Advice from a Canadian VP Engineering on getting hired abroad

Justice Gray is the VP of Engineering at RocketPlace, a Silicon Valley startup with a Canadian engineering office.

He has over 20 years of experience in software and has been working as a Tech Lead / CTO / VP Engineering for over 10 years.

Here’s our webinar with him from VanHack CON 2020 and below are some FAQ’s he was kind enough to answer post webinar. Make sure to watch this, there is a LOT of great information in the webinar!


Are certifications important than experience for data engineer in Canada? E.g. aws/azure

Certifications might spark a conversation, but there are no situations where it is more important than experience.  Occasionally for a consultancy or agency, they might want to use the certification to position a team better to a client that values certifications, but most tech companies (at least in Vancouver) value demonstrable experience over a cert.  They’re occasionally helpful but almost never a prerequisite.

Would your preference be to pick someone local for a leadership position vs someone who is based abroad (considering the difference in markets like India vs Canada)?

I don’t have a preference.  To borrow a phrase from Ilya, empathy has no accent.  =). As a direct response, I have had personal experience in the past putting someone in a leadership position who was entirely remote in Pakistan, because he was an excellent leader who people respected, rallied around, showed initiative, etc. etc.    
In terms of Rocketplace, if people have goals for leadership, part of my responsibility as a leader is to help get them there;   I believe that’s a responsibility of all good leadership.

Does a Masters Degree in a related field make any difference in the Canadian software development marketplace?

It depends on the desires of the company.  I once worked with a CEO where I would joke whenever someone applied with a degree, “Oh look….this person has a Maaaaassstteeeerrrrs…”  because he had a strong academic bias, but we still hired on basis of ability, not degree.  You do run into this more in ML related disciplines.

For devops positions, generally it is required to be specialized in AWS, GCP and Azure?

Certainly not all three simultaneously =), but it depends on your goals.  I’ll leave my own biases on platform choice aside and recommend – much like my recommendations on languages and frameworks – to pick one in particular, go deep on that one, and then if you want to explore a second one use the first one you’ve learned as a basis of comparison.  Most organizations generally shy away from using more than one large cloud services provider, and those that *are* using more than one are often in transition from one to the other.  This often is the case for a *lot* of platform choices.  There’s also a lot of other angles to devops (containerization, etc., I could write a giant list here) that are worth consideration.

How are companies handling relocation during the pandemic?

I can tell you that the rules are fairly consistent and you can check them out at the government’s web site.  Some things I can speak from our most recent experience:* you have to quarantine for two weeks in an isolated place* your employer has to pay for that quarantine period + be responsible for finding you that place* you can’t work during that time (though you’re getting paid) even if you want to.  Government has some pretty strict rules about that.  This does not count toward agreed upon holiday time.  I’m sharing this so that you’re aware of your current rights under COVID and travel, which your employer will also make you aware of.

What about jobs for developers with PHP+5 years and Angular 4+ years?

It depends on the intersection. Candidly, I think the intersection between Angular and PHP is rare, because Angular tends to be favored by .NET and Java shops since it loosely(and I mean loosely) bears conceptual similarities to those languages due to the automatic TypeScript integration.   As typing isn’t emphasized as much in PHP, you see much greater crossover between PHP and React/Vue/etc.  
Obviously depending on where you want your career to go, experience in either of those languages is helpful; as mentioned there are many companies in Canada who are hiring for either side of that stack.  

What is a company looking for when hiring a jr. developer? As a JS/PHP student I am looking for a company that allows me to learn new things because I am always hungry and it seems tha it doesn’t matter how much you know it is never enough.


First off, I love this attitude; excitement for learning is a trait that I and everyone else at Rocketplace (I do mean everyone else) share with you.  I can’t speak for all companies here, but generally what I look for in a junior developer is:* am I going to enjoy working with this person?* is the team going to enjoy working with this person?* are we prepared to make the investment in this person’s growth that they deserve when they join our organization?
The great news is that almost any responsibly run company will *definitely* have many, many things for you to learn and grow with.  It’s personally important to me that a junior developer coming to work for RP can grow to progressively higher engineering levels and then later to leadership roles.

 Try to understand “this” in JS for example.

LOL, don’t get me started. =). This (pardon the pun) reflects what I was saying in the talk, where you can go through a tutorial or two but there’s a point in the career of almost every JS developer I’ve known, including myself, where we’ve been bitten by it.  Once you get painfully stung once you don’t tend to forget.
Gisela: Does it hurt my chances if I have basic knowledge of several tools, but not expert knowledge on them? Had to learn Docker for example to implement in my current position, but I’m not an expert

Actually the fact that you taught yourself Docker in order to bring it to your organization is a massive plus.  It demonstrates initiative and an ability to learn on the job, just to mention a few positive traits.  Generalism is not a bad thing to have at all – I do think that for being hired abroad it helps to deepen your knowledge on one or two of those general aspects.

 What are your thoughts about Scrum?

LOL, talk about an open-ended question! =). What I’ll say here:* I’ve used Scrum in the past to great effect, along with several other methodologies* My personal preference (and what Rocketplace uses) is a slightly modified Kanban flow, which I think is the best possible flow for a product-based company to use.  
In terms of the value to you, familiarity with a dev process methodology is incredibly helpful.  Like my answer to the cloud services/languages questions, knowing one fairly well gives you a great reference point to evaluate and compare methodologies for different situations.   It’s worth noting here that on the path to entering management at RP, we want people to have knowledge (not experience necessarily, but knowledge) of kanban, scrum, and agile so that they can understand the differences and tradeoffs.  Remember that frameworks like these are a guideline, not a ruleset.  The more you understand them, the better you are to choose one that meets your situation *and* adapt it for your needs.

Heyy Justice. Any difference in hiring process for SDET’s / QAs? Thanks.. 🙂

Speaking from Rocketplace’s perspective, hiring for a role largely remains the same with one difference: the technical assignment will be different, plus the “meet the team” will be slightly different.  There are obviously different philosophical questions a company would ask an SDET than a front-end engineer than I would a CMO or head of sales.

I’m currently working as a Microsoft Software Development Manager with 11 years of experience into Microsoft Stack + Angular. Do you think it will take a lot more time for my type of skillset to be picked by recruiters vs someone who has more opensource technologies in their armory?  

With 11 years experience, and leadership experience, and most of that being in .NET technologies and Angular, I think you’ll be fine. =). It’s somewhat dependent on the kind of companies you want to work for, but there are a number of technology companies out there using the combination of what you’re talking about (see my answer about PHP above).

 I have been a generalist, with knowledge in Linux administration, web development with Rails, team management using scrum and kanban and deep interest in Data Science. What are the chances of a professional with these characteristics being successful, in your opinion?

Frankly, it sounds like you already are successful, on the basis of tech choices, interests, and leadership, so I’ll say 100%?  =)

Justice, are you coming to the Daily Orbit? 

LOL, yes I am.  For reference to those reading, the Daily Orbit is a meeting that I wish I could take credit for, but the genesis of it belongs to Matthew Corstorphine, our VP of Product Design.  It’s the meeting that starts each day, where for about 15 minutes we simply state how we are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10, and what’s going on in our lives (read: *not* a status report).  This gives us great calibration for the day.  To the person who asked me, “Is there anything you wish you did differently in your career”, I’ll amend my answer to say I wish I had been using this kind of morning meeting 15 years ago.

What are your Top Resources for “Post Senior Engineers” roles in either management or individual contributor positions?

The Alliance is how we in Rocketplace Engineering recruit, manage, lead, and work with each other.  I am eternally grateful to Reid for putting this into words.  It is one of several books that is required reading for every Rocketeer joining the company.
 I’d also point you towards two blogs, devoted to either end of the “senior engineer +” spectrum: by Will Larson (formerly of Stripe) is an excellent blog featuring interviews and insights from people wanting to go down the “individual contributor” direction of their career. 
If you can only look at one leadership resource, I highly recommend, his books, and his leadership Slack channel.  His books are amazing, and the Slack channel insanely valuable.  
If you can only have two, I’d also recommend the aforementioned Will Larson’s “An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management“, which our CEO picked up for both Vinod (Rocketplace CTO) and I because he was curious what we thought about it.  Spoiler: we loved it. 

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