Meet the team: BenDecember 5, 2012
Today’s post is a Q&A with Lucidchart’s Chief Technology Officer, Ben Dilts. Ben grew up in Pennsylvania and has 2 adorable children with his wife, Liliana. Ben has never worked at any company that isn’t a software startup, and he intends to keep it that way.
Ben is passionate about finding the right tools–and the right people–for the complex engineering challenges at Lucidchart. Readers, if you’re interested in working at Lucidchart and are looking for insights into the hiring process, you’re in the right place!
Tell me more about what you do here at Lucidchart.
Ben: As the CTO, it’s my job to watch for new technologies that might be applicable to what we’re building. I have to be sure that we’re aware of–and using–the right tools for the job.
So which resources help you evaluate that?
Ben: I follow a number of tech blogs, and I go in there looking for new tools to fit new problems. There’s a saying, “When all you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And I want to avoid that mentality. I often consult StackOverflow or ServerFault to see what other engineers are saying, because sometimes, the answer is already out there and we just don’t know about it yet.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve done at Lucidchart?
Ben: Trying to hire good programmers! Finding great developers is a black art, and there’s no easy solution. I’m pretty happy with the process that we have in place right now.
Note: the interview process goes something like this:
1. Lucidchart solicits a resume and (usually) a transcript.
2. If the applicant looks like a contender, they’re sent a programming exercise which is designed to take 30-60 minutes to complete. If the applicant completes the exercise in a reasonable amount of time and sends back a strong solution, they’re invited into the office.
3. In the office, applicants take a timed 1 hour programming test and spend about 1-2 hours talking to members of the engineering team.
4. Based on the results of the test and interview, applicants are either offered a job or shown the door.
I know the interview process is pretty intense. Do you think that turns anyone off–good programmers who don’t want to jump through the hoops?
Ben: Actually, I’ve heard the opposite from candidates. They very much appreciate the intensity of the interview process because they know that the people they’ll be working with have also survived the process. In certain places–the CS department at BYU, for example, we have a reputation for being a hard place to get into, which is exactly what we want.
What’s the most exciting feature in the works for 2013?
Ben: Tablet support! Since we’re built on all HTML5 technologies, we’ve had a rough application on the tablet for a while. But in the next month or two, we’ll be seeing a first-rate tablet app in the browser.
Ben: Tablets have some unique restrictions — low-power processors but high-power graphics chips, dramatically different input methods, limited memory, and a unified memory architecture. So we had to optimize Lucidchart in different ways so that the mobile browsers can do what they do well, and avoid what they do poorly.
Our app will be built for a tablet, rather than just ported to a tablet. We will be the flagship application for the mobile browser. It’s a false choice that you must have either a terrible app or a native app. Web apps can be genuinely great on a tablet, but only if they’re carefully crafted to be so.
What advice would you give to a prospective candidate?
Ben: Pick something hard, find all the right tools to do it, and then do it. It’s really disappointing to me when I look at applicants’ work histories and everything they’ve done is trivial and non-challenging.
If you can find a truly challenging problem–whatever that is–and devise an innovative way to solve it, you can probably do well here. We need people who are motivated, not intimidated, by tough problems.
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