The Web is full of good advice for software engineers looking for a job. You should have great communication skills, show an ability to learn, be a good teammate, bring a strong portfolio, build business domain expertise, and exude enthusiasm. These are important, and they will help get you a job at the right company. But how do you decide which company is the right company for you?
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with thousands of engineers at Microsoft, Openwave Systems, Amazon, and now Qualtrics. Great engineers have an understandable bias to work for brand name tech companies or Series A startups. But I’ve found that talented engineers consistently skip important questions they should be asking a company as they consider whether to take a role or not.
Here are four questions all IT professionals should ask before deciding to take a new role (or stick with the one you’re in):
1. How fast is the company growing? Professional career development happens in a hyper-growth environment. Though it wasn’t my first job, when I joined Amazon, within three years I got experience as a technical program manager on the platform, building an ecommerce team from scratch, and leading a larger product team. High-growth companies are constantly building new products, hiring new developers and establishing new teams. Revenue growth, especially in technology, correlates highly with headcount growth -- and both correlate with opportunities to grow skills and lead. Some engineers will seek out stability and a low-stress environment, but for professional development, choose a high-growth company.
2. Do developers meaningfully participate in the software development life cycle? Companies run their technology cycles through planning, coding, and support phases as they build and maintain products. Many rely on dedicated product and marketing teams who scope a problem and send detailed instructions to engineering teams to code. That arrangement can be effective, but it limits access to the full product development cycle and starves engineers of critical product-building experience.
At my current company, the engineering teams responsible for custom engineering work started seeing a spike in requests to integrate data from our platform into other platforms. Their mandate as engineers was to look for patterns in custom work and then turn those builds into platform capabilities. Today the resulting workflow capability -- identified, incubated, and launched by engineers -- is used by more than 5,000 companies and completes billions of interactions each month.
3. How close are you to customers? In the best companies, a quick feedback loop between customers and developers leads to better development and better products. Being close to customers will make you a better engineer by helping you see how to build and what to build.
Based on this insight, we’ve built much of our engineering organization around customer pulses. So, when a large airline outlined a specific industry accessibility standard our product needed before launch, the team worked directly with the customer, shipped the feature in less than three weeks and unblocked a critical launch. When you know what’s working and what’s not, you can build faster and build better. Proximity to users and customers is the fastest way to build. And, as important, it helps you see the impact of your product.
4. How will I grow? These questions are easier to answer as an intern or a new hire, but they’re perhaps the most important for a developer who wants to progress in their career.
- Am I working with a great team? You’re going to spend more waking hours with colleagues than with anybody else. Do you enjoy spending time with them, and do they bring out your best?
- Am I learning? You should be learning new technical and business skills on every project.
- Am I making an impact? You should be able to see how your projects are helping the company be successful. And you should receive credit for good work.
- Is the product I’m working on something I care about? Caring about the product is a huge intrinsic motivator. If you don’t have it now, can you find one in the company that is? (Not universally applicable, but can you find fulfillment in the work itself and the challenge.)
A company is hiring you to do great work and build great products. But you’re hiring a company to teach skills and provide career growth. Before you hire one, make sure you ask the right questions.
John Thimsen is the Chief Technology Officer at Qualtrics where he oversees the global systems, security, and engineering teams responsible for building the Experience Management Platform. John has spent his career building large-scale web-based products that impact millions of users, including experience management platforms, recommendation systems, consumer hardware, and e-commerce products. Before Qualtrics, John spent 10 years at Amazon, most recently as a founding member and Head of Engineering for Alexa. He has also worked at Microsoft, Active Voice Corporation, and Openwave Systems. John holds a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Washington.