Jay Little - Software Obsessionist
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No Matter How Much You Want To... You Can Never Go Back

03/12/2020 22:37:14

I haven't posted anything here in over a month but rest assured that isn't because I don't have anything to say. It's been a chaotic, busy and unrewarding month. Ultimately I've decided to hunker down and be grateful for the things I do have at least for the foreseeable future.

So what's happening? Well we are going to talk about a recent experience that I had with a former employer, Paylocity. Now I've been careful to not speak overtly on the subject of Paylocity (non-overt posts not withstanding) since I stopped working for them a couple years back. The are three primary reasons for that.

First off, even though I left due to frustration I still was a fan of my overall experience at Paylocity. I felt like I had worked with some of the smartest people around and that I had received plenty of benefits in terms of both compensation and education in exchange for the time and effort I gave them. Secondly, because I had received Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) as part of my compensation, I was actually bound by the terms of an agreement that I signed as part of that which restricted me from freely speaking about the company. Relax ex-Paylocity co-workers, I'm not going to violate the terms of that agreement today.

The last reason I haven't spoken very much about my experience was that the honest truth of the matter was I believed I could return and go back to work there. When I left it was made very clear to me that this was an option and at the time I felt that it was a sincere overture. I had received quite a bit of stock based compensation on top of a salary that was quite nice especially given the area of the country in which I reside.

Be all that as it may, today the door to me returning was officially closed. For the first time in my career, I was not the party who burned the proverbial bridge. Paylocity chose to do this. A few weeks ago I got a wild burr up my ass and decided that I would be interested in going back to work on a product development team. So I reached out to the executive who specifically told me to reach out to her if I ever wanted to come back.

Arrogantly I thought this was going to be a quick and easy process. I was only gone for 22 months and there were plenty of people there who I had worked alongside with in the trenches and delivered results on behalf of, time and time again. I thought I would be a shoo-in and that this process would be like hitting play on a paused movie.

I could not have been more wrong. It started to go awry almost immediately when the executive informed me that I would have to go through the full interview process because my salary requirements required me to come in as a Senior Software Engineer, which is not a position they typically hire from the outside for. I found this to be disturbing, especially as I left before these positions were established (more info here). But this did not deter me as the greenhorn who essentially filled my position after my departure ended up being promoted to a Senior Software Engineer within short order.

The first step of this process was they had me complete their coding exercise. This is where it started to get really insulting. When I left the company I was one of the top ten code committers on their mainline product, WebPay, which processes payroll. There are numerous examples of my code floating around that company so interviewers needed only to fire up Bit Bucket and search for my name. Barring that, I had numerous commits in a wide variety of internal repositories beyond that one. That's because I'm a prolific coder who commits often.

Honestly the part that somehow made it feel even worse was that the exercise was the same one they asked me to do in 2015 when I originally interviewed with them and was hired. So in addition to all of my on the job code commits, they also had my original exercise that they could have evaluated. In truth, despite the fact the exercise was the same, I'm actually glad I got a chance to take another crack at it. Not only because future prospective employers will expect me to do similar things and it's been five years since I've done it, but because I liked idea of seeing whether or not I could build a better widget this time than I did last time. Spoiler alert: I did. In fact feel free to check out the GPLed code in my public github repo.

A day after submitting the exercise I attended an interview with two principal engineers and we all went over my solution and they quizzed me about various technical decisions I made after I gave my initial presentation. I felt that the interview went quite well, but that may have been influenced by the fact that I had worked with one of the interviewers quite a bit and knew him to be a competent engineer. The other I only knew by reputation and he did not appear to know me.

It took nearly a week but eventually Paylocity contacted me and let me know that they had decided not to move forward. They did not feel I could fill the shoes of a Senior Software Engineer within Paylocity. This was immensely disappointing and I responded by telling the Paylocity recruiter this was the most insulting feedback I had ever heard in my career. When I pressed her for specifics she indicated that it was a combination of my compensation requirements and the fact that "the team" (who they are, I have no idea) did not feel like I could act as an effective mentor to other less senior engineers.

Needless to say, my journey with Paylocity has officially come to an end. The recruiter and the executive (whom I contacted afterwards to thank her for even giving me a chance) both encouraged me to try again in the future but at this point I can say with certainty that I will not be taking them up on that. I don't know what it would be like to go through this process as a true outside applicant, but as an ex-employee who had a string of great performance reviews and was highly compensated, I found it to be insulting and downright demeaning.

Since I'm not on the inside, I can't speak to what happened behind the scenes. But I think it's silly that Paylocity seems to feel that hiring senior talent from the outside is not a viable option. Given how high they set the bar for this position and the fact that they told me up front they don't typically hire outside applicants for these roles, it seems clear that they are now committed to hiring more green developers, indoctrinating them to the Paylocity way of doing things and then promoting them into more senior positions where they can wield a lot of influence.

If I'm guessing, my guess would be the fact that I left the company at all effectively makes me ineligible for this role now and forever. This was clearly not about the level of technical knowledge, skills and track record that I brought to the table. Yet that's EXACTLY what this should've been about. I came into this process feeling very confident because all of those factors were aligned to work for me rather than against me.

In closing, I really should've seen this coming. The trap that I fell into is that distance makes the heart grow fonder, as the old adage goes. But when I honestly look back at the kinds of things I was writing while I was working at Paylocity especially "The Death of the Meritocracy", I realize that what I'm seeing now is a natural evolution of the trends I was struggling with back then.

They don't care how technically talented, skilled and proficient I am or was. They only care if I exemplify the so-called corporate values that allow me fit into the cookie cutter mold which forms their ideal of what a Senior Software Engineer at Paylocity is supposed to be. And you know what? I don't fit into it. So they made the right decision.

Thanks for setting me straight Paylocity. I won't make this mistake ever again.

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