Finding Your Ideal Tech Role

Elisa Valdez de Ramirez
29 min readDec 15, 2021
Tech team working at a large table
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Determining what you want out of your next dream role should start with you setting the stage of what it looks like when you achieve it. What’s that cliche about making dreams a reality? Anyhow, when you ask a developer that question, the top three answers always include some variation of the following: salary, cool product, and a modern tech stack. For designers or product folks, it might be a cool product, a good product development process, and a culture of collaboration. Now, not to say that those all aren’t important, but I would say that they may not reflect your personal priorities. After all, a job search is about finding that sweet spot that matches your values up with those of a company or team.

Any place you are interviewing with is a place you are also interviewing in return. When you consider that we spend a third of our lives at work, it becomes apparent how important finding the right place for you is. Whether you have worked in tech or are just entering the industry, we all have enough personal and professional experience to know what feels suitable for us and what doesn’t. It’s just that we often don’t know what to ask or how to gauge that.

The following is a mix and match collection of things that can and should be your priorities when looking for your next role. The combination you choose is entirely up to you. I hope this guide can aid you determining what your values in your next opportunity are and how to seek them out.

A tech team having fun collaborating
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


I know. We are beaten over the head with this buzzword a ton when we get into certain types of organizations, yet I would argue that very few companies or teams genuinely know what this buzzword means. So let’s start by talking about what culture is and why it’s crucial.

Company culture is how a company’s values manifest on a daily basis to the company’s stakeholders. Everything from how customer support interacts with customers to how your immediate manager speaks to you is lumped under here. In other words, company culture is vast and touches so much that it often shocks me that more people I interview don’t grill me on it.

Consider this. You get an incredible new job, maybe even at a place you have wanted to work at for a long time. The money is excellent. Perks and benefits are as well. Even the tech stack is modern, and the product is interesting. But when you start, the first thing you see is that many people seem to be disgruntled and miserable. You go to your first all-hands, and you notice all of the talking points revolve around the company’s bottom line. Something feels off, and yet you are happy and re-energized to be in a new place, so you push that feeling aside. As you watch more closely, you start to notice signs of burnout, and when teammates bring it up in meetings your manager ignores it or tries to explain it away. When you bring it up in your first 1:1, it is also explained away as “unhappy” people, and regardless of the reason given, it just feels…wrong. As time passes, you notice more and more people leaving and fresh faces replacing them, and then before you know it you become one of those “unhappy” people.

So what went wrong here?

Culture. In this hypothetical example, the company you joined had no culture. No matter how often companies say that their culture is to “change the world,” it’s how they get there that illustrates their culture. It’s not the vision or mission even. It’s the values or methods by which they pursue and achieve those goals because centering yourselves around shipping new things to increase revenue is not culture. That’s a business strategy.

We just have to learn how to find out if a company has a culture and if it aligns with who you are.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

What is your company culture?
You should be looking for answers that demonstrate the company has put some effort into defining this and that multiple people can speak to it with similar (not the same, parroting doesn’t count) language. Remember, it should also align with who you are. Do you care about collaboration? Listen for cues that they value people working across their departments to solve problems. Let’s say innovation is your guiding light. Well then, listen for language that demonstrates that they are making moves to stay ahead of the game on any aspect of their business.

What is your team culture?
This is important to ask the people involved with the team you will be working with daily. A team can have a different culture than the greater organization. Ideally, these two align, but your daily team’s culture could potentially be enough for you to excuse the absence of a company-wide culture. The answers you are looking for are similar to the above.

How do you live your culture every day?
As a Latina in this industry, it makes perfect sense that diversity is important to me. So important that I often ask about it on its own (more on that later). The answer I almost always get is, “It’s important to us, and we are working on it.” But when I press on how, no one can tell me any real tangible ways they are doing the work. If they tell you something is part of their culture and use a buzzword like “diversity,” “innovation,” or “transparency” but can’t give you examples of how they put those ideas into practice, then their culture is not authentic. They are using it as a lure to sound like they are doing the work.

What work do you do to maintain your culture?
This is so important because as deadlines loom, revenue goes down, or sales need to increase, the culture is the first thing to get thrown out the window. I have joined places that are 100% what they said they were in terms of culture, and then suddenly something happens, and the culture shifts into something I had not bargained for, or worse, it disappears altogether. You need to know that they have protections to ensure that if the culture shifts, it does so with clear and purposeful intent.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

They don’t have a Mission or Vision.
I would add that this applies if they have a mission/vision, but it is too generic (AKA “Change the world…). It doesn’t need to be publicly available, but the recruiter/HR liaison/hiring manager should be able to talk about it at a high level. Not having one (or having a vague, lofty one) means that they are likely moving in an ever-changing or potentially aimless direction.

Their Mission or Vision centers on increasing revenue or users.
This goes double for any company that says something about “scaling” or “growing” the company. As stated above, these are business goals and thus do not focus on the actual human effects. How will growing a company affect the customers? How will it impact the employees? I can already imagine mass hiring events and confusion about job responsibilities, processes not meant to scale as quickly as teams do, and an increased amount of work leading to burnout.

They can’t describe their culture succinctly or at all.
I once asked a team interviewing me to describe their team culture. I was met with looks of confusion. “What do you mean?” So I gave them the benefit of the doubt and gave an example. “On my current team, we put people first and are outcome vs. output driven.” I could have gone into details about how we demonstrated these things daily, but it was enough to get the point across. Yet, despite that prompt, I got an hour-long rambling about their SCRUM processes and how they release code. These are ways of working, something we’ll touch on later. Sure, those things can be in service of culture, but what was the guiding principle that led to those choices in the first place? That’s what they need to be able and explain.

They describe processes or ideals that are toxic.
“Work hard, play hard,” or any variation is a massive red flag. Toxic hustle culture is something that should be avoided at all costs. It could mean a lack of work-life balance and the potential to be a “cog” in a machine with the sole purpose of shipping features. I would argue that companies that talk about outputs (i.e., features shipped, deadlines met, velocity, etc.) more than outcomes (i.e., increase in active user sessions, interaction with a specific feature, or iteration on a solution) should be added to this list.

Their public affiliations, partnerships, statements, or social media posts do not align with you.
If culture is everything a company does, that is also visible in their other public interactions. I once worked for a company that had a very controversial person be the keynote speaker at their biggest conference of the year. That decision and the content of that keynote address resulted in people leaving the company. You can also consider what happened earlier this year with Netflix as a case study.

Some part of the interview process feels wrong or bad.
I cannot tell you how often I have been in an interview with a company, and something happens where I know immediately I do not want to work there. I have pulled out so many interviews for this reason alone because if they are willing to do something that rubs you the wrong way now when they are trying to show you they are a good choice, you can expect it will only increase in magnitude when you are there. But what does this look like?

I have had interviewers “neg” me by saying things like “You don’t have a Ph.D., so you could never be a CTO” or “If you are coding and managing, you are failing at one of those things.” Both are specific examples, but opt-out if an interviewer tells you that you cannot do something you know you want to achieve.

I have also had interviewers contest every point I have made in an attempt to “shake” me and see how I do under pressure. It has happened in both coding interviews and routine conversations. Again, what is the value for the interviewer to make you feel uncomfortable? Is that indicative of the environment you will be entering?

Now the controversial part. The interview process itself. I do not participate in interview processes with LeetCode or algorithm-type technical interviews. It’s not because I dislike them or am even scared by them. It’s bigger than that. It is because I believe those look for the wrong things in engineers. They indicate output-driven culture, measuring an engineer’s value on the amount of code they ship. But those who have done the job know that our value comes in many forms; code is only one. What about problem-solving, systems design and architecture, documentation, process contributions? What if you are a great mentor to juniors? How does solving an algorithm gauge that? I look for technical interviews that gauge my contributions outside of solely technical expertise as an alternative. My favorites are pairing interviews or ones where I make something from the ground up.

✅ TLDR ✅

A company’s culture sets the tone for everything from how they pay their employees to how they release software. It is the single most crucial aspect of the job search for anyone. If the culture is non-existent, can’t be described, is driven by business strategies or ways of working, isn’t being lived every day, or is not protected then you need to be aware that joining them is a roll of the dice.

A team working through a planning process
Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

Ways of Working

How a team or company handles its key processes comprises their ways of working. In tech, these can be the feedback loop from users, how customer service fields and escalates issues, how IT handles outages or security incidents, and how product engineering ships software.

When you are starting out, chances are you aren’t sure which ways of working align with you best just yet, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn about what a company is doing. After all, it will be expected of you to participate in those practices daily. For those of us who have been around the block, you likely have opinions (often strong ones) regarding ways of working. Some of those things are deal-breakers. What is universal regardless of experience is that a team or company’s ways of working can make your job enjoyable or result in burnout and frustration.

Caveat here. If a team or company doesn’t have straightforward ways of working defined, and that is your specialty or something you are passionate about, then tailor this section accordingly.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

What are your processes for [fill in the blank with your job-specific process]?
You are looking for evidence that they have given some thought to their ways of working and maybe even that they have tried multiple approaches before settling on one. Whatever their way(s) of working is, ensure that it allows for a good clear definition of roles, expectations, and most importantly, collaboration between all the different parts of the team. A flawed process does not include opportunities to break those silos that some parts of a tech org can easily fall victim to. It also doesn’t work towards iteration.

Who owns the team’s processes?
Someone or a group should be responsible for maintaining, monitoring, and helping to facilitate the ways of working. It could be a dedicated person like a project manager, release manager, or a SCRUM master, or it could fall to the entire team to own. Regardless, every way of working must be maintained lest it falls into disarray.

What tools or practices/artifacts do you use?
This answer could be a collection of SCRUM-like artifacts (sprint planning, retrospective, stand up, etc.) or a set of tools (JIRA, Slack, Zoom, etc.). This answer will give you some idea of what your week might look like on this team, and it will also allow you to set up the expectations of your role. Are you a PM/PO and have never used JIRA? Now you know you need to brush up on that. Bonus points if it’s something you have experience with and can tell the interviewer about!

How do you iterate on your processes?
If they say they do not, or worse, they will not; run. Nothing is worse than a stale process that is just routine and ineffective. It leads to burnout and lack of productivity. So you are looking for some indication that they are open to change if it serves the team. It is also vital that they demonstrate openness to feedback and constant improvement.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

There are no consistent “ways of working” that directly affect your job.
If you don’t have the right tools and processes to do your job, how can you understand the expectations of your role? Even worse, how do you know you can step into the role and be effective?

The “ways of working” do not align with you.
I see the ways of working question as another opportunity to sniff out culture red flags. For me, if a team is using velocity as a metric to measure developer productivity, I pull myself out of the process. Without getting into why I have that principle, just know that there are tools and practices in every process that could be red flags for you. Maybe it was predatory in the past; perhaps it was just inefficient. Whatever the case, listen for those and ask follow-up questions about why they do or don’t do something.

They seem firmly set in their “ways of working.”
The greatest tenant of the Agile framework is that it is agile. It is meant to evolve and change as a team evolves. What works for a team of 3 will not work for a team of 9. It is also crucial that if something just doesn’t work for a particular team at any given time, it should be reimagined, refined, or even replaced with something that works better. That goes for tools and practices as well. SCRUM by the book is often not the correct answer for everyone so if they seem dogmatic about it, consider what that could mean if a piece of the process is highly ineffective or frustrating.

✅ TLDR ✅

Any team you join should have some clearly defined ways of working. They should align with what you feel is best for your role and how you like to work. But most importantly, they should continually be improving and willing to hear feedback from the stakeholders.

Women of color in tech
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash


As I mentioned before, diversity is incredibly important to me. Of course, I am a minority in tech in more ways than one, but what if you are not? Should diversity still be important to you?

In short, yes. Diversity in all things that make up one’s background means you look at diversity in previous experience. It means the products and processes you work on as a team are more inclusive for a wider variety of humans. The idea that a team and company should seek out diverse points of view is not novel. It is why many people find they do their best learning and creating when they are forced to do this exact thing in higher education, boot camps, or the military.

I have learned invaluable lessons by working with people from different countries, different social and educational backgrounds, and different ability statuses (deaf, blind, neurodivergent, etc.). By prioritizing diversity in all areas, I have been able to refine my hiring and interviewing practices, my philosophies on team culture, my goals in ways of working, and my methods of effective communication. Overall, diversity has made me a better teammate and leader, and I have seen the same results in teams that value diversity.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

What diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives is your company working towards?
They should have a clear plan and be actively working towards it. I have been a part of and interviewed with companies who say they are working on this, but they only do the “window dressing.” Their initiatives should be owned by the entire company, from C-Suite down, and it should also not be on the minority employees to drive these efforts.

Do you share current numbers on your diversity efforts?
Some companies share their gender, age, racial/ethnic breakdowns of employees. Sure, sometimes the numbers aren’t flattering, but companies who want to do the work in earnest share where they are. They hold themselves publicly accountable. Besides, how can you get somewhere if you don’t know where you already are?

How are you working to hire and retain diverse talent?
You will get some insight into how they are hiring for diversity by going through their process, but it’s good to ask. A company I interviewed with had a policy where anyone who entered the pipeline was required to go all the way through until they made a determination on their offer. Retention is also important. If a company cannot talk about how they ensure everyone feels safe, heard, and validated, this could mean churn and is a massive culture issue.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

They don’t have diversity in the people interviewing you.
Regardless of what they say they are doing to achieve diversity in their team/company, what they show you is the litmus test. If everyone is the same demographic, you can assume one of two things. Either they have just started thinking about diversity, or they are only talking about it to appear like they care about it. Both of those are not good signs for actually achieving diversity.

They speak about diversity in only a few ways.
Remember, it needs to be diverse all the way around. Of course, the most important are racial and ethnic diversity, but they should talk about gender identity, background experience, and ableism. They should also talk about how they work to ensure their product is diverse. It’s not enough just to hire a diverse team if what you are making isn’t accessible or inviting for everyone.

They can’t retain diverse employees.
Suppose employees from underrepresented groups in tech are leaving the company at a high rate, perhaps higher than non-minority groups. In that case, this could be indicative of a highly toxic environment. This is a red flag even if you are not part of those underrepresented groups. Employee churn at any level is terrible, but in only one group, well, that could mean folks are singled out for factors not pertaining to their job performance.

✅ TLDR ✅

How a company thinks about and ultimately works towards diversity is a significant indicator of its culture. It can also give you insight into how you might be treated if you join. Strong teams are diverse teams, and diverse experiences build great products. These questions from this section are a quick way to kill several birds with one stone; culture, product, and diversity.

Product design sketches
Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash


Everyone wants to work at a company that makes something “cool.” Of course, that’s subjective and means something different for us all. Some people want to work on or with products they use, others want it to be in or adjacent to a personal interest, and others just want it to be innovative or disruptive. Whatever your version of “cool” entails, it’s essential to know about the product you could be working in service of.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

What is the current product strategy?
They should be able to articulate what the product aims to solve for the user and who the user is. You should also listen for mentions of the competition and how they are different. Listen for product-market fit, the sweet spot where what the product offers fulfills something for the user they are targeting.

How do you decide what to change or add to the product?
This is a bit of a “way of working” question, but I thought it fit better here since the answer ultimately illustrates how the product evolves and improves. You are looking for clear processes around gathering user feedback, testing, and even experimentation. Keep your ears perked up for mentions of iteration as always.

How do you grow your user base?
This is kind of a trick question, but listen for answers that include how they are growing their user base in other market segments. Listen for signs of inclusivity here as well. If their answer is cold call sales, that should spark some concern for you. Their plans should be comprehensive and include metrics around user numbers, like Monthly Active Users (or MAU).

What are your data privacy policies?
They may not share them all but just make sure there are some. The last thing you want is to work for a company that experiences a data breach or lawsuit due to negligence.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

The product is vaporware.
There are all sorts of reasons why a product might not exist. Perhaps it’s brand new greenfield work, and you are one of the first hires. Maybe it is a pivot in the product or business strategy. All of those things are not indicative of vaporware; however, if the company isn’t brand new (like in the first two years) and there is no product, it might be vaporware. This concept can also apply to companies who say things like, “we are building our platform to build the product on top of.” At best, this indicates poor business strategies and awful practices that don’t prioritize iteration. At worst, this means they are pulling the wool over stakeholders’ eyes for any number of horrible reasons.

The product has dark patterns or is predatory in some way.
I’d like to believe that all products start the same way, with great intentions. Yet, sometimes, the road to funding and revenue can lead through a gauntlet of moral gray areas. You should avoid products with poor data practices, security issues, or the potential to be used for things you do not personally align with. I interviewed with a company doing what they called “machine learning-driven image recognition,” which sounded so cool and innovative. But when I pressed more, I found it was, in fact, facial recognition. I know that some of those algorithms can be racially biased and used maliciously, so I pulled out of the interview process.

The product isn’t evolving to be inclusive for everyone in their market.
Good products evolve with their user base, yet so many continue to lack some fundamental aspects of inclusivity. Accessibility is one of the easiest ones to ask about and gauge. Suppose they aren’t at least moving to make the product accessible. In that case, you can almost assume they aren’t considering safety concerns for vulnerable groups (i.e., women, people of color, children, LGBTQIA+, etc.) Another example is not localizing their product for different countries they do business in. They don’t need to have all the answers yet, but they should be working towards them. I once asked an interviewer about a recent feature they released. There had been reports from tech outlets regarding safety concerns around some of the company’s GPS location data, so I was curious if this feature was meant to address those concerns. The interviewer told me the most significant driver was safety for vulnerable groups regarding that mapping data.

The product has no differentiation in a saturated market.
This is a potential red flag only because this could mean that the company is losing the battle to stay relevant in their space. A prime example of this are CRMs. There are hundreds of CRM platforms out there, but what makes one unique or better than another? If they aren’t the best, the first, or innovating, they need something to keep them afloat.

✅ TLDR ✅

The product you work with/on every day can have a tangible impact on your quality of life in a job. Sure, people can find interest in any product, but passion comes from products we believe in, and that passion can be the difference between collecting a paycheck and loving your job.

Writing code in an IDE
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Tech Stack

I have heard this term used in two ways. The first is the most obvious to engineers: the languages, libraries, and frameworks used to create the product. The second is in reference to the collection of software and tools a team or company uses to accomplish their ways of working (i.e., Atlassian suite, GSuite, Microsoft Office, etc.) This section covers both.

The reason to care about both of these applications of the term is similar. If it is the technologies used to create a product, you should be looking for something that speaks to your abilities and interests. If you are a designer or product person, you should know the stack’s limitations as well. If it is about the technologies used to accomplish your day-to-day job, you should care about the ease of use and your familiarity.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

What’s your engineering tech stack?
This is all about determining what technologies they use to build the product. Be on the lookout for the rationale of why they use something if it isn’t the industry standard (i.e., Swift for iOS or AWS for infrastructure). You need to determine if their stack is something you are comfortable with, one you want to learn, or one you know will result in clean coding patterns.

How do you release code?
This should demonstrate the tools and procedures that comprise their release process. Be on the lookout for teams that value iteration through CI/CD workflows. Also, take time to ask about their QA process. I learn so much about a team’s needs and potential pitfalls by how they value and conduct QA.

What tools do you use for communication and project management?
Again, be on the lookout for the rationale of why it’s not industry standard. Heads up, I know many people feel strongly about Slack vs. Teams, Microsoft vs. GSuite, or JIRA vs. literally anything else. It may not be a big deal to you, but some tools can harm your productivity, and I have considered leaving places that use them for that reason.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

Their tech stack is old and outdated.
There is a correct tool for every job, but sometimes those tools don’t age well. Does that mean that any particular stack is a reason to run for the hills? Well, the answer to that is up to you individually; however, if the stack is old and you hear words like “spaghetti code, brittle, monolithic,” you should reconsider moving forward with them. The same applies if you hear an aversion to change or someone being dogmatic about a particular technology. They should have a fact-based rationale behind the tech stack choices. I once had a manager tell me that “We want to write everything in PHP because it is cheaper to hire engineers.” Talk about the wrong reason to pick a technology.

They don’t prioritize code base health.
Nothing is worse than a team that becomes a “feature factory.” Due to poor business strategy, culture, or ways of working, they are forced to soley prioritize features or “shiny new things” for users at the expense of the codebase health. All codebases must be treated as what they honestly are; living ecosystems requiring regular upkeep to survive and grow. The kiss of death for development teams is not prioritizing tech debt. This practice can lead to burnout among engineers, a decrease in speed of feature releases, product instability, and eventually the inability to add anything new to a system. If they don’t have a plan to hold themselves accountable for addressing tech debt, reconsider moving forward.

Their release process doesn’t allow for iteration.
Look, not every team, product, or pipeline allows for CI/CD releases, but despite that, you are looking for a team that moves fast and learns from their mistakes as they iterate. This is particularly important when looking at a young product or company. Great product innovation results from moving fast and “breaking things.”

They use a tool for way(s) of working that you know isn’t efficient.
There is something to be said about the tools we spend most of our time using during our workday. Make sure it is at least practical and doesn’t hurt your productivity.

✅ TLDR ✅

The tech stack, in both regards, can significantly affect both your mental health and productivity. It’s vital that you know what your job is, how you will be expected to achieve it, and what you will use to succeed.

Working from home
Photo by Dillon Shook on Unsplash

Time and Location Expectations

Everyone has a preference regarding whether they want to work in an office or remote, and some folks even enjoy a little of both. What is important is that any company you are considering calling your new home has an office policy that aligns with you. This policy should include information about working hours, PTO flexibility, and communication norms.

In just two years, the Coronavirus pandemic has taught the workforce and employers so much on this front. A large part of the “Great Resignation” stems from employers’ expectations no longer matching up with candidates or employees’ realization that our lives are not all about work. Flexible time schedules, ample PTO opportunities, and flexibility regarding working location are quickly becoming the norm. The first thing I ask a recruiter when they reach out about a job opening is, “Will this opportunity be remote indefinitely.” If the answer is no, I do not pursue anything further.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

Will I be required to come into the office / Will I have the option to work remotely?
Again, this answer should align with your preferred working style and environment. Make sure that the policy is universal for all roles. I once interviewed with a FAANG company who told me, “We don’t believe effective managers can work remote.” I fundamentally disagreed and was unwilling to relocate, so I pulled myself out of the interview process. Please note that the answer to this could also lead to you having to relocate.

How do you make sure employees not in this office feel like they are part of the team?
One of the biggest complaints I have about working for companies that have a mix of employees working remotely and in the office is that this area is often overlooked. Office employees can be in the same room for meetings, and they can have those quick conversations and make decisions that no one else who wasn’t present is privy to. Ultimately, they can have that social bond that comes directly from being face to face every day. That’s not to say that remote teams cannot have that as well; it just takes work, and a company that allows remote working should have practices in place to achieve that synergy.

What is your time off policy?
I very purposefully did not use the term work-life balance here. Not only is it wildly misused, but it also can encompass much more than a PTO policy. That being said, you are looking for a place with a reasonable time off policy. Ask more than one person this question, so you get a good idea how much time off people are actually taking.

Do you have core working hours?
It would be best to look out here for core working hours that are friendly to various time zones. It means that the company has experience with distributed teams. The big thing to listen for is any indication that people often work more than 40 hours a week. If they work nights (not by choice) or weekends, this could be a toxic place to work.

Do you require time tracking?
I did not know software capitalization existed until one of my start-up teams was acquired by a Fortune 500 company a few years ago. It was like timesheets for financial and tax purposes. I would say that while I understood the rationale behind it, it is not something I would like to do again. As a salaried employee, the thought of “clocking hours,” regardless of the purpose, can feel insulting, as if you are proving your worth on paper.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

They only allow one working style (either remote or in-person).
This means they are not embracing the future of tech and likely have prioritized funds to a “cool” office or office perks that could be redirected to the employees more meaningfully. This goes double for places that say, “Our office is so cool because we have a ping pong table, scooters, bean bags, and kombucha on tap.” These are all designed to keep you working longer hours, not as ways to make you more productive. Productivity should not be connected to a place but instead ways of working informed by culture.

They don’t know how to make remote employees feel included.
Nothing feels worse than being on a Zoom meeting with a room full of people who are in person in a conference room. One camera and mic for all of them, and it’s easy to lose track of who is talking. They also have so many sidebars that it is challenging to keep up with. By that same token, companies that don’t prioritize on-camera virtual meetings are missing one crucial part of social interactions. Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal. Those are just two specific examples, but they should have some norms to help remote employees feel connected. Also, if you will be remote, ask about traveling to their office. Team building and trust are greatly heightened by meeting in person several times a year (when it’s safe, of course).

Their time off policy is predatory.
Let’s talk about unlimited PTO for a second. So first things first, I would likely never join a company that doesn’t have it, yet I know that it is a double-edged sword. Be wary of companies who have it, and yet it appears folks aren’t taking enough time off because they aren’t prompted to “use it or lose it.” Ask people how often they take a vacation and make sure it illustrates a healthy balance. You should also be aware that there is no accrued PTO to pay out if you leave the company. Now, if they have accrued PTO, make sure that the turnover, accrument, and process for getting it approved are in your favor.

Their work hours are requirements.
This is a red flag both for remote employees and in-person employees. For remote employees, this demonstrates a disregard for time zones. What if your first meeting of the day is at 10 am ET, and you live in LA? What if your last meeting starts at 3 pm MT, and you live in NY? For both in-person and remote employees, required working hours can mean feeling like you always have to be at your desk or, worse, feeling like you’re being watched. You need to ensure the flexibility to spend time with your family, run errands, or take time for yourself throughout the day. No one is productive for 8 hours straight; working hours should reflect that.

✅ TLDR ✅

The way a company manages its time is the difference between a healthy work environment and one that forces you to steal time away from your personal life. Your priority should be to work somewhere that respects your life outside of the workplace.

Man interviewing over Zoom
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Salary and Benefits

Now some people would have put this one first, but the money is like the frosting on top for me. It needs to be there, but it’s not the most important thing. I once pulled out of a FAANG interview process that paid a ridiculous salary because they only allowed in-person working, and I would have to relocate. No amount of money was worth me changing my happy life that much. That being said, we all need to ensure we are fairly compensated for our role and experience.

The discussion of salary usually comes in the first or second interview. Some great companies already have the salary range added to the job posting, so you should already know what the annual pay looks like by the time you get here. We won’t dig into negotiating salaries for this article, but be sure you do some research on how to do this effectively beforehand.

Here are some quick tips on salary.
You should have three numbers in mind going into talks about salary.

The first number is for your dream salary, which you will ask for if not all of the priorities you value are present in the company or offer. Make sure that the number is high enough that you would be willing to ignore the absence of those things you value in exchange for the money. If no amount of money would warrant you excusing those absences, do not move forward with them.

The second number is your target. You will ask for this if everything else is in place and you want to work for the company. Please note that you should ensure it is high enough to align with the market.

The last number is your bottom line. Never share this number with anyone interviewing you. This is only for you and is something you will hold yourself to. It represents the minimum amount of money you would be willing to take. You should only accept this amount if everything else you value is present and amazing.

🤝 What you should ask in the interview 🤝

How do you determine salaries and raises?
They should demonstrate a transparent process or plan that includes looking at the industry for similar roles. There should also be something about yearly pay raises to account for inflation.

How does someone get a bonus, raise, or promotion?
Again, there should be a straightforward process; usually, with employee reviews and clearly defined metrics, everyone must achieve to be eligible.

🚩Red Flags 🚩

They try to justify a lower salary.
I once interviewed at a company where the Director of Development asked me what I wanted to make at my next job. When I told him, his response was, “I don’t even make that much. We all sacrifice money to work at such a cool company.” I never spoke to them about working there again. I have also seen companies offer signing bonuses, RSUs or equity, in-office perks like catered lunch, and many other “perks.” The bottom line here is that it’s not real if it isn’t guaranteed. Base salary is guaranteed year over year; everything else can change or disappear. Be on the lookout for companies who give a “Total Compensation Package” breakdown that falsely makes it seem like you’re making more money than you truly are.

PS equity is a carrot on a stick and rarely pans out to be worth anything.

They don’t have salary bands.
A company that doesn’t have roles with attached salary bands is flirting with disaster. It is how they can ensure equitable pay across all demographics and how they can plan bonuses, raises, and promotions.

There is no clear career path to your next job title.
If there is no process for moving up in the company, you already know your growth might be limited.

They don’t have good benefits for families.
I don’t have kids, nor do I plan to have any, yet I always ask about the parental leave policy. It is a culture question, and a company that cares about its people has a good parental leave policy that includes both parents and those who are adopting as well.

They have no 401k or no matching.
My generation very well may be the first to live without the benefit of Social Security, so taking care of our financial future is paramount. If they don’t have 401k matching but have a free catered lunch, it might be a place with a culture that doesn’t put its people first.

✅ TLDR ✅

Do not be afraid to walk away if the money isn’t right. Do not settle for less if you have done your research and know what your experience is worth. However, like all things, money can be a trade-off. If some of the areas we talked about prior are amazing and the money is not, consider that trade-off.



Elisa Valdez de Ramirez

Multi-discipline designer, software engineer, engineering leader, and educator. Currently Engineering Manager @ Strava