How to get a job in the USA and what is wrong at Google: the experience of a Ukrainian developer
Developer Vladimir Zhabyuk has been in the profession for 17 years. His track record includes more than 10 companies, including Twitter, Google, LinkedIn. The project DOU Volodymyr talked about his career in Ukraine and the United States, about what he didn't like about Google and why he decided to return to Twitter. The developer also analyzed his experience in a startup and described in detail the features of interviews in large American companies.
Education and career in Ukraine
Vladimir was born in Ivano-Frankovsk, where he studied at a gymnasium with in-depth study of mathematics, physics, and English. In the tenth grade he got a computer, then he began to be interested in programming, but at home, not at school. Tried to figure it out with Delphi and C ++, wanted to see how difficult it is to get a visual result. For example, make a game that. It felt a bit like magic to him. And simple things worked out.
After school, I decided to enter the Kiev-Mohyla Academy to study computer science, received a knowledge base in programming, algorithms, mathematics and even humanitarian subjects. This was enough to find a job already in the third year - at the age of 20. The company developed software for the pipeline design of the Russian Gazprom. Vladimir was the only candidate who completed the test task. His next job was in a foreign company. He studied and worked in parallel until graduation.
Vladimir notes that his salary growth was non-linear. At the first job, he received $ 400, at the next - 500-600, a year later - 1200, in the fifth year he became Team Lead and received 3,5 thousand, and then there was about the same salary. Prior to his first job as Lead, he was two and a half years old.
The first job for Team Lead was at Reuters. Vladimir worked on their paid subscription platform with a team that regularly traveled to New York. This was the first experience of traveling abroad. And his experience at GlobalLogic as a Scrum Master helped him significantly expand his skills.
Moving to the USA
Since 2008, Vladimir began to look for options on how to travel abroad. I applied for a resume, but then it didn't work out too well. In 2010, EPAM contacted him and said there was an onsite position in the United States. True, it was not clear yet exactly what it was and where, but it was agreed that he could have an interview with their customers, and they would start preparing an HB-1 visa for him to leave. At first he was supposed to go to Florida, but at the last moment something changed and he was told that the position was from Expedia in Seattle. Therefore, in early 2011, he moved to the United States. Six months before that, Vladimir got married, and was already leaving with his family.
In Ukraine, Vladimir earned enough and never worried about money. In the United States, it became more difficult: wages increased, but costs also increased significantly. There was also language adaptation. In Ukraine, his English was enough to work with customers, but communication in everyday life is different. In addition, he never worked or lived in other countries. It was necessary to deal with the issues of housing, medical insurance, buying a car, furniture ... Every day there was something to decide. And also a new environment, new friends ... The first 3-4 months it was all unusual and a little uncomfortable.
At the first job, he worked for 11 months. He liked EPAM: they helped with the relocation, acclimatization, supported in working with the customer so that there were no problems with communication, they consulted on medical services and the like. Vladimir led the team, which was usually based in Kiev, and also helped recruit the Business Intelligence onsite team at Expedia and the neighboring EPAM teams that worked for Expedia.
Why did you decide to look for a new job? Firstly, Vladimir arrived on an HB-1 visa and did not know how quickly the company would make him a green card. Second, he saw a difference in payment between his position as a contractor through EPAM on Expedia and what he could earn in other companies. The difference was big. And, thirdly, motivation: he wanted to work on something complex, non-trivial, on a project that would involve millions of people ... And in order to realize this goal, he had to look for a new job. So he started interviewing.
Features of interviews in the USA
The first interview was at Amazon. According to Vladimir, he passed it "normally" - but was not accepted. Then there were interviews with several other companies, including Google. I didn't go there either. He failed three out of five interviews. Why? He offered too complex solutions and did not have time to finish them completely, did not listen to all the interviewer's advice and was simply confused.
Vladimir immediately felt the difference from the interview in Ukraine. Before moving, he probably had over 50 interviews, and he did even more. He prepared for interviews, had experience in how to get through them, but this experience was not relevant in the United States.
What's the main difference? In Ukraine, interviews are asked not general, but specific things. An installation is made so that a person does not study much in this position, but comes and can work immediately. In the United States, large companies conduct significantly longer interviews than in Ukraine, and are multi-stage. There are basically one or two phone interviews. One of them is with a manager or a recruiter, when they check how interested a person is, whether he has the necessary experience. And after that there can be one or two more telephone interviews - already technical, when they give a simple problem.
Then there will be an onsite interview - 5-6 interviews, which take a whole day, 6-7 hours. One of the interviews is conducted by a manager to find out if the candidate can work in a team, if he is ready to listen and change in accordance with the feedback. That is, they look at how much a person is trying to become better, develop, grow, how motivated, open, honest he is, whether it will be pleasant to work with him. Because the work is not individual, but team work.
Then the technical meetings. It could be three coding interviews - with the same questions as the phone interview, but a little harder. Often the interviewer gives high-level tasks first, so clarifying questions need to be asked. This is what they expect that the person will clarify all the details and requirements. The candidate then begins to write code on a whiteboard or computer and at the same time explain what he does and why, and not otherwise.
If the code is written, you can see that it works, they can give you unit tests to be written on it, ask you to estimate the time complexity of the algorithm, perhaps ask something else about the algorithms. And then they will complicate the task. The best questions are those where there are 2-3 levels of difficulty, the last level is very difficult. This method helps to graduate candidates.
There may also be 1-2 questions about Systems design. For example, design a Twitter system where some users can tweet and others follow them. You need to immediately ask the interviewer clarifying questions: how many users, how many tweets you can write, how long they should be stored in the system, whether it is necessary for the system to be available all the time all over the world, and so on. Once the interviewer has answered these questions, you should start sketching the architecture on the board. Additional questions may arise here, you may also be given new requirements, due to which it will be necessary to change the architecture of the entire system. Senior candidates are often interviewed more on Systems design and less on coding.
Now Vladimir himself conducts two interviews a week, that is, in total, this is about 500-600 interviews over the years of work in the States. And then he was not ready for this format. Therefore, the skill of passing an interview had to be developed. When he improved his level, he was interviewed at Intuit. And even signed an offer for a position in Los Angeles. But at the same time, he had his last Senior Developer interview on LinkedIn, and it was also successful.
Vladimir liked LinkedIn, he read their blog, looked at their open-source projects, he was drawn there. He went very well in the interview. Although there was one dangerous moment. He was asked what he likes to work with: Front-end or Back-end, and if Full Stack can work. And he said that he doesn't like working with Full Stack and in general with the Front-end, that he likes the Back-end more. And for them it was like a red flag - an indicator that he did not want to change or try new things. And in most of their teams, it would be necessary to do both the backend and something closer to the frontend.
But Vladimir was lucky. There was a team that was doing open-source, and they needed someone with experience on the backend. He got into a team that was not specifically engaged in the LinkedIn product (although he did the data structure for them as well), but open-source projects that the company published so that users from all over the world could use them.
Vladimir worked on LinkedIn for two and a half years. The company made him a green card. Launched the process three months after he was hired. It took 11 months, he paid for premium processing. After the green card, exactly 5 years later, he received US citizenship.
According to Vladimir, LinkedIn was “very cool”. It was also influenced by the fact that he joined the company just after the IPO (the first public sale of shares), so there were many energetic, talented people, constant hackathons, interesting initiatives ... There he made many friends. He maintains some connections even today, although 9 years have passed.
Go to Twitter
One of the top managers who worked with Vladimir on LinkedIn switched to Twitter, which at the time was in an IPO and was supposed to go public in a few years. And right after him, Vladimir's direct manager went there. The friendly team fell apart.
After a while, Vladimir asked his manager how he was on Twitter, if he liked everything. He said that there is a completely different engineering culture, that is, the scale and technical problems are more complicated than in LinkedIn, and the internal databases and systems are very cool. Anyway, tens of thousands of tweets per second, billions of users, hundreds of millions of active users - building the infrastructure for this is very cool. Vladimir caught fire. Plus, most of his team have already switched to Twitter.
He was assigned to a group of projects that belonged to a former LinkedIn executive who became Twitter's VP. This top manager himself was from Ukraine, but Vladimir spoke to him only in English. IN Twitter Vladimir worked with a team of 16 people, and only he and one other specialist did not have a PhD. What he brought to the team is the speed of development.
On Twitter, he liked that you can come up with an idea and launch it in a week or two and see how hundreds of millions of people react to this change. And I was also impressed by the engineering culture and the level of colleagues. For three and a half years there have been different projects. On average, people change projects every 2-3 years. How this process takes place depends on the particular company. So, on Twitter, it's enough to just talk to a new manager.
Experience in a startup
Vladimir liked Twitter, but at some point a crisis began in the company: shares began to fall, many left. In addition, he already worked for a long time in one place (three and a half years) and studied less. So I thought it was worth trying to move to a startup that can quickly enter the market. He wanted to be able to show his knowledge, to make a contribution for the company to be successful.
So he came to Zenefits. They made HR systems for companies in which they could pay salaries, provide health insurance, and the like. This is a project that has gone through an incubator in the two years since its foundation - their valuation has grown to 4,5 billion. There was a large staff of developers. is he developed extremely quickly, but the tasks that Vladimir performed did not correspond to his experience. The company stopped growing at some point. Due to a number of problems, he worked at Zenefits for four months, until the company started having big problems. He didn't like the atmosphere and what he was doing. And when he got interviewed at Google, he decided it was time to leave.
Vladimir came to Google as Team Lead. He worked in Java, Spanner, F1, Boq, Mendel, but almost all technologies were used only within the company. He joined the Shopping Express team. This is something like Amazon, in fact a delivery system, a kind of startup inside Google. Came to the analytics team, where there were many databases, tools, so that the company could report: how much money they made, how many goods were sold, and so on. It was necessary for retailers, Google Executives and Google Shopping Express itself to optimize their business. But he was not interested in technical terms, so after a year of work, he changed the team. In the new place, the infrastructure was developed to store YouTube comments, Google Hangouts messages, Google+ posts and much more. Google is useful because in the company, if you want, you can get strong development. Vladimir used it.
Google cares about the psychological safety of people. They conducted more than one research on which teams are successful and which are not, what is needed for people and teams to function well, to be comfortable and to work quickly. But these were all non-technical stuff. And technically, Vladimir did not develop. The company has a lot of developers, strong and smart, but everything is done very scrupulously, the processes are slow. There is even greater internal competition: in order to get on a certain project, you must submit an application. Often there are too many of them in one place or they are not put in positions at all, but simply invite people from other teams by acquaintance, the developer says.
Because of this, according to Vladimir, his contribution was small. He didn't want to work in a team or a company just for money, but wanted to get new experience, pleasure from communicating with other people, from learning. In Google, and on the first, on the second project, he did not feel this, and this greatly demotivated him. Life is short enough, so he decided to change.
On Twitter again
A good friend from Twitter, his manager, wrote to Vladimir and suggested that Vladimir return to the company, even without an interview. He agreed and got into a project related to pra sham activity, but another is Twitter Trends, which is responsible for the things that users talk about the most. It used to be a large system, which involved 15 specialists. But when he got there, there was only one person who supported Twitter Trends. Therefore, the project did not bring much benefit. Vladimir was offered to “revive the system”.
He really enjoyed this assignment because it was difficult and had a lot of impact. The team has changed a lot, made the system successful, thanks to it, many millions of users come. Twitter began to put a lot of effort into it again. According to Vladimir, he was very pleased that recently even Trump wrote about Twitter Trends.
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First, Vladimir worked with the company on trends, he was Team Lead. Then I switched to another project - Twitter Explore. The team consisted of 20 specialists, before the covid he was there as Tech Lead. But now I just became a developer again on Trends. Why is that? When a large team, a significant part of the work that a manager has to do, starts to do Tech Lead. It was and writing code, and collaborating with other teams, and observing a lot of things. According to Vladimir, he does not like to be sprayed, but seeks to dig deep. Therefore, I did not feel that I was successful and felt burnout. And with covid, communication has become even harder. Therefore, he went into trends and became an Individual Contributor to work with what he really likes - he took up algorithms, Event detection. Finds what's going on on Twitter that can be shown to users.
The company has now announced that it is possible not to return to work in the office, that is, it is allowed to work from home on a permanent basis. Vladimir, on the one hand, likes it, he can spend more time with his family and children, save an hour and a half, which he spent on the way to the office. On the other hand, according to him, there is not enough live communication with colleagues, when you can talk, brainstorm, learn something new, just have lunch with the team and discuss interesting things not related to work. He has a lot more time now and has indeed become a lot more productive in quarantine, but there are things that Vladimir misses. Therefore, in the future, he would like to work two days from the office, and three days from home.
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