Some Funny Interviews I Have Done

I never interview anymore, but the handful of times I have miraculously produced some funny stories. So here you go:

Career transition

I transitioned to development/engineering from a successful telecom sales career. The process was a little rocky, but after I had my feet under me (but before I knew what I was doing) I got offered an interview for a frontend gig at a large auto manufacturer (technically the Digital Marketing agency of record for the auto manufacturer). The salary listed was solid and I'm basically a mercenary, so I said "why not?" and did the interview.

The CEO of this company, who was one of those "work 18 hours a day for your entire life" executive types insists on doing all of the first interviews (totally not weird at all). For me this was a godsend because executives love me, and they ultimately make the decisions, so I'm looking at it like any following interviews would just be a formality cause Mr. CEO would override them anyway.

I go in and do a great job right off the back of being personable and charming, with a small sprinkle of tech talk here and there. Turns out Mr. CEO was an Engineer for most of his career and about ~20min into the interview he interrupts me and says:

"Sorry, but I have to ask... are you actually a developer? You seem much more like a PM or Manager. I have a hard time believing that you are a coder"

I forget the exact rest of the interview because I was trying to sell my tech skills hard after that (so take this at a minimum as hyperbole) ... but it ended up with me being like: "So let me get this straight... I'm too personable to work as a developer for your company?" and him being like: "Yes. I mean, no. You are personable and our developers really aren't personable."


The answers in another tab

So an NYC buddy of mine works at Transfix (a company I have nothing but the highest respect for) and he said they were aggressively looking for developers and told me I should come interview. I was like: "Why Not? Seems like a cool company..."

I passed the phone screen no problem. The behavioral interview turned out to be a funny side-story because they had a fire alarm (fire drill) go off mid-interview. The guy interviewing me, who was awesome, didn't know what to do because he was leaning towards passing me but still felt like he should be more rigorous. So we set up another time to chat.

After I get through those 2.5 interviews, they send me over to the CTO to do a tech screen/ code challenge. At this point, I'm like... yeah I gotta study, cause these guys are good (I was SUPER junior at that point). I study for like a week trying to tighten everything up... straight up to the minute before the tech screen, still feeling unprepared.

The interview starts and the CTO starts telling me about himself. Turns out he knows one of my other friends who was an executive with him at a different company (which was super cool), which causes me to get some really good vibes from the guy (foreshadowing). Enough chit-chat of course so we kick into the code.

First question: reverse an array. No problem. Built-in method. Next question.

Second question: reverse an array ... in a different way. When he asks that question, I trip out... I have this exact interview up in a different browser tab that I forgot to close out, staring at me from my other screen. I pull myself together quickly, answer the question, and wait for the next one.

Third question: reverse an array ... in a different way than the previous two ways. He asks this, and my moral compass gets the better of me. I like the guy, we're friends with the same people... so I gotta let him know that I accidentally have his interview up on my other screen, and I did. Turns out that this was a big mistake- He ends up giving me his other standard interview, a senior-level interview, which I fail miserably.

I still have a lot of love for that company though, sharp people work over there.

A little too much help

Not too far after the aforementioned interview, I started doing the meetup scene and making friends with the developers and recruiters in Orange County, CA. One of the recruiters I met at a meetup was a nice guy and would send me new/ cool gigs even though I was fully employed.

One time he sent one over and I was like: "that seems cool. why not?" (you're probably noticing a trend already with my "Why Not?"s). Anyway, I crushed the phone screen, so they pushed me forward to do the technical screen. Before I went in for the technical though, my recruiter buddy calls me- turns out that he learned what the the whiteboard challenge would be from a previous candidate and sent it over to me.

This is awesome of course, but I know that at my level of experience (still green) they'd be surprised if I just came in and started crushing it (in hindsight, they probably never even read my resume, but I didn't realize companies will blow >$150K on a dev without anything more than a tech screen). So I conceived a plan of making a few intentional mistakes along the way to make it seem like I have never seen this before but could still figure it out.

If you haven't guessed it by now my plan to look a little bad ... but not "too bad" at the code challenge blew up in my face. My intentional mistakes looked super amateur. This caused me to course-correct, but my subsequent attempts to make it seem like I knew what I was doing all along made me look even worse!

I couldn't help but laugh when I got rejected for that one. I should have just done the interview.

Getting ambushed

I did a short stint managing the company I was working at in 2020, which we eventually decided to close (another story for a different day). The whole experience was largely a positive one but took a lot out of me so I was looking forward to a break before trying to find a new gig.

Turns out that one of my buddies needed additional headcount on his team to maintain their budget so he'd said he could fast-track me if I could interview quickly. While I was definitely not ready to get back to work, it was a great opportunity, so I had to go for it.

Now important asterisk to add to this situation- the interview was for an engineering role but it had been almost a year (~9 months) since I had coded anything major. I had done plenty of: financial modeling, strategy, management, recruiting, sales, reporting, marketing, and writing... but effectively zero coding. My buddy assured me I would be fine and that the interview would go smoothly... Well turns out that he lied. They set me up to interview with an architect who we will call "Edward" (just making up a fake name). Edward was reserved so I'll call him "Shy Eddie" or "Shy Ed" from here on out.

Shy Ed, in my opinion, wins the award for worst interviewer I've ever met in my life (25 years of working, hundreds of interviews). This is not only my opinion, but the general sentiment of anyone who has interviewed with him whom I've talked to (not a large group, but still). It's also totally possible that he might actually be racist/xenophobic... but that's hearsay, since there's no way to substantiate a statement like that, you know, besides his hiring history.

Anyway here's what happened: Ole Eddie started by using a code challenge that Facebook uses, called the "Move Zeros" problem (you can see it here if you are interested). I was vaguely familiar, but couldn't remember the "right" way to solve it. I leveled with him that it was probably going to take me a longer than I would normally since I had been out of the game, but if he would bear with me, I'd figure it out - which I did after ~5 min or so (a slightly uncomfortable duration for this type of thing).

(Important note for technical audiences: algorithmic performance/ space & time complexity is now a daily part of my work, and I'm well aware of how easy the code challenge was. My prior work was a lot of frontend, scraping, duct-taping ML framework stuff, and simple framework-based backend stuff... so "performance," in the engineering sense, really wasn't a day-to-day activity for me.)

The way that I solved it wasn't a great solution. It wasn't even a good solution. There are a bunch of ways to solve this problem and I was just hoping for working code - which I was eventually able to write. However, the working solution I provided he very curtly rejected... which I was a little perturbed by. I knew I was doing a bad job at the task, but he was, in a word, exasperated about me and being tremendously snarky for fumbling around. Furthermore, the comments he made during the interview were borderline rude. Call me old school, but I don't care how badly someone messes up an interview, it's not right to be a dick to them. So me being me, I naturally started making snarky comments right back. The rest of the interview "had a lot of room for improvement" on both sides.

I was heated. Within 5 min of dropping the call, I let my buddy know that I wanted nothing to do with that guy, I'm shocked (still am) that anyone let him manage anything, and if that's the way they operate they count me out now and forever.

My friend was extremely surprised that things went the way that they did. However, he did the right thing and went above the architect and requested an interview for me with the department head. Well in a complete reversal, the director in charge of all things technical for the department loved me and gave me a pass. The stars aligned further, the next week Shy Ed took a job with one of the major streaming services, and he is now making their teams shittier.

Just so you know it was a happy ending for the company as well - At the time of this article, I've been on the team for 1.5 years, and I am the SME (Subject Matter Expert) for the team's primary product, have been given 3 pay bumps, and according to our KPIs have been one of the most productive members of the team during that period. Not bad for a guy who failed his interview.

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