Now Hiring: Why Team Members Chose to Join These Growing SF Companies

At two San Francisco organizations, authentic people and ambitious missions are attracting top tech talent.

Written by Lucas Dean
Published on Sep. 06, 2023
Now Hiring: Why Team Members Chose to Join These Growing SF Companies
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As Efua Mensah-Brown searched for a job, she had two relatively simple criteria: something that she’d wake up excited to do every day and people she enjoyed working with. 

To confidently check these boxes, on the other hand, is a deceptively tricky task during the interview process. Can initial impressions and interactions be trusted as emblematic of a company’s people and culture in practice? Will expectations meet reality? 

During each stage of the interview process at Sparrow, Mensah-Brown was left with a resounding “yes.” These conversations culminated in an assuring interview with Sparrow CEO Deborah Hanus.

“Ultimately, the culture is only as good as the example set by leadership. My conversation with Deborah sealed the deal,” said Mensah-Brown, who now is an associate software engineer at the company. “I found her to be smart, open to feedback and growth, and transparent. At that point, I knew that if I received an offer, I would accept it.”

While searching for a new position, the content of conversations and interviews is as important as the feeling that what’s being said is authentic and trustworthy. The moment things click can be distilled down to “when you know, you know.”

For Ying Luan, the director of biostatistics at GRAIL, this moment proved decisive in leaping to a new company during a time of economic uncertainty.  

“It was their consistent and strong mission-driven voice, along with their problem-solving attitude, that resonated with me. This realization made me understand that I wanted to be part of this legendary journey,” said Luan, who’s now been at the company for three years. 

As GRAIL and Sparrow grow their teams, these professionals shared what candidates can expect during the interview process and how their companies set new hires up for success. 

 

Ying Luan
Director of Biostatistics • GRAIL

Healthtech company GRAIL leverages high-intensity sequencing, population-scale clinical studies and computer and data science expertise to better understand cancer biology and develop products. 

 

At what point in the interview and hiring process did you realize that GRAIL was the company for you? 

When I interviewed with GRAIL in the first half of 2020, it was during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many factors were uncertain, including economic trends, changes in the work environment and the stability of private companies. Considering the high risks at both macro and micro levels, my family and friends recommended that I stick with my previous employer, a stable and large pharmaceutical company.

The concepts of multi-cancer early detection and paradigm shift, combined with an evidence-based approach, intrigued me about GRAIL's business. Working on an innovative product for which the FDA had not yet established a standard and being part of the team that set that standard was inspiring.

After the interview, it became clear to me that this was the opportunity I had been waiting for. I officially joined the company in July 2020.

 

How did your colleagues set you up for success and help you get acclimated once you came aboard?

Teamwork and innovation were crucial during my onboarding. In my over 15 years in the pharmaceutical industry, success was measured by FDA approvals. The drug approval process is standard and there are templates for almost each step. At GRAIL, our product encompasses DNA sequencing, laboratory assays, artificial intelligence and software, which involve new ways of doing things. My colleagues and I collaborated to forge new standards, methods and design scenarios that promoted mutual learning.

From day one, I was absorbing insights from top-tier scientists and engineers and was able to contribute my own insights. It has been an incredible journey, where I have been surrounded by transparent, trustworthy peers who encouraged sharing and allowed me to be comfortable to ask questions.

 

I have been surrounded by transparent, trustworthy peers who encouraged sharing and allowed me to be comfortable to ask questions.”

 

Since joining your company, what’s your favorite success story? 

I have been with GRAIL for three years, and within this time, numerous success stories have emerged. I’d like to share one instance where we submitted a clinical study protocol to the FDA under an investigational device exemption for a new product. They presented challenging questions and set a short timeframe for our response.  

Our team, composed of members from regulatory, product development, clinical development and biostatistics, collaborated extensively. We created multiple options to address study design queries, aligning them with our company’s current strategy, future marketing and the goal of an expedited market entry. Ensuring both the safety and effectiveness of the GRAIL test remained pivotal. After thorough debates and discussions, the team agreed upon the optimal response, which we submitted within the stipulated time frame. 

As we look ahead, our focus remains on expanding our novel technology to help shift the paradigm of cancer screening to find cancers earlier to potentially improve cancer care and outcomes. 

 


 

Efua Mensah-Brown
Associate Software Engineer • Sparrow
 

HR tech company Sparrow brings together innovative technology and a leave specialist team to help employers handle every step of the leave process. 

 

At what point in the interview and hiring process did you realize that Sparrow was the company for you? 

I joined Sparrow early in 2020 and by the end of the entire interview process, I was sold.

Before I applied to Sparrow, I was just finishing my own leave. When I saw the Sparrow job posting, I was excited about what Sparrow was doing. Truth be told, I knew very little about leave outside of my limited situation, but I knew it was a service people needed.

So I submitted my overly enthusiastic application and cover letter, and thankfully, I got an interview. As one can imagine, I was both nervous and excited. However, the nerves quickly faded as each interviewer put me at ease. I felt I could be myself and have a conversation. I really liked and enjoyed speaking to everyone. Everyone felt supportive, authentic, warm and welcoming. I was convinced that this was the company for me. 

 

I felt I could be myself and have a conversation. Everyone felt supportive, authentic, warm and welcoming.”


 

How did your colleagues set you up for success and help you get acclimated once you came aboard?

My colleagues set me up for success in every way possible! I have been on two teams at Sparrow: customer experience and engineering. On each team, I attribute my growth and learning to my teammates.

They all had open-door policies. They answered my plethora of questions fully, and they gave me incredibly constructive feedback that helped me work on my areas of growth. “Let’s jump on a quick Zoom” feels like the most common phrase at Sparrow. 

Finally, the team celebrated all my wins — even wins I didn’t realize were wins. There is no ego. Credit is given where credit is due. My teammates being so giving of their time and resources stirred a desire in me to do the same for others. We have a supportive culture where the goal is for everyone to win. “When you win, I win” is par for the course at Sparrow.
 

Looking ahead, what do you hope to accomplish with your team?

I’m super excited about what the engineering team is doing with our product. I have spent time using the product as a leave specialist, and at the time, there were features I really wanted. It is exciting to be on the engineering side to help make these features a reality and have a positive impact on so many people’s lives. 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by Shutterstock and listed companies.

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