Illustration showing an open Macbook on a wooden table. The background is blurred out but it appears to show chalk markings on an old-fashioned blackboard.
Routific News

Interviewing With A Tech Startup: Advice for PhDs

July 20, 2017


The moment the PhD student stood up and bolted out of our office was the moment I knew we needed to write a blog post. 😰

The young man had come in for a job interview. He met with our founder and CEO, Marc, and our algorithms engineer, Olivier (affectionately known around the office as Dr. O), who has a PhD in optimization. The three seemed to have a pleasant chat before delving into a coding challenge.

The PhD student was enthusiastic — at least in the very beginning. Very quickly, he came up with an approach. He took out his notepad and began sketching a proof. Marc suggested he take a step back and talk about his approach before putting pen to paper. But the PhD student declined and continued to sketch.

After 20 minutes, Marc was forced to interrupt. “Sorry, I think we’re out of time,” he said.

“OK,” the student replied. He quickly packed away his notepad, stood up, and made a beeline for the door. He didn’t even say goodbye on his way out. 😞

The key differences between academia and the startup world

Over the past year, we’ve interviewed dozens of candidates who have PhDs. We’ve hired just one. It occurred to us that a lot of PhDs have spent most of their lives knee-deep in academia, and just aren’t primed for job interviews at tech startups.

They spend four years preparing a thesis. But what if they had just 15 minutes to come up with a solution to a rather complex problem? The startup pace is fast, and you need to be creative, think on your feet, and come up with solutions as quickly as possible. A customer is waiting for you to fix a bug, merge the code, and save the day. A lot is at stake.

Maybe some people just can’t take the pressure but Dr. O, who spent three years working on his PhD thesis on graph orientations, thinks it’s more about mindset than anything.

Here’s some advice from Dr. O for PhD students looking to work at a tech startup.

Advice for PhDs applying for tech startup jobs

Olivier (affectionately known around the office as Dr. O), has a PhD in optimization.
Author portrait

Marc Kuo is the Founder & CEO of Routific, a route optimization platform for small businesses. Our mission is to green the planet by reducing the mileage and fuel consumption of delivery fleets. With over a decade of experience in the last-mile industry, he has advised hundreds of delivery businesses on their route planning and delivery operations.