Avoiding MUMPS from Joe

A few years ago, I interviewed at the company featured in A Case of the MUMPS.

I was looking for my first job out of school, and I heard that a certain company was looking for software developers to hire. After a brief on-campus interview, I went to an official testing center to take a few-hour long written exam that had a lot of hypothetical questions, like "imagine you are programming in a special language with only a limited set of operators, how would you code the solution to this problem?"

I must have done okay on the test, as I was asked to fly to Wisconsin for second-round interviews. I was there with a group of eight other students; apparently they interviewed about two such groups per day. We spent a lot of time touring their campus, learning what a great place it would be to work, much promise the company was showing, etc. And, of course, they kept telling us about how we'd be using this "really cool language" called MUMPS, and how we'd get a three-month, full-time training course when we started.

After a while, I was brought in to my prospective team lead's office and had the opportunity to ask some technical questions. I was curious about MUMPS and started out with a simple one, "is MUMPS compiled or interpreted?"

"What do you mean," the team lead asked. Obviously, he was testing my knowledge.

"Well," I responded, jumping back into interview mode, "what I'm wondering is, does MUMPS get compiled, as in, converted to machine language or an intermediary language like Java byte code or MSIL? Or, is MUMPS interpreted and executed line-by-line from the source code.

"Ummmm," the team lead stumbled, looking quite confused. "I'm really not sure. I guess we just don't do as much development here as you think we do."

That was the exact second I decided not to take the job.

Arcadius from Antony P

Not too long ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing a Polish fellow named Arcadius. He came “highly recommended” from the staffing agency we have to use, and did very well on aspects of the on-line pre-screen test, especially the English comprehension portion. I was looking forward to talking with him.

Around the time that Arcadius’ interview was scheduled, the receptionist called me up to say that a guy was there to see me. At least, that’s what she thought the guy said; she really wasn’t too sure. When I went down to meet with Arcadius, I was greeted by a man in torn jeans, scruffy shirt and wild long hair in a ponytail. Based on the thick Polish accent and profuse nodding when I said “Arcadius?”, I presumed he was, indeed, here for the interview. Now, I know the jeans/ponytail/rock star hair thing is a programmer cliché, but still... I expect people to dress well for an interview. But who knows, maybe he wasn't aware of our English custom, so I let it slide.

Speaking with Arcadius proved to be a bit challenging.

Me: Can you tell me a bit about the last project that you worked on?
Arcadius: Yes! I, err, make programming!
Me: Umm, okay, I figured that from your résumé, but I mean, what specifically was the project—
Arcadius: Ahh, heh heh. Yes, good. Good programming, for car hire!
Me: Car hire?
Arcadius: Yes, PHP. It’s good... I like. Programming PHP, swobodny – easy. PHP make page easy.

It seemed a bit rude to just shake his hand and say “thanks for coming in,” so I asked him a few general questions about where he lived, travelling, and so forth. All told, the six additional questions I asked took a total of twenty five minutes to answer, as such was his command of the English language.

When the interview finally ended, I thanked him for leaving and directed him towards the lobby. “Very…. good,” Arcadius said, “when come… back? I have job, yes? I start tomorrow?”

I politely told him that we had other people to see and that we’d be in touch soon. Looked back over our perfectly coherent email conversations and his résumé, it was pretty obvious that Arcadius had someone help him out. This was especially frustrating, as the whole point of the staffing agency is filter out folks just like this. I complained and they vowed never to let this happen again.

Three months later, when it came time to hire another programmer, imagine my delight to find a résumé from a polish fellow named Arcadius land on my desk again, highly recommended from the staffing agency…