A month at Songkick

I love Songkick.

Not in a soppy “no you hang up first” kinda way, but in a “I haven’t missed a great gig in over a year” way. Which is why when I was given the opportunity to work here, I jumped at it.

After working at Songkick for a few weeks now, I thought I’d write about my experiences so far, from the interview process through to day-to-day development.

Here are the six simple steps I took to Songkick happiness.

Step 1 – Network

I’ve been a fan of Songkick’s service for a long time, and after I met some of the team at the Silicon Milkroundabout event in May 2012, I was invited to start the interview process. This was great news (Songkick are awesome[1]).

Initially, I did have a few concerns about my technical compatibility with the company; I’ve spent the last few years in a Windows and .NET environment, and Songkick are a long way from that. I was soon to find that these worries were misplaced.

Step 2 – Code

To kick off the interview process, I received an email from Songkick – “Hey Aaron, You seem pretty rad, fancy taking a technical test?”. At least that’s how I remember it.

The rules:

  • Complete an hour long programming challenge
  • From home, at a time that suited you
  • In a programming language of your choice

I let them know when I could set an hour aside, and at the agreed time I was emailed a PDF describing the challenge. I can’t give too much away, but the challenge was really interesting, and Songkick-specific.

I hacked away in C#, making use of third-party libraries as required, and after the hour was up, emailed my solution. I didn’t have time to fully complete the challenge, but I had concentrated on getting a clean design, stubbing all core interfaces, classes and methods, and adding comments and pseudo-code where necessary.

After a few days, I received an email informing me that I was through to round two.

Step 3 – More Code

I was invited to have a couple of face-to-face interviews, and sit another coding test. This time I was to complete a 90-minute pair-programming exercise, in Ruby.

The test was a little daunting as I was a complete Ruby novice. However, with it being a pair-programming exercise, I had a friendly developer (Sabrina) sitting with me to help with syntax questions. Any time I was unaware of the syntax in Ruby (quite a lot!), I could scribble on a notepad how I would solve the problem in C#, and Sabrina would show me the equivalent syntax in Ruby.

This was a test-driven development exercise, and I was introduced to the challenge with a brief overview of the task, and a collection of failing Cucumber tests. I wrote code to gradually pass each test, until all passed – and in the nick of time too. I had a couple of minutes to discuss my solution and what I would add to it if I had more time, and the 1.5 hours were up.

Step 4 – Meet and Greet

As a firm believer in The Joel Test, I agree that writing code during the interview process is important, but equally important is the rapport between yourself and your potential colleagues.

During the interview process, I met a large percentage of the company over a number of interviews, including a coffee and chat with the entire development team. It’s pretty intimidating stuff, but it gives both parties the opportunity to make sure each will be a good fit for the other.

After a few more days of waiting, I received the call I was hoping for.

Step 5 – On-boarding

Joining Songkick was a super-smooth operation. We run a tight ship (as I was to find out), and my first few days were as follows.

Day 1

I spent the morning being shown around the office: an open plan environment with everything a professional developer needs to maintain a high level of productivity (ping pong table, foosball table, a fully-stocked kitchen and a proper coffee machine).

I was provided with a mentor for the week – Robin. Having someone to sit with you, explain the development environment and application design really helped me to become productive quickly. In fact, I made my first code commit on day one.

Day 2 & 3

I spent the next two days divided between coding (with Robin) and various presentations from the different departments in Songkick. These ranged from the data science team (who handle making sense of the huge amounts of data we have), to QA and infrastructure.

Day 4

The whole company boarded a vintage Routemaster bus, and we were taken to End of the Road festival for the weekend. Did I mention Songkick are awesome[1]?

Step 6 – Develop

By far the biggest change (and probably worry) in my move to Songkick was the development environment. I’ve been working in a .NET ecosystem for a number of years, the framework is stable and Visual Studio is in my opinion, a great IDE; it’s feature-rich and has some useful plugins. On the other hand, Songkick’s development environment is entirely Unix-based, making use of (and contributing back to) lots of open-source projects.

I do have experience developing in a Linux environment, but haven’t touched it for a few years, so had a feeling I was going to be rusty. After a few days, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far the tools and frameworks have come. Again, having a mentor to guide me through this transition was crucial; I could ask questions and receive answers immediately.

All in all, joining Songkick has been an amazing experience. I’m surrounded by different teams of people (ranging from developers and testers, through to UX experts and designers), all of which are the best at what they do (but don’t take my word for it, check out the team page). Having a passion for the product is essential, but if you love live music, Songkick is for you.

[1] How about developing for a platform that has millions of users, and enables fans from across the world to see their favourite artists live. And the perks are pretty amazing too; great office, free food and drink, table tennis and foosball, monthly ticket allowance, annual festival trip for the company, etc. I could go on, but you should probably just apply.

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