Starcity and 42 Silicon Valley: A Case Study

Urbanization and City Dwelling: A Housing Shortage Leads to an Innovative Response

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “today, 55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050.” With that trend brings an affordable housing shortage, where the impact has already been acutely felt in tech hubs like San Francisco. This crisis, which has seen an exodus of residents who can no longer afford rent, was written about in Business Insider, “many San Franciscans are struggling to find homes they can afford, and the number of available, affordable housing units don’t come close to meeting the city’s demand.” The New York Times recognized that the middle class is impacted far more than people may realize, especially if they don’t qualify for low-income housing, “In search of reasonable rent, the middle-class backbone of San Francisco…are engaging in an unusual experiment in communal living: They are moving into dorms.” What can be loosely described as a “dorm” is actually the idea of a shared living space that is elevated to meet the needs of middle-class professionals.

Starcity: A Company in Pursuit of Community Living

Starcity’s mission focuses on making cities more accessible to everyone, and they are finding innovative solutions to affordable community living in an urban setting.  A mid-size startup that was founded in 2016, they build residential housing in the LA area and San Francisco. Basically, they buy big buildings and redesign the interior to maximize private spaces (bedrooms) and shared spaces (living areas, kitchens, etc.) that supply both the privacy and interaction that many millennials crave, especially when the move to a new city. In addition to that, they provide unique services to their residents where they are able to order assistance with certain chores or tasks such as dog walking, laundry, and room cleaning, through an online dashboard.   

The Challenge: Finding Motivated Self-Starters

Starcity is currently a 30-person company with an engineering team of 7 people. The Starcity engineers build software to meet their unique residential business needs and to exceed the level of service that they provide to their residents. Starcity’s CTO and Co-founder, Josh Lehman, is responsible for hiring engineers, managing engineers, as well as providing mentorship and leadership for the engineering team. According to Josh, when your team is small, the challenge is to find potential employees who not only have the right tech skills but are also motivated self-starters. Bringing those type of people on board makes it easier for the team as they can provide minimal training and can trust you with high-level tasks.

The Decision: Taking on 42 Interns With No Original Job Prospect

Josh Lehman first heard about 42 Silicon Valley after meeting two 42 students, Queenie Ho and Andres Pineda, at a Github Hackathon in March 2017. Queenie and Andres reached out to him a few months later in October 2017 in pursuit of internship opportunities. Although Starcity was not actively looking to take on interns or hire junior software engineers at that time, they offered a 3-month internship to Queenie and Andres. Starcity didn’t have any intention of hiring them at the end of the internship because they didn’t think they had a need at the junior end of the engineering spectrum.

A Change of Plan: 42 Alumni, A Great Fit for Hire

During the 3 months that Queenie and Andres interned at Starcity, Lehman and the rest of the engineering team got to know more about their abilities, work style, and their overall potential. One thing that Josh Lehman found interesting about the 42 program is that it is self-guided, and produces self-starting people who are able to figure out things for themselves. Queenie and Andres were able to take on their internships with the professionalism, innovative spirit and the motivation needed to show that they could integrate as valuable members of Starcity’s engineering team. So the thought process for Josh was, if they can think that way on their own with minimum direction, Queenie and Andres probably have the ability to do this job.  

Although they were not initially planning on hiring Queenie and Andres after the end of their 3-month internship, Lehman could see the value added if they hired them full-time and offered both of them full-time positions as junior software engineers. After Queenie and Andres were hired full-time in January, Josh started teaching them the Clojure programming language a functional LISP widely regarded as a difficult language to learn. Queenie is building, almost entirely by herself, a full-stack web application that handles the process of applying to and joining a Starcity community. Andres has built a large part of a Clojure payments API for property management, and it processes hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. Josh does not underestimate the importance of Queenie and Andres being self-starters because Starcity is such a lean company—people they hire really need to know how to figure out things for themselves.

Results: Building A Tech Talent Pipeline

Although Starcity is not currently hiring for interns or junior engineers, Josh shared that they would be interested in taking on more 42 interns and/or hiring 42 students in the future: “Yes, that would be something I would look at. We plan to always have a talent pipeline, and 42 seems like a good fit for that.” Starcity has noticed that other 42 alumni they have met through Queenie and Andres share the same qualities and motivation and would make for good potential hires. Josh appreciates the skills that he has observed in the 42 alumni that they hired, mainly that they are good at communicating, working within the broader company and tend to be great team players. He has observed that Queenie and Andres are very curious, ask a lot of questions and take part in a lot of things that don’t have to do with engineering. Every Tuesday they volunteer to teach English to ESL learners with a non-profit that Starcity partners with. When it comes to contributing to the company’s mission, giving back is a big part of that, especially because Starcity builds communities exclusively within cities. In addition to the community aspect, 42 alumni who work at Starcity manage to take on projects that most companies would give to a senior engineer or teams of 3-4 people. According to Josh, “they are more than pulling their weight, and they take responsibility.”

You may also download a PDF version: Starcity and 42 Silicon Valley: A Case Study.

 

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published by Stacey Faucett – August 8, 2018