I’d like to share my experience interviewing at GitLab, where I had applied for the role of Senior CI/CD Developer near the end of 2017 1. I went through a questionnaire, a take-home project and six interviews over the course of three months. Unfortunately, they didn’t move forward with an offer in the end.
I did not have to sign an NDA, but I am still not going to go too much into the details of the process so as to not spoil it.
It is important to note that GitLab is very transparent about compensation and processes and they make most information available in several places, such as:
- A YouTube channel where they record some of their meetings and postmortems.
- A comprehensive employee handbook.
- A compensation calculator for software developer roles.
- A general overview of the interview process.
Having said that, let’s get started.
As with any other company, the first step involved dusting off my resume, firing up pandoc, my favorite LaTeX toolchain, and producing a nice and clean PDF that I could upload to their applicant tracking system. I applied for the “Senior Developer, CI/CD” role on October 9th.
By October 10th, I was told by an HR representative that I was accepted and was sent a questionnaire with three Ruby questions, three Go questions and five general questions, due within ten days. The questions were easy and involved a modest amount of coding. I sent my answers back on October 15th, after working on it over the weekend.
Note that this phase happened at a time when the company was gathering in Crete for their “GitLab Summit” event, which was happening between October 19th and the 25th. I got a couple of emails from two different HR representatives reminding me about that.
One Step Forward
On October 27th I got an email from the CI/CD team lead with a couple of questions covering aspects of the questionnaire. I sent back my answers on October 28th. I didn’t hear anything back until November 1st, when an HR representative told me that I was invited for a screening call, which I scheduled for November 7th. The screening call was held by an HR representative which would later become my main point of contact during the interview process.
After the screening call I was invited to schedule another call with the CI/CD team lead, which happened on November 14th. Unfortunately, he arrived late to the call, but I had the chance to chat with another senior developer. Even though we only chatted lightly about technical topics I was deeply and positively impressed by their attitude, friendliness, and skill set. At the end of the call we scheduled for another call to happen on Friday 17th.
On Thursday night (November 16th) I was told by my HR contact that we would need to reschedule the call since a someone from the US wanted to join the call. I was told to book a free slot overlapping on both team member’s calendars. Being unable to find one, I told my HR contact so and she found me a slot on November 30th2.
I was headed towards my first technical interview.
On November 30th I had a two hours call with both the CI/CD team lead and another high-ranking employee. I was offered the choice between three topics, after which we would have a brainstorming session which would be followed by an assignment that I would have to do on my own.
The call went pretty smoothly and, again, I was impressed by the friendliness and in-depth knowledge of both interviewers. It was a really pleasant experience.
After the call, I duly worked on the assignment and, on December 1st, opened a merge request that implemented a very basic MVP for the interview topic that I chose. This spurred a fair amount of activity on the merge request itself and the issue ticket it was linked to, since there seemed to be some interest from the community in having such feature.
I didn’t hear anything back until December 14th, were I was told that GitLab would like to move forward with an intermediate-level role, instead of senior. I told them that it was OK by me.
Climbing The Mountain
At this point I was invited to have non-technical calls with many team members moving upwards in the org chart. I scheduled the first two to happen on December 18th and December 20th. On December 27th, I was asked to provide some references. My last call was scheduled for December 29th.
These calls weren’t technical and mostly involved questions about my resume.
After the last call I finally had a chance to relax, at least until new year’s. I told myself that the next call, if any, would be with the CEO at this point, as per their hiring practices.
Ten Steps Back
And here comes the end of our journey. On January 2nd I was told by my HR contact that GitLab wouldn’t move forward with the application. I was bummed.
When I asked for feedback about my interview I was told that I had strong consultancy and entrepreneurship experience, and that I was weaker in working at a mid-size product company.
The feedback was totally fair. I co-founded a startup, and my only other work experience is at a consulting shop. My past work experiences, however, were clearly stated in my resume.
What I found especially frustrating was the fact that I was rejected only at the end of the interview process, whereas I could have been rejected at the very beginning. Due to their background requirements I had no chance to join the company from the start.
In the end it all felt like a huge waste of time, both mine and of all the people involved in the interviews. I seriously hope that the same doesn’t happen to other candidates.
I really enjoyed chatting with everyone I was interviewing with. Everyone there is clearly motivated, very capable, and friendly. I strongly believe that GitLab is trying to build something different that will improve the life of developers for the better, and wish them all the best.
As a candidate, I’ll humbly suggest a couple of improvements:
- Keep everyone in the interview process on the same page about candidate’s expectations and required background. This would prevent a situation like mine. I was essentially rejected from the very beginning but no one, except the last interviewer, really knew that. Reject me sooner, don’t waste my time. Or yours.
- Designate a single point of contact between the candidate and HR and let all communications with the company go through that person. I was contacted by no less than four different HR representatives. At many points a new person would come up from nowhere and send me an email, without introduction. Other times I wouldn’t hear back for days with no clear indication of where I was headed to. It was confusing.