Friday, September 17, 2021

Believe In Your People

"What you do is who you are." - Ben Horowitz

During the height of my recruiting initiatives at Battlefy in late 2017, I remember meeting with a talented software engineer originally from Eastern Europe. For anonymity purposes, let's call him Vlad.

Vlad just came out of a local Vancouver-based developer boot camp and shared the same passions of Battlefy employees: we loved esports. He reached out to me through the VanJS Slack group. He asked to go for coffee to talk about esports and ask a few questions about the Battlefy work environment. By the way, this is totally the Silicon Valley way of doing things.

I met him at Waves on Hastings and we had an enthusiastic talk about esports and how big Battlefy's mission really is (powering esports experiences). What was supposed to be a 30-minute coffee chat became more than an hour. After our conversation, I ran back to the office and excitedly added Vlad to our Applicant Tracking System. I was so convinced that he was a great fit for us.

Fast forward a few days after having Vlad go through the formal interview process, the hiring committee (the people who interviewed him) all had the same concerns about Vlad. His technical ability for a junior at the time was unmatched but his approach to communication wasn't "tactful" and could rub people in the wrong way.

I've worked with many world-class engineers in the past that originally came from Eastern Europe and I could pattern match that sometimes it's just the culture of growing up in that environment: being really direct with communicating a point which can be received as aggressive or condescending.

I was shocked at the feedback the hiring committee gave me. After plenty of back and forth going over the risks/red flags and his strengths, we came to the conclusion that we would not move forward with Vlad.

I had to deliver the bad news to Vlad. While on the phone, I apologized to him that I couldn't convince the team to move forward with him. I could hear the disappointment in his voice. He responded professionally with, "I understand. I'll work on improving these areas."

That night, I couldn't sleep. I felt like a coward -- like I didn't do enough to fight for Vlad. My conscience was telling me, "Jaime, you fucking coward. You should have done more to stand up for him."

The evidence was there: Vlad was incredibly passionate about esports and he demonstrated his technical ability in the technical interviews. It felt like we just missed an opportunity to have a world-class engineer join the team because of his unique style of communication. At that moment, I decided that this was the hill I was ready to die on -- stake my reputation -- everything. I was all-in for Vlad.

The following day, I set up 1on1s with every person on the hiring committee to try to convince them otherwise about Vlad. I was so full of conviction and belief that Vlad would be an incredible and impactful contributor to the company that I literally wouldn't let the hiring committee leave the meeting room until I got their blessing to reverse their decision.

After convincing the hiring committee that Vlad would be a great fit, I called him immediately to let him know that we wanted him to join. We went through a unique onboarding process where Vlad and I would be working closely together on projects to help with positively reinforcing how to effectively communicate within the organization. In every single project I've worked on with Vlad, he never let me down. He always went above and beyond.

Vlad went on to become one of our most respected and most technical senior engineers. He was part of many high-visibility products and projects that took our company to new heights.

Wherever Vlad is now, I just know and believe that he's kicking ass and taking names. In retrospect, my lesson learned is there is going to be a time and a place where you will come across a character-defining situation. In those moments of adversity, follow your core values. In this story, it's being people first. Believe in your people and they will go on to make a huge positive impact on your organization.

Cheers,
Jaime