All three of today's Tales from the Interview are from R Huckster.

The Interupting Rebutter
The job sounded right up my alley: it was in a field that I was experienced in, offered a laid-back environment, and employed 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. That is, until the interviewer asked me specific details about my previous job.

"So, you were a front-end developer of the web application," he asked, "how was the back-end organized?"

"Well," I answered, "they used a Java framework using JBoss and —"

"JBoss?!" the interviewer jumped in, "why didn't they use Tomcat, if they were going to use Java?"

"I'm not sure," I shrugged, "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 know the detai—"

"And they should have used Python!" he said, cutting me off.

"Well," I carefully responded, "we used Python for some of our more computational back-end stuff, but the Java backend was really involved more with some MySQL database acce—"

"You used MySQL?" he snarled, "why didn't you use Oracle?"

"They chose MySQL a long time ago," I explained, "it was back when we were almost entirely a PHP shop. They're considering switching to Oracle now that we've scaled th—"

"Why didn't you start out with ASP?"

"I don't know," I paused, "all these choices were made years before I started there."

Things continued downhill from there. 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. Apparently, my inability to influence past decisions limited my employment opportunities at this new company.


The Final Word
I was being considered for a position at a software company that specialized in software for high-end professional exercise and physical therapy equipment. The job itself sounded nice, and the people seemed very nice, but the only problem was that the commute was an hour-and-a-half each way, and that's only on a good traffic day. Still, I wanted to at least give it a shot; maybe it'd be a great job and the daily drive wouldn't be all that bad.

I was told to expect a full-day, interview marathon, but it felt more like running the gauntlet. For six hours, I talked to a dozen different people and answered the same questions over and over and over again. Some technical, some experiential, and some personality. I figured this was a good sign, as most of the duds would probably only last half an hour. The final interview was by far the most challenging, as the interviewer presented some very challenging programming puzzles. Although there were a few I struggled with, I left a good impression.

"Don't feel bad about the two problems you couldn't answer," the final interviewer reassured me, "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.

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 a little skeptical when I heard about the job opening, but somehow the recruiter convinced me enough to apply. The hiring company started with a phone interview, in which I learned they were a drug test analysis firm that worked especially with professional sports organizations to determine if a player had any illicit drugs, among other things, in their blood or urine. It seemed to be an interesting business, so I asked about their technology.

"Well," the interviewer responded, "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 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.

When I was at the in-person interview, 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 that, 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 mistook their urine sample for lemonade. We were on a roll, and the interviewers devolved into 45 minutes of sophomoric 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 in his tracks and gave me a disgusted look. Oops, did I just use the same 3rd grade humor I had just listened on a seemingly more stoic project manager? I tried to recover, but was at a loss for words.

I never heard from that employer again.

Have interview stories of your own? Send them to me, I'd love to read them.

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