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Software engineers, here’s how to land your dream job at Datavant

 

Datavant, a 4 year old startup, has an extremely high bar when we interview candidates. By the numbers, we make an offer to less than 1% of all applicants, yet the criteria we assess for are remarkably straightforward, and preparing for an interview at Datavant should not be difficult if you share our values, are smart, and get things done.

What do we look for?

We look for three traits at Datavant, each with a specific meaning in our process:

  1. Nice (do we have shared values?)
  2. Smart
  3. Get Things Done

Over the past 10 years I’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates for engineering, product, design, R&D, and related tech roles. Interviewing is a unique skill, and regardless of your experience interviewing, it’s impossible for a hiring manager to get to the right decision without a clear definition of the ideal candidate. Furthermore, without clear and objective criteria, hiring decisions become steeped with unconscious bias. That’s why the first step in hiring well is defining excellence.

Datavant is an olympic gold medal sports team, and we want to hire people who will add to our team and help us get to our ambitious goal of connecting the world’s health data that much faster!

1: Values

Why do we look for it?

We’re very intentional about our culture at Datavant, and the foundation of culture is values; that’s why the first thing we look for in a candidate is shared values.

What is it?

You can see an exhaustive list of our values here, but there are two that really define Datavant for me:

  • “More Responsibility, Fewer Rules” and
  • “Feedback is a Gift.”

More Responsibility, Fewer Rules is both the result of and the foundation for a culture of trust that ultimately stems from hiring a highly talented, high performing, self-motivated team. When we get excited about “an excellent engineering candidate” it’s someone we can trust to work hard (We Work Hard) and get things done (Perfect is Good, Done is Better) in a way we’re proud of (Always Pass The “Loved One Test”). This comes out in an interview when a candidate demonstrates the ability to execute amidst uncertainty, make decisions, gather context, feedback, and inputs from others, establish alignment with stakeholders, and ultimately see projects through to completion. On the flip side, if you’re the type of person who thrives in a highly structured environment where tasks are clearly defined and you always have all the information you need, then Datavant is probably not the right place for you.

The second Datavant value that really shapes our culture, in my opinion, is “Feedback is a Gift.” We believe that the most successful engineers ask a lot of questions, they seek out and give high quality feedback to their peers and managers on a regular basis, and they tackle challenges with a growth mindset. Datavant does well on many dimensions that are important to candidates, but we’re seeking to be truly best in the world on one dimension: personal growth. The foundation of growth and learning is feedback, and our focus on feedback leads to lots of internal promotions (We Grow Leaders) and engineers in positions where they can Play To Their Strengths. Engineers that are successful at Datavant are highly intelligent and ambitious, but perhaps more importantly, they’re curious, open-minded, and inquisitive.

How do we assess it?

One way that we test for shared values is through our technical phone screen. While we don’t typically practice pair programming in our daily work at Datavant, we do use it to assess candidates. We find that our pair programming exercise tells us a lot about how a candidate receives instructions, questions assumptions, and responds to feedback. Furthermore, this highly structured pair coding interview, allows you to show your knowledge of data structures and your ability to communicate with another engineer. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Datavant will never hire jerks, brilliant ones or otherwise, and this collaborative exercise rapidly exposes jerks so we can get them out of our hiring process.

Our values are intentionally aspirational, and while we’re each getting better every day, one of the most powerful ways we can live our values is by hiring people that share them.

2: Smart

Why do we look for it?

Datavant aspires to be the best place in the world for engineers optimizing for personal growth. The flip side of that is that we look for extremely high potential, high aptitude, growth oriented candidates.

What is it?

We seek out candidates that are:

  1. Exceptionally intelligent
  2. Insatiably curious
  3. Outstanding communicators

We define outstanding communication along four dimensions:

  • Mindset — Do they push out information proactively or wait for you to pull the info in?
  • Structure
  • Do they dissect the main topic into comprehensive arguments?
  • Can I understand the ‘gist’ of what they’re saying?
  • Do they get their point across the first time or do they need to repeat themselves?
  • Comprehension — Can they understand me? Do they demonstrate attentive listening?

A “good communicator” does well on multiple dimensions. To be successful as an engineer at Datavant, a candidate does not need to excel at all of the above, but their communication needs to be effective enough for them to engage in a team, understand priorities and projects, share updates efficiently, and support the learning/growth of other team members. Effective communication is even more essential in our relatively new remote first, largely asynchronous environment.

Previous engineering experience and existing engineering skills are also important for every new Datavant engineer, and we assess for excellence in engineering using the same performance rubric as we use for internal performance reviews, however, we focus much more on a candidate’s problem solving skills and their ability to communicate their ideas effectively, than prior tech stack experience.

How do we assess it?

Datavant is assessing intelligence, curiosity, and communication at every step of the interview process. Does the candidate catch on quickly and learn throughout the interview? Do they ask good questions with thoughtful follow ups? Do they share relevant details when answering questions without getting lost in the weeds?

While being “smart” is a subjective concept that isn’t easily measured, we believe that the Datavant definition of “smart” results in a highly talent dense team where even our strongest team members learn from their colleagues every day.

3: Get Things Done

Why do we look for it?

Datavant is a hyper growth company, and our engineers create value by getting things done. This might sound trite, but at Datavant we believe in hustle as a strategy. While there’s certainly a place for intellectual discovery, the engineering team at Datavant exists to build products that connect the world’s health data and by doing so, improve patient outcomes. Oftentimes, those problems have deep technical complexities that require thoughtful planning and design, and we value doing that work well, but at the end of the day, Datavant engineers deliver value when they write high quality production code and ship new features and products to customers.

What is it?

Getting things done at Datavant means identifying problems and creating solutions; sometimes that looks like writing code, but for experienced Datavant engineers, that more often looks like spending time to guide, mentor, and teach new engineers, empowering them to get things done.

How do we assess it?

In order to gauge a candidate’s “GTD’’ there is one question I ask every candidate I interview, “Tell me about a project you’re particularly proud of?” This doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge win or a particularly complex project, but we want to know that candidates have a track record of execution and value creation. Great engineering projects typically standout because the candidate:

  1. Took an ambiguous business goal and turned it into an actionable technical plan
  2. Executed on and/or lead a team to execute on the technical plan
  3. Took the project over the finish line; pushed the code to production; delivered real value to users

An ability to get things done might sound like a trivial expectation for a candidate, but in my experience, most people, even very smart ones, procrastinate, tackle the easy tasks first, and avoid the high value high difficulty tasks that we’re looking to get done. Mark Twain famously said, “If you have to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the bigger one first.” In other words, “Do it now.” We’re looking for engineers that get up every day and eat the frog.

Join us

We’re not trying to fit every candidate; we’re trying to be the absolute best opportunity in the world for a small subset of candidates. If this sounds like you or someone you know, come join us; we’re focused on the vision of connecting the world’s health data to improve patient outcomes, and we’re hiring!