I left a great team at a startup in digital pathology last year. I was there for a few years, changed roles a couple of times, and saw the product and team really grow. I left when the regulatory situation became unbearable (that’s the topic of another post, entirely).

I joined a small company that did contract work. I hoped to switch technology, business domain, and product lines more often. I was supposed to work on industrial imaging, device control, and interactive kiosks. But, the jobs didn’t come through and we still had to bill. So, I maintained legacy middleware, aging web technology, and spaghetti databases.

My new employer and I didn’t get along under those circumstances and I was let go quite suddenly…

I was surprised and upset, but not worried. I had deliberately cultivated a deep professional network, great communication skills, and an attractive public portfolio. Quick financial advice: pay off debt, save a few months pay, and invest in retirement!

I emailed or called contacts within about a dozen local companies. I was able to get an interview at about half (some of these never responded, even with open positions). I prepared for each interview. I didn’t want to get caught flat-footed. I talked to my contacts and grilled the HR person or manager phone screening.

  • What’s the product, customer, and the market?
  • What’s the business model and funding and/or revenue?
  • What’s the team size and structure?
  • What’s the technology stack and development process?

I wanted to know the biggest problem the team faced: social, process, or technical. I wanted to empathize and think about how I could help. Additionally, I scheduled a half or full day job shadow with each team. How the company responded told me a lot. What I saw during that day told me the rest!

The interviews were standard corporate fare. I talked to individuals and panels, developers and managers. We discussed development practices, technology, teams. Ok, and I waxed on about the future of automation, configuration and package management, and general devops topics. :)

One of the interviews included a technical challenge. They explained that I would create a new MVC project in such-and-such a framework, wire up a couple of views, and get at some data. I used their laptop, their development tools, and had no internet connection.

I never started a project with that framework from scratch, never bootstrapped that ORM, and didn’t know the routing or controller incantations. I maintained similar web projects. I worked with presentation patterns on mobile devices, desktop apps, and touch screen kiosks. I had experience with plenty of other libraries.

I didn’t complete much coding. So, I tried to engage them on the concepts of MVC and the implementation and philosophy of the relevant patterns, but they weren’t having it. I apparently failed that interview, greatly influenced by the outcome of that bogus challenge. I heard later that they changed the challenge part of the interview… oh, well!

Most dev interviews are like a long ass secret handshake to make sure you belong in the club. It’s ritual as much as it is evaluation.

@polotek

Another company challenged me to answer questions about their specific configuration and deployment of Windows storage servers, without having heard or seen anything about it. I floundered, sounded like a dummy, and, when finally provided context, did not have time to explain what I thought. Another bogus challenge failed.

Most declined with canned HR messages or by never calling back. The rest were more descriptive, but it boiled down to a conflict of cultural fit.

Most companies hire as ‘come and do what you’ve always done with us’. Very few are ‘come and imagine and help build awesome with us’. #sad.

@mhsutton

I ended up interviewing one last time. This company had an open configuration management position. I hadn’t strictly done that before, but it was an area of interest (can you say “devops”?). They saw it as a gateway for organizational change. My direct manager, the director, and the vice president of the department were all past colleagues.

I’m happy now, imagining and building awesome stuff. But, I’m worried that the effort I poured into my professional life is unbalanced in contrast to the ease of declining a candidate in an interview over cultural fit.