Looking for a new gig in tech? Ellen Chisa has been there… and reports back.
By Ellen Chisa (Product Manager, Kickstarter)
Once upon a time, I decided I wanted to work at Kickstarter. That became a reality after six months and a lot of not so easy steps. I find myself repeating the story often, so here it is (in writing!)
I found out that Kickstarter had a Product Manager opening when Diana Kimball tweeted about it on April 25, 2012.
— Diana Kimball (@dianakimball) April 25, 2012
I read the job posting.
It was a weird lightning bolt moment. I was suddenly sure that it was what I wanted to do next. I near simultaneously decided I didn’t want to ask Diana for an introduction. Diana had helped me prep for my Microsoft interviews, and it seemed like asking for one too many favors.
Instead, I sat and waffled about how I could create the best possible application. I considered trying to be “creative” by making a photoshop mockup of a Kickstarter project page, but decided that would take too long.*
On April 27th, 2012 I finally sat down and put all my thoughts into a cover letter. Hitting “send” on that email was one of the highest emotions of my life.
I didn’t hear back from Kickstarter for a long time. I started getting nervous and disappointed that I’d have no way to get in the door. It made sense though – I assumed Kickstarter had bajillions of talented Product Managers applying. Ones who’d worked at places that sounded a lot cooler than Microsoft.
On May 22, 2012 the project for XOXO launched. I started seeing more and more of my friends back it (this was rare before I worked at Kickstarter!) and it seemed important to the company. After convincing Tom he also wanted to go, I backed the project on May 23, 2012.
For the most part I’d tried to put Kickstarter out of my mind. Then, on June 6th, I was standing at the 545 stop on Bellevue waiting for the bus to work. I pulled out my phone to check my email, and there was an email from Brett, Kickstarter’s Head of Product. I almost tackled Tom at the bus stop. Then I realized I shouldn’t talk about wanting another job in front of lots of Microsoft employees.
Between June 8th and 19th I had some typical PM phone screens. I prepped a little bit in my notebook about topics I thought were interesting for Kickstarter. I talked to Brett on the phone first, then he introduced me to Jed so we could chat. Shortly thereafter, I left for a vacation.
When I returned from vacation in mid-July, I got back in touch with Brett. He had the unfortunate news that there was no space for a PM. At the time, I wasn’t sure he was trying to nicely brush me off. It turned out that wasn’t true, and Daniella had moved from the community team. Regardless, Brett and I agreed to stay in touch about the role for the future.
On August 23rd I emailed Brett and mentioned that I’d be at XOXO. I was hoping to meet with anyone who’d be around. It turned out Brett would be there too, so we agreed to grab coffee Sunday morning during the event.
I’m not sure Sunday morning was the best choice, because it meant that I spent the first three days of XOXO, September 13-15th, as a nervous wreck. I dragged Tom away from the Kickstarter kiosk area. I refused to talk to anyone because networking scares me in general, and I was already anxious about the meeting. Plus, at that point, I’d quit my job and all my eggs were in one basket.
Finally, on September 16th Brett and I had Stumptown coffee and talked about Kickstarter. Later that day Brett introduced me to Charles. At the time, I had no idea that Kickstarter even had a design co-founder. I’d never heard of Charles. I was surprised when Brett introduced me to someone who definitely wasn’t Perry or Yancey.
Charles was fun to talk to. We stood behind a sheet in a hallway outside of XOXO. We talked about the role of user research, and the connection between PMs and designers. He invited me to continue our conversation after the end of the talks, but I had to catch a bus back to Seattle. I would have moved my bus ticket, but Tom and I were flying to Germany the next day.
I followed up with Brett. On September 19th I started doing a project to tackle changes I’d make to the Discovery experience. I still in Germany/London at the time, and wasn’t a good travel companion. I spent most of my time thinking about Kickstarter.
On September 29th I sent over my redesign of the Discovery Experience for them to review. You can see that over here. Consider yourself warned: it’s 22 pages.
I was in Prague on October 3rd when Brett invited me to fly out and visit Kickstarter. We arranged the time, and scheduled all day interviews for October 15th.
I cared a lot about having them go well, so I was really nervous.
It helped that I got to start by talking with Charles, who I’d already met. If I was ever scheduling interviews, I’d try to give the candidate a comfortable one first. It’s easier to talk to someone you’ve already met once. Charles and I talked a bunch more about user research.
Then I talked with Andrew, who asked me “what have you read recently?” That remains one of my favorite interview questions.
At the time, Kickstarter was working with a recruiter, so I talked to her for a bit.
Then, I had my only developer interview. At Microsoft, there’s usually a technical PM interview with softball code questions. Sam and I talked about my laptop stickers instead.
I had lunch with Brett. Brett also asked me the one of the questions I find the most intimidating – “how do you think it’s going?”
After lunch, I talked to Perry. That was definitely the most unusual PM interview I’ve had. We talked about psychology (pure psychology: not design, not organizational behavior).
After Perry, it was a big contrast to talk to Jed. He was the most methodical, and the one who focused on the work I’d actually done beforehand.
The last interview freaked me out. I was talking with Daniella. We only talked for half an hour when she decided we were done, and that seemed like a bad sign. Turns out we’d just gotten through all the questions she’d prepared.
Overall, I was feeling pretty good after my interviews, and had assumed they’d be the last step. I was surprised on October 17th when Brett asked for references. It was apparently a suggestion from the recruiter.
I provided a bunch of names on October 18th – a previous manager, a previous co-worker, and a couple people who also ran organizations I was involved with. I held my breath, because it was the first time I’d needed references for a job.
Then on October 22nd I got my Kickstarter offer. I immediately invited Jeff and Eric over to play a celebratory game of Cards against Humanity.
After some negotiations, I signed my offer letter on October 26th and agreed to start work on December 4th. Everything since then is documented in my portfolio.
* In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t do that.
This post originally appeared on Ellen’s blog.
What’s your advice for those looking for a tech gig?
About the blogger: Ellen Chisa is a Product Manager at Kickstarter. In her free time, she serves as a trustee of the NYC Awesome Foundation and reads lots of books. In 2014, she wants to check something into Github everyday. Follow her on Twitter.