How to Impress a Startup CTO—and Land an Amazing Engineering Job
Working at a startup is exciting. But working on the engineering team at a fast-moving, market-changing, startup? Well, that’s a whole new level of awesome. After all, you’re building game-changing technologies from the ground up.
The engineering team at Boost Media sure sees it that way. Led by CTO Shawn Kernes (formerly founding CTO at StubHub), this team is transforming online advertising by developing products that dramatically scale creative optimization. By creating easy-to-use platforms that combine advanced technologies with a curated marketplace of expert writers, Boost Media helps marketers from leading global brands connect more personally with each and every customer.
We wanted to learn more about what it’s like to be working in such an exciting space—and how people who are passionate about pushing innovation might land a spot on the team—so, we went straight to the source and asked Kernes and his team for more answers. Read on to get the inside scoop, and then learn more about what it’s like to work for Boost and check out open positions.
Boost is hiring aggressively for Java engineers, QA/automation engineers, and data engineers right now. What traits do you value in engineers and engineering leaders?
Shawn Kernes, CTO: What is an engineering leader? Most people assume it’s a manager, which is mostly not true. Managers are expected to be leaders but so is each and every engineer—lead, architects, and more. In a company this size, everyone needs to be a leader. As Steve Jobs said, “You don’t hire smart people and tell them what to do, you hire smart people to tell you what to do.”
Anand Gurunathan, VP of Technology Delivery: They must have the motivation to learn and have self-awareness as to where they stand. Engineers who have excelled in their fields and have gone on to branch out in other areas tend to demonstrate these two traits. In the course of doing so, they have taken those around them to the next level.
Andy Wadhwa, Senior Product Technical Manager: Humility is important, because you can learn a lot from each other. You should always look for opportunities and a willingness to learn from each other.
How do you assess whether potential hires have these traits?
Zach Sherry, Engineering Director: I like to ask difficult or awkward questions to see what types of responses potential hires give. Generating trust in a 30-minute meeting is really impossible; it’s the process of over the course of three hours assessing someone and coming to a conclusion about the group trusting him or her. You have to hash out if the candidate can really do what they say they can do, and there’s an innovative piece. If you’re the candidate who is asking a lot of questions, then you’re headed in the right direction.
Is there anything that’s a total deal breaker for potential hires?
Jeff Perkins, Senior Product Manager: A deal breaker would be someone that hasn’t looked at the application before coming into the interview. Another deal breaker would be someone who doesn’t come prepared with ideas about improving the product or doesn’t have an understanding of the competition. They need a general understanding and a passion.
ZS: Candidates who just jump right to salary, benefits, or sponsorships before the actual interview. Remember: It’s a mutual assessment process.
AW: People who have a negative attitude or display arrogance. You can be a “rock star engineer” yet not have a large ego and be willing to learn from others.
More and more people want to learn to code and even make the career change into software engineering. Any advice for that set for getting started in their careers?
JP: Build something.
ZS: Succeed or fail, just do something. Go to Google, Stack Overflow—there are hundreds of online training courses and websites that facilitate learning. Hop in and just do it.
Why should engineers consider working for a media company like Boost as opposed to a more traditional tech company?
AG: Enterprise technology tends to have a longer shelf life than consumer technology, and the enterprise space has seen very little disruption in the past decade when compared to consumer technology (read: wearables, home-automation, etc). This is especially true in the ad tech industry. One enterprise software company that successfully set the tone for the rest of the industry has been Salesforce. Boost is set out to execute this same type of disruption. With our unique combo of technology and people, we are clearly positioned to define a new category in online marketing.
SK: Startups tend to gravitate towards algorithmic solutions because they scale well, but we take a more balanced approach by combining humans and robots. We have a great team and culture that stands out in everything we do. We have over 100 ridiculously talented people on our team and are growing each day. Working at Boost offers a great opportunity for career acceleration because we are expanding so quickly—there’s no better place.
AW: We’re the leader of creative optimization and no one else comes close to what we do. We are looking for engineers to help us lead the charge in developing this exciting new space and solve challenging problems using the latest and greatest technologies.
What about your current team or products are you most proud of? Any upcoming initiatives you’re really looking forward to?
ZS: I’m super excited about the new Boost platform release! The whole team is committed. They all stick in there until the job is done. We recently participated in a hackathon with Kenshoo. We came up with a great idea and executed on it within 24 hours. At the last minute, the team was pushing and testing code. We came in with a very big idea and we wound up pulling it off and winning! It was an awesome effort by everybody.
JP: I’m most excited about continuing to build the most scalable platform possible. I personally feel like I’m learning more than I have in a long time and my colleagues are constantly challenging me as a professional. We have the freedom to make decisions based on data, previous experiences, and intuition. Everyone has the opportunity to learn from each other.
SK: At age 25 I was running a successful company, and CTOs I had previously called for jobs were now calling to apply to work for me. One well-known candidate interviewed. I asked him during his interview, “What is the thing in your career that you are most proud of?” He just listed off names, what he had hired that person to do, and where they ended up later in their career. I was expecting him to talk about a piece of technology he was proud of but instead he listed off people and their accomplishments. Today we have a great team and group of people that can mentor new engineers and we all have the hope that we aren’t just proud of the technology we build but the people we help grow.
What final advice would you have for someone who wants to work at Boost?
JP: Be willing to learn new things. We are pioneers in this space so there are not a lot of people that have experience in the space we are in. They should be ready to contribute and learn.
AW: People who are proactive and want to be leaders, who are entrepreneurial, and who chose the right tools for the job.
ZS: People who adhere to Boost’s core values—customer centric, determined, entrepreneurial, and honest—and are willing to provide services to others. They have to be humble and smart.
AG: They need to bring curiosity. Talent is one thing that everyone has in one shape or form; curiosity is an innate nature that cannot be taught. As long as you are curious, you will always have the desire to learn. This is something I always look for. You don’t want to box yourself into one job function or skill set that has boundaries to it—curiosity is endless.
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