Farewell App Academy Hello Airbnb (Part II

Coding Challenge

See:Pay Secrecy Policies at Work are Often Illegal and Misunderstood.

But Google continually assured me that theyd be able to beat any other startups offers. It seemed like a decision they were happy to make for me. As other companies kept bidding up, the Google offer moved up to 185K. And as I was moving into final negotiations, they assured me there was still more room for the offer to grow.

Stock in a private company is of course still a valuable assetI just wont be able to donate a third of their value until a liquidation event (hopefully an IPO). But my pledge to donate 1/3rd of all of my income, including my salary, doesnt change. Ultimately, this will be a better move in terms of EV, provided some discounting for the fact that Ill have to donate later in the future.

So thats enough of soapboxing. Here are some stats.

All the while, I kept putting more irons in the grill (gotta keep that kitchen running), and kept studying up on algorithms and system design. Around then, I got an e-mail in my inbox from TripleByte:

Unequivocally, Google was the toughest and most nerve-wracking interview Ive ever done. The problems were complex and challenging, all abstract and extremely algorithms-heavy. They didnt ask me a single thing about architecture, systems design, web developmentall they cared was that I could solve hard abstract computer science problems. All the interviewersclearly brilliant (and all older white men)were stony and tight-lipped about my performance.

Of course, then there was the compensation. Google would be hard to beat. Like Yelp, Google was a mature public company, so its equity compensation was as solid as cash. That liquidity is an important factor when it comes to earning-to-giveit means I cangive sooner, which has compounding positive impact and flow-through effects.

That morning, worn thin with sleep deprivation, I got a call from Google. They were raising the offer to 211K. Thats 211K. Liquid. Id receive all of that before a years end. I remember scratching my chin and just laughing. God fucking dammit. I thanked my recruiter, and let her know Id get back to her before the end of the day.

I told myself: if Im choosing Airbnb, just remember. 220K was theirinitialoffer. That means theres money on the table. If theres one thing this job search had taught me, is that theres always, always more money on the table.

Now, if youre outside tech (or the Bay Area), those might sound like knock-down amazing offers. But all of these offers were lower than I was currently making, and they were all for explicitly junior roles.

Which left me with the question of: well, shit, what do I do with them?

Their offer was reasonably strong120K salary with a 15% guaranteed end-of-year bonus and 24K/yr in RSUs. The total package came out to 162K/yr annualizedmuch stronger than my other offers, but around the ballpark of what fresh graduates of App Academy who landed at Google would earn. In other words, it seemed they didnt place me very high on their spectrum. But whatever, right? It was Google! I got Google!

Many people seem to think that publicly disclosing your compensation is a fireable offense, and that Airbnb will fire me now that they see Ive posted this. Neither of those statements are true.

Of my offers, 2 of them were through TripleByte (one from TripleByte itself, the other, Gusto, through their introduction). The remainder were through referrals. Two of the 6 referrals were non-engineering referrals.

At that point, it seemed like a done deal. Companies like Uber, Twitch, Stripe, TripleByte, were all awesome companies. But it had to be Google.

On top of that, Google was the only company to do a donation matching program, up to $6,000. Thats an extra $6,000 a year that goes to charity that otherwise wouldnt. When it came to earning-to-give and building my career, when I looked at the numbers, it seemed clear I couldnt justify choosing any company other than Google.

Credentials should not be used as a proxy for talent. Education and work history are meaningful but relying solely on them results in missing good programmers. Good programmers come from all types of background. Its what you can do that matters, not where you went to school.

The Airbnb interview was long and challenging. But, unlike the Google interview, it was invigorating. I met with payments engineers, infrastructure engineers, even a political analyst who worked on European Airbnb regulation. I was challenged on my understanding of algorithms, of caching layers and database indices, I was questioned on my beliefs about the human right of free movement across borders and on the future of travel.

A TripleByte offer came soon in tow. First I had nothing, now I had three offers in front of me.

I hadnt negotiated with Google at all, so I knew the Google offer would move upward. I expected Google to settle somewhere around 180K all-in, which would be a healthy jump upward. But I started to really think: what would it take for me to turn down Google?

The largest percentage increase was also with my lowest initial offer, Yelp. They started at a total annualized value of 122.5K (105K salary + 17.5K stock), and their final offer was at a total value of 180K, an increase of $57.5K, or 47%. Again, I expect this to be anomalous, because I literally jumped in engineering levels (they initially offered me a junior role, then re-evaluated). The second largest increase was from Google, moving up $48.6K for an increase of 30%. This one is perhaps less anomalous. Im not sure.

I set off to the onsites. The first of the two, Flexport, was a freight company. In many ways, it seemed more like a logistics company than it was about technology company. But I felt like I performed well in the onsite.

I loved it. I loved everyone I met. Even more, I loved the spirit of Airbnb. Everything about itthe beautiful cosmopolitan office built as an homage to Airbnbs around the world, the people, the technology, the raw energy and drive toward connecting the world more tightly together.

What on earth are they doing offering me 220K? This company must be out of its goddamn mind. No wonder tech is so overvalued. I lost my shit.

This post has gotten a lot of unexpected attention, so I want to clarify a couple things.

250K? Do I have your word? she said.

I called my recruiter from Airbnb and, half expecting to get laughed at, announced: If Airbnb can move up the RSUs by 30K to hit a total of 250K in all-in compensation, then Ill sign.

Part of it had to do with my ego, no doubt. But this job search had shown me that part of it was very real and material.

Google was assuring me that theyd raise their number by Friday morning. That night I couldnt sleep. I repeatedly got out of bed, pacing back and forth rehearsing conversations, frantically checking my e-mail and re-tweaking Excel models. What the fuck? Just a few weeks ago I could barely get anyone to look at my resume. My first offer barely cleared 120K. 220K? What on earth is Airbnb thinking??

That night and the following morning, I called up trusted friends and asked them what I should do. I was on the phone off and on for several hours through that morning. The consensus was overwhelming.

I wasnt expecting to do too wellId read in many places that Airbnb had an extremely challenging interview, and that they were more credentials-focused than other companies. So much so that Id never heard of a bootcamp student getting placed at Airbnb. Apparently they used to post on their job listings: no bootcampers, please.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of habitually checking my phone, email, anything for some word of what would happen. I was driving my car into Austin, bumper-to-bumper in traffic when I got the phone call. It was the Airbnb recruiter.

Next was Gusto. They were a groovy company (no shoes in the office!), and the interview was a delight. They told me theyd get back to me within a week.

I started mowing down onsites. My performance and experience were no different, yet I was treated completely differently. Phone screen from Google. Gusto raised their offer. Phone screen from Stripe. Yelp raised their offer. TripleByte raised their offer. Then the phone screen at Google converted to onsite.

Stripe onsite. Uber phone screen. Twitch phone screen. Uber onsite. Stripe offer. Twitch onsite. Uber offer. Twitch offer. The offers came in, stronger and stronger. All the irons Id put in the fire were now going off like Roman candles.

I applied to the all the big hiring websites.Hiredrejected me from their platform. I got no bites anywhere onAngelListor LinkedInnot even cold e-mails from recruiters. Nothing fromWhiteTruffleorSmartHires.

Saw youre starting to get some interviews booked with companies!

In the end, I didnt get a single offer through a raw application. Every single offer came through a referral of some kind. (This I did not expect, and strongly influences the advice Id give to a job-seeker.)

Well, as it turned out, those companies werent really looking for someone like me. Since TripleByte is a two-sided process, they matched me up with companies for which there was a good mutual fitStripe, Twitch, or Airbnb were nowhere on that list. However, one of the companies they matched me with was Gusto, formerly Zenpayroll (and now a timely Zenefits competitor). Id previously had my eye on them, so I was excited to see them matched up with me. They also lined up an onsite at a small YC startup called Flexport.

I walked back to the BART station that evening, exhausted and completely drained, without any idea whether Id done well or bombed.

I knew Google would have a strong final offer, maybe upwards of 200K, but 211K was stronger than Id expected. Still, it shouldnt sway my decision, right? Was this really a decision within a margin of 10K in EV? No one else seemed to think so. If Airbnb was the winner, it should still be the winner now.

But if Im going to ask for more, I shouldnt just ask for 10K more. I should expect to be met somewhere in the middle, right? Ive got to be aggressive. But I dont have any stronger offers and they know that, so maybe its stupid.

I had less than a week to decide. I didnt know how to make the decision. So I started trying to evaluate everything objectively. I tried estimating the value of different outcomes. I tried to ascribe weights and calculate the value of things like network, branding, growth, faster promotion, potential for meeting co-founders, likelihood of IPOing. But nothing was convincing. It felt like an impossible choice. Before long it was Thursday night and I had to make a decision before the end of day Friday. There was a lot of cursing.

But, seemingly more affecting than all of those thingsthey needed me. At Google, Id be a smart person sitting in a smart person chair. Id be doing serious engineering work no doubt, but by the time Id be done, Id be walking away having changed little more than my own resume.

I began really weighing things. Googlewas Google. I already knew its advantages.

Upon Neds glowing recommendation, David met with me and agreed to refer me into Airbnb. With his referral, I was promptly un-rejected. David was a senior engineer there, and his recommendation seemed to carry a lot of clout (the Google offer helped of course), so I was quickly shuffled through to the phone screen.

I get the phone call. Airbnb wants to make an offer. I have less than a week, but theyre scrambling to piece everything together to meet my deadline. Theyll get back to me.

At Airbnb, they really needed my help. They believed I could make a difference. For the life of me I couldnt figure out why, but they made it clear. They thought I was valuable, and they wanted someone with my experience.

A week later, I got a phone call from the Google recruiter.

To my surprise, I was able to pass their anonymous programming quiz and I was automatically invited to an onsite assessment. I showed up sheepishly to their office on King Street, and over an intense three hours I was grilled by my interviewer on coding, data structures, algorithms, and system design. At the end of the interview, he asked me what my computer science background was. None, I told him. Id learned this stuff on my own and from teaching at App Academy. He was taken aback, and told me I was incredibly strong for only having studied this material less than a year.

But really, what stuck out most to me is that Id be leaving App Academy to a downgrade. I would be no better off than if Id just joined those companies a year before. My goal, somewhere in my head, was to make at least more than I was making now. An arbitrary benchmark in a lot of ways, but it was hard to give up.

One other thing I want to add. I know some might think its weird to be sharing your compensation in a public venue like this. I take my inspiration fromJeff Kaufman(who ironically works for Google, albeit in Boston), who donates 50% of his income to EA charities and catalogues it publicly every year.

With that, the floodgates opened. Just the whiff of the Google name got recruiters into a frenzy. Companies that wouldnt even look at me now bent over backwards to expedite me through their funnels.

But in the end, it was hard to argue against Google being the best choice.

(Note: this is the second part of this story.You can read the first part here.)

First (and this should go without saying), everything mentioned in my story are my own thoughts and words, and though I am employed by Airbnb, I in no way speak on their behalf. (Its legally important to say that, I guess.)

TripleByte had gotten things moving. But even more importantly, they had given me back some confidence. TripleByte wanting to work with me was a small affirmation, to be sureit wasnt even a job offer yet. But it felt like Id finally pierced the membrane. If these guys thought I was goodI must have it. I just gotta prove that to everyone else now.

Everyone thought I should go with Airbnb.

In the middle of this flurry, I created an account on TripleByte.TripleByteis a young YC startup thats trying to change tech hiring. Fromtheir manifesto:

And yet, pay secrecy is considered the norm in American culture.

I actually wanted to throw another company option into the mix, us 🙂 Were hiring to build out our engineering team, we really enjoyed meeting you and would love to talk more about that if its of interest. Just let me know and I can give you a call tomorrow!

Its explicitly illegal under the National Labor Relations Act to fire workers for discussing their compensations, and it has been illegal in American law since 1935. This kind of policy is known as Pay Secrecy, and such policies have been repeatedly struck down by courts.

Despite the rejection from 23AndMe, I kept pushing.

The norm of keeping compensation secret is a very American one. And I think on the whole, it stifles transparency and open dialogue about things like class and economic inequality. But more poignantly, it makes it harder to be transparent and galvanizing about earning-to-give, which is very much one of my goals.

The next day, TripleByte called me. They wanted to work with me! Theyd introduce me directly to startups in the YC network. This was excitingthere were a ton of companies in YC network I wanted to talk to: Stripe, Twitch, Airbnb, to name a few.

I kept on. I asked friends, students, anyone I knew for referrals. I started reaching out to non-engineers. I asked anyone at all who worked at all at a tech company I found compelling.

Google! I was on cloud nine. I was ready for everything to wrap up as I figured out which bus I would be taking to San Bruno, planned out my morning workout regimen, and all the rest.

My Google recruiter worked for the Youtube team (headquartered in San Bruno). That meant if I were to receive an offer, the Youtube team would have first dibs on me. The interview process is standardized Google-wide though, and Google would ultimately be my employer. I spent the weekend before practicing and took the day off from work so I could head down to San Bruno for the interview.

Considering only the onsites after receiving my first offer however, my onsite-to-offer rate was 87%.

They wanted me. A company actually wanted me! A good one! I laugh now, but it was a revelation to me. They invited me in for another onsite so the rest of the team could vet me.

I had to take this really seriously now. Airbnbs offer was highly illiquid, but they were offering me a very strong base salary: 130K, 25K signing bonus, and 65K worth of RSUs a year. Not as liquid as Google, no doubt. But Airbnb as a company was barreling toward an IPO, already worth more than 23B, and was of the most robust tech companies from a business and revenue perspective. Besides, if Im risk-neutralwhich I think I amthen its a clearly better deal.

The first and most visceral reason was Id never have to deal with this BS again. Google would be a golden mark on my resumelike the Harvard of software engineering. Never again would I have to worry about credentials, or people tossing my resume without reading it. Google is the one name Id be able to brandish anywhere asundeniableproof of my legitimacy as an engineer.

But even so. Yeah, Airbnb was pretty cool. (And walking distance to my house!) But still, Google is Googlethe tech equivalent of getting an invitation to the Justice League. How could I turn that down?

Pay secrecy is an easy fallback, because talking about social inequality and pay differentials is uncomfortable. Its especially uncomfortable in American culture, where your salary often serves as a signal of your social status.

It was a tough question. Because I was in a competitive situation, Google had allowed me to start chatting with Youtube hiring managers and essentially pick my team.

Shortly afterward, an onsite from Yelp pulled through (my referral was through a non-engineer!). I went onsite and completely rocked it. Every interviewer was clearly impressed, and they immediately asked me for my references afterward. Perhaps things were looking up! It seemed like one of Gusto or Yelp might actually convert into an offer.

Maybe not. Perhaps I just had to accept it.

But the irons in the fire were still shooting off sparks. Offers improved, sometimes without any prompting on my part. They became increasingly stronger and stronger. Soon, they started overtaking Googles.

Bam. Suddenly Google was in sight. I felt like Captain Ahab: for me, Google was the Big One.

More room to grow? How bad did Google actually want me?

I almost swerved into the car next to me from punching the air so hard.

Airbnbs mission is simply, Belong Anywhere. Ive been both an Airbnb guest and a host for years, and before that I was an avid Couchsurfer and Couchsurfing host. I believe strongly in the culture of sharing and interconnection.

Before I could savor it too long, I received a phone call soon after. Yelp recruiter. Yelp wanted to make an offer.

Janice! Whats the word?? I held my breath.

So I think, on the whole, I really got lucky with a company thats a perfect fit for what Im looking for.

In total, I received offers from Airbnb, Youtube (Google subsidiary), Uber, Twitch (Amazon subsidiary), Yelp, Stripe, Gusto, and TripleByte. The average value of the final offers was approximately $193,600. The salaries were all approximately the same at $130K. (Only one company offered me a base salary of $125K.) I should also note that I negotiated more aggressively on RSUs and signing bonus. Ill also talk more about that later.

I explicitly entered into tech a year ago because I believed it was a place where Id be uniquely well-suited to create a lot of value. Its an industry where smart, driven young people can quickly earn an outsized income. Seeing that opportunity, I decided to pivot into tech and make building a career here an active aim of my life. And I hope to, as long as I can, continue to speak openly about my compensation and give even more of it away.

But at Airbnb, Id clearly be able to take on more responsibility more quickly. The engineering organization was slated to double within a year. I was already very familiar with Airbnbs tech stack, mostly Ruby on Rails, since it was what Id been teaching at App Academy and developing on for the last year. It was also younger company. Unlike Google and its lifers, this was a place where Id be more likely to meet people in an earlier stage in their livesand meet potential co-founders.

I was supposed to be upset, but by now this was an old game. I brushed it off. Each interview I could feel was making me better at interviewing. It was getting easier and easier to relax, to ask for what I needed, to make jokes, to grill my interviewers. I was getting into my rhythm now.

I was offered a spot on the Youtube Red team, doing back-end work in C++. A small and fast-moving team in one of Youtubes shiniest new projects. It would be tough, certainly, to learn the technology and start becoming productive. But Id be doing world-class engineering, and have a world-class company on my resume.

So thats the story. I start on Monday.

I made the magic happen. 250K. 130K salary, 25K signing, 95K a year in RSUs. So youre in?

That said, the brand of the company was obviously an explicit consideration for me. From that perspective, my choice to join Airbnb might seem a little strange to some. In many parts of the world, Google and Airbnb wouldnt even be said in the same sentence. But within the SF ecosystem, Airbnb and Google are largely considered to be in the same tier of engineering organizations. Id even argue that among certain crowds, Airbnb would be a stronger signal on ones resume than Google would be.

Now that I had offers in hand, it was time to turn the crank. I reached out to every company I was talking to and told them Id just received several offers, but was very much interested in moving forward. With that, suddenly recruiters started tripping over themselves to get me on site. I was no longer the ugly boy at the party.

As an instructor at App Academy I ceaselessly pushed my students to negotiate hard, without fear of being rejected, looking stupid, or being perceived as greedy. Employers negotiate even harder and with more power behind them, and so its up to candidates to tip the scales back in the direction of employees. As absurd as it seemed now, given an offer of 220K, I had to take my own advice and ask for more. I rehearsed it again and again in my head.

On the whole, Im really excited to be joining the Airbnb family. Its definitely a different path than Google. Most significantly, therell be less that I can donate to charity in a years time. But not only is the total value of the assets greater, Im also convinced that in the longer term, Airbnb will be the better move for my career.

And yet, I couldnt deny: there was something energetically captivating about each and every startup I talked to. There was something deeper about them that attracted me, something was missing from Google. Not just the growth and the responsibility, or the greater self-determination. Each of these companies were innovators, creating new value in an uncertain future, andthey needed my help.

I hadnt considered joining a super small company. Id already spent the last year at a 25 person startup; TripleByte was only 5 people. But I knew entrepreneurship was somewhere in my future, and eventually Id be joining a super early stage startup (if not founding it myself). TripleByte was a fantastic company, already with huge traction in the tech hiring space. Their founder, Harj Taggar, was a former YC partner, and one of the most charismatic and capable people Ive met.

Still, 105K might sound like a lot of money to be miffed about. But in San Francisco, with the second highest cost of living in the US (behind only Manhattan), the purchasing power of $105K in SF is the same as making about $57K in Austin, Texas. I also still owed App Academy tuition (18% of my first years salary), which was deferred because of my employment by App Academy. That 18% would come due on whatever offer I accepted. And of course on top of that, Id also be donating a third of my income.

On the phone interview, I received a pretty challenging problemI remember thinking when I got it that I was going to mess it up. But somehow I solved it with ease, and all of my outputs were correct. Im not sure whether to attribute it to the accruing notches on my belt or to blind luck, but I aced the phone screen and they eagerly brought me on-site.

Their interview process is completely blind to credentials. They decide to work with you purely on the basis of a technical assessment, then they learn about your credentials and then introduce you to startups they determine are a good match. Though they mostly work with experienced software engineers, I decided to give them a try.

That said, I realize that pay transparency is a controversial subject, and I seem to have stirred up a hornets nest. So I want to make clear a few things.

And yet, it was a little bittersweet. Yelps offer was 105K salary with ~17K/yr in equity. Gusto hit around 115K with comparable equity in options, and TripleByte was in the same ballpark.

I arrived that morning at the San Bruno BART stop, hardly having gotten any sleep the night before, and walked 30 minutes to the Youtube campus in downtown San Bruno. It was still early, so I sat in the lobby and read over my notes from Cracking the Coding Interview for some thirty minutes, trying to keep my cool. Finally, the recruiter came out and met me and brought me to the interview room.

But pay secrecy carries with it a lot of costs. It can hide gender and racial discrimination, systemic exploitation, and nepotism. Its easy to sweep these problems under the rug and not want to look at them. And for

As the offers came in, I weighed them seriously. Every single company I talked to was compelling and had aspects that made me want to work there.

Theres obviously a lot in this department, but this blog post is already long enough. Im going to write one more post before I start at Airbnb this coming Monday: my key takeaways from this job search, and advice to current job seekers. Ill also talk more about my thoughts on negotiation in that upcoming post.

The differential between my lowest (initial) offer and my highest (final) offer was, in total value, an increase of 104%. That is, my compensation literally more than doubled by not accepting my first job offer. (I expect this to be highly anomalous, since companies had a lot of discrepancies in where they leveled me on their engineering ladders.)

Was what Id learned over the last year working at App Academy not worth anything on the market?

There were 12 companies where I was referred but did not receive an offer. 25% of the companies I was referred to didnt even talk to me. But that was a lot better than the base rate: overall, 53% of companies I applied to through any means rejected me without even talking to me.

On all but two of my offers, I negotiated. The average delta for company offers at which I negotiated was +$30,671 for the final offer. So, negotiation pays, boys and girls. More on that later.

By the end of my process, I had received a total of 8 job offers (not including re-negotiation with App Academy). I had completed 12 onsites total, so my I had a total onsite-to-offer rate of 66%.

Then came the Gusto recruiter. Gusto wanted to make an offer.

Its funny. I had initially been rejected by an Airbnb recruiter for a different position more than a month before. Airbnb wasnt even on my radar. So when Ned, the CTO of App Academy told me hed put me in touch with his friend David at Airbnb, I mostly brushed it off.

Ive always had a lot of respect for Airbnb as a companyI was an early Airbnb user myselfbut even as I was walking into their large and beautiful campus, my mind was already made up. I was joining Google.

Okay. Let me see what I can do. Ill get back to you before evening.

There was a time in American history when income tax records were in the public domain. Even now, there are many cultures in which talking about your compensation is not at all considered wrong or disrespectful. Rather, its seen as an important part of creating a transparent society.

Of course, it was also walking distance (the ol commute-less commute).

They actually needed my help. That was captivating. And it was hard to ignore that I didnt really feel that in my interactions with Google.

And with that, the first domino fell.

I was nervous. Was I a fraud? At App Academy I might have seemed like a paragon, but to the rest of the worldwas I simply not good enough?

After the interview, Airbnb was slow to get back to me. Being a challenging interview, I was unsure whether an offer would come throughmuch less, if it could change anything. Id already finished my last day working at App Academy, and was now officially between jobs. I decided to head home for a bit to wrap up my negotiations and rest up before starting my next gig. I had a short deadline until I wanted to start, and let each of the companies know. It was now time to go into final negotiations.

Rejected? It is what it is. Just keep putting in the practice, I told myself.

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