Spawn Labs – 2012

In my article about Noesis, I mentioned that they had turned me down, but they forwarded an email to me from another recruiter. Turns out, she had already contacted me!

Hi,

I recently viewed your profile on linked in and I thought you might find this position interesting.

The position is a QA and Release Manager in NW Austin. The company is developing a complex set of platforms that deliver ultra high speed applications to allow consumers to connect with gaming applications from multiple devices. This includes, Cloud, Web and appliance based environments. The company is established and well funded with a small technology team of about 20 people here in Austin. As the QA Manager you’ll be a hands-on leader setting the stage for the quality of all software and services that support multiple technology platforms. We’re looking for someone who has deep technical skills and the experience to be an individual contributor while building the organization and infrastructure.

If you are interested, please e-mail me or call me. You can also send me an updated resume and your salary requirements if you would like. If you are not interested, if you know anyone who might be qualified, I would appreciate the referral.

This looked great for a non-developer position. It wasn’t just QA; it looked like I would be building a QA/Release team. Cloud stuff. Lots of software. Games. I wrote back, expressing interest.

She called me. I was actually on vacation at my mother-in-law’s in Kentucky, and that day I had driven her car to Louisville from the small town to get it serviced, and had the courtesy driver take me to the mall. I was hanging out working on personal projects when she called.

We talked about what they were offering. They were trying to setup a streaming video game service. You would plug a stick into the HDMI port of your TV, and your game controller talked to it. The service would provide disk space for saved games and the like. The plan was to build a multi-city set of data centers to have thousands of gamers playing at the same time. Or you could connect using an application of Mac or Windows.

This was cool.

So they setup a phone screen. Which, honestly, I don’t remember much about. I talked with my hiring manager. He probed my resume. We talked about Spawn. At the end, he decided I needed to come out when I got back from my vacation.

I talked with four people at my onsite interview besides the hiring manager. I talked to a developer who started in QA, one of the chief architects, a customer service person, and another engineering manager. The first person was really having trouble containing his excitement as he asked me questions, and I would either answer them, or I would present further questions. Our time ran out, and I don’t think he was nearly done.

The other interview I remember was the support person. He asked me how I would design this system. I drew some stuff on the white board. At some point, he asked about why I did something or other, and I answered that it would be too slow. He asked why. I told him because computer network performance was limited by distance. And he asked why.

“Because they are limited by the speed of light.”

He smiled, and said, “Yep.”

He then asked me if I had any questions. I did not.


After a few days, the hiring manager called me with an offer. The only hesitation: Spawn Labs was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Game Stop. And Game Stop at the time did not provide healthcare for anybody, including exempt employees, until they had been at the company three full months (from the 1st day of the month until the last day of the month). So I would still have COBRA for four more months.

I said, Yes.

About an hour later, Texas Windstorm Insurance made their offer. It did not have that 3 month window at the beginning, but was a lower salary with no bonus or employee stock plan. I turned them down.

Now I just had to survive until my next paycheck… several weeks away…

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Texas Windstorm Insurance – 2012

I don’t listen to the radio much anymore, but I was out with my wife, and we were listening to KVET (a local country music station). There was an ad for a career fair at a local hotel, near where the old Meuller Airport used to be. I decided to see what I could do there. At the worst, I would have burned some gas and wasted some time.

Most of the companies there were hiring sales people. Entry-level sales people. Temp workers. Not at all interesting.

However, there was a table with a sign that said “Texas Windstorm Insurance”, and underneath that it had lines for “Java Developers” and “IT Staff”. I got in line.

When the person in front of me asked what they were hiring for, the woman handling the table told him that they were hiring computer programmers and credentialed IT staff with Microsoft Network Certifications.

So, when I got to here, I said, “I’m a computer programmer”, and handed her a copy of my resume. She looked at it, and then put on her reading glasses, which had been hanging on a chain around her neck, and scanned again. She said, “Thank you. I think you will be hearing from us the next couple of days, but I need to consult with my other managers”.

The next day, I got a phone call from her. She told me that they were interested in interviewing me for a release manager position. Not exactly a programming position, but one I was definitely qualified for.

We discussed what release management really is, and then she said that they wanted to bring me in for offsite interviews, and asked me for dates I was available.

The commute would be pretty bad; they were located near the Oak Hill “Y”. a notorious intersection in the middle of a bunch of highways. Pretty far away, as well. But I was starting to really need an income. Really.

The interview went well. I showed that I knew release management, Windows, Jenkins, etc. However, I did get excited and let an F-bomb slip. Oops.

I was not excited about the software. An insurance portal? Run by a state agency? And I was not even coding on it?

But what can you do?

She called me back the next week. She said that they really liked me. But she had a concern.

“My boss was disturbed by your language during the interview. He was concerned that a habit of using that language would not fit with out culture.”

Oops.

I assured her that I could control myself. She asked if that was normal in the places I had worked, including Apple and Red Hat. I told her that it was.

“Well, it’s not tolerated here. Assuming you can keep it under control, let’s talk about an offer.”

She then proceeded to outline an offer. It was not as nice as what I was making at Coverity. But, it was an offer. I told her I would think about it.

Stay tuned…

First Texas Honda – 2012

I like cars. I like browsing for cars. I like driving cars. Don’t care much about working on them, but I have always had a fondness for them, and try to own only cars I really love. Not a big fan of the process of buying a car, though. The whole game that car dealers play is tiresome.

As my unemployment continued, I started wondering if I should take some kind of part-time, short-term, or temporary work, just to have cash flowing in. There was a lady that was part of the management of my kid’s preschool at my wife’s church, whose husband was a sales manager at First Texas Honda. My wife mentioned to her that I might be interested in doing some work there to help make ends meet, but I had no previous car salesman experience.

Her husband called me. He explained that if I wanted to do this, I would need to start as an assistant salesman in the used car lot. Once I got settled there, I could move into the new car showroom.

I asked him what the compensation range of sales people were. He indicated something very low for me to something just higher than average software people made for the top performers. I told him I would think about it.

There were several drawbacks to this plan:

1. The pay wasn’t great.

2. It would take time away from looking for a software job.

3. At least for a while, I would be a USED CAR SALESMAN!

I called him back, and thanked him profusely for his generous offer, and that I might be calling him later if nothing panned out, but that I would be trying to get a software job for a bit longer. He understood, and said call him anytime.

Still haven’t had to.

 

Bridgewater Associates – 2012

I was happily working at Coverity in the winter before Coverity laid me off. I got a call from a recruiter.

“Hello. I am a recruiter with Bridgewater Associates. We are a hedge fund, and we use technology to help us with our trading. We are looking to hire a senior QA engineer, or a QA manager. Your resume came up in my search.”

“That’s interesting. Where are you located?”

“We are in Stamford, Connecticut, outside of New York City”

Huh. That’s a big move!

He proceeded to describe the culture of Bridgewater, about how they prided themselves on debates, and challenging each other to ferret out hidden assumptions. He seemed really proud of that. I told him that I was open to talking.

He then asked, “OK. So how much are you making right now?”

I responded with, “Why don’t we wait until the interview process is complete, and we are negotiating the offer? I don’t know what the difference in cost-of-living is between Austin and Stamford, and I really need to do some research.”

When he pushed back with needing to know for the hiring manager to be able to decide whether or not to talk to me, I said,

“That’s a trap question. If I say something that’s too high, you could stop the process. If I  say something too low, you could either not pay me enough, or decide that I  must not know what I am doing or I would have asked more.”

I also asked him if this is the kind of debate that Bridgewater encouraged. He did not seem to find that funny somehow.

However, he went away and called back the next day, and said that they would like to fly me out to talk to me.

Huh. New York in January. I don’t have any real winter clothes, but I did my best. I would fly out Thursday night, talk to them on Friday, and fly back Saturday morning. I had to rent a car to get from Newark to Stamford.

I got to Newark at 8:00 PM. It was snowing lightly. Took me almost 2 hours going through New York in the dark snow to get to hotel in Stamford. First interview was Friday morning at 9:00, so I did not get to see much of the neighborhood before going in to talk.

When I got to the office, I was informed that all of the interview sessions were done by pairs of engineers, and that they were recorded. If I did not agree to being recorded, they would call off the interview, no questions asked. I thought to myself, “Well, you could have told me before I got on the airplane yesterday…”

In the first session, they asked me about what was the hardest problem I had solved at Apple. I basically explained it like this:

I was in compiler/developer tools QA. I was in charge of building all of Mac OS X with a new version of our compiler. Doing this exposed problems like:

  1. The compiler has new warnings, so projects within Apple need to change their source code to get rid of those warnings.
  2. The compiler failed to parse good code (this was very rare).
  3. The compiler generated bad code.

Simply compiling all 1200 of the projects exposed the first two kinds of issues relatively quickly. To catch the third case, we had to run as much of the code as possible. A small amount of the lowest level code was run during the build itself, but the rest of the testing had to be done by running the build OS installer, installing the OS, and running a bunch of apps.

Normally, building everything took about 10 hours. The first time I tried to build Mac OS X 10.3 with gcc4, the build ran for about 35 minutes. The first five or so projects built, but the rest of the 1200 all failed to build almost instantaneously.

I asked for help from the compiler team, the build team, and the OS team, but nobody had the time. So rolled up my sleeves, and I figured it out. It took about three weeks, but I found a place in the lowest level of the OS where something was compiled incorrectly, and causing the tools used during the build to all fail. I filed the ticket, gave it to the compiler team, and they fixed it.

OK, so complex problem. Hard to solve. Nobody else had time to help. My charter was clear. I solved the problem. Rather proud of that one, actually.

When I told this story to the interviewers, they asked: “Why you? Why were you the one to have to track this down?”

I tried and tried to explain that it was not clear who was supposed to track it down, and that I got no help, and I was able to do it, and I needed to do it to achieve my goals, so I did it.

They probed me with many different questions, all basically some form of “Well, why didn’t you find somebody whose job it was to track this down?”

They did not like the answer that it was my job in the absence of anything else. They got real pushy with this, and I got a little flustered, feeling pestered.

There was only one person in the second interview. He said, “Under what circumstances should the USA go to war with China?” OK, then. We had a lively discussion there!

The third interview was a rehash of the first interview. They harped on why I debugged the allocator generated by the new compiler for another 45 minutes.

The hiring manager and another fella were in the 4th interview. They walked in, and before anybody sat down, the manager said, “So I talked to everybody, and they said that you were acting very defensively. Would you care to comment?”

I said, without batting an eye, “Well, if I wasn’t before, that’s a good way to get me to start!”

We all laughed. I explained that I spent two interviews answering the same question over and over again about why I debugged something at Apple despite not being on any of the teams directly responsible for any of the code or tools. (Oh, yeah, the original developer of the miscompiled code was now a senior VP at Apple reporting to Steve Jobs. He wrote the code 15 years earlier when he was still at NeXT. I doubt he would have helped me much…)

The manager told me it was part of the debate process that they used there, and they deliberately did this kind of thing to access how the candidate handles it.

I said, “Well, you seem to think that I failed at this with your confrontational comment at the beginning of this session. Perhaps we had better just stop here and not waste anybody else’s time.”

He said, “You are right. Let’s stop.”

He leaned on the table, and clasped his hands out in front of himself.

“Thanks for coming all of this way and talking to us, though. As for logistics, please feel free to spend the night in New York and go to a show or something. Just file an expense report.”

“With all due respect, it’s still before noon, and I would rather change my flight to go home this afternoon, if y’all will pay for the change fee.”

“That would be fine.”

He then completely changed demeanor, and started talking to me, geek-to-geek, about Apple, San Jose, and Silicon Valley. We talked for another half an hour!

I then left, changed my flight, and checked out. Flight was out of LaGuardia, so I had a much shorter drive.

One of the strangest interviews.

The next Monday, the recruiter called back, and the first thing he said, was “What did you do!? I have never heard of them cutting an interview short like that!”

He was bent out of shape. I am sure he thought I was a shoe-in, and he would get a large commission.

I told him the story, and he just sat silent on the phone for about 20 seconds.

“Well, I guess it wasn’t a good cultural fit. Thanks for your time.” and hung up almost before I said goodbye.

What a jerk. Unlike the hiring manager, who was just doing his job.

 

 

 

Apple – 2012

I was browsing the jobs at Apple, and they actually had a technical position posted for Austin! Unbelievable!

It was for a position entitled “iCloud QA Engineer”. This appeared to be a technical position, focused on QA for Apple’s iCloud offering.

Excerpts from the job description:

Extensive experience with testing or troubleshooting Mac OS X software
Hands-on experience with iOS testing
Impressive knowledge of file or data synchronization
– Proven bug detection and regression skills
– Strong hands-on experience with mobile devices and web applications
– Solid understanding of standard web technologies (Javascript, HTML, CSS)
– Thorough knowledge of Mac OS X, Apple mobile products, and Windows platforms
– Comfortable and adaptable in a high-paced environment
– Creative thinker and problem solver
– Ability to investigate and debug difficult problems
– Strong analytical and debugging skills
– Excellent verbal and written communication skills
– Experience with data integrity change and comparison schemes
– Dedication to user-focused design & high quality technology
– Strong commitment to technical quality assurance as a key part of the development cycle
– Willingness to work cross-functionally with other teams to make all products and deployments seamless for our customers
Desired skills:
* Experience or knowledge of Mac OS X and Windows operating systems
* Experience or knowledge of the iCloud suite of applications.
* Experience with iOS or other mobile device platform application testing.
* A solid knowledge of Java, JavaScript, SQL, Unix shell scripting
* Experience working with Web technologies, including HTML/CSS
* Technical knowledge of the HTTP protocol, Headers and proxies.
* Familiarity of the Apple Push Notification Service
Other skills:
* Ability to write scripts/tools on Windows
* Experience or knowledge of Windows debugging and automation tools
* Comfortable with Unix and shell scripting
* Experience with automation, scripting, PHP, SQL, Perl, or Python
– BSCS or equivalent work experience.
– Strong written and verbal communication skills.
– Automation and/or scripting experience.
– Experience using the UNIX command line.
– White box and black box testing experience.
– Attention to detail and an unwillingness to settle for a product that is just “good enough.”

I had most of these qualifications. This was encouraging! A little weak on the “Technical knowledge of the HTTP protocol, Headers and proxies”, but otherwise solid.

And it was Austin! So I applied.

And then, I asked one of my former coworkers if he could recommend me. He responded that at that time, he and his sister were dealing with moving their mother into assisted living, and he did not have time.

But another friend did recommend me.

So, after some talking to the hiring manager, I finally had a set of interviews. The first half was at Apple’s Riata Trace campus, and the second half were all phone calls from Cupertino. I had an hour between, so I went home to take them.

They asked me how to test one of their apps. I started with installation, and then new user experience, and then I picked a feature and started tearing it apart…

That was the first interview. The second was much the same. I went home.

I started answering the phone calls. The next-to-last interview was key. The fellow asked me to figure out what kind of authentication this test website needed by just using the UNIX curl command.

I still would have trouble doing that now after working in web programming for several years. It was a specific “thing” that the fellow expected, and I could tell because I did not know the magic “trick” he was looking for, that he was not going to recommend me.

This is not a great way to interview people. Expecting people to have the exact skill set needed or the know exactly what you know is a bad interview experience both for the perpetually-disappointed interviewer and the frustrated interviewee.

Almost two weeks later, an Apple HR person sent me this:

It appears that it is very close between and an internal candidate. I should have a decision by tomorrow.

And then four days later (not “tomorrow”), I got this:

I wanted to thank you for taking the time to meet with the team. While the hiring manager feels you have a great skill set he feels that is not quite what he looking for for this position. He does feel that you are a strong candidate and that you are a fit for Apple. I will share your resume with all of the software recruiters and keep you on the Hot Sheet for future consideration.

And I think it all came down to the very specific trick I could not do. How incredibly frustrating.

Noesis – 2012

I saw a job posting on door64.com for QA Operations Engineer. I sent a cover letter to the contact listed:

I am contacting you about the job posting entitled QA Operations Engineer on Door64.com. I have recent experience in this line of work. Specifically:

– I have 20+ years of experience in software development, integration and eating.
– I am familiar with SVN, CVS, Bitkeeper, Perforce and git.
– I have experience not only maintaining a Jenkins instance, but extending it with a custom plugin.
– I have much experience with shell, Perl, Tcl, ruby…
– I have developed large, complex process flows.
– I have experience with Amazon Web Services.
– I have experience with multiple SQL systems, including MySQL, MS SQL, and postgresql.
– I have a BA in Computer Science from Rice University.

Please consider me for your position. There is no place to post a resume on this automated form; feel free to contact me so I can send it to you.

Yes, I had 20+ years of eating software. Oops.

I was asked to send my resume to the hiring manager. The response started, “I am thrilled to see your resume for this position. You have many of the skills that we are seeking…” and “You would be working with me where we are responsible for QA, Manual/Automated Test, Build/Deploy, Continuous Integration , Managing Amazon Web Services infrastructure and other odds and ends.”

After I talked with the hiring manager on the phone, I got an email from the “EVP of Products”:

[Hiring Manager] told me that you guys had a good conversation today regarding our opening at Noesis.  I thought I would reach out to you and see if we could meet for a coffee so I could give you a little more background on what we are trying to do here at Noesis and how you might be able to help us.  Let me know if you have any availability.

Noesis was a company that helped building management get infrastructure in place to finance things like HVAC, or furniture buildout, or many other services and goods that an office might need.

We met at the Starbucks on Anderson near Mopac, and talked about what they needed. They were trying to get serious about quality, and needed somebody to oversee test direction on their full stack.

That meeting seemed to go well; the EVP was not a hands-on guy, but evidently I knew enough to pass his sniff test. The hiring manager then had me come in for a day of interviews.

None of them were technical challenges or puzzles; they were all about management and strategy. I had good conversations, and I felt pretty good.

One week later, I had not heard anything, so I sent a note asking if there had been any resolution on the position. I got back this:

This email was actually typed up when I received yours.

I am sorry to say that you were not selected for this position.   Your experience and skills will surely be put to good use somewhere, but we have decided to try out some offshore resources for automation and focus on the DevOPS in Q4/Q1.   I did get the following today, maybe you could pursue this.  It looks pretty interesting and is located in NW Austin somewhere.  I will forward the actual email so you have the full email reply address.

Thanks again for coming in.

Yep, rather than hiring a new manager, they completely changed direction. That’s a familiar story.

Besides, I wouldn’t want to work for a company where my management chain all used two spaces after a period. That’s just nuts.

More on the follow up later, though. It turned out to be quite interesting…

Texas Instruments – 2012

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I don’t remember how the recruiter from Texas Instruments got my number, but he called me, and we talked.

They had a development team in Dallas which was working on educational apps for Android and IOS, and the manager had just left, and they were looking to backfill the position.

Dallas is not my favorite place. Pretty much at all. However, I really needed a job, and it wasn’t California, so I proceeded.

He put me in touch with the hiring manager. She and I had a good conversation about software engineering, management, QA, release processes, and Agile. After 45 minutes of this we decided to setup a set of phone screens with people in the current development team to save me a trip to Dallas, and if that went well, I would go up there to meet the management team in person.

The phone screens went well. I talked to four people, two of which were fluent in IOS, one in Android, and one was QA. Of course, I could only talk in general principals with the Android developer, but it still went well. These were the last days of being interviewed without whiteboards. I had a feeling I might have to do that if I survived this round and had to go to Dallas.

So, I was told that they would make a decision about how they were going to proceed in a couple of days, by Friday that week.

On Monday, I sent out an email. And then on Tuesday. I stopped then, because I figured that they were not going to proceed with me.

On the following Friday, the hiring manager called me. She told me that TI had just sold these apps to a business in Korea, so the position was cancelled. I asked what was going to happen to the existing development team, and she said that it had not been decided.

It’s amazing how often major change happens with a team when the manager leaves. It often forces management to decide if the product is actually worth the business investment. Makes it hard to get jobs as a manager from the outside. And I did feel sorry for the team; they were probably out of a job. But I’m glad I did not move to Dallas for a team that was disbanded over time. That would have sucked.