The Commons Digest (07/29/2022)

The COmmons Insider Newsletter

The Commons Weekly Digest

ICYMI, last week we announced that Skillful is now The Commons. Learn more about our rebrand and what The Commons represents to us here. And without further ado, welcome to our Weekly Digest. Think of it like a TL;DR of the massive group chat that happens in The Commons community every day.

In this week's issue:

  • Meet Holly! The Commons alum who is now crushing it at Instawork 🚀
  • Events & Sprints at The Commons
  • Your Weekly Level Up
  • ✏️ Practice Interview Question: The ambiguous 'golf balls' question
  • ✅ Community Reccos: Mentor book recommendations
  • 💭 Thought Starter: NYC, Austin or Seattle?
  • 💡 Brain teaser
  • 🚀 Resources: Great reads for non-technical founders to hone Product / Dev / Tech understanding


Here's how The Commons alum, Holly, leveraged the Core Sprint & network of mentors to land (and thrive in) a role at Instawork

Navigating the world of tech can often feel like a black hole of ever-changing, information overload. Attempting a career pivot or even just leveling up for your current role can be draining, lonely and frankly...boring. And, flying blind in the middle of a career pivot - with a myriad of unclear information and no network - is just about the worst place you can be.

Last week, Charliepat (Ops & Growth here at The Commons) sat down with Holly, a Core Sprint alum who holds a special place in the community, to chat about recruiting (before and after The Commons), her awesome mentor (Alex - GM at Instawork) and what skills she's learned to leverage in the world of tech (spoiler: her hard work and growth mindset led her to not just landing a role at Instawork but also being promoted in 6 months!).

Ready? Let's dive in 🤗

Hey Holly! What's your current role & location?

📍Operations at Instawork, Toronto.

Why did you want to pivot from supply chain operations into tech?

I started my career in a supply chain ops role in a massive company where I was one of thousands of employees. I was working on a tiny piece of a massive pie and I was feeling disengaged, especially during the pandemic when we transitioned to work from home and there was not much work culture. During the pandemic, tech was booming and people started talking about it more and I became interested. I initially had my eye on the big tech companies, like DoorDash and Uber, and I saw that The Commons had a good community of people from those companies, so I decided to join to learn more about opportunities in tech.

What was your experience like during the recruiting process, and how did you land the job at Instawork?

I started my job search by applying and interviewing online, sending resumes to open job posts. I found the recruiting process to be really draining. It takes up a lot of your time which can be difficult to manage if you have a full time job going on as well. So I was pretty discouraged after feeling like I was going in circles with recruiting. But then my friend told me about The Commons and I saw that there was this network of relevant people there that might help me out.

After completing the Core Sprint, The Commons helped me create an online portfolio using Notion and shared it with the community. Suddenly, people were sharing my portfolio with hiring managers. It actually worked out that my mentor at The Commons, Alex, had recently started a new job at Instawork and was hiring for his team. I really enjoyed working on his team during the Sprint and he ended up hiring me as an Operations Coordinator, Instawork’s first Ops hire in Canada!

Speaking of mentors, what was it like to work with a mentor in tech?

My mentor, Alex, is a really great mentor. He was the best part of my experience at The Commons. Working with him really resonated with me. He gave very specific and actionable feedback. We always ended our meetings with two to three action items and everything is always actionable, feedback-oriented and objective.

I remember the first week we worked together in the Core Sprint, I presented the first part of my analysis and he gave me some tips on what I could improve and what areas I could dive deeper on and I realized that I wasn't used to getting such constructive feedback. So I went back to my analysis, implemented his feedback and presented my new findings the next week. He was impressed that I took the advice to heart and praised the improvements to my analysis. I remember that making me feel so happy. It was such a nice experience to get specific, actionable feedback, implement it, and then receive praise for the improvement I made.

How did the skills you developed during the Core Sprint help you with your transition to tech?

I remember the first draft deck we presented to our mentor. It had a lot of information on it and I applied what I learned from my business school background. He observed that we spent a lot of our presentation presenting the data and very little on our takeaways and recommendations. He helped us contextualize the problem and let us know that if this was a real project at a real startup, the stakeholder would probably know a lot of this background information and we should spend more time talking through what our hypotheses were and our recommendations. It was a bit of a shock to me because I was so used to spending time reporting data up to senior leaders because in a more corporate setting where they may be more detached from day to day operations. So that helped us understand what it might be like to work at a startup where the leadership is closer to the problems we are trying to solve, and interested in what action items can be taken from the data.

When I was interviewing at Instawork, they asked me, what was this project you did with Alex, and what was the most important thing you learned from it? Based on what I learned in the Sprint I was able to say, “focus on the action items. Develop a hypothesis, use data to prove or disprove the hypothesis, and present the key recommendation”.

Now that you work in tech, what skills did you learn in the Core Sprint that have helped you in your day to day?

Definitely SQL and communicating using data. Being able to have the data at your fingertips when you need it is so helpful for getting things prioritized and aligning stakeholders. It’s very important to be able to communicate data in a way that makes sense to people and provides next steps.

It may seem basic, but I also think getting used to many of the tools used in startups was helpful. Like going from Outlook and Microsoft Teams to Slack, Gmail, Zoom, and so many more like Asana, Calendly and Zapier which I’m now obsessed with. I remember when I first joined The Commons and I logged into the Slack, I got like a ping from the team and I'm like, “This is weird. What's going on? What are all these channels?” I didn't know how it worked. It was good to learn about some of those tools at The Commons so that I knew what I was doing when I needed to use them in my job at Instawork.

Last question: What advice would you give to someone who’s looking to pivot into tech, and thinking about joining The Commons?

Do it, just do it. It's so worth it. If you feel like you are in a rut and you can't make moves in your current recruiting situation, it will bridge the gap. It will fill the white space in your knowledge and grow your network. The community is full of supportive people and you'll be very surprised at how well supported you are by the people in the community, regardless of their title, their seniority, or how long they've been working in tech.

➡️ Intersted in following in Holly's footsteps? Join an upcoming Sprint & The Commons community. Apply here

🪂 What's happening at The Commons

Upcoming events at The Commons:

  • Product Primer with Kaiz (PM at Google) | Tuesday, August 2 @ 12PM ET | Open to all, secure your spot here
  • Vancouver IRL Meetup | Friday, August 5 @ 5PM PT | Community + friends only, sign up here
  • Mini Interview Case Workshop | Sunday, August 14 @ 11AM ET | Community only, keep an eye out in #general to sign up

Recent past events - community members, you can access the recordings on the platform:

  • Making the move from Individual Contributor to Manager
  • No-Code/Low-Code 101

🚨Application Deadline Alert! 🚨

We're currently reviewing applications for the following Sprints:

  • 🚀 Core - Summer cohort is almost closed! You have until 6PM today (Friday) to apply and enrol!
  • 🖥 Product - only one week left to apply! Starts August 8th (an incredibly stacked roster of mentors from Uber, Tonal, Planned and more)


What the community is talking about...

Discussions in The Commons are prolific. Here’s a top one from this past week: discussing the art of financial forecasting, thanks to an awesome prompt from Abhishek! 🎨

Prompt: As someone who is on a quest to perpetually improve on the art of financial forecasting (aka future cash flows); which I've observed is the single most ambiguous and significant determinant of intrinsic value (because it informs critical capital allocation decisions and the cost of capital is largely defined by the market); I ponder, after hearing that the rationale behind recent unfortunate layoffs (at Peloton / Shopify / Amazon / Netflix) is that they used simple linear extrapolation of pandemic-induced growth (which should've been identified as an outlier instead) to make aggressive capital allocation decisions that are now being unwounded with a lot of pain and externalities.

The questions I have are:

  1. Is there something missing in the forecasting process in those companies? What are the key determinants of forecasts in startups?
  2. Is it a culture / a mandatory mindset issue (i.e. one must conform to the eternal optimistic mindset or else thou shall be shunned from the game?)
  3. Now that we have the learnings from this forced real world experiment, how are you thinking about doing this (i.e. forecasting) differently going forward?

Interesting question! My 2 cents:
At these large companies, forecasting is definitely not a pure linear extrapolation - there are large, smart finance teams who work on these quarterly forecasts.

They likely use a number of variables to determine the forecasts, but essentially, they need to find a balance between something that tells a good story, and also is achievable.

  • At these large public companies, the stock will see a movement every time you put out your "expectations" (forecast), and report on actuals vs that expectation (earnings).

Therefore, you're incentivized to show an optimistic forecast, but a realistic enough one that you can achieve.

Therefore, it is almost never in a company's favor to put out a "negative" / unoptimistic forecast with the rationale of "tech is overvalued right now and we might hit a recession" because:

  • You forecast quarterly and you can't predict when / if the market will correct
  • To say you're overvalued will send your stock into a decline whereas all other companies will "stay strong" in their stock price

Therefore, it's almost always better to externally assume that generally things will remain good - until they don't - in which case you revise expectations like everyone else in the industry does.

All that being said, these companies should and generally do have different internal forecasts that are more conservative that they use to make business decisions.

  • I.e they ideally should be prepared for the worst and not have to reactively lay off 10-20% of the workforce!

Missed the discussion? Community members, hop into Slack (below) to check out the full thread, including additional commentary by Wafic, Sandeep and Barkat. 🌟

Join the discussion

Your weekly level up ⏫

✏️ Practice Interview Question

Type: Mini Case
Question: You’re the launcher for a quick delivery service like JOKR for Austin, Texas. You’re reviewing the customer feedback log after the first week of your launch - there are 1000s of feedback instances, some of which require immediate action. What do you do with the feedback log? Specifically: what system or process do you use to make sense of all the feedback and decide which ones to action?
What They're Testing For: Largely, they're testing to see how you'd tackle an every day problem. How do you break down an ambiguous problem (where you likely won't have all the answers), prioritize, come up with actionable solutions and execute. Secondly, they're testing for communication - how clearly and succinctly can you communicate your ideas.

🌟 Tips

✏️ Take notes: for mini cases like this one, it's always best to communicate that you are going to pause for a moment to structure your thoughts (a few moments to pause is much better than a long-winded ramble in the end!). Just be efficient with your time and don't take a 10 minute pause to answer a 2 minute question.

⚙️ Get tactical, as if you were going to be tackling this today. What tools / systems would you use (eg. Gsheets, SQL, etc.) and articulate what specifically would you do with these tools (eg. would you categorize based on something, if so, what?). Ultimately they want to know if you can dive into problems like these head on.

🔀 Communicate how you would prioritize. 1000 issues is too many to handle quickly - how do you quickly separate what is urgent vs. not.

🔁 Communicate your immediate actions (how do you plan to address the issues and how will you reach out to customers? What teams need to be involved?) and then your long term strategy (eg. do you bucket the most frequent issues, prioritize and then pass them off to Ops or Product to address?)

✅ Community Reccos

This week we're talking books! 📚In our Mentor Spotlights (found here), our mentors share their favorite reads. Here are a few recent ones:

Principles by Ray Dalio (reco'd by Si Jia, Product - Crypto - at Revolut & The Commons Revenue Growth Sprint Mentor)
Sprint by Jake Knapp (reco'd by Eric, Product Manager at The Trade Desk & The Commons Product Sprint Mentor)
100 Years of Solitude (reco'd by Julie-Anne, Product Ops at DoorDash & The Commons Core Sprint Mentor)

Bonus: Want to tap into our Product mentors directly? Join our upcoming Product Sprint - it kicks off August 8th and applications close next week. Apply here.

💭 Thought Starter

While the community is filled with conversations directly related to careers, there are lots of other lively threads, like this one:

"If you had to choose between Seattle, NYC & Austin, to live (not visit) which one would you choose?"

The community consensus:

  • NYC for short term (~2-3 years) [rationale: real estate is expensive, high taxes]
  • Seattle for the tech scene, outdoors & 'great vibes' [rationale: no income tax, outdoorsy - hiking / skiing / climbing - scene, slower paced than NYC, lots of tech folks, but some thoughts about it being harder to befriend people than NYC]
  • Austin got the least votes [rationale: great if you have a big team there for work, otherwise might be a little isolating. Also great if you come from a smaller town and want a big city feel that isn't as overwhelming as NYC]

Want to weigh in? Pop into this Slack thread to share in the debate with Saumil, Aya, Shawn, Megan, Zachary and Reid!

🧠 Brain Teaser

How many regular golf balls can you fit into a plane?
Check here for the answer!

💡Community Share

The Commons community is filled with tidbits of advice and interesting shares. In case you missed it, here's a popular share from last week


Links for the above:

Thanks for leveling up with us!

If you want to chat about The Commons, text us at +1-416-619-9042 or jump on a call HERE.

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Skillful is now The Commons.
We’re more than just skills training. We're the place where high achievers come to fulfill their career potential. We combine education, mentorship and community to empower the next generation of ambitious professionals to achieve their career goals.
The time to build the education institution of the future is now. And we're doing it.

Careers are catalyzed through skills-training, mentorship and a supportive network. At The Commons, we're delivering those critical career elements together through learning experiences that are social, mentorship-based and community-first.

Join to learn and stay for the community.