Storytime: some of my worst interviews

I start my new job tomorrow, so I thought I’d write a little about some of the worst interviews I’ve gone through.

The worst of the worst (my fault edition):

I was interviewing as a junior sysadmin at a company located in Arlington. For some reason that utterly escapes me, I decided NOT to take the Metro from Vienna, but drive. This was not too long after I’d moved up to NoVA and well before there was such a thing as Waze or Google Maps. We had MapQuest but that still involved printing or writing down turn-by-turn, and had no notion of traffic or road construction.

As I said, at the time I’d basically never even been out of Fairfax “farther in” than the Vienna Metro stop (at the time, the most distant station for the entire suburbs and exurbs of NoVA). I had no idea about any landmarks anyone tried to give me.

I ended up in DC somewhere.

I was now doubly lost, because I needed to get out of DC and figure out how to get back to where I needed to be. I had no interactive maps or GPS and only a pre-Razr-era cell phone.

Also, related, it was summer and my car didn’t have AC and I was of course dressed up in a full interview outfit.

I managed to call them and tell them I got lost, which was sort of a bad way to start the interview but it did happen back in those days, so they were miffed but a little understanding.

Then, once I got near where I needed to be, I had to park. The closest parking I could find was over half a mile away or something. I was already incredibly late. I ran as hard and fast as I could in my stupid, uncomfortable interview shoes, and got there, something like 2+ hours past my appointed time. I was drenched in sweat, my feet where blistered from just a short jog, and I looked like a crazy person. The people who needed to talk to me had just bailed; clearly I was a fuck-up and not worth bothering with.

They gave me a glass of water and asked me some half-hearted question about Linux, and then thanked me for my time and escorted me out.

I didn’t get the job.

The worst of the worst (their fault edition):

I went through the interview process at a small web site that sells books and other merchandise. It consisted of a phone screen, a second phone screen with coding test, and then a final on-site coding test/culture fit/torture session.

In the first coding test, they FizzBuzzed me. Like literally gave me a test to do Fizz/Buzz/FizzBuzz. Opinions vary – some people claim it’s still a valid test – but I’ve done hiring of engineers and the only people who fail FizzBuzz are 1)morons or 2)people too lazy to do 5 minutes of searching for common programmer interview questions (which, if you think about it, are morons).

I guess I’m not a moron because I passed it and several other coding questions and got an on-site. Yay!

The instructions were simple: Arrive at 10, and you may dress casually (clean jeans and a decent shirt). I arrived early, as usual, and talked to the security guards to announce myself and tell them who my contact was. They called for them and I was told to sit down.

By 11 – after asking numerous times what the FUCK was going on – I was still just sitting in the reception area as numerous employees came and went. At around 11:30, someone came and fetched me, and escorted me to a huge conference room and told me to wait.

After another 30 minutes or so, a TV on the wall came on and someone started talking to me. It went very badly because whatever they were supposed to talk about, was based at least in part on some conversation I was already supposed to have had! So they tried their best and ended their portion of the interview, and said they would signal the next person to come and get me.

Still more time passes; it’s some time after noon and I was getting thirsty and hungry. Lunch was in theory on the schedule, but when?

Someone came to fetch me and was clearly, obviously, profoundly annoyed at having to do so. They then wordlessly carted me around several floors looking for someone to interview me. Everyone was incensed at the suggestion they stop their important day to talk to some asshole. Some of them had copies of my schedule for the day and were angry that it had been violated, and clearly were looking at me as the source of the problem.

I got bounced around a few tech interviews, and eventually managed to get a quick bite at their cafeteria. The tech interviews were, in my opinion, the worst type: they weren’t interested in how you thought, they just wanted to see how long it took you to get to the answer: “Given a string, find the longest palindrome, you have 30 seconds”. Several of the questions were so jive, I actually asked them, “is this a problem you’ve had to deal with in code before?” which further angered them.

I was already WELL over schedule and over, like, an hour and a half later than I was supposed to be there. I was a little tired, and a lot bewildered at the entire experience, and I had one more 45-minute whiteboard coding session to go. “Since you’re over, you could leave now, but it probably would make you score lower” was the official line. OK, fine.

Another angry asshole, another giant conference room with a whiteboard. He handed me a circuit diagram and wanted me to use OO to model the circuit and then implement it to produce the same, pictured answer.

I just stared at him. “This is a graph. It’s a directed, acyclic graph. You want me to model a DAG.”

“Yes, uh, I mean, model and implement whatever you think it is.”

I was furious. I was on time and had been treated like shit all day, and now this. “OK, answer me this. Is this a DAG? I think this is a DAG.” and I drew a quick sketch indicating the differences between cyclic and acyclic. “Am I even remotely right, here?”

He nodded and sorta grunted that I was. “Fine”, I said. “The next thing I’d do is hit Google to remind myself what the class model for a DAG looks like, because I’m tired and grouchy, every programmer I’ve ever met uses Google or Stack Overflow or even a file full of notes to do a lot of their work, and frankly my dude I have better things to do than this. I have correctly identified the problem which is, like, 90% of professional programming. I’m done. Thank you for your time.”

He looked like he wanted to hit me. He ran out and got someone. I was quickly escorted out without a word from anyone.

I didn’t get the job.

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