It’s only been about 100 days or so, give or take, that I made my inadvertent foray into the world of recruitment. Not that there’s really any sort of defined or deliberate path for ending up in this industry – it’s one of those things that you just kind of fall into, and that’s exactly what happened to me right around Thanksgiving this year.
I was hanging out Gangplank, my preferred coworking space (that’s a fancy way of saying ‘offices for people without traditional jobs’), writing a paper on Rick Astley for a client – and I was obviously on a roll, considering the subject. But for some reason, on that fateful day, I made what seemed at the time to be one of those arbitrary decisions we make dozens of times a day. I parked up next to one of the regulars, my friend Michael. I knew he did something involving real estate rankings and SaaS, but more importantly, I was trying to get to know the other habituates of my newly discovered coworking space.
Nobody Knows Your Name
The first few times I showed up, I got a sense that it was like some startup or SMB version of Cheers, only no one knew my name – at least not yet, anyway – and I was determined to fix that. Not because I have some sort of huge ego or that need for recognition and adoration that’s apparently endemic to myself and every other Gen Y worker out there, but because I really like to get to know new people, hear their stories and, hopefully, learn a little from them in the process.
That day, I got more than I bargained for when I chose that spot to set up shop that particular Tuesday afternoon, because one of those people I didn’t yet know happened to be sitting directly across from me at the table. I had no idea who he was, but made a note that I should introduce myself after my Astley-themed opus was finished.
As I put a few final flourishes on my first draft, Michael leaned over my shoulder and stared at my screen. “Wait a second,” he asked incredulously, “You just wrote an 8 page paper on Rick Rolling?” And I had to come clean on why my publically pronounced professional programming aspirations were being prioritized after the dude who’s biggest claim to fame is likely inspiring the most incipient (and influential) meme in history.
Never Gonna Give You Up
In other words, I was wrong when I thought I was never, ever gonna give that up.
So, I did what anyone in a similar situation would do: I came clean. I told him about my most recent scheme: posing a full-stack developer on oDesk for two bucks an hour in the hopes of building up expertise, exposure, a decent code base and all that other stuff that keeps people without experience from getting the experience they need to get experience in the first place. In other words, I was your typical neophyte trying to parlay a high touch approach to a career in high tech. Or at least, a decent developer gig.
After I finished explaining the story, I looked away from Mike to see the stranger seated across from me and the acute, immediate sense that he had not only heard every word I said, but either thought I was batshit crazy or some sort of evil genius, judging from the expression on his face. Whatever the case, he seemed intrigued and asked if I wouldn’t mind passing him my [Rick] rolling paper his way. And then, he started peppering me with questions.
At first, he seemed kind of amused by the whole thing, and I filled him in on where I went to school, what I studied and how, exactly, I ended up as a freelance writer. The name, rank and serial number of networking, so to speak. Then he introduced himself after a few minutes of seeming small talk as Shon Burton, the CEO of a company called HiringSolved.
I thought nothing of it at first, since, honestly, I’d never heard of the company, and in the world of startups, the CEO title has less cache considering that it’s the default for anyone who happens to have a business plan on power point, a registered URL and a VistaPrint account. He was wondering what happened to my aspirations of becoming a web programmer.
But then I found out a little bit more about what HiringSolved was all about and who Shon really was (getting both the first person and Google version – the truth usually falling somewhere in between the two). The more I learned, the more suspicious I became of his line of questioning, since, well, I realized he probably wasn’t just being polite or trying to make conversation just for the hell of it.
Dude Wanted Something
Just as I started to think I might be able to figure out the end game, he changed the rules and asked me out to dinner. His MO instantly became less relevant when there was free food hanging in the balance – hey, I am a web developer fresh out of school, after all. So I instantly took him up on the offer.
As we were walking next door to the Perch, one of Chandler’s most ubiquitous watering holes, Shon turns to me and informs me, in the most matter of fact way possible, “this is a job interview, by the way.” Great, I thought as I walked into the restaurant with him. No pressure or anything. But somehow, when I walked back out after what turned into a really interesting conversation, I did so with an offer in hand to become HiringSolved’s newest intern.
The terms were, suffice to say, malleable. I believe Shon’s exact words were, “so, your going rate is just two dollars an hour, right?” I let it slide, because that’s something you can always work out after the fact. The only mutual understanding that really matters, and the only one we came to that first night, was the same simple one that’s core to pretty much every recruiting process on the planet: what the expectations associated with the position really were. In this case, it was a minimum of one blog post a week.
What I did the rest of my time would remain more or less at my discretion. I informed him, in no uncertain terms, that all I really wanted was to become awesome at web development (or at least, an effective hacker). That was really my only objective – and one that was totally non-negotiable. Not that it’s a whole lot to ask, but if you’re not playing career decisions with a mentality of ‘better safe than sorry,’ sorry seems like a really risky proposition.
That’s a lot of context and backstory, but I wanted to kind of set the scene for my first steps into the recruiting industry. It’s proof that you kind of never know when opportunities cross your path, and you might never know what, exactly, you missed out on if you’re not lucky or savvy enough to spot them.
Co-working Opportunity Model
Gangplank is a very unique kind of space. Yeah, yeah, plenty of spaces operate under the co-working model, and have become as trendy as adding bacon to baked goods or blogging about big data, proliferating over the past few years as more and more workers become entrepreneurs, free agents or just are lucky enough to work in jobs that are completely location agnostic. As many of these co-working models as have popped up over the years, though, most of them charge money in order to enter an environment that can best be described as overly sterile, places where office politics still happen even though the whole point is that there is no office in the first place.
But at Gangplank, no one is really “in charge,” in the traditional sense, which is awesome, because that means you don’t really need anyone’s permission to do anything. But when you put the prisoners in charge of the asylum, as it were, it puts a pretty significant premium on personal reputation. If enough people think your reputation sucks, then you’ll likely be “managed out,” even in the absence of actual managers. It’s open to everyone since it’s owned by the city of Chandler (think public library), but to stay, you’ve really got to have something to offer. Once I found this part office, part Nerf arena, part think tank and part support group, I knew that while I had the option to work from home, there was no point in me even considering doing so. I’d found my place, and it was awesome.
But since work isn’t a place you go, as they say, it’s a thing you do, I still had to learn how to do what I had to do to get my one expected outcome at HiringSolved done. Turns out, figuring out what content is going to work with this recruiting and sourcing crowd can be tough, particularly when you come in cold. I’m not going to lie: getting to know my audience and the kinds of posts that made sense was a way harder code to crack than any I’d encountered as a developer.
Be A Pirate
So, I went straight to Shon for some advice. I figured if I was going to write about the company, I’d try to figure out the kind of company we actually were. When posed this basic question, Sean pointed to the pirate flag hanging prominently in the center of HiringSolved’s open offices. “That,” he proclaimed, “That is who we are.”
And even though we were in the middle of Arizona, it was like at that moment I could suddenly smell the salty ocean breeze wafting in as a series of images ran through my head, a mental montage of colorful squawking parrots, cerulean waves stretching from horizon to horizon, and guys with patches and peg legs singing sea shanties. Cool, so your company’s target market, apparently, sunk with the Spanish Armada. This did not seem to be good news for long term growth.
But then I started thinking about what pirates actually stood for – besides loving the booty, of course. Freedom to steer their own course. Freedom to think for themselves while still being accountable to their mateys, with everyone getting an equal share of whatever loot the expedition happened to haul in. Pirates were risk takers (hence the peg legs and patches). They were free thinkers. They risked peril as a part of their profession. And critical moments always seemed to involve a Gangplank.
Doing instead of saying. Participating instead of observing. Friendships over formality. Boldness over bureaucracy. That’s our manifesto, after all. Thing is, it’s not always easy fitting in with pirates at first. And during my tentative try-out at HiringSolved, I faced a very nebulous future. I knew I was constantly being tested – and that I could be the man overboard the minute I failed, which seemed the most likely outcome, given the odds of completing the tasks I was assigned.
For example, just as an experiment, I was given one week to build, by myself, a Chrome extension that effectively synched with social sites. This, my friends, is no easy task – and not normally one that would be given to an intern in the first place, even if on a lark. My end product kind of worked, but it didn’t work as well as I would have planned.
But I tried, and in that effort alone, learned I still have a whole lot to learn. I’ve also learned how lucky I am to receive encouragement to learn how to code even though most of my official responsibilities fall within the marketing function. If I want to learn, contribute and write code, I’m encouraged to do so. No one ever stops me and points out I’m in marketing. They just let me play, learn and grow my professional skill set without a ton of policies or procedures.
I’m going to tip my hat here and say that age wise, at least, I’m a little late to the party, at least compared to a lot of my professional peers. Starting to learn programming at 27 is, understandably, met with almost universal skepticism. Kids start coding in their cribs now, and I was crazy enough to try to learn it only after I learned how much I loved it. So I face an uphill battle in terms of both learning curve AND perception. But no one’s gotten anywhere caring much about either.
A lot of would be good career Samaritans have tried to point me towards a more conventional path, and to follow the traditional route instead of one that, instinctually, makes little sense – at least logically, no one really understands why you’d choose something that’s edifying over something that’s easy, something that’s stimulating over something that’s stable.
These friendly words of warning intensify whenever I complain about any problem I have along the way, even from my Dad. And he’s repeatedly told me he supports me no matter what. He’s been good to his word, but I still have a ways to go before he fully buys in to my vision of doing what I love for a living, even if it’s a lot of work to get into this line of work. After all, even at 27, I still have decades left to figure all this out. Tech always changes, and I’m sure I will along with it, but as long as the goal never does, I’m convinced that I’m going to be OK.
Editor’s Note: Christopher brings the perspective of someone who’s just starting out in this industry and can offer an alternative point of view as a relatively objective observer to the recruiting technology and high tech industries. This post is not intended to promote HiringSolved, but instead, to share the kind of perspective we don’t get to hear enough in this little echo chamber. He’s also a hell of a writer, so I wanted to proffer an appropriate introduction to kick off his contributions. Which, so far, have been pretty impressive. – M.C.
About the Author: Christopher Murray is a growth hacker at HiringSolved. He’s also a Gangplank Chandler community member and volunteer where he supplies a weekly newsletter and blog. When he started with HiringSolved in November 2014, his knowledge of sourcing, HR, and Recruiting were at first based on frantic Google searches and blog skimming. However, he has since been able to immerse himself in the knowledge of the space and continues to gain insights to help him form opinions. Christopher has a strong background in freelance writing, hacking, and marketing. His duties at HiringSolved include site content growth, writing patents & press releases, conducting email blasts, and charting their marketing trajectory in the new media landscape.