Daniel Doubrovkine bio photo

Daniel Doubrovkine

aka dB., CTO at artsy.net, fun at playplay.io, NYC

Email Twitter LinkedIn Github

I learned about informationals at Microsoft. For any decent developer Engineering managers setup an in-person informational before sending you into a full job interview loop. There were two reasons for this. First, imagine how awkward it would have been to do a phone screen with someone working in the same building as you. Then, you had to notify HR and your current manager that you were interviewing with another team, so this was a way to evaluate fit before actually going into the official process.

I continued practicing this throughout the years and found many benefits, especially in much smaller companies. Today, you get to spend a lovely hour with me or one of my team leads at one of the many SoHo coffee shops when you apply for an Engineering job at Artsy and qualify on resume. If you’re local, we don’t do phone screens. I think those are one-sided, impersonal and generally harmful. Coffee (or tea) is, of course, on us.

From a purely business perspective, an hour-long informational makes a huge difference when making an offer and closing a candidate. We almost never lose people to competition.

Here’s how I conduct informationals.

I invite candidates to visit our offices and give them a quick tour. We currently have three floors at 401 Broadway at Canal St., which comes with a killer 360 degree view, including the Empire State Building, The Freedom Tower and the Manhattan Bridge. It gives candidates a good idea about our physical space and its energy. It also helps them find their marks when they walk in for a day of in-person interviews next time around. I’ve heard numerous people say how excited they felt about returning to our office for an actual interview. When was the last time you were excited about an interview?

view from 401 Broadway

We head downstairs. If a coworker enters the elevator with us, I always introduce them to the candidate. Engineers usually spend a lot of time in front of computers and not as much time taking the elevators, so this is likely to be a human from the Arts team, who is often a little more engaging. When was the last time you met anyone outside of your interview loop and the front-desk receptionist? This helps everyone be more relaxed and less guarded.

We walk to a nearby coffee shop. On the way to the coffee shop we do small talk. I’ve prepared a compliment about something I was impressed with from the candidate’s background and casually mention it. I buy coffee and we sit down. I turn the conversation around by stating the following.

This is your time. The goal is for you to find out whether Artsy is right for you and for me to find out whether we have a general fit. Ask me questions.

I then shut up. Typically candidates ask about the company, the tech stack, processes and team structures. These are all excellent questions. I answer everything and try to offer the most transparent and complete picture. Artsy is a post Series-C company with solid revenue, thousands of paying customers, three businesses at different levels of maturity. Our tech stack is primarily Ruby and JavaScript with some Objective-C and Swift, Scala and Elixir. We do a ton of open-source. We organize ourselves in full teams that include product management, design and engineering working together in what should look like a mini-startup. I try to be as honest as possible describing what we would like to have vs. what we actually have - I am not trying to paint the rosiest most beautiful picture - startup work and hyper-growth can be very challenging.

From our conversation I seek to understand whether the candidate can or cannot succeed in an in-person interview with the Engineering team. If the answer is no, I conclude the conversation and explain why I think we should not move forward. But assuming the answer is yes, I describe our teams that have job openings, and offer the candidate to think about the best possible fit. This sometimes happens later, over e-mail. I introduce them to the hiring manager to setup the actual interview loop, no additional conversations necessary. I send them a bunch of links related to our conversation to keep them warm.

So why do all of this? Because people are paramount. Because if you ask someone for their time, you must return it with your own. And Engineers love it.

Here’s a photo of about half of my amazing team. That was a lot of informationals!

engineering team