2019 – Misc

As I have mentioned before, lists like these make me kick myself for ever going into management, QA, project management, release engineering, automation, etc. Now that the most recent position on my LinkedIn profile is “Software Engineer”, I get many many more recruiting messages that I ever have before. What might have happened if instead of going into management in 1998, I had joined a burgeoning dot com startup? I know it would have probably failed, but still… Or if I had managed to write an app during the early days of the App Store….

Still, things are going really well now, so I am just documenting the state of the world.

This is probably-not-complete list of companies who had recruiters contacted me in 2019. It does not include recruiters who did not give me a company name, and does not include a lot of staffing/temp agencies. Those recruiters were generally looking for contract IOS guys, but I also got a lot of low-paying QA leads, and some C/C++ and Embedded Linux leads (why???).

This list is in chronological order.

  • Amazon Austin Mobile
  • Salesforce
  • Google
  • WP Engine
  • Abbot
  • Home Depot
  • Amazon (Seattle)
  • Core Logic Innovation Labs
  • Apple
  • Apex Systems
  • Q2
  • Cvent
  • Snapchat
  • Arista Networks
  • Ping Identity
  • Esper
  • Struct Club
  • Oracle
  • Smarter Sorting
  • Fivestars
  • Comcast
  • Khoros
  • Automotive Solutions Company
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • Amazon Alexa
  • Bloomberg
  • Duo Security
  • AWS Lambda
  • The Select Group
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Procore
  • Apple Easypay
  • Disco
  • AWS
  • Amazon
  • Whole Foods
  • Natera
  • Apple
  • Google
  • EXTEN Technologies
  • Kraken
  • Uber
  • Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
  • AWS, S3
  • Adobe
  • Meraki
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Uber (Dallas)
  • Acutaine
  • Planview
  • OfferUup
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • IBM
  • Amazon Business Team
  • Wal-Mart
  • Corva
  • Vaco
  • JP Morgan Chase
  • SimpleLegal
  • Apple
  • AWS
  • Cloudera
  • Kapsch Trafficcom
  • Opcity
  • Myriad Genetic Laboratories
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Apple
  • UnitedHeatlh Group
  • Amazon
  • Fair
  • Amazon Business Team
  • Doximity
  • Amazon
  • CDK Global
  • Google
  • Apple
  • ZeroCater
  • Everi
  • Signify Health
  • Citadel Research and Engineering
  • Uber
  • Boston Dynamics
  • Amazon Alexa AI
  • AirMap
  • Amazon Business Team
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Ethos-Austin
  • OJO Labs
  • Strings
  • Sailpoint
  • Amazon Seller Listing Tools
  • Planview
  • LeapYear
  • AWS
  • Home Away
  • Abyat Kuwait
  • Verizon Media
  • Atlassian
  • Judge Group
  • Microsoft
  • SimpleLegal
  • Wayfair
  • Amazon Robotics
  • CrowdStrike
  • onXmaps
  • Apple
  • RetailMeNot
  • AWS Lambda
  • Faithlife
  • ASML
  • Bird’s Engineering
  • Coupang

Earbug – 2019

Earbug logo
Nice logo – only public facing asset to date

I received an intriguing email from the former general manager at Spawn Labs one day:

Hi Syd – Hope all is well with you these days! I’m writing you because I’ve formed a new startup company. It’s a really strong concept with a very high ceiling, and I think we can launch our first app in about 6 months. I have 4 engineers working on it now, and I am planning to add 6 more guys (on a side gig basis, 10 hours per week) to get things done quickly, while keeping the load reasonable on everyone as a side gig. I sincerely believe this will be big, and at the same time it’s very manageable in scope. I enjoyed working with you on Spawn Labs so I wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in learning more about what we are doing. I am allocating solid equity chunks to our core engineering team members. Please let me know if you’re interested. If not, no worries, and I hope you’ve had a great 2019!

I really enjoyed working for him at Spawn. He was as honest as he was allowed to be when the wheels start falling off; in May of 2012, he called me into his office and told me that I should probably start looking for another position, as things did not look great. Turns out I actually resigned a few months later before they laid me off, but still… Those last few months were very strange, as they paid me not to work.

I met with him at a local barbeque joint and he gave me the pitch. I can’t talk about what the company was going to do (I signed an NDA), but basically, the gist was exactly as he said. People were already working a few hours a week. No pay at this point. Significant equity instead. They needed server engineers and mobile engineers. They all worked from home. They were all independent contractors.

This sounded to me like a good opportunity to keep up my IOS skills. I said yes.

It took a few weeks to finalize the paperwork, but in January of 2020, I signed everything, and was given keys to the kingdom.

He had hired a mobile lead and another engineer to work on IOS, and he had hired out an initial design of the application. I met with the lead, and we initially hit it off. He assigned me to work on logging in via social media, as that was initially the only way the app was going to have users.

I started trying to figure out how to login using Facebook. I banged at it for a few weeks, but was unsuccessful. I really only had time to work on it on Sunday mornings, and when I ran into trouble, I had nobody to talk to at Facebook. If I were in an office five days/week, I could have found somebody to help out.

In the meantime, I discovered that I had a fundamental disagreement with the mobile lead. I was under the impression that we were trying to get a proof of concept app out into the world as fast as possible, so we would put together something with a very small feature set, ship it, and then replace it with a richer and more robust code base over time. And I thought we were going to be agile about it, doing one feature at a time, and refactoring and overhauling as needed.

The mobile lead did not want to do it that way. He wanted to develop a robust application framework that addressed the weaknesses of the classic IOS application up-front, and he wanted to use a technology framework that helped achieve that, called RxSwift.

There is nothing at all wrong with RxSwift; it is a tool that solves a fundamental problem with writing user-facing applications, namely, communicating data between the various pieces of the application in an automatic way. The mobile lead wrote a huge amount of code based on RxSwift, and as a result, there was a skeleton application.

My problem was that I had never used RxSwift before. I also disagreed that this was the way to go; I thought that if we were going to buy into a declarative framework, that we should be using SwiftUI, Apple’s own reactive framework. While it still needed some more work, to me, clearly it was the future.

I did not have time to learn RxSwift. Once again, if I were full time, and saw this everyday, the investment would be worth it. But it was going to take me weeks if not months to learn it.

On a personal level, we had challenges going on at home, and we made the decision to sell our house.

And in March, the world shutdown.

So, I talked to the president. I outlined the fundamental disagreement in the approach that the mobile lead and I had. I still though that shipping something small and fast and iterating was the better approach. I disagreed with the underlying technology we were going to use.

We agreed that the mobile lead and I were not going to resolve this, so we agreed that I would be let go.

I have not heard anything from them since; the website is still up, but it has no content except a logo. It is not even encrypted (accessed via http: instead of https:). I guess that they have never bought a certificate to do so.

I got to keep the equity had accumulated so far, but I don’t expect that I’ll ever see a penny from it at this point.

I have absolutely no hard feelings about this; I learned a lot, and would try it again. But it has to be an approach I can get onboard with, and I don’t need to be learning entirely new paradigms at 8-10 hours/week.

Houston Astros – 2019

I always wanted to work in baseball, as documented several times in this blog (see Project Scoresheet – 1989, New York Yankees – 2014, Kansas City Royals – 2014, and Los Angeles Dodgers – 2015). I had also applied with Tampa Bay Rays, but they sent me an assessment filled with physics and statistics, and math had not done in a long time. At least they gave me a polite “No”.

So, when a job entitled “Full-Stack Developer – Houston Astros” appeared on Teamwork Online, I applied, despite being happy with my current job. The job listing is not online anymore, but this is the email I got back:

Thank you for your application to our Developer, Full-Stack role. We look forward to considering you as a candidate. As your application moves through our process, you will be notified of your status. You do not need to take any additional steps at this time. 

We appreciate the time and effort you have put into this process thus far and wish you the best in your pursuits. 

Sincerely,

Human Resources

Pretty standard form letter; did not expect much.

A few weeks later, however:

Thank you for your interest in the Houston Astros’ Full-Stack Developer position. After reviewing your application and resume, we are pleased to move forward with the next step in the process. Attached is a short technical questionnaire designed to help us gauge your skillset and learn more about your coding experience and style. The goal of this is to evaluate how you would perform as an employee, not to provide a test. We understand that you have a limited amount of time and other priorities besides this questionnaire, and it is our hope that the time required by this assessment does not serve as a deterrent for your continuing with the application process. We ask that you return the completed questionnaire via email by . If you’re not able to spend as much time on it as you’d like, please feel free to note that and tell us what you would have done if you’d had more time. Please reply to this email with any questions about the assessment.

If you are no longer interested in being considered for the position, please let us know. We look forward to hearing back from you and will be in touch about potential next steps once we’ve had a chance to review all questionnaires.

This was a ballgame of a different color (to quote City of Angels). I was incredibly excited. Maybe this would work?

The assessment that they sent me had three parts:

  1. Write a 200 word essay, stating who the one hitter and one pitcher you would build a team around. 200 words was pretty tight, but I think I defended Ronald Acuña and Jose Berrios reasonably well.
  2. Write an inning simulator. They defined a set of events that could happen in an bat, and simple language, and I had to write a simulator of how the inning would proceed. This was all kinds of fun for me, and wrote a good test suite to go with it.
  3. They gave me a lot of StatCast data for two Astros games. They wanted be to write “a simple interface to allow a user to explore the data from at least on of t games files”. They wanted a paragraph that explained my thought process, and they stressed that they did not want me to spend more than 3 hours on it. I wrote a program to map the pitch data onto a frame representing the strike zone. Each ball would be as a circle. The faster t pitch, the bigger the circle. I used gray for a ball, red circles were called strikes, green were swinging strikes, and blue were balls hit into play:

I then mentioned, that with time, I would add filters for pitches thrown by left/right, specific pitchers, batters hitting left/right, specific batters, etc., along with numerous other filters.

I had such a blast doing this. They provided a nice javascript sample program to read the data, so all I had to do was figure out how to map things onto a canvas.

I closed with:

Thank you for this opportunity. I am sure that you have many qualified candidates to choose from, and am sure that you will do a thorough job interviewing everybody. Good luck in your search, and I hope to hear back from you soon.

And the I waited several weeks. I was about to give up, when got a phone call from an admin working for the Astros. She told me that they had been having problems with their email being flagged as spam, and that I should check my spam mail, because they had been trying to get in touch.

I found the email from a mid-level Astros executive:

My team reviewed your assessment and was quite impressed. Assuming you are interested in continuing the interview process, as a next step I would like to schedule a phone call with you, which should last about thirty minutes. Please let me know what time (in Central time zone) and day work best for you this week and I will schedule something.
Thanks, and I look forward to speaking with you.

I was on Cloud Nine.

When we talked, he opened with how he and his team had been impressed with my assessment. He then said, “Normally, I have six to seven questions I ask each candidate. But I think today, I need to skip to the end. We originally envisioned this position as a junior level position. What kind of salary would you expect?”

I told him what I was making at my current job.

He said, “I was afraid of that. That’s way out of our budget.”

I told him that my salary was competitive with salaries at major tech companies, like Google and Facebook (actually, it was probably lower, but still).

He sighed. “Well, if I were hiring you to manage the team, or to architect our system from the ground up, and I could get approval for that, we might be able to talk. But there is just no way I could bring you in given where we are on the budget for this team.”

I thanked him, and mentioned we should get a beer the next time I in Houston. He agreed.


Epilogue

If they had offered me anything close to a competitive salary and relocation to Houston, I probably would have taken it. I relished the thought of working the front office on one of the best baseball teams that just happened to be my boyhood team. I looked forward to living in Houston again. I knew that there was a significant chance of the Astros going to the World Series, or at least the playoffs, a couple of more times.

Turns out, according to the press and Twitter, the organization apparently was run as a sociopathic tech-bro startup, in the image of Tesla or Über. Misogyny and cheating were the order of the day. And then COVID hit, and baseball started going through a rough patch.

I really dodged a bullet with this one, and only because they were too cheap. I still root for them, but I am so glad not to be working in baseball right now.

My current employer’s SuperBowl ad

Indeed Building

This blog is about my trying to get a job. As I wrote about here, my current employer is about that also. Indeed is putting out an ad for the SuperBowl on Sunday, February 7, 2021. It’s pretty great.

While the pandemic continues to impact jobs and the economy, there are still companies hiring. Indeed is here to help all job seekers, no matter their background or experience. Read about the story (https://indeedhi.re/2MwMO7J) behind our first-ever Super Bowl commercial. #NowHiring

I hope that everybody that wants a job can find one.

Amazon Alexa Group – 2018

A boatload of Amazon Alexa devices

Recruiter sent me this over email:

 I am a Technical Recruiter with the Alexa Domains Group at Amazon, which is responsible for the Amazon Alexa platforms such as Echo, Kindle, Fire TV, and other voice interactive devices. I came across your profile and I am intrigued with your background and experience.

Alexa is currently ramping up a team of experienced Software Engineers. This team will consist of our top talent and is a major focal point for the organization in 2018. You may have been contacted by Amazon in the past and perhaps this is better timing for you.

We are hiring for all seniority levels in our offices in Seattle, WA, Bellevue, WA, Boston, MA, Irvine, CA, Santa Barbara, CA, and Sunnyvale, CA.

I am hoping this might be of interest to you and you would like to connect and discuss the opportunities on the team. If you are interested in being considered, please reply with your resume. 

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

https://www.amazon.jobs/en/teams/smarthome

https://www.amazon.jobs/en/teams/alexa-entertainment

https://www.amazon.jobs/en/teams/alexa-household-organization

So, I wrote back:

Thanks for reaching out. While the technology is intriguing, I am quite happy with my current position here in Austin, TX. Good luck in your search!
 

It had been a while since I had talked to anybody at Amazon, and certainly not since I had been a full time software engineer again. Plus, my wife loved living in Boston years ago, and we were both disappointed in Austin. Keep in mind, though, I was still employed at Indeed, and loving my work. So, I changed my mind. I decided to see where this would go, because, most of all, I was interested in the technology.

 
Actually, I might be interested in Boston. None of the locations are interesting to me. Thanks
 
I meant, “None of the other locations…”. Oops.

After exchanging a couple of other messages, including sending him my resume, we set a phone conversation. I should take notes for those; I don’t remember much remarkable. But he decided to proceed with the interview.

The next step, then, was to take an automated assessment online. These have become popular over the past few years. The idea is that you code up a problem or two, and run it in the browser, which will tell you things like compile errors, and show you output, and then run secret tests to verify your code. Most of the big tech companies use them. As a matter of fact, there is a company, https://www.hackerrank.com, that will do this for companies. As I later found out, Amazon rolled their own.

They sent me a long email with details, the core of which was this:

Online Assessment Overview

The assessment consists of these components:

  • coding challenge with two scenarios (up to 90 min)
  • “describe your approach” section to discuss your coding solutions (up to 15 min)
  • work style survey (up to 15 min)
  • feedback survey (5 min)

They wanted me to use the browser to do the coding, as they were watching keystrokes. They had two problems in the challenge, and you were encouraged to “manage your time wisely” and “move to the other problem if you get stuck”.

And then they have feedback, yada yada yada.

So, I was set. I made time, and made myself comfortable, and clicked the link. The first problem was pretty straightforward; I wrote it in about 10 minutes.

And it did not work. Their Python interpreter barfed all over it, claiming my code in a particular place was invalid Python. I spent quite a while trying to trick their stupid Javascript-based Python interpreter to work and got nowhere. So I switched to my development environment on my Mac, and it worked perfectly.

I finally worked around the problem, and then discovered that I passed 19/20 tests. Since I could not see the tests so I did not know what failed, I decided to move to the other problem.

The problem is that I had spent almost an hour on this, so I only had 30 minutes to do the second problem. It was a maze traversal problem with some strange dataset parsing. I know that I could have done that one in a hour had I not wasted my time trying to get the other to work, but honestly, I would have hit their python bug in the second problem as well.

Should have chosen Java, I guess.

So I failed the assessment. OK, that happens. I probably would not have failed had their interpreter worked, but you know, I was happy where I was, and was content with not uprooting and moving my family to someplace with winter.

I got this back from the recruiter:

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to assess your skills for the Software Development Engineer position. It was truly a pleasure getting to know you and learn more about your career aspirations.

We received the results back from your online assessment. At this time, we are proceeding with other applicants that more closely align with the needs of this role. Unfortunately, it is our policy that we can’t give specific feedback as to why. We don’t have a policy or time limit on when you can reapply but what has worked for candidates in the past, is to take 6 months to 1 year to brush up on some of your skills and gain more experience. I know this isn’t much to go off of but I hope it helps. 

We are very grateful for your interest in our company, and wish you much success in your job search!

Thank you again for your time.  

That is one of the most insulting, condescending form letters I have ever received. Well, pal, I am happy to let somebody else pay me good money “to take 6 months to 1 year to brush up on some of your skills and gain more experience.”

Humph! Fie on them! Fie, fie, I tell ya!