The Command Center Administrator (from Joshua Knarr)
A job listing email for a "Command Center Administrator" recently found its way to my inbox. The message was from ACME COMMERCE, which was apparently an UP AND COMING company that would be HUGE AND SUCCESSFUL if they could keep their INTERNET STORE FRONT FOR SPORTING GOODS going. The position was offered to me in fits of caps lock, and it was tough to understand if they were merely excited, or if someone was playing Mad Libs with Job Listing Generator 3.0. I decided they were simply excited to be expanding, so I dutifully sent along my résumé and asked if they had a job description for the Command Center Administrator position.

Moments later, my phone rang. It was Krishna from ACME COMMERCE. "Very nice résumé," she said, "we would like to interview you! What time can we set this up?"

"Thanks Krishna," I responded, "what is the Command Center Administrator position all about?"

"Oh it's a very good position," she replied, "I can tell from your résumé you would be a good fit!"

"Okay... but what does a Command Center Administrator do?"

"Well, you can ask all the questions you want at the interview we shall set up! What time are you free?"

We set up a phone interview for later that day and, when the time came, my phone rang. It was Krishna again. Apparently she was the one conducting the phone interview.

She started by asking, "what's your expected compensation?"

"Well," I paused, not wanting to start the conversation with salary, "what are some things a Command Center Administrator does?"

"You know standard functions," she said confidently, "it is a very standard position."

"OK..." I stumbled, "so... like a Systems Administrator?"

"Well it is a Command Center Administrator. What compensation would you be asking for this position?"

It seemed like Krishna was either being dishonest or simply had no idea what the position was about. Either way, I figured it wouldn't hurt to give a number.

"Oh very good," she responded to my salary requirement, "this is right in our range! This concludes the phone interview and I will be sure to send your résumé along to the hiring manager. You can expect a call back from us shortly!"

An hour turned into a day, a day turned into a week, and soon enough, I had mostly forgotten about ACME COMMERCE, their SPORTING GOODS INTERNET STORE FRONT, and the COMMAND CENTER ADMINISTRATOR. And then my phone rang. It was Krishna checking to see if I'd be available for an interview the following week.

I was available and, if nothing else, was dying to know what a Command Center Administrator was.

When I arrived, Krishna wasn't in the office and the receptionist didn't know who else to contact. After I suggested a few key-words like "IT" and "command center", she decided to try the network operations manager. He, in turn, said to call the development manager, who, in turn, hastily picked one of his developers and sent him down to meet with me.

As the developer led me towards the conference room, we walked past a room with glass walls that housed a rather impressive set-up: several employees intently staring at a few large plasma screens that displayed all sorts of graphs, charts, spinning things, and blinking lights. The developer tapped on the glass, and commented how fun it was that they had their own "fishbowl". I chuckled, figuring that it was some kind of inside joke.

We arrived in the conference room and he opened up with, "mind if I spend a minute reading your résumé?"

I handed him a copy and sat there in awkward silence. Shortly thereafter, he complimented the formatting and asked me what the last non-technical book was that I read.

"Uhm," I tried to remember,"This Old House's 1001 Woodworking Projects, I think."

"Oh, very nice," he nodded, "well, to be honest, I don't really have any questions."

"Okay," I said as he stood up, "seriously though, what is the command center administrator?"

"Oh, that position?" he shrugged, "I don't know. I think it's one of those guys in the fishbowl."

I never heard from ACME COMMERCE again... which is too bad, because I still have no idea what a Command Center Administrator does.

 

Tier-3 Supporting (from Catherine Dunham)
Last year, my company opened up another Tier-3 Applications Support Analyst position for our team. Although it may sound like an inflated title, it's a pretty intense position: it requires 10-years experience designing, building, and supporting multiple large-scale applications. Our clients are not retail customers who need help with a mouse, but more Fortune 500 Companies who need help optimizing their terabyte-sized datasets with our software.

I mention this because we state all of this on our job listings and make it clear that candidates need to have a history of being able to support large-scale systems. So, it was rather surprising to see Human Resources forward a résumé to my team. Under technical skills were listed:

  • Tier-3 supporting facebook
  • Tier-3 supporting google
  • Tier-3 supporting internets explorer

And the list went on. Not only that, there was a five year gap in the applicant's work history which was explained with simply "stay at home mother." Of course, that in and of itself is not a problem if the technical skills are kept up to date, but it became increasingly obvious that this applicant had no technical skills to start with and her "Tier-3 support" referred to running said websites and applications on her home computer.

We thanked Human Resources for the résumé and told them that we would not be inviting the candidate in for an interview. A little while later, the Director of Human Resources told us that yes, in fact, we would be interviewing the candidate and gave us a few dates that the candidate would be available. Not wanting to start any fights with Human Resources, we brought her in for interview.

"Disaster" doesn't begin to cover what the interview was like.

Firstly, the candidate showed up in stained tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt that looked like it had been used to clean sump pumps in the local sewage works. After about five minutes in the conference room, it became apparent that her shirt smelt like it too. Willing to give her the benefit of the doubt (maybe she'd driven into a sewage pipe on the way in?), we ploughed on.

When we got to the technical portion of the interview — that is, the simple stuff like "describe the steps of restoring a SQL database from backup" — she flipped on us. Extending her index finger as to scold us, she advised us quite proudly that she'd "never have to do that kinda shit" and that she would expect us to "fix those kinda things."

My manager asked her just what it is she expected this job to be about. Her reply has been forever burned into my memory.

"I get paid. If you expect me to deal with all that computer shit, I'll go off on stress leave and sue you."

Not only did she not get the job, but we had a very stern word with Human Resources that, in future, we won't interview anyone we deem unsuitable.

 

The Best Job I Didn't Get (from Phil M)
It was a small company with a big title — Software Architect — and I figured it'd be worth check out. My interview was with the president of the company, and his leading technical question was something like, "so let's say I wanted a site with a menu on it, but I wanted to be able to define that menu any way I wanted to, redefine it on the fly, with as many sub-menu headers that I want —"

Having heard the type of question a hundred times, I nodded and cut him off. "You want a recursive algorithm that reads from a table in a database? Or, do you want to drive it from XML?"

"Oh I see," he smiled, "you know about that."

"It's a pretty common problem," I responded, "there's also plenty of third-party libraries, depending on whether you're talking web, Windows, or whatever."

"Great great," he said, "definitely web. So, can you go design that for me and make it work?"

Programming practicals are always fun in an interview, so I asked a few technical questions. Turns out he wanted a demonstration in ASP.NET using SQL Server, which I told him would take me about thirty minutes to complete.

The president pointed me to the PC next to the receptionist's desk and told me to go to town. After about thirty seconds, I told him that there was no database server to be found. They had installed Visual Studio and SQL Server's management tools, but there was no indication as to where a SQL Server database was located.

"So what do you need?" he asked me.

"A database server," I said, "more specifically, just a connection string so I can create a database for this exercise. Or, if SQL Server isn't available, I'll need something else like Access or MySQL. Alternatively, I can develop this using XML or something."

The president was adamant that the exercise be database-driven. And two hours later, I was still waiting for a database. Apparently, their network guy had better things to do and wasn't too keen on having me install anything on the computer. I explained teh scenario to the president, and told him that I had to get going.

"So," he said to me, "you don't know how to do this?"

"I can do it fine," I responded, "it's just you don't have a setup that allows it. Do you want me to use XML instead? Or I could just make you a project from home and email it to you?"

"No, that will be fine." he scoffed, "I expected it to be completed here, and you were unable to do it. I've got your résumé on file."

I was a bit bummed at first, but have come to realize it's probably the best job I've never had.