Handshake is the leading career network for college students in America. Our mission is to democratize opportunity for students everywhere. Every student should have an equal opportunity to build a meaningful career regardless of where they go to school, what they major in, or who they know. Our community includes 14 million students/alum at 700+ universities, as well as 300,000 employers recruiting on Handshake.
Each team is asked to select, explain, and rank their top 8 values in order of importance.
Bonded by Love for Product
We want to ensure every student has an equal opportunity in finding a job, no matter what school they went to, what their major is, or who they know.
Handshake was started in 2014 by three computer science students from Michigan Tech who were struck by the inequality in access to opportunity. Along with many of their friends, they were having trouble finding internships outside of their local area. After persistently sending 100 LinkedIn emails to different employees just to get connected to a recruiter, Garrett, one of our founders and CEO, finally landed a summer internship with Palantir in the Bay Area. He spent that summer connecting his friends from Michigan Tech to different Bay Area companies, making $60,000 from referral bonuses alone (which he then used to pay off his college tuition). Bay Area companies didn’t know about Michigan Tech students despite the fact that they were qualified for their roles and many Michigan Tech students didn’t know about these Bay Area companies without Garrett’s connections. Thus, Handshake was born.
The problem we’re solving is one that many of us have personally faced, too. A lot of the employees at Handshake also ran into issues when we were starting our careers out of college. We all believe opportunity can be and should be democratized, and we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think Handshake would be the one to do it.
EQ > IQ
You can’t just be a good engineer. You also need to demonstrate empathy toward your teammates.
It’s important for engineers at Handshake to be able to communicate effectively – and with empathy – in many different contexts. Whether it’s communicating product launches to our customer success team, discussing implementation tradeoffs among the engineering team, or identifying pain-points in design mocks, it’s crucial that engineers empathize with and keep our users in mind.
That’s why we’re committed to putting “Students First.” Engineers must be able to think about problems from a variety of perspectives. What might be the best solution from an engineering standpoint might not be the best solution from a student standpoint. Taking this into account allows us to build amazing products on the Student, University, and Employer sides of the business.
Ultimately, “Act with Empathy” is a core company value. Not only does our interview process screen for this, but we also take measures to ensure it’s practiced in our day-to-day work. For example, after resolving a P0 issue, we ensure our post-mortems are completely blameless. We realize we’re stronger as a team and aim to learn from our mistakes collectively. We also have organically grown into a heavy pair-programming culture because the engineers at Handshake simply have a desire to help each other out. To that end, we make sure to celebrate our people by having people present “Weekly Handshakes” at our weekly company all-hands to give shoutouts to their fellow co-workers.
Actively Practices Inclusion
Building an inclusive and diverse community – both on the platform and across our team – is core to our mission.
We recognize people come from different backgrounds and are committed to expanding our community (via our platform and our new hires) so that it’s diverse and inclusive. We work with Code 2040 to provide an annual unconscious bias training and also ask employees to take a quarterly CultureAmp pulse survey that looks at diversity and inclusion across the organization as well as within a given team. When we compare our scores to other similarly sized companies, Handshake has shown to have relatively high inclusion numbers as well as strong overall engagement scores.
We’ve also recently revamped our interview process to make it more fair for people from different backgrounds. For example, we eliminated “academic” questions that bias toward younger, college-aged candidates (e.g. binary search tree algorithms and puzzles). Instead, a core part of our interview process involves a project that tests the candidate’s ability to do a Handshake engineer’s actual job. As our company is dedicated to making the job search process unbiased and fair, we are proud to have an engineering interview process that actually tests for real world skills.
What’s more, we have several Employee Resource Groups for people with similar backgrounds to share their experiences at the company. Some of these include Women at Handshake, African-Americans at Handshake, LGBTQ+ at Handshake, Mental Health Allies at Handshake, La Familia at Handshake, and more. Each group has a budget they can use to hold group events (to increase team bonding) or events that include the broader company (to drive awareness).
In addition, we have several remote-first teams at Handshake, and we actively prioritize making sure they feel included in the conversation. For instance, if remote employees are dialing into a meeting, managers are trained to pause and ask for their feedback and thoughts.
Finally, for all company events, we explicitly ask the hosts how the event will be welcoming and inclusive for people from different backgrounds. For example, for events intended for a gender-specific audience, we ask whether trans and/or nonbinary people are welcome and we always make sure to choose events where the answer is a resounding yes!
“Move Quickly, But Don’t Rush.”
This is a core value at Handshake since we’re a rapidly growing startup and constantly evolving. We’ve doubled the size of our company in the past year and we continue to grow quickly. That’s why we place a huge emphasis on moving quickly without rushing. At the engineering level, this translates to building features in a timely manner. When there’s a high priority incident that needs to be dealt with, the team has to be able to act swiftly to make sure it’s resolved as soon as possible.
Our CI/CD system enables us to iterate and deploy quickly, but we always make sure that all features and bugs merged into production have accompanied tests to ensure high quality. What’s more, we stay up to date with technologies and openly discuss the tradeoffs between speed and perfection with each iteration. For example, managers adhere to the “60/20/20 rule” – our time should be split by 60% product development, 20% technical innovation, and 20% technical maintenance. So while we want to move quickly to develop features to enable our important mission, we also set aside time to address technical debt and innovate on our technologies.
As a company, we have grown very quickly. We just raised a $40M Series C and we’re considered the fastest growing education technology company in the Bay Area. Just over the past year, about 50% of our engineering team will only have been at the company for less than a year. Because of this fast-paced growth, engineering leadership is constantly iterating on and improving processes and methodologies to keep every team organized and high-functioning. For example, the manager of the Employer Engineering team received several points of feedback from the team’s bi-weekly retro meeting that the growing number of people was making our Scrum meetings run very slowly. Within a week, the manager worked with the PM, designers, and technical leads to reorganize the team into two separate Scrum teams, resulting in more highly efficient meetings and clearer delineation of responsibilities among engineers.
Committed to Personal Growth
We embrace a growth mindset which is exemplified by our core value: “Learn. Grow. Repeat.”
Handshake is an education technology company, so it’s only natural that one of our core company values is “Learn. Grow. Repeat.” In order to build an amazing team that is relentlessly curious and constantly striving to excel, we have to invest in each individual’s personal growth. To do so, we provide support for learning both internally and externally.
Within the company, we have Handshake Academy courses that both new hires and veterans can attend including everything from “Intro to Elasticsearch” to “How to Story Point.” These courses cover all aspects of the company, from engineering, to sales, to design. For the engineering team, we heavily encourage pair programming, and have weekly Lunch & Learns where engineers present on learnings and new technologies. This could be a talk on a new idea for how to write automated tests or how to practice nonviolent communication.
What’s more, each new hire is paired with two Onboarding Buddies for their first month at Handshake. The buddies come from across the organization and are responsible for helping new hires make the most of life at Handshake. Though the buddy program eventually ends, we continue to encourage cross-team pollination. For example, we have bi-weekly #donuts, where each person across the company is randomly matched with someone else for coffee. This is a great opportunity for personal growth since employees can learn more from one another, develop relationships outside their immediate team, and feel more connected to the Handshake community.
For external learning opportunities, we provide a generous annual conference stipend ($1,500) and encourage conference attendees to write up their takeaways and share them with the team. We also have a partnership with “Udemy for Business” for employees to take free classes at their own pace on topics ranging from data science and machine learning, to finance and business development.
Safe Environment to Fail
Failing is a necessary part of growing.
At Handshake, we recognize a growth mindset is only possible when individuals are given a safe environment to fail. Many Handshake managers consider failing a necessary part of growing as an engineer here, which is why we embrace failures as learning opportunities. In fact, many of our employees favorite the #learning-from-losses Slack channel, where employees show humility with their recent failures and how they have learned from them.
As discussed previously (see EQ > IQ), we practice blameless postmortems mistakes. Rather than pointing fingers, we focus on how to fix the issue at hand and prevent it from occurring in the future. Postmortems are then shared across the entire engineering organization so everyone can learn and improve collectively. For instance, one of our engineers wrote a feature to run a promotion within the Handshake platform, but unfortunately, the data from the promotion was getting corrupted due to a misunderstanding of how Rails destroys records. “There were no finger-pointing or blaming of why this happened,” the engineer said, “only a calm focus on how can we prevent the next incident. In fact, one of the team members even researched more of why this problem happened in the first place and gave a tech talk to fellow engineers on how to avoid these record destroy pitfalls.”
We recognize that these mistakes don't make us bad engineers but actually they are lessons for all of us to be better and help others avoid making the same mistakes.
Engineers are part of the product ideation, implementation, QA, and final rollout.
At Handshake, engineers touch all parts of the process. It's a highly collaborative environment, and engineers work closely with product and design. This ensures that the final product we're building is both feasible for engineering and aligned with our overall product vision.
Technical skill is not the only factor that determines who our best engineers are. They are the ones that demonstrate complete ownership of the product and their feature areas by going beyond simply building what they're told.
Engineers are expected to question product and design decisions while providing possible solutions to "Focus on Impact" and "Move Quickly But Don't Rush." There is strong collaboration among the three different disciplines (Design, Product, and Engineering).
Some of our most impactful features have been thought up by engineers. Job role exploration pages, integrations with applicant tracking systems, and a new UI for job searches are some examples of things that engineers brought to life in hackathons and worked with product and design to polish and release.
Customer Comes First
We are united by our mission to put students first.
Everyone at Handshake is trying to help the same audience – students, most of whom are looking to make the difficult transition from college to career. That’s why our core value of “Students First” is so important, because it touches all aspects of the work we do at Handshake.
The Handshake product teams are divided up by the different types of customers we serve: Student, University, and Employer. The Student team clearly embodies the “Students First” mentality by building features to guide students in the college-to-career journey and ultimately show the plethora of internship and job opportunities that exist out there. What may not be obvious, though, is that our other product teams also put “Students First.” The Employer team focuses on creating products that help employers reach more students across the United States. By helping them diversify their candidate pools, they can reach more students and provide even more opportunities beyond just in-person career fairs and info sessions. Similarly, the University team business enables career centers to do their jobs more efficiently, enabling career service users to reach out to all of their students to guide them through the difficult transition from college to career.
Bonded by Love for Product
EQ > IQ
Actively Practices Inclusion
Committed to Personal Growth
Safe Environment to Fail
Customer Comes First
11 Employer Product, Marketing
41 Employer Sales
9 Operations and Executive Support
11 People and Talent
7 Student and University Product
34 University and Student Success
We have a flexible vacation policy. Employees are allowed to take vacations as long as they get manager approval.
Backend: Ruby on Rails, Postgres, Elasticsearch, Google Cloud Platform, Kubernetes
Frontend: Typescript, React, Redux
Data: BigQuery, BigTable, DataFlow, DataProc
We start with an initial phone screen where candidates learn more about Handshake and we learn more about their background. Next is a phone screen with a Handshake engineer who will learn about the candidate’s history as an engineer and ask a coding/software design question. Then we’ll move to an onsite, which consists of (1) a project asking the candidate to build a web application, (2) an interview with an engineer to talk about web application architecture and tradeoffs, and (3) a talk with a hiring manager to assess how the candidate aligns with Handshake’s values.