a lot of stuff", etc. All very valid points, but sooner or later, reality will catch up with you. And most of all, why settle for less? Maybe there are good teams in bad companies, but there's bound to be better teams in good companies :)

What is the "right" company anyway? Everyone will have their own, personal criteria. Discussing mine in detail would be of no interest. However, having worked for (and in some cases, survived) a number of very different companies, I'm convinced that there are some mandatory questions that need to be answered before making career changes. And yes, I failed to do it on a couple of occasions, sometimes stupidly bravely ignoring some obvious red lights. Bad idea, lesson learned :)

Researching a company that you'll join for many years sounds like a necessary precaution. However, the interview process is not the place to ask tricky (and possibly nasty) questions: if you think it will make you look clever,  you're mistaken, it's actually quite likely to ruin your chances. You must do your own homework.  Most people don't: fresh meat for the grinder.

I realize that it may be difficult to know what rug to look under, especially if you have little work experience. Hopefully, my battle-tested checklist will help you out.
  • Company
    • How old is the company?
    • Is the company the market leader? a challenger? a startup?
    • Who is the competition? Smaller or bigger is not the point, maybe THEY are the right company you should join (true story).
    • Does the company have any revenue (don't laugh)? If not, how long before cash runs out?
    • Is it company profitable? What's the trend?
    • If the company is public, read the latest annual report. You will learn A LOT, believe me. If you don't understand financials at all, find a friend who does and ask him/her to run through the numbers. If you do understand financials, would you buy this company's stock? No? Then why the hell would you join them? You are your most precious asset!
    • Where are the headquarters and will you be working there? In other words, will you be close to the decision center or not?
    • last but not least, is technology really the core business of the company? Or is it just a tool? The old IT vs R&D debate...
  • Founders (unless you're interviewing with Boeing or General Electric...)
    • Who are they?
    • What's their background (technical or business)? 
    • What's their track record prior to starting the company?
    • What's their reputation? Ask around, the world is VERY small and bad news spread faster than good ones.
    • Are still involved in the company?
    • Are they still driving the company (which is a different thing)?
    • Did you meet them during the interview process? 
  • Governance
    • Who are the shareholders: individuals? Family? VC? another company?
    • CEO/CMO/CFO/Managing Directors: background, track record, reputation, etc. You might not interact with them on a daily basis, but their strategy will either drive the company through the roof or into the ground. If the company is assigning weak profiles to critical positions, what does this tell you?
    • Top technical job (CTO or equivalent): dig even deeper :) This guy would be your boss. Does he have street cred or is he just a MBA graduate with fancy Powerpoint skills?
    • Hiring policy: how strict is it? Does anybody get in? Hopefully not (as discussed in a previous post).
I could go on, but this should get you started. Gathering all this information is actually pretty easy: corporate website, LinkedIn, financial & industry websites, blogs and of course your own personal contacts. There's just no excuse for not doing it, except if you're not really motivated (which kind of solves the problem, doesn't it?).

Once that you have all information, assign your own weight to each item and take a long, hard look. How does this company compare to the other ones you've looked at? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How will they impact your job? If there's any red light, what's the compelling reason to ignore it?

Most important of all, trust your instinct and don't try to rationalize: if it stinks, then it's probably shit. Pass and keep looking.

Still, there is no silver bullet. Maybe you'll miss something, maybe things will change dramatically in a few months, but running your own due diligence will help you decide on facts, not on hear-say or hype. And you might avoid an awful work experience.

It's your life. Spend it well.

Please share your comments or anecdotes. See you next time.


  1. Fun reading it!

    Adding to the - before interview phase :

    1. Check on previous employess / stars of the company. Do your math there too. See who replaced them . What has happened ? Very valuable algebra showing intentions and way of thinking

    The review phase :
    1. Check who interviews you.
    2. Judge the interview procedure according to the job offered. Will show if they really mean it.

    And of course, no matter what:
    Do not lose any minutes on extra thoughts when you see the red lights ahead.

    Live your own life not others!


  2. Well Dude. But always follow your instinct first! Your decision must be at 90% influenced by your feeling.

    Criteria as described and spreadsheet results must not guide you too much as they may all change quickly. It is more sanity checking.

    A good exercise is would you be proud to say to your friends, your family and your previous co-workers that you are working for this new company?
    No matter if the company is prestigious or not, just about if the image of yourself you want to give is in accordance with the company you work with.
    I you feel embarrassed to say that you are working with such a company, it means that you have chosen the wrong one.

    Moreover the image of the company (its name, the logo and its identity) even if it is only the cover is important and generally a good sign.
    I loved all the companies for which I loved the logo as well and I am sure you too;) ...

    But I got devices to burn and bits to fly! The next coding challenge... is just... around... the bend!