Darkened Software

Tag: Interviews

Interviews: Pay attention to the instructions.

by on Nov.14, 2012, under Industry, Interviews

This might be the funniest interview I have ever conducted.  After introductions and a min of baseline conversation I give him the back round for the problem and 3 instructions for the question.

“Topic is X, there is usually around 4 issues that arise from it, for each”

  • Write down the issue on the whiteboard.
  • Write down the data you would collect to track and understand each issue.
  • Write down how you would display the data to the user so they could solve each issue.

I ask him if he understands which he nodes to and then I hand the kid the marker and prepare to be amazed.

He stands there for a few seconds and then says the first issue must be “Y” and starts telling me how someone on the last project solved it.

So I get up and take the marker from him, step over to the whiteboard, write the issue on it and hand him back the now open marker and cap.  He says “Oh right” and then continues to talk.  Not an amazing start, I hope this kid is just a little nervous and gets it together.

He finally runs out of things to say about how someone else attacked that issue before so I prompt him think about what other issues there is with topic X.  He again goes silent for a little while and then says it could also be “W”.  Tells me he has never had to deal with it but thinks it could be solved and starts rambling on.

I get up and pick up another marker, walk to the whiteboard and write down issue “W” right under issue “Y”.  I again hand him the uncapped marker so now he is holding two open markers as he continues to talk.  This time he says nothing as I hand him the marker.  Eventually his mumbling goes silent so I ask what the third issue might be?

He loudly declares there is no more possible issues under the topic “X”.  WTF kid it is not likely I am giving you trick questions.  So after I ask him a few questions he gets to realization of the next issue and declares “well I guess there could be an issue Z”.

This time I am going to see if he eventually figures it out and I just wait in silence for him to write it down.  A full 2 min of mumbling later out of pure amusement I go get the last marker, uncap it and write issue “Z” on the whiteboard.  Then I go to hand the marker to him again but he is standing there with an open marker in each hand already.  So I put the cap back on it and attach it to the bottom of the one in his right hand.  He just stands there silently for a few seconds, so I ask him to go onto the next part of the question and “Write Down” what data he would collect to resolve the issue.

He then loudly declare there is no way to resolve it and thus it is not worth worrying about.  Your right kid, it is quite likely I am giving you problems I really don’t want you to solve.

As amusing as this is it is time to walk you to the door.


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Job Interviews: People that close their eyes a little to much

by on Feb.04, 2011, under Interviews

I had and interview candidate that closed his eyes quite a bit during the interview.  I was not really sure what to make of it so I watched it for patterns and found that it happened often at the very start of his answers for a couple of seconds and occasionally during the middle of a sentence when he was suppose to be switching from overview to details.  Still not sure how to interpret this odd behavior I just made a note to research it afterward and move on.

Several papers on psychology later there seems to be two possible answers:

  • People that try to  visualize a problem might close their eyes for a second to help them focus on only seeing their representation of the problem in their mind.
  • People that are not confident or even scared of the results of their actions will close their eyes so they can delay having to respond or deal with the outcome.

If the eye closing behavior only happened just before they answered the question then the first explanation of visualizing their response to your question would make a lot of sense.  But given he was doing this as he responded to a question or as he needing to provide details that he would later have to defend the second explanation of lacking confidence make a lot more sense.

In this case the interview was going so badly that we did not need any more re-enforcement that the candidate was in way over their head.  But in interviews with more open ended answers to questions this could be a great indicator that although the answer sounds plausible the interviewee is just trying to run a “Hail Mary” response by you.

Related is if you do notice issues in their story do not start questioning the issue right away.  Make detailed notes but save up all the possible inconsistencies till the end and come back to them when you have got the full story already.  If they are being deceptive then putting time between their original signal and when you question them makes it less likely they will realize what gave it away and the time gives them more chances to mess up as they have to try and remember what they originally told you.

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2 weeks at Microsoft

by on Aug.18, 2010, under Development, Industry

10 years ago I was just was just finishing up a project with the 3DO company, not wanting to go through another dev cycle with I got an interview with Microsoft for the Direct X team.  At the time I was very big into openGL, but saw the potential in DirectX and wanted to be on the new leading edge of graphics.  They flew me out for the big interview but when I got there I found out that an internal transfer had already taken the position I was interviewing for.  At MS it is common they interview you for multiple positions and they still wanted to interview me for some Direct X Development Test spots.

Although not what I wanted after a full day of interviewing I had convinced them that I would be a great Development tester.  Slightly upset that the position I wanted was not available I stopped on the way back to the airport and got my hair dyed blue.  At the time I did not understand the rest of the benefit’s of working at Microsoft so I did not consider the offer letter enough to move out of CA and start doing testing again.

If I had known then what I know now I would have dropped everything and gone to work with them in an instant.  This company literally has everything a computer geek could want.

  1. You have access to more information than you could ever hope to learn.
    • ms library has access to every ebook and most tech and marketing books ever published.  You can check them out for 3 weeks and have 50 checked out at a time.
    • You have access to almost every consumer report and any marketing research ever done.
    • You have access to IEEE, AMC, and every knowledge database ever collected.
    • You have access to the people that originally wrote a lot of the the software you use.
    • They have more email lists, blogs, docs, meetings, round tables, video’s, industry committees and learning groups on any topic you could imagine.
  2. You have access to 30,000 very smart engineers that are willing to help you learn anything you wish, it is like the biggest college on earth.
  3. You have free or almost free access to all the software and hardware Microsoft produces.
  4. You have one of the best medical plans ever heard of.
  5. You have access to one of best fitness club in the world.
  6. You have access to the best legal team that you can also use for personal counsel.
  7. You have access to a billions of lines of source code from every project Microsoft has ever done.
  8. The amount of resources you have for a project is unreal.  If it gets backing it is almost unstoppable force.

So one of the great thing about going through a full interview is then you are in the system and the recruiters never loose contact with you. Anytime a position comes up that fits your resume they contact you right away.  Finally they called me up with a job I could not refuse.

In 2 weeks I have had more hardware resources dropped on me than I have in my entire career.  Been exposed to 2 different engines and more source code than I have seen in my entire life ( which is hard given how much time I spend on source forge ).  Checked out 2 dozen books from the library, downloaded Rosetta Stone for Japanese and finally had access to all game sales numbers imaginable for the first time.

I have gone from spending most of my time to trying to get resources to now trying to prioritize what tech / resources I want to learn / utilize next.  From trying to figure out what the publisher really wants to picking projects and features our team will help out with next.  From trying to just get access to information to trying to scope what information is most important to me so I do not get overwhelmed.

During orientation they discussed how the industry average for getting ramped up to full productivity was 3-4 months and at Microsoft people said it was much closer to 9 months.  Originally I laughed, but now I understood why.  You will reach your standard productive rate within your normal time line but here that is just the beginning as the bar is much higher.

Was recently talking to a college grad working there and it became clear he was squandering the mass opportunities he had lucked into.  Not sure you can ever fully appreciate it with having suffered in the under funded and disorganized world of normal software development.  Only then can one understand what it means to have everything you need and you are the only limit in what you get done.

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Interviewing with two game console dev support teams

by on Jul.27, 2010, under Graphics, Programming

Some time ago I interviewed at Sony based on the recommendations of a friend who had joined their R&D department and was really loving his new job.  Their R&D department at the time only need a hard core graphics specialist but they had some other positions that they wanted to interview me for.  So I took a day and went to see what things were all about at Sony.  Most of their jobs were doing some sort of lead tech support for other developers so I expected I would get grilled on:

  • Tech & coding skills
  • Customer support
  • Documentation
  • Time management skills

After an entire day of interviews I had not had any questions on anything that was not tech & coding.  In fact many of the questions were so esoteric that I do not believe they were really looking for a programmer but a PS3 manual with a better personality.

eg. Interviewer:   How many instructions would this take on the cell processor

float temp = (bool) 0;

Me:  Not sure, why would you ever cast a bool to a float?

Interviewer:  You wouldn’t, but if you did how many instructions would it be?

Me:  Not sure, on the PS2 they had an Zero register so it would have been 1 instruction but since your asking I am sure that is no longer the case.

Interviewer:  See he does not know.

This in my mind clears up a lot of stuff, if they do not value customer support, documentation or coding samples to even ask about it in a interview then it is no wonder they are so badly know for the poorest developer support in the industry.

Contrast that to the interviews at Microsoft I recently went through for similar positions.  The first half of the day was all about tech and coding but they asked relevant questions about algorithms, error checking, comments and architecture.  Second part of the day was all about dealing with customers, creating white papers, writing good sample code and other tasks.  Last part of the interview was about what makes great games and user experiences, tech trends and how it will shape the games of the future and last how to communicate and let people know how to take advantage of it.

Perfectly clear why in one generation Microsoft has taken over the console market, they understand what is real dev support is and know that supporting the dev teams has to be the one of the core’s pillars in getting the best games.

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Think about how people could interpret your resume, Part 1

by on May.05, 2009, under Artificial Intelligence, Industry, Interviews, Lessons

I have gone to 100’s of pre-interview resume reviews with other programmers to discuss our thoughts on a candidate and determine what everyone will quiz them about.  I am always still amazed how everyone can read the same resume and have completely different take on what could possibly be good or bad about this candidate .  It is a different trigger for everyone, sometimes if anything is a little vague or over sounds overstated people get turned off and suddenly the interviewee  is fighting an up hill battle.

Be very careful with the resume wording because given the chance people will often interpret it completely wrong…

Even if you write the clearest resume possible it is not even close to 100% so you still have to then anticipate all the ways they could take everything on your resume wrong and and figure out how you are are going to convince them of the right story on the phone or during the live interview.  Is it a pain, yes.  Is it right, probably not.  But you literally have to be prepared to defend everything on your resume to make the interview go well.  Some people will always come to the interview assuming the worst about the candidate and you will have to change their mind about every point.

Lets hit the examples:

Worked for company X for a long time.

You might be thinking that it shows loyalty to the company, dedication to your job and that your not a quitter during tough times.  You might also be rightly thinking that is shows how valued of a employ you were, you survived 8 round of layoffs and your position was never in danger.

Others might see X years and think that means you have no ambition at all.   They instantly think you are one of those  people that found a place to hide and have just been collecting a paycheck for X years.

Defending working at a company for a long time, sounds silly right?  When they comment that you about working for a company for a long time.  Don’t just answer yes.  If you started during the beginning, talk about how you helped grow the company and it was pride thing. If you got shares then talk about the ownership responsibility.  If you did not have the above then talk about the great projects you got to work on or great friends you made or how much you learned there.  Make sure they believe you had reasons to stay and now have a even bigger reason to leave.

Have a bunch of grind tasks on your resume.

Say you have done UI, TCR’s and some of the other grind tasks that people do not generally like to do.  You might think this shows you are willing to take one for the team and do what is needed to get the game out.  You might even think is shows you are not a prima donna and will not be bitching all the time.

Others will see it and think that you must not have any real skills if you have been given grind tasks.  They will automatically rank you intern status because that is usually who they give those tasks too (yet they wonder why they often fail first submission).

Defending grind tasks.  If you were on a time line explain that the project could not afford to be kicked and had to get through first time, it was an insurance policy thing.  If you were doing other tasks as well explain that the grind tasks were in addition and you are really a super man in human cloths.  If you were really only doing UI / TCR’s then explain how you were building tools and infrastructure so it would be less work for those that followed you. Point is to make sure they do not believe that you were tasked with grind work against you will or that you were not happy with it.  Make it seem like it was a challenge or accomplishment.

There will be a second part to this topic as there are many more potential issues.  Big take away should be to read your resume over and try to predict how people could take it wrong and be prepared to talk them down from that position.  The thing is they will not ask you to defend your work experience, they will just drop an off hand comment on something and you need to detect it and then take over the conversation till you get your point across.  Missing these small hints in the conversation means people will be leaving the interview with bad thoughts still and you have lost.

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