Hunter Loftis, a former Facebook employee and current software engineer at Adobe zoomed in with the How to Get an Analytics Job podcast to talk about how he navigated his career in tech after leaving his senior year of undergrad for a job he first believed was too good to be real.
Hunter works at the intersection of open-source and digital imaging in Adobe since August 2021. Prior to his role in Adobe, Hunter spent his free time working on a heavy graphics application that also used some cutting-edge web APIs to play dungeons and dragons online with friends. It just turned out there are some folks at Adobe with a shared interest in dungeons and dragons, and that is how Hunter found his current role. Hunter now gets to be part of a team at Adobe working on two of his favorite things, digital imaging, and web innovation. He’s getting paid to work on what he was already doing for fun! He highly encourages people to find opportunities in the communities that they’re interested in and to get involved with people rather than companies because people gravitate towards what they are interested in, and they could lead to your next professional role.
People entering the tech space often express their fear of getting stuck in a role for more years than they desire. To avoid getting stuck in a career rabbit hole you should venture outside of the company spaces and venture into online communities to test and try new things to figure out what you are curious and passionate about. At the same time, Hunter emphasized that you need to have a strategic plan for your next role or job that is specific to you. To plan this, you need to know what it is you care about, whether that’s a specific domain, like Hunter’s love for graphics, work location, or work-life balance.
Hunter is also a skill stacker. Although he may not be the best code developer or the world’s best graphic designer, he is incredibly great and experienced in a combination of the two. That is what skill stacking is all about, it’s unrealistic for most people to say I’m going to be in the top 1% of a specific skill or tool. However, being highly skilled in two different areas is a lot more attainable and usually more useful to an employer. Skill stacking is born from exploring skill areas where you are engaged and passionate and looking for unique intersections. When you find a role where you have the right intersection of skills the work often feels natural to you and more of the “right” fit.
Hunter shared something he didn’t know when he first started his career in tech and that is that most large tech companies brand their work with a thin veneer of proprietary technology that stands on top of a huge mountain of open source and open standards. As a result, a lot of the work in tech happens outside of and between companies. For example, in major tech companies like Google, Facebook, Adobe you can have people from all different companies in a room talking about the same w3c standards that affect everyone’s work.
Hunter also encourages people working in the tech space to collaborate on open-source projects. Essentially, what you get to do on open-source projects is collaborate and work with people on projects often involving a shared system that several teams use. This can help you build relationships with the people in the space you are interested in so that when a role opens on someone’s team, they can turn to you knowing you would be a good fit based on your collaboration. It also reduces their risk for hiring when they choose someone they have been working with because they are familiar with the work you deliver.
Hiring managers are not necessarily looking for the optimal best candidate on paper they really want to minimize their risk of extending an offer to someone that could make them look bad in six months. Hunter spent several years as a manager at Salesforce before deciding he wanted to build things again. He shared that the most useful part of his managerial “side quest” was seeing what life is like for a manager. One of the things he learned is that hiring was not what he thought it was. He used to think it trying to make a good deal with a candidate to fit a budget. However, what he quickly learned is that when hiring somebody the incentive has very little to do with a monetary budget, although roles have salary ranges the primary goal is to find someone who can actually fit that role. Someone who fits a role will make significant contributions so that when the first six months go by and it’s time for performance reviews you look like a competent manager. As a manager, you would much rather pay someone more if you’re confident that they’re able to deliver the work than to gamble on a bargain candidate.
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