CareerPath: How to become a software engineer

The New York City tech industry is booming, but the app engineer is still a relatively young job position. We chatted with Mark Egerman, co-founder of Cover, an app that lets you pay for your check at a restaurant with your phone. Cover, founded in 2012, is based is in SoHo and currently has 12 employees, but Egerman said he plans to hire 10-15 more this year. Software engineers work full-time on the backend of the app, which runs on Android and Apple’s iOS, and earn $125,000 to $150,000 a year, depending on their experience. Since their app serves the food industry, they also enjoy eating out together and taking work home, he said.


What are the degree requirements for this position?

We aren’t sticklers for specific degrees, but most of our engineers have a BS in Computer Science from a top program.


What kind of experience do people need for the position?

We expect people to be comfortable in a fast-paced startup environment and there’s no substitute for relevant experience. We have a strong bias for people who have worked at top tech companies, startups in growth periods, or who have started their own companies. We find that these experiences best prepare candidates for work at Cover.


What do you look for in a cover letter?

I generally don’t put much weight in cover letters. Everyone says that they’re passionate and want to work hard, so they all sort of run together. Qualified candidates stand out on the strength of their resumes. Cover letters generally only disqualify candidates. For example, I had a candidate write to say they’d work 100 hours a week. I don’t want anyone working that hard – and it makes me suspect the candidate is substituting quantity for quality.


Do you use software to detect keywords in someone’s resume?

We read every resume. We would never use anything that would sort it for us. The risk of a good candidate falling through the cracks are too high.


What gets your attention in a resume?

The most important thing in a resume is relevant work experience; if somebody’s worked at a company that I respect or I have contacts where I could sort of ask about their performance. We would look at your most recent job and that’s probably the vast majority of our focus.


What personality traits do you look for in an interview?

The most important trait that I look for is empathy but empathy is a hard thing to measure. Understanding that we are building products for diverse consumers who may not be like us and to understand that we can empathize with their needs is incredibly important. And I think along with empathy is humility. There’s just a lot of serious challenges and understanding that one can be patient, one can make mistakes, and we do our best, those are the things that we look for in a candidate.


Do you ask the person to offer any kind of ideas?

No we don’t like asking candidates to effectively do spec-work for us. We don’t think it’s fair for them to use their time to help advance a company unless they’re getting paid for it.


Would it matter to you if someone was laid off at their last job?

No, it certainly would not be a deal-breaker. Not every work place is for every individual and incredibly talented people could be a mismatch and so the details of how they left their last job are not that important. However if they spend a good part of the interview badmouthing previous employers it is a red flag.


How has your search for candidates evolved?

So recruiting and interviewing candidates is the most important thing I as a founder do. And as we grow I spend more and more of my time focusing on recruiting. I spend about three hours a day reading resumes, speaking with candidates, recruiting candidates. As we grow even more as my time has to go because we are now hiring for more positions.


Do you have any tips for recent grads?

For very recent grads the most important thing is to find a workplace where you can get good mentors. Early stage startups don’t always have enough structure for people who are just getting started. We have never hired someone directly out of college. We are now growing to the size where we have enough structure in place. Without that guidance it can be very, very hard to build up your skillset, build up your resume and get good at something. Strong mentors open great doors and really are invaluable.