Productboard expanding San Francisco engineering presence
In an effort to better serve our enterprise customers, we are building up our engineering presence in San Francisco. We will be adding two teams made up of staff and senior staff engineers in the coming weeks. Claudiu Andrei, our new Site Tech Lead in California, will be helming the hiring efforts. We recently sat down with Andrei to find out how candidates can make sure they make it to the top of the CV pile. He goes through the key steps of our interview process and discusses how engineers can make an early impact when joining a company as staff or senior staff engineer.
Claudiu, whose career path included stints at Meta and DocuSign as well as founding a couple of his own companies, also offers some sound advice for engineers hoping to move up the ladder. He explains how candidates can assess whether they are more of a staff or senior staff fit.
We’ve pulled together a few highlights from this wide-ranging discussion to give you an inside look of the hiring process at Productboard and how to prepare yourself for tackling more senior positions as you work to advance your career.
What kind of teams are we building in San Francisco?
We’re at the stage where we’re accelerating our focus on enterprise. A lot of our customers are in San Francisco and in the US in general, but a lot of our product engineering teams are in Prague. We’re trying to help accelerate our focus by bringing some teams closer to the customers.
We’ll be focusing initially on Insights, the part where product managers basically collect all the data that will help them create better products.
We are hiring only staff engineers and senior staff engineers?
We decided to start with two small teams. Each team will have one senior staff and two staff engineers. The reason we want to focus on getting super senior people here is, because our mission is driven by the customer.
We want people to be operating at a very high level, focus on the customer, focus on living in this ambiguity. This is what basically makes you a staff engineer, where you can deal with things that are not laid out clearly for you, and you can think about the bigger picture. This is why we’re really focusing on staff engineers. We also want the staff+ engineers we are hiring to drive the growth of the company, to bring value to the whole company, and to help grow the company.
What do you look at first when you receive a CV?
At Productboard, we’re focusing initially on the culture fit. Can the person we are looking at fit within the place we are at as a company? We look at a candidate’s work experience. I think the previous companies that they used to be at are good indicators of the cultures they are successful in.
We also look at how they’re describing themselves. This is something that I really care about. What do you talk about? How big is your focus? If you are focusing on the technology that you use, then maybe you’re not there yet. We’re looking at people with more experience, people who will focus on the big picture. And the big picture is: How can we help our customers? How can we drive value for our customers?
How you express yourself and your scope is important. We’re taking that as a sign of maturity and the sign of your level. Both in the first interview with the recruiter, and then with the hiring manager, our focus is solely on this part: Can we understand your scope of work? How do you approach problems?
Once a candidate passes this initial part, what comes next?
It’s going to be pretty standard. We are going to have a technical round. It’s mainly focused on data structure and algorithms. Nothing too complex. It’s a baseline.
If everything goes well, we are going to dig deeper in the technical. This is a very technical role. We are looking for people who will be hands on and able to deliver.
We’ll do a bunch of technical interviews. Once you come on site, it’s going to be a more practical sit-down; maybe we’ll build an app together. There will be an algorithm part and then a systems design interview. We want to make sure we are covering end to end. We want to make sure this will be an appropriate fit.
I think that it is good to have the information about what you’re going to talk ahead of time and to be able to have a very deep, in-depth conversation. This is one of the interviews that we’re going to be deciding on the leveling.
People who are not at the staff level yet, what advice do you have for them to gain more scope?
As you grow in your career from staff to senior staff to principal, it’s going to be the same kind of job with different scopes. For example, you’re working at the organization level, you’re working across a bunch of teams as a staff, or maybe you reach a place where you’re operating at a bigger organization, so what you do literally impacts the results of the company.
It’s not only about focusing on the job you have. It’s understanding the problems you’re trying to solve. Why does your team exist? Why does your organization exist? What are the success metrics for that?
As an individual contributor, right until senior level, it’s all about how much you can quote or how much you can deliver individually. But as you move to staff, it’s no longer if you can deliver X amount of work. It is more about can you act as a multiplier and what tools will you need? I think that that’s the bigger shift, knowing you can enable other people to do this, helping them grow their scope and grow together.
Define a product engineer.
Your goal is to build a product, and there are a lot of things you have to do in order to build it. You don’t do it by yourself. You have to collaborate with design, product management. Maybe, depending on your level, you are collaborating with your CEO.
You have to understand the problem. You have to understand what your options are for solutions. You can’t just be good at coding, your analytical skills are important, too. What we want to do is to deliver the best solutions for our customers, and that goes beyond coding.
With product engineering, you have to start with the problem. Understand what you can tackle and what makes sense. Why are you uniquely equipped to help solve this kind of problem? These are things that can get overlooked.
What should people do when they first join as a staff or senior staff or staff+ engineer?
Find out how you can make an early impact. You can start to show value. You can build on top of this. You are good at this small piece here, now add another piece and become good at that. And do this 100 times.
The other part is understanding. Understand not only the very specific parts of your job, but understand the whole area of influence. Start small, because it’s hard. You are going to be overwhelmed with everything. Understand the dynamics, what the company culture is, and what gets things done.
If you want to listen to Andrei’s full interview in the latest episode of our Productboard Engineering Leadership Excellence podcast, then click here. For more information about our job openings, visit our careers page.