My first year working in the Silicon Valley
Just a couple of days ago I turned 19. This event is notable to me: not only I can buy cigarettes now (but won't) but also it’s been one year since my first ever employment on technical position. In the Valley.
My first couple of months were filled with trepidation: how do I rent out an apartment? How to buy food without having a car. No SSN, no identity documents, no people to help us. You know, regular immigration hassle, plus very bad English.
Later I started actually thinking of what I am going to do there. Alright, survived the first time, visited Stanford, Google HQ and a dozen of parks… What is next? The tourist part was over. I was dropped into a Hollywood movie but what was my role in it?
My knowledge of programming was very limited. Enough to solve algorithmic challenges and to write small scripts in my daily life but nothing about building complex systems, creating beautiful apps or at least constructing basic HTML pages. Although I tried to learn, spent several weeks straight learning SQL, python, some web-technologies, I still couldn't figure out how to put things together so they work for good or for bad.
Things changed after meeting guys from Collections.me, early stage YC startup. On this part of the story I usually call myself ‘Mr. Lucky’ — they agreed to hire me, teach how to build things and give a salary large enough to pay for my rent and sustain my family while I am contributing to the codebase in a 2-story Hacker House based in Mountain View.
Obviously, they couldn't hire me just because I am a good looking, smiling, talkative and social young man (I am just young). The team gave me several tasks to begin with: write a set of client-server programs in C with then serving a webpage and GUI interface, basic file manager with GTK+. GitHub still keeps the history: slava-docs, slava-finder. These repos look so cute today, right like your stick-figures drawings from the childhood box.
Next 6 month I spent in Collections team contributing to Cocoa application, writing small IMAP proxy server with Node.js, building my own Windows 8 application and sometimes having fun with other hipster technologies used in our stack.
Working in a 3-4 member team I had an opportunity to learn things the hard way. Finding help in the Internet, being self-serving, knowing when to ask for help and when to spend an extra time digging with debugger. Even how to cook simple food!
More importantly this half of the year educated me to work in a team, communicate my needs and concerns about product direction. Even though I have made mistakes and sometimes did not speak up, I still learnt from those.
And of course I had a lot of fun in the lovely hacker house with all the people who stayed in it and the Collections team: Jordan, Tony and Arman.
In April Collections team decided to take a break. And that’s how I came to the job market. After some wonderful marketing support from my friends tens of companies and startups contacted me in the first day. Schedule was filled up with interviews, phone-screens and calls.
Armed with an “interview passing” book I jumped right into the fire. Most of the phone-screens were ridiculously easy even with my short experience.
Some startups were much better. Notably, Kamcord founders gave a good batch of algorithmic questions over video chat, Heap Analytics guys invited me to a one-day hacking session to their house and gave a reasonable task related to their startup. Also I had a nice tour to the Quora office and had a chance to talk to really cool engineers.
Big companies like Google, Facebook, Palantir, Groupon and Zynga scheduled phone-screens with me stretching the interview process for a month. Couldn't stand the whole dance with the recruiting team I just skipped most of them.
One day Matt from Meteor contacted me over email, he introduced as a “team of old MIT hackers” and invited me to Meteor Devshop “to look at the office and the community event”. After surprise 3-hour interview I accepted the offer the day after.
That’s it! One week running around for interviews and two weeks of plain excitement waiting for the Meteor moment.
Honestly, I am still very surprised how I got there. One might say I have the Impostor Syndrome but that is the reality: all these people are way more qualified than me. The gap between experienced “old MIT hackers” who went through several companies or Google and me, novice in this game is way too big. And I work really hard to reduce it.
It would be silly not to bother all these bright minds with questions about productivity, self-learning, engineering knowledge I need to acquire and the directions relevant to me.
Having heard of MOOC I finally had free time to put my hands on free knowledge of the Internet. Taking core Computer Science classes clarified a lot of things and gave a bit more insight on how computers work.
Not to mention the giant amount of knowledge I gained from working with fellow Meteorites. Reusable knowledge. Useful knowledge.
The first working year in the Valley is over. I went through being a newbie who knows nothing but algorithms for TopCoder competitions to a newbie who knows a little bit more but is improving every day. This year might mean very little on my resume but certainly changed the direction of my life, thanks to all the people who helped me!