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!

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,, 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!

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