At the time, I did not hear back from Radial, possibly because they wouldn’t have had a clue who I was, and possibly because I’m pretty sure the company’s management structure was changing significantly around that time and there’s a good chance my resume was lost in the shuffle. Regardless, I got no response.
But the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. Radial wrote web applications in the same programming languages I was learning, so I felt I would be able to offer them relatively good value as junior developers go. Plus, they were located in Loveland, Colorado, which was a perfect geographic fit for me.
So I applied again when I was closer to the end of Bloc’s curriculum, sending a resume to the owner, co-founder, and manager of the company, Ben West. This time, I got a reply, and we met up and discussed how the company operated and if they were currently hiring.
(A quick note for anyone who really wants a specific job and didn’t get it the first time: apply again. I did this at Simply Mac, T-Mobile, and Radial, and there’s something about the second application that seems to show employers you’re worth taking a chance on, even if your resume doesn’t quite check all of the boxes.)
I got a strange answer about the company’s hiring status. There was a direct “No,” they were not hiring, but also an upfront statement of how much I would be paid in such a position and an offer to let me code at the Radial offices while I continued working through Bloc. I expressed interest in the position and that was the end of it.
I figured I might hear back if an opening came up, but for the time being, I kept searching. I went to a Boulder Ruby Group Meetup where Kate Catlin, founder of Find My Flock, was looking for support in contributing to an open-source project, Women Rising. Bloc’s curriculum asked for me to make ten open-source project contributions, so I jumped on the opportunity to contribute to a Rails project that had been started in Colorado.
As it happened, Ben was a friend of Kate’s, so I wound up chatting with him again over Slack. Now look, I’m not a destiny/fate/“it was meant to be and the stars aligned” type of guy, but it seemed like Ben and Radial kept cropping up everywhere I went. Kate told me at the Meetup how great Radial had been in supporting Women Rising, and that told me that it was really worth pushing harder to land a job there.
Long story short, I wound up working on Women Rising at the Radial offices—there was some strange issue where the form for one model needed to accept data for another model, and it was not really set up to do so. The solution involved an `accepts_nested_attributes_for` or two, at least one `f.collection_select`, and a lot of confusion on my part.
In short, I learned pretty quickly by pairing on the project with Rebecca Klein and Ben that my experience at Bloc was little more than a taste of what it was like to work on a live codebase with real users. Fortunately though, the Radial team was patient with me, supportive of my efforts, and open to my likely-stupid questions.
I ultimately delivered the contribution in the form of a sizable PR, which my Bloc mentor graciously counted as several open-source contributions rather than one. But more important than contributing to the code, truthfully, was the fact that it had given me the opportunity to work with the Radial team. I had met with Ben several Thursday mornings at a local coffeeshop, Dark Heart, and we had shared a lot of background about ourselves. We had both worked a lot of jobs full of thankless work and nearly-thankless pay; we were both critical of the gig economy as an underhanded way to get out of actually taking care of employees; and we both faced immense struggle with student loan debt that made the process of entering adulthood feel like it was a race run with ankle weights.
While I certainly know Ben and the Radial team much better now than I did then, these things all gave me examples of the Radial company culture. When Ben eventually offered me a job interview, I had a sneaking suspicion that the decision was more or less made before the interview began—if he didn’t like me working at Radial, I suspect he would have told me to leave before he started paying me.
Bloc had warned me about the possibility of technical interviews in the hiring process, where I would need to write a FizzBuzz function on a whiteboard or some such thing. Fortunately, my interview at Radial contained nothing of the sort, possibly because Ben himself was a developer and knew that FizzBuzz is worthless as a measuring stick of a software developer. I had only vaguely begun to understand this at the time, but now I can see with some certainty that every software project is specialized. Every project has particular needs that led to particular choices in the codebase that make it complex in a unique way, and no amount of industry experience can prepare you for it completely.
Instead, I got the sense that Ben wanted to know how I would lead a project, how I operated as an employee, and what I would do when handed hundreds of problems with no clear solution (incidentally, I think a lot of companies of all sorts could learn from this strategy). As I would later learn, the job I was hired for, Developer Lead, was not clearly structured; the projects I would work on had processes for development and deployment, but only in a vague sense that didn’t encapsulate their specific needs; and in general, the downside of the freedom and authority that comes from working at a small company is that there aren’t really any concrete guidelines for a lot of things. Ultimately, the job I was being offered was one that I would be making up myself.
The interview is now something of a blur to me. I always feel a lot of pressure in job interviews, no matter what the manage interviewing me does, and so I tend to forget what happened in them when they’re over. But I attempted to allude to the main thing I had learned from the dozen or so jobs I had held prior to working at Radial: school teaches kids to work exactly the opposite way from how the workforce works. In school, you are given tests, and the goal of a test is to avoid being wrong.
In work, there’s typically no way to study in advance, so the goal is not to avoid being wrong, but instead to be wrong now, to fail fast. Then you can figure out why you’re wrong and go solve the problem before it becomes your client’s problem. Super Target didn’t show cashiers any documentation on how to add a transaction to a gift registry or process a tax exemption; Old Chicago didn’t tell dough cooks they should mix their artisan dough first so it can proof while the cook is sheeting the cornmeal dough; Simply Mac’s training courses didn’t teach me how to check for liquid damage in an iPhone; and even two weeks of training at T-Mobile didn’t cover how to process Early Termination Fee reimbursements as opposed to Equipment Installment Plan Reimbursements. But I learned all of those things by asking questions and being wrong as soon as possible.
I think this is ultimately what landed me the job, whether Ben knew it before I said any of it or not, and I will always be tremendously grateful that Radial was willing to give me my first job as a software developer because of it.
Disclaimer: this post was written in affiliation with Radial Development Group.
Post number 61.