How I Got My Job: Finding the Right Fit as a Lead Engineer – Ally Palanzi, Engineering Lead at Stitch FixFeatured

In May of last year, before landing my current gig as a Lead Engineer at Stitch Fix, I started to think about looking for a new job. I’d been working in tech for about 7 years. I previously worked at Vox Media, from when it was tiny and startup-like, watching it grow to hundreds and thousands of employees. After 5 years there, I left and joined a small startup to work on HealthCare.Gov as a tech lead. I hadn’t fully committed to leaving that role, but the thought had crossed my mind. My shields were down. One Sunday while browsing the internet, I stumbled across a job posting that looked interesting, and applied. I got a reply a day later and had the first phone screen shortly after. Then, I panicked. It was happening faster than I expected and I knew I couldn’t only talk to one company. I immediately jumped in head first and began my job hunt.I spent about a month or so aggressively interviewing with anywhere that would talk to me, without much consideration for the products, people, or the work. I started to reach into my network to let people know I was looking and got referred to several places. I wasted a lot of time and energy by interviewing everywhere because I thought that I desperately needed to get out of my job. Hell, I almost accepted a job offer at a place that had numerous red flags because of it.At the end of June, I realized I was completely burnt out from the demands of my civic tech job and searching for a job without clear direction. I had spent the last year or so working hard in a stressful environment and was feeling the toll on my mental health. Additionally, the startup I was working at had just laid off nearly my entire team. I was fortunate to still have my job, but was so distressed about the whole situation I knew I couldn’t stay working there. I decided to put in my notice without accepting an offer first.I know that this action comes from a huge place of privilege. It was terrifying, but I knew I had some savings that I could fall back on for a couple of months if nothing turned up. I’ve spent years working on my Fuck Off Fund just for this. Giving my notice helped put a lot of stress behind me and clear my head so I could think about what I really wanted in my next role. Since my team knew I was leaving, I could begin searching in public. After the weight of my current role was lifted off my shoulders, I was able to take some time to truly think about what I wanted, and made a website that I shared on Twitter in order to get some new leads.After the influx of Twitter messages, the interviews picked up even more. While I was fortunate to have a decent amount of leads, only a handful of them were actually interesting or hit the bullet points on my website. I ended up interviewing with ten companies.

Getting in the door

I cold applied to three places and only heard back from one of them. Nine companies replied to me because I had a referral to them, thanks mostly to internet strangers!

The interview process

The general flow was an introduction call or two, a take home test, more calls, and an onsite (or a series of more calls for remote companies). I turned down two places after the intro call realizing the work didn’t align with what I wanted, received six take home tests, and two places had no take home test.For the take homes that I completed, two of them were time-boxed to about 90 minutes. The other three were incredibly open ended. I spent about 4 hours on one of them and easily 8+ hours on the other two. That’s at least 23 hours on code tests, or, 3 full days of work, unpaid, on top of working 40+ hour weeks.The companies with long takehomes also included “extra-credit”, which I never did. These companies definitely biased towards folks with more time.At most places, the recruiting process was a disorganized mess. One company forgot that I had done an 8+ hour take home and sent me another one. I didn’t do it or reply because I was pretty shocked. They emailed me a couple days later realizing the mistake and invited me to an onsite the following day. I couldn’t take off work with that short notice so I told them I would have to do it the following week. We had scheduled for a Tuesday, and when I followed up on Monday evening, I received an automated email that the position had been filled. No apology for my interview being canceled without my knowledge and that I had taken off a day of work for nothing.One of the take homes I received was in a language I don’t know, that they knew I didn’t know. I immediately passed on them because I didn’t have time or interest in teaching myself a new language on top of a day job and while interviewing with other places.At another company, I did four interviews and spent 90 minutes on a take home test. When I followed up about the final steps, they told me the position had closed. Not that they had hired anyone, but that the role was no longer being filled.

Negotiation

At the end of it all, I got three offers. When hiring managers called to give me an offer, I never gave a salary number. I listened to what the offer was and let them know that I’d think about it once I received the offer in writing. I never accepted an offer immediately, even if I was excited. Negotiation requires us, especially women and minorities, to make sure we’re as strategic as possible to get what we’re worth.Throughout the interview process I’ve most likely already grilled my interviewers about work/life balance, vacation policies and practices, and other things like that which impact team health. Post offer, I’d respond with an email to get more details in writing. I asked about sick policy, vacation policy, parental leave, professional development, office equipment setup, insurance, benefits, working hours, flexibility, etc. This is when I would also negotiate– for more money, a sign on bonus, additional vacation days, whatever I needed to make this a fair offer. I preferred to do this all over email to keep everything in writing.Companies have already invested a lot of time and money into giving an offer, so I never hesitate to negotiate. I’ve negotiated for every offer I’ve ever received and I’ve always gotten at least some of what I’ve asked for.Finally, after about three months of searching and two weeks after my last day at my previous job, I accepted an offer from Stitch Fix!----Ally is a front-end engineer who is passionate about design, accessibility, inclusion, and ice cream. Currently she’s a Lead Engineer at Stitch Fix. She’s also heavily involved in the tech community and on the leadership team for DCFemTech, an organization in Washington, DC that focuses on amplifying under-represented folks in tech.
whitneycaneel's profile thumbnail
Thanks for taking the time to share you experience, Ally! A great reminder to always negotiate!"Negotiation requires us, especially women and minorities, to make sure we’re as strategic as possible to get what we’re worth." YES!
alisharamos's profile thumbnail
I am so proud of you and the way you shared your process (especially the note about the Fuck Off Fund) will help so many people in similar positions.
ally's profile thumbnail
thank you!! <3