Avi Lewis is a software engineer for Meta, one of the world’s preeminent tech companies, and a pioneer in innovative technologies. I invited him for an interview on Israel Unfiltered to pick his brain about the effect of current economic challenges on the tech market, the mass exodus to the tech scene from other sectors, and the most effective ways to get hired in hi-tech.
First though, I wanted to get a snapshot of the playing field from Avi. We discussed whether or not there’s an inherent separation between the Israeli tech ecosystem and its counterpart in the US.
“I don’t think that the Israeli tech system is separate from the American tech system,” he said. “[The recent wave of] layoffs is global. They’re not just happening in the States or in Europe, they’re also happening here in Israel.”
With that said, as far as Avi is concerned, the start-up nation has a very distinct character that has enabled it to hang with the largest global actors around. “Israel definitely is punching above its weight, in terms of global tech in every single way,” he said. “In terms of venture capital dollars per capita, number of startups and unicorns per capita, the number of founders that are coming and graduating from Israeli universities — you look at every global metric, and on a per capita basis, like Israel is one of the global leaders, far ahead of most European countries, and definitely on par with the US. So there definitely is some underlying factor here that is quite special.”
We delved deeper into that underlying factor, and Avi made an interesting point about just how much Israel’s character has evolved since its early days. “If you look at Israel from its founding up until the 90s, it was a relatively agrarian economy. It had pockets of manufacturing but it was mostly agricultural,” he said.
Avi explained that, at the time, Israel’s tech scene was the niche part of the country’s output, despite the fact that many look at it today as a tech powerhouse with a little bit of agriculture as well. “The outlier here is the tech ecosystem, not the other way around,” he said. “The fact that we have this burgeoning tech sector that has enabled hundreds of 1000s of Israelis to live middle class plus lifestyles, I think that really is the outlier.”
I took the opportunity to ask Avi for his thoughts on traditional education’s role in landing a hi-tech job. Is it truly necessary to have a high-level degree to have the best chance of getting into the industry?
“Someone without a STEM degree who’s talented and who can prove that talent via relevant background and experience will land [a job]. Someone who has a degree isn’t necessarily guaranteed a role,” he acknowledged. “But I think for most people, going through the college route is one of the most prevalent avenues to get to land their first job in high tech, because it is a standardized system. It is one of the ways that you can prove on a resume — in lieu of actual experience — that you know your stuff.”
“At the end of the day, even though [tech is] not a certification based field or role, like law or medicine, you still have to get through that first gatekeeper, which is the recruiter in human resources looking over your resume. You have to prove that you have the skill set to be able to work in that role, and therefore, that it wouldn’t be a waste of time to be invited for an interview. Having a college degree, for most people, provides them with a framework to acquire that knowledge,” he said.
At the same time, Avi pointed out the heavy importance of being well connected when it comes to building a flourishing career.
“Having a network is extremely important — and not just in Israel, anywhere. There’s a number of people who I know who have landed jobs, because a friend of theirs submitted their resume on their behalf and recommended them,” he said. “But I also think that there’s a limit to how much a network can help you, depending on the role.”
That said, the value of a broad network can’t be understated, said Avi. “Go to conferences, go to meetups, maybe even cold call and reach out to people who work in particular startups or in roles that you’re interested in, invite them over for a coffee and say ‘tell me about your role,” he said. “My big philosophy is knocking on as many doors as possible. Put as many fishing rods as you can along the seashore with the hope that one of them catches a fish.”