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.

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