My Tales from the Interview



  • Last year I was out of work for a month or two, and I'd like to share three tales from the interview which stuck out. Between the many offshore headhunters wondering why you won't drive a thousand miles away for an interview, even though you clearly state you are not willing to relocate and the folks who simply don't know what they're talking about, asking about your "Lunix" experience, there is that happy medium of interviews that seem worthwhile and with minimal WTFs.

    Unfortunately, sometimes I'm dreadfully wrong in my assessment.

    The Interupting Rebutter

    The job sounded right up my alley... it was in a field that I've had two years of experience with, had a laid back, work-from-home environment, and a young and hip workforce. After passing a few programming brainteasers and describing my experience in the field, I thought I was a star candidate... until he asked me specific details about my line of work in the previous job.

    Interviewer: So, you were a front-end developer of the web application. How was the back-end organized?

    Me: Well, they used a Java framework using JBoss and--

    Interviewer: JBoss?! Why didn't they use Tomcat, if they were going to use Java?

    Me: I'm not sure... the head developers there were trying a bunch of different servers before choosing JBoss. I am not involved in the back-end at all, so I don't don't know the details of their decision, but from what I gathered while I was there, they liked how you could more easily hotfi--

    Interviewer:
    And they should have used Python.

    Me: Well, we used Python for some of our more computational back-end stuff for algorithm assessment and statistical analysis, but the Java backend was really involved more with some MySQL database access and reporting.

    Interviewer:
    You used MySQL? Why didn't you use Oracle?

    Me: We chose MySQL a long time ago when we were almost entirely a PHP setup starting out, and we're considering switching to Oracle now that we've sort of scaled up our operations, but the migrat--

    Interviewer:
    Why didn't you start out with ASP?

    Me: I don't know... all those choices were made years before I started there.

    Interviewer: Huh...

    The Interviewer barely touched on what I did at my previous employer and seemed much more interested in the decisions management and other people made in software I wasn't even involved with. The recruiter working with him informed me that he passed on me, because he said I was too skilled, and they were looking for someone more junior level.

    The Final Word

    I was being considered for a position at a software company specializing in software for very high-end, professional exercise and physical therapy equipment. The job itself sounded nice, the people sounded nice, the only problem was it seemed at best an hour and a half away, but only if traffic behaved, which I knew most mornings it wouldn't. Whether I'd accept any offer was a tossup for me, since one of my major factors in deciding on any job is commute time. Still, I wanted to at least try a face-to-face interview just to see how good the commute was.

    After arriving at the office, I felt like a hot potato, being interviewed by a dozen different people individually, the entire interview lasting 6 hours. I thought this was a good sign, since I'd think most of the duds would only last a half hour. The final interviewer was by far the most technical, asking me many very challenging programming puzzles. Although there were a few I struggled with, he was impressed.

    "Don't feel bad about the two problems you couldn't answer. In all, you did well. Better than most people I've interviewed so far. So, here's how it works. The folks you've met today will discuss how you answered all of our questions, and we're going to make a hiring decision very soon. By Friday at the latest. So, if you get a call from us by Friday, expect a job offer. If you don't, then you can fuck off."

    I was floored by his deadpan delivery of that last sentence. He looked at my face, which was a mix of confusion and amusement. I wasn't offended, but simply shocked. Throughout the whole interview process, everyone was very straightforward and professional, so it was the least I was expecting from anyone in this office. He profusely apologized for what he called a sudden lapse of judgement on his part. A few days later I was, in fact, offered a job, but I turned it down, not because of the f-bomb, but because of the commute.

    The Jury Rig

    I was kind of at a loss to know what to expect in this interview. The recruiter informed me that they were looking for someone who was "willing to try new things, and to not be too stubborn to do things their way or question their decisions." At first I was skeptical that things would work... I know what most employers mean when they say, "do things our way," and it's never meant to mean, "Do things the right way." I told the recruiter point blank, "I'm not interested, they sound like a place that will not listen to their engineers' recommendations and likely have arrogant management who think they know everything but really don't."

    Somehow the recruiter convinced me enough to follow through on it and just give it a shot. They started with a phone interview. During the phone interview I learned they were a drug test analysis firm that works especially with professional sports organizations to determine if a player had any illicit drugs, among other things, in their blood or urine. I tried to ask as tactfully as possible, what the recruiter meant when he said they were looking for someone who won't question their decisions.

    "Well, we are a place that likes to use the right tool to solve the right problem. You're going to see that we use every technology out of the sky, .NET, Java, Python, PHP, JavaScript, MUMPS, Perl, Ook!, C++, C-Pound, Lisp... you've heard it, we've used it. We like to think outside of the box. For example, we had someone who needed to connect an LDAP server to a JavaScript application using a serial port... it took some jury rigging, but he got it done."

    Needless to say, I was quite confused... they started out saying they liked to use the right tools for the right job, yet proceeded to use LDAP, JavaScript, and serial port in the same sentence.

    "We aren't all just software engineers, either... we do it all. There was a software engineer who noticed one of the lab technicians would take a sample out of one box, scan its bar code, and then put it in another box. He thought that was very inefficient, since the lab technician had to use one hand for the sample, and another hand for the scanner. So, he took an office lamp with one of those bendable arms from an empty office, ripped off the head, took some velcro, and taped one side of the velcro on the scanner, and the other side to the arm... then, he took a rubber band and positioned it over the trigger so it would keep the scanner turned on. The technician was so happy she could simply scan the samples the same way you would scan groceries at the supermarket!"

    At the end of the phone interview, they expressed their interest in having me stop by for a face-to-face. By this time, I was running into hard luck finding a job, so I decided, despite all the strange oddities about this company and their office and lab equipment abuse, and despite the fact they work directly with urine, I agreed to visit. One thing the recruiter stressed in preparing me for the interview was to have a sense of humor. Working with human waste makes for some awkwardly amusing conversations, and the recruiter wanted me to try to use some humor in the interview without being too brash, since they were also looking for a colleague who could fit in socially, yet professionally.

    I started by asking, "What are your testing and quality assurance environments like? I assume in a field like this you need a lot of scrutiny to make sure you don't get a false positive, which could ruin an athlete's career and make you liable... and I sure don't want to be responsible for getting Tom Brady on the chopping block for being incorrectly accused of steroid abuse." The question returned several chuckles. It turned out, thankfully, they did exercise a lot of scrutiny through the use of code reviews and very specific and detailed test plans and unit tests.

    During the interview they made a few humorous jabs at the Marshall Report and shared funny stories about doctors doing really stupid things to get easily caught by officials for providing performance enhancers, and tall tales about college students who mistakened their urine sample for lemonade. We were on a roll, and the interviewers devolved into 45 minutes of sophmoric toilet humor which I simply played along with as the interview came to a close.

    I was escorted out of the facility by a manager who was not in the conference room for the interview and asked me some last-minute questions about my salary expectations and other hypothetical questions should I be selected. He said, "This company is growing a lot, as we find demand for these kinds of tests expanding outside of professional sports and into colleges and even high schools and local amateur teams. We have a lot of great stuff down the pipes."

    I automatically chuckled and said, "Pipes... heh, good one." The manager stopped and gave me a stink eye. Oops, did I just use the same 3rd grade humor I had just listened to and used with some of the less mature interviewers for an hour on the seemingly more stoic project manager? I tried to recover, but was at a loss for words. I never heard from that employer again.



  • @RHuckster said:

    Needless to say, I was quite confused... they started out saying they liked to use the right tools for the right job, yet proceeded to use LDAP, JavaScript, and serial port in the same sentence.

    I'm wondering which of those tools you feel clearly invalidates the use of the other two.  I ask this as someone who has worked as an LDAP administrator, and had to provide some LDAP comprehension to someone who was writing a JavaScript applet which talked over a serial port.  I thought it was kind of odd at the time, because serial ports are rather ancient tech, and most networking these days is performed via TCP/IP through network cards.  However, he seemed pretty confident that the serial port was the only way he could communicate from the computer in question to the rest of the world, and it was an AJAX applet, so JavaScript is a common choice there.

    I'm also curious what constitutes an environment where MUMPS or Ook! would ever be 'the right tool for the job', absent any political considerations.



  • @RHuckster said:

    The job itself sounded nice, the people sounded nice, the only problem was it seemed at best an hour and a half away, but only if traffic behaved, which I knew most mornings it wouldn't. Whether I'd accept any offer was a tossup for me, since one of my major factors in deciding on any job is commute time. Still, I wanted to at least try a face-to-face interview just to see how good the commute was.

    Jesus, I don't know how you could even consider that.  I hated having to work a job with a 40 minute commute.  I dithered like a mediocre commander-in-chief before finally accepting that job.

     

    @RHuckster said:

    During the phone interview I learned they were a drug test analysis firm...

    Oh hell no.



  • @tgape said:

    I'm wondering which of those tools you feel clearly invalidates the use of the other two.  I ask this as someone who has worked as an LDAP administrator, and had to provide some LDAP comprehension to someone who was writing a JavaScript applet which talked over a serial port.  I thought it was kind of odd at the time, because serial ports are rather ancient tech, and most networking these days is performed via TCP/IP through network cards.  However, he seemed pretty confident that the serial port was the only way he could communicate from the computer in question to the rest of the world, and it was an AJAX applet, so JavaScript is a common choice there.

    This sounds... confused.  JavaScript in a browser communicating with an LDAP server over serial?  I didn't even know JS could handle generic serial communication and protocols other than HTTP.  Assuming you're not talking about server-side JS.  But then, that's never the right tool for the job.

     

    @tgape said:

    I'm also curious what constitutes an environment where MUMPS or Ook! would ever be 'the right tool for the job', absent any political considerations.

    Plenty of places have large systems implemented in MUMPS.  As hideous as it is, I guess it would be the right tool for the job if you had to closely integrate with legacy MUMPS systems.  Even then, it's only the right tool in the sense that a corkscrew is the right tool for an end-stage alcoholic.



  • I knew a project manager who interviewed in a manner similar to your first story.  If a candidate showed too much knowledge of anything they had not been directly involved in the PM would contend that the candidate was a security risk and argue against the hire.

    You probably wouldn't be amazed to find out how many programmers answer questions like the ones you were asked with a blank stare even if they know the answer.  Too many paranoid people out there, too many interviewers afraid of losing their jobs to the cheap recruits they hire. 



  •  TRWTF is that these stories, especially the third, are much better than the stuff that's been on the front page the past few days. You should write a few guest stories while Alex gets the good stuff going again.



  •  @morbiuswilters said:

    Jesus, I don't know how you could even consider that.  I hated having to work a job with a 40 minute commute.  I dithered like a mediocre commander-in-chief before finally accepting that job.

    Wow, I'd be amazed if my job had only a 40 minute commute. It takes 30 minutes to get to the town centre in the rush hour morning traffic, so when I got offered a job which typically took between 60 and 90 minutes to get there I didn't think that much of it. I've changed jobs since, but my commute time is still > 1 hour. A good day is about 75 minutes, with about 15 of those in stationary traffic.



  • I don't know why I even bother reading first page stories any more when the forums are so much better...



  •  @bob171123 said:

     TRWTF is that these stories, especially the third, are much better than the stuff that's been on the front page the past few days. You should write a few guest stories while Alex gets the good stuff going again.

     

    QFT



  • @bob171123 said:

     TRWTF is that these stories, especially the third, are much better than the stuff that's been on the front page the past few days. You should write a few guest stories while Alex gets the good stuff going again.

    It's very hard to come up with good stuff on a daily basis.  Just watch jay Leno or David Letterman for examples.

     



  • @El_Heffe said:

    Just watch jay Leno or David Letterman for examples.

     

    Maybe Alex should start boinking his staffers.



  • @Mole said:

     @morbiuswilters said:

    Jesus, I don't know how you could even consider that.  I hated having to work a job with a 40 minute commute.  I dithered like a mediocre commander-in-chief before finally accepting that job.

    Wow, I'd be amazed if my job had only a 40 minute commute. It takes 30 minutes to get to the town centre in the rush hour morning traffic, so when I got offered a job which typically took between 60 and 90 minutes to get there I didn't think that much of it. I've changed jobs since, but my commute time is still > 1 hour. A good day is about 75 minutes, with about 15 of those in stationary traffic.

    Bah.  Do you live in California or India or something?



  •  Worse. The UK.



  • @Mole said:

    Worse. The UK.

    BWAH HA HA HA HA!



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    @El_Heffe said:

    Just watch jay Leno or David Letterman for examples.

    Maybe Alex should start boinking his staffers.

    You're right.  That'd be way funnier.



  • @bstorer said:

    @morbiuswilters said:

    @El_Heffe said:

    Just watch jay Leno or David Letterman for examples.

    Maybe Alex should start boinking his staffers.

    You're right.  That'd be way funnier.

    Not without a dinner AND a movie first.



  • @Mole said:

    Wow, I'd be amazed if my job had only a 40 minute commute. It takes 30 minutes to get to the town centre in the rush hour morning traffic, so when I got offered a job which typically took between 60 and 90 minutes to get there I didn't think that much of it. I've changed jobs since, but my commute time is still > 1 hour. A good day is about 75 minutes, with about 15 of those in stationary traffic.

    My Commute is 20 minutes.... in rush hour...



  • @galgorah said:

    My Commute is 20 minutes.... in rush hour...
    Since we're measuring commute inverse-penises: 2 minutes. On foot.

    And no, there was never any pressure for working over-time or bringing work home.

    TRWTF is you end up missing that mindless gap in time. It allows you to more softly shift gears and readjust between work-mode and home-mode.

    I used to have a 40/60 minute commute through public transportation, and I used that time to read the morning paper. It was quite enjoyable.



  • @galgorah said:

    My Commute is 20 minutes.... in rush hour...

    Yeah, so long as one of the idiot transit employees doesn't crash the train while texting.



  • @Zecc said:

    Since we're measuring commute inverse-penises: 2 minutes. On foot.

    And no, there was never any pressure for working over-time or bringing work home.

    TRWTF is you end up missing that mindless gap in time. It allows you to more softly shift gears and readjust between work-mode and home-mode.

    I used to have a 40/60 minute commute through public transportation, and I used that time to read the morning paper. It was quite enjoyable.

    See, that's too short.  The only benefit is that if you have to take a dump you can go home to your own bathroom instead of dealing with the feces-smeared, blood-streaked office restroom.

     

    My shortest commute was 6 miles, which I could drive in around 8 minutes.  However, this was in a more rural area where traffic is light and there are plenty of alternate backroads where you can do 70.



  • @Zecc said:

    TRWTF is you end up missing that mindless gap in time.
    I don't.  When I leave work, I want to be home ASAP.  



  • 20 minutes is perfect for me.  Perhaps its the fact that Call a lot of things work.  In addition to the day job,  I also am a professional photographer, setup and promote concerts, occasionally tour, etc.  I tend to spend any remaining free time out partying with friends at clubs.  So home for me means bed most of the time, since I go straight from one work into another.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    @galgorah said:

    My Commute is 20 minutes.... in rush hour...

    Yeah, so long as one of the idiot transit employees doesn't crash the train while texting.

    Red line all the way.  by the way I live in cambridge now.  no more forest hills...


  • @galgorah said:

    Red line all the way.  by the way I live in cambridge now.  no more forest hills...

    Ah, nice.  Then you just have to hope the switches at JFK don't fail causing an hour backup in trains, or that the Longfellow Bridge doesn't crumble from underneath you.  :-P



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    @galgorah said:

    Red line all the way.  by the way I live in cambridge now.  no more forest hills...

    Ah, nice.  Then you just have to hope the switches at JFK don't fail causing an hour backup in trains, or that the Longfellow Bridge doesn't crumble from underneath you.  :-P

    But at least I no longer will be late getting home due to someone slitting their groin open because they decided to pull a carving knife out of their pants...


  • @galgorah said:

    @morbiuswilters said:

    @galgorah said:

    Red line all the way.  by the way I live in cambridge now.  no more forest hills...

    Ah, nice.  Then you just have to hope the switches at JFK don't fail causing an hour backup in trains, or that the Longfellow Bridge doesn't crumble from underneath you.  :-P

    But at least I no longer will be late getting home due to someone slitting their groin open because they decided to pull a carving knife out of their pants...

    Or a drunk chick stumbling off the edge of the platform and almost getting flattened.



  •  @morbiuswilters said:

    This sounds... confused.  JavaScript in a browser communicating with an LDAP server over serial?  I didn't even know JS could handle generic serial communication and protocols other than HTTP.  Assuming you're not talking about server-side JS.  But then, that's never the right tool for the job.

    Could be JScript, used as a Windows scripting language. Still a WTF, and not technically "JavaScript", but at least it would make sense that way.



  • @Zecc said:

    Since we're measuring commute inverse-penises: 2 minutes. On foot.

    And no, there was never any pressure for working over-time or bringing work home.

    Same boat here.

    @Zecc said:

    I used to have a 40/60 minute commute through public transportation, and I used that time to read the morning paper. It was quite enjoyable.

    Also same here. Apparently it helps to have a place dedicated to work, but at the moment I can't find a location for that.



  • @belgariontheking said:

    @Zecc said:
    TRWTF is you end up missing that mindless gap in time.
    I don't.  When I leave work, I want to be home ASAP.  
    I've got to say that I'm with Zecc on this one.  I've got a 30 minute California-commute at the moment, and while I'd like to be able to push that down to 15-20 minutes, I don't think I'd wish for any less.  The buffer between office and home is essential to me... It is great to have that time to passively listen to BBC or the like while driving through light to moderate traffic before I get home and am met with dishes/dinner/baby/etc. (which I also enjoy, but in a very different manner).

    I had the perfect commute during graduate school, however:  a 25 minute walk from my lab, through a college campus, past a rustic downtown, and to my apartment.  Even in Cleveland blizzards, it couldn't be beat.



  • Maybe I'm different than most then, If I've got a problem with a piece of code at work, I'm automatically thinking about it on the way home (as its usually the only peace I get). If I'm writing new code, I can be picking holes in the theory on the way home. I can't remember the amount of times I've rushed through the front door to write down my findings for the next day. 


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

     Since this thread is now about commutes, I had a 30-60 minute (depending on how tired I was and thus how much of the noisy pedal I was using) commute to college. I hated the shit out of morning classes.

    Now that I work as a contractor, I have a 5-30 second commute depending on if I put on underwear or not, but all my customer sites are an hour to 3 hours away. I'm currently in the process of restoring a 1995 Jaguar XJR to make me actually want to make site visits - and so I look a bit more professional than driving a beater Ford econobox. (When I'm finished, I intend to have the only one in North America with a manual transmission - they only built 264 of them like that from the factory PERIOD. Amusingly I'm currently waiting on a transmission from Australia - because the kangaroos built the only mass production car using that transmission).

    Real irony there is that the beater Ford econobox costs more than the XJR - even taking into account the restoration costs and the parts-that-do-not-exist.



  • @Weng said:

    Now that I work as a contractor, I have a 5-30 second commute depending on if I put on underwear or not...

    It takes you 25 seconds to put on underwear?



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    @Weng said:

    Now that I work as a contractor, I have a 5-30 second commute depending on if I put on underwear or not...

    It takes you 25 seconds to put on underwear?

     

    He has to smell all of them and determine which is the least dirty.



  • SEVEN MINUTES, BIATCHES! (and that's on the 3 days per week when I don't get to work from home).



  • @Mole said:

    Maybe I'm different than most then, If I've got a problem with a piece of code at work, I'm automatically thinking about it on the way home (as its usually the only peace I get). If I'm writing new code, I can be picking holes in the theory on the way home. I can't remember the amount of times I've rushed through the front door to write down my findings for the next day. 

     

     

    Yup, I do the same. Used to live in London actually, and had a 90 min commute on my last job there. Now moved to Australia and I've got a choice between a 10 min bus ride (assuming it turns up on time) and a 30 min walk. I choose the walk, especially in the evenings, because its therapy. Nothing like exercise to burn off your frustrations with management.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    Maybe Alex should start boinking his staffers. Start with Dhromed.<input name="ctl00$ctl00$bcr$bcr$ctl00$PostList$ctl12$ctl23$ctl01" id="ctl00_ctl00_bcr_bcr_ctl00_PostList_ctl12_ctl23_ctl01_State" value="value:Filed%20under%3A%20%3Ca%20href%3D%22%2Ftags%2FStart%2Bwith%2BDhromed_2E00_%2Fdefault.aspx%22%20rel%3D%22tag%22%3EStart%20with%20Dhromed.%3C%2Fa%3E" type="hidden">

    My pussy is for the man I love only.

     

    I have a 1 hour commute by train; 45 minutes by bus, of around 30 minutes on bike. Bike is obviously the best, but exposes you to rain's MP drain attack, and strong wind, which reduces one's casting speed, with lasting effects for the morning.

     I'm glad for the infrastructure upgrades over the past 6 months. Asphalt and smoother corners shave like 5 minutes off the total bike time.

     



  • @dhromed said:

    @morbiuswilters said:

    Maybe Alex should start boinking his staffers. Start with Dhromed.

    My pussy is for the man I love only.

    That's okay; I don't want it.



  • @SQLDave said:

    SEVEN MINUTES, BIATCHES! (and that's on the 3 days per week when I don't get to work from home).

    It takes you seven minutes to put on underwear?



  • @cconroy said:

    @SQLDave said:

    SEVEN MINUTES, BIATCHES! (and that's on the 3 days per week when I don't get to work from home).

    It takes you seven minutes to put on underwear?
     

     

    And THAT is today's lesson on always quoting the message you're replying to. Of course, I was referring to my 7 minute commute, but before my reply got posted the topic got diverted into some kind of temporal underwear abomination. Oh well.

     But coincidentally, it DOES take me 7 minutes to put on underwear, which is why commando is my preference.



  • You go commando? Gross...

    I'd never leave the house without UW, and it takes me about 5 seconds, for the record. 



  • @Mole said:

    You go commando? Gross...

    I'd never leave the house without UW, and it takes me about 5 seconds, for the record. 

    years ago when I interviewed Nikki Sixx for a college radio show, he told me that he preferred commando.


  • Leaving the house without pants just feels wrong, but maybe thats because I've been wearing them for the last 30 odd years? (No, not the same pair!)

    Besides, if you didn't wear any, what would catch the drips? 



  • @galgorah said:

    years ago when I interviewed Nikki Sixx for a college radio show, he told me that he preferred commando.
    It's funny how my eyes jumped immediately to "preferred commando" after I initially misread "Nikki Sixx" as "Nikki Cox".  It's like my brain didn't want to ruin the illusion with such trivial details as gendered pronouns.



  • @bstorer said:

    That's okay; I don't want it.
     

     

    ;_;



  • @SQLDave said:

    temporal underwear abomination
     

    I'm putting this on a t-shirt.



  • @Mole said:

    I'd never leave the house without UW, and it takes me about 5 seconds, for the record. 
    I can do it in under 4 seconds!



  • @dhromed said:

    I have a 1 hour commute by train; 45 minutes by bus
     

    My commute is 31 minutes by train. It is often on time. I just checked the journey planner and it would be 3 hours by bus!

    There's been a heatwave lately and some tracks have actually been buckling. I know there is one point on my commute the train slows to 15km/hr, I'm assuming due to unstable tracks.

    @dhromed said:

    around 30 minutes on bike

    Is that pushbike or motorbike? My work is 37km away (by road) so I'd need to maintain 74km/hr to beat my train: which really isn't possible without some sort of motor.

    @dhromed said:

    Bike is obviously the best, but exposes you to rain's MP drain attack

    I'm sorry, I'm having troubles parsing this sentence fragment. Who is rain and what is his MP drain attack? (language barrier?) Or do you mean "Riding the bike exposes you to rain and attacks by muggers, causing your magic points to drain away"? Or do the Metropolitan Police install storm water drains that attack you?

     



  • @bjolling said:

    @Mole said:

    I'd never leave the house without UW, and it takes me about 5 seconds, for the record. 
    I can do it in under 4 seconds!

     and then be in agony for the rest of the day because both legs went down the same hole?


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

     Actually, no. It's because my computer is closer to bed than my dresser, and is a simpler and safer route. I can stumble there still half asleep, but in order to retrieve pants, I have to go halfway across the room and navigate several obstacles.



  • Hmmm. I think I live in the wrong area for tech jobs. I've never had a job which has been closer than 16 miles away. That said, they've all taken less than an hour to get to if all things go well.

    Current job is about a 40-45 minute drive, would be 20-25 minutes if not for the traffic. 

    Back to the topic of the original post, I agree with what people said - highly entertaining, worthy of the front page :)


Log in to reply
 

Looks like your connection to What the Daily WTF? was lost, please wait while we try to reconnect.