Lessons from hiring an engineer who doesn’t fit the company’s culture

Karthik Balakrishnan

President at Actual



When recruiting, we have a three-stage hiring process, including an on-site interview, where engineers can meet the team that they would work with if they were to be hired. We went through this process with a very technically strong engineer.

Actions taken

Everyone seemed positive during the first two steps of the process. However, once the on-site component of the hiring process occurred a couple of experienced engineers pointed out that he might not be used to working in teams. I personally did not feel that way and hired him. This ended up being the wrong decision, as the person became very toxic to the team. This engineer came from a small startup where he was used to calling the shots. Due to this, we quickly reached a point where he would do whatever he wanted. He once even decided to work on a feature, despite this not being what we had agreed upon. I tried to reason him and he basically replied that "I'll keep building that feature. Let's just agree to disagree". After multiple attempts to change his behavior, we had to let him go.

Lessons learned

I learned three main things from this event:

  • Listen and take the advice from your experienced engineers. I had two senior people in my team tell me he might not be a good fit and I did not listen to them.
  • When in doubt about a potential cultural misfit, do a test with the person. Using a contract-to-hire procedure is a good way to try out someone over a few months. However, it should not be a default option, as contract-to-hire may not work for everyone.
  • Set clear expectations that take a person's background into account. Identify what will be different in the new position and make sure you agree. In this example, the engineer was used to calling all the shots in his previous startup and his new position was as the fifth engineer in one of three already-built engineering teams. I should have been more clear about the scope of his responsibility.

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Karthik Balakrishnan

President at Actual

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesTechnical ExpertiseTechnical Skills

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