Formative Years

  • May 25, 2011
  • Scott

John Lilly (of Greylock, previously CEO of Mozilla), recently wrote a post “Recruiting DNA“, in which he wrote about how early job experience shapes how you approach the world:

One of the things I’ve been really, really struck by is how significant the first 4 or 5 years of a person’s career seems to be on how they think and how they approach the world. It’s typically very easy to tell if someone started their career at Google or Apple or Microsoft or Paypal or a bunch of others, even when they’re 15 years into their career and well removed from that first job. You can just see it in the way they approach problems. These are gross simplifications and overgeneralizations, but Googlers tend to think about things in a data and machine learning sort of way. Amazon folk (Amazonians?) tend to think in terms of testing and yield. And other companies that shall remain nameless are notable in that their alumni have absurdly good PowerPoint skills. (Which, sadly, is not actually a positive indicator.)

John has talked to enough people to put some weight behind his oversimplifications and over-generalizations… But I think he has a point.  Phrasing it differently, each of these companies has certain “DNA” that has helped them be successful in their own way.  And what they are all particularly good at is teaching that methodology or DNA to the people they hire.  The most impressionable people they hire are the college graduates, freshly minted with their Computer Science (or similar) degrees.  I’d say John’s empirical observation fits.

John wrote in particular about Trilogy:

[…] the thing that imprinted most is an insane focus on recruiting insanely talented people. As a company, we were relentless about getting the smartest, most driven, most talented people we could. We were a tiny company, but going toe to toe with giants in on campus recruiting, for example — and I think we were probably about the best tech company at recruiting anywhere in the US in the mid-90s.

As one of the people who helped (in some small way) recruit John to Trilogy, I have to agree.  He was one of my friends from Stanford who told me “I don’t think I’d ever work for Trilogy” early in the recruiting process – but Trilogy had a relentless machine once talent was identified.  It just caused the company to get more creative about how to attract talent – giving John the opportunity to found the HCI (Human Computer Interaction) team at Trilogy and transform how software was being designed there. That HCI group has left a lasting impression on its members, and even on Austin, where quite a few of them still reside.  And there are at least two or three  “software UI/UX design firms” that were formed by alumni from the HCI group (I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more).

But as he says – the thing that imprinted most, was recruiting – both the importance of the process and the focus on talent.  After all, the interview is the tip of the spear.


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