Archives / 2008 / June
  • Lingering thoughts about the Microsoft interview experience

    It's strange how a number of different posts on my blog get comments practically every day. The big ones have to do with the failure of US education, my HP laptop from four years ago with the broken power jack, Xbox Live support sucking and the entire app/page/control event cycle based on pre-beta ASP.NET v2. A new one has become my post on my experience interviewing at Microsoft.

  • Microsoft interview fail

    Well, I don't have to worry about moving to Seattle, because Microsoft is not making an offer. So now that it's all in the past, I feel like I can talk a little more openly about the experience.

    I won't say which group it was that I was approached by, but I will say that it was not one that I expected. My expertise is largely in the ASP.NET space, and this was a PM gig definitely not in that area. It was initially pitched to me as being heavily related to my experience, so I figured, sweet, I could totally do that!

    The job was actually posted after that, and the written description was a little different than I expected. But still, this was Microsoft, and there is certainly a lot of opportunity there in the bigger picture. And did I mention they were footing the bill for the visit?

    My first interview was actually with one of the .NET PM's, which was cool because I felt like there was more to talk about there, even though I wouldn't be working directly in his group. We talked about how I'd handle a crisis with regard to shipping something, and I gave my best strategy based on my limited knowledge of the organizational structure (it was based on a real problem I'm not allowed to talk about :)). He also gave me a coding problem, which was surprisingly hard to get my head around without Visual Studio. I'm a refactor-until-it-works kind of guy, and boy do I realize that now! But it was still a fun exercise.

    The second interview was with a senior PM in the group I was interviewing for, and that's where my impression of things started to change. The conversation was all over the place, which perhaps was a symptom of going out for lunch. I started to also get the feeling he was very disinterested in me. That's kind of intangible, but I kept getting the feeling I was inconveniencing him in some way. That really put me off. Checking e-mail and using his mobile device while chatting put me off even more.

    From there, he asked me some very vague and abstract questions, leading me in kind of random directions. I know from reading other interview accounts that there tend to be a lot of complex scenarios thrown at you, but they're defined well enough that you can make actionable responses. This was not one of those. I asked a lot of questions, but I wasn't getting what I needed to make any kind of intelligent response. It's like someone asking you, "How would you make something?" It depends on if you're talking about software or woven baskets!

    The third interview was better, but again with the e-mail checking or whatever. Come on, man, I had to come 2,000 miles for this! If you can't do me the courtesy of listening and learning about me, it's really hard to sell myself! I was really put off by that, to the extent that I started to feel like this wasn't the gig for me. Honestly I was so excited about coming to Redmond that I never even synthesized that as a possible outcome. I left the building feeling really let down.

    Not surprisingly, I didn't get the gig. I think the position itself was a mismatch for my background, and that was the first issue. The second is that the quality of the interviewing wasn't particularly good (except for the first guy, who I wouldn't be answering to anyway). I've had far more vigorous interviews that did a better job of assessing my capability.

    Now that I've had a couple of days to think about it, and have a sort of closure with the non-offering, I think I have some conclusions I can draw. The first is to remember what I learned years ago with meat market recruiters who put me places like Progressive (the worst consulting gig I ever had), in that it's a good idea to understand for yourself if the position is right for you in the first place. Just because it's Microsoft calling doesn't mean that the gig is right. Duh.

    Second, while I was disappointed with the experience, it's not a reason to write off Microsoft as a whole. My experience as an author, and as a customer needing a little help, has been awesome. Heck, it has been better than awesome. There are a lot of very smart and passionate people there.

    Is there a big job change in my future? I'm not entirely sure. As I said before, I wasn't actively looking as much as I thought it'd just be a good idea to be on the radar in Washington. It helps to understand what your worth is every couple of years and evaluate if you're getting what you want out of your current job.

    Bottom line, the experience was worth it. And visiting my future brother-in-law and his family was certainly an awesome perk.

  • Interviewing at Microsoft

    So by now it's probably pretty obvious that I interviewed at Microsoft. Truthfully, I haven't been looking for a job, and I tend to like where I'm at right now. That said, I had a series of casual conversations with various people at Microsoft, and out of the blue I got a call asking me to come interview for a program manager position.