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!

Unknown “Stealth” Startup – 2018

A fellow dropped me a note on LinkedIn:

I’m starting a new company. It’s in stealth but we’ve already sourced our seed round and are now starting our search for a tech lead. I came across your profile and thought we should chat. Your experience as a software engineer and manager sounds very valuable for what we’re building. 

For some quick context, I most recently was the Founder and CEO of <some company I’d never heard of>. We raised $50m, built <something or other>

My next venture is a platform that “turns your house into a home.” If this mission/vision sounds at all interesting to you, lets find a time to chat so we can discuss further and see if this is the right fit.

Let me know and we can set a time.

I responded that I would be happy to chat with him, but I was very happy where I was. Getting in on the ground up was appealing, but it would have to be a great opportunity. So we set up a call.

He called me, and described what he had in mind. They were going to build a site that homeowners would get access to when they bought a house with targeted ads, promotions, and coupons from places like Comcast and Home Depot.

I gave me thoughts on what kind of products they would need, and what kind of scale the backend would need, as well as some guesses on how much money it would take to get off of the ground.

He told me he was very impressed, and asked if I were interested in getting it off the ground.

And I told him honestly, this space did not interest me in the least.

I wished him luck, and have not heard anything else from him. And looking back on his LinkedIn profile, it looks like it did not get started anyway.

Miscellaneous 2016 and 2017

When you are happy with your work, which I was at Indeed, you don’t have to talk to people anymore. And when you have the title of “Software Engineer” again, you get more interesting companies talking to you. I am just going to list the various companies that contacted me in 2016 and 2017. This does NOT include the dozens of recruiters that hit me up for contract positions doing IOS development, QA, BPM, or random things I am not qualified for, like C++ or .NET.

2016

  • Amazon – Austin, TX
  • Amazon – Herndon, VA
  • Amazon Automation – Seattle
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Audible
  • Google – Seattle or California
  • Nike
  • Red Bull TV
  • Sail Point
  • TriNet Cloud
  • Visa
  • VMWare

2017

  • Abilitie
  • Amazon – eleven times
  • Amazon Mechanical Turk
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Boku
  • Facebook
  • Gigster
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • iPlace USA
  • Overtime
  • SecureWorks
  • TVG Network/Betfair
  • Two Sigma
  • VMWare

Nice to be recruited for real jobs.