You've reached the internet home of Chris Sells, who has a long history as a contributing member of the Windows developer community. He enjoys long walks on the beach and various computer technologies.
Friday, Jun 18, 2010, 11:43 AM in Interview
David Ramel from 1105media.com is writing an article that includes the Microsoft interviewing process and he send me some questions:
[David] How would you succinctly sum up the Microsoft interview process as compared to those of other tech companies?
[Chris] MS does some things similarly to other high-tech companies I've worked with, e.g. having each interviewer focus on an aspect or aspects, e.g. team skills, people skills, technical skills, etc., expecting a candidate to ask questions, communicating between interviewers to push more on one area or another, etc. The riddle questions are a uniqueness at Microsoft (at least they were when I last interviewed), but theyire pretty rare these days. Coding on the whiteboard also seems pretty unique to Microsoft (myself, I prefer the keyboard : ).
[David] How has the Microsoft interview process changed over time? (Microsoft seems to have shaken up the tech interview process some years ago with those brain-teasing puzzle� questions, but now seem to be much more technically-oriented and job-specific. Just wondering about your thoughts on this observation.)
[Chris] While I have had them, puzzle questions were rare even when I was interviewed 7 years ago. Since then, I haven't run into many people that use them. However, when they are used, an interviewer is often looking for how a candidate works through an issue as much as the solution that they come up with. In an ever changing world, being able to learn and adapt quickly is a huge part of how successfully you can be in the tech industry at all and at Microsoft specifically. I prefer technical design questions for these kinds of results, however, and it seems that most 'softies agree.
[David] What would you say was the biggest factor in your being offered a job at Microsoft?
[Chris] I had a reputation outside of MS before I interviewed, but that almost didn't matter. If I hadn't done well during the interview, I would not have been offered the job. When in doubt, a team generally prefers to turn away a good candidate rather than to risk taking on a bad one, so if there's anything wrong, team fit, technical ability, role fit, etc., a candidate won't get an offer.
[David] What's the single most important piece of advice you can offer to those preparing for a Microsoft job interview?
[Chris] You asked for just one, but I'm going to give you two anyway. : )
- If you need more information to answer a question, ask for it. Thatis how the real-world works and many questions are intentionally vague to simulate just this kind of interaction.
- Try to answer non-technical questions based on your personal experience, e.g. instead of saying "here's how I would deal with that situation,"� say "I had a similar situation in my past and hereis how I dealt with it."� This is a style of interviewing known as behavioral� and even if your interviewer doesn't phrase his questions in that way, e.g. "give me an example of how you dealt with a situation like blah,"� it's helpful and impressive if you can use your own history to pull out a positive result.
[David] Could you please share any other observations you have on the Microsoft interview process that may not be covered in your site or the Jobsblog?
[Chris] I run a little section of my web site dedicated to the MS interviewing process and the thing I will tell you is this: don't prepare. Be yourself. If you're not a fit for MS, no amount of preparation in the days before an interview will help and if you are a fit, that will come through in the interview. Also, make sure you ask questions. Working at Microsoft isn't just a job, it's a way of life, so make sure you're sure you want the team and the job for which you're interviewing.
[David] Does MS provide training for interviewers? If so, what do they stress most?
[Chris] I'm sure MS does provide training for interviewing, but Iive never been to it. At Intel, I learned the behavioral interviewing technique, which Iive used in every interview since, both as an interviewer and as a job candidate.
[David] Do you have standard questions, or do you tailor them to the situation? If the latter, is it usually tailored for team fit, to a specific open position, particular skills, etc.?
[Chris] I have once standard technique question and a few standard behavioral interview questions. The technical question is to ask them what their favorite technology is and/or what they consider themselves to be an expert� in and then drill in on their understanding. If they can answer my questions deeply, this shows passion about technology and the ability to learn something well, both of which are crucial for success at MS.
My behavioral interviewing questions are things like "Tell me about a time when youive been in conflict with a peer. How did you resolve it? What was the result? What did you learn?"� and "Tell me about a time when you had much too much work to do in the time you were given. How do you resolve that issue? What was the result? What did you learn?"� The core idea of behavioral interviewing is that past behavior indicates future behavior, so instead of asking people things like "How would you deal with such-and-such?�" you ask them "How did you dealt with such-and-such in the past?"� This forces them to find a matching scenario and you get to see if they way they dealt with the issue in real life matches what you want from a team mate in that job.
[David] How would you describe the kinds of coding questions you ask? A couple of real examples would be perfect!
[Chris] I don't often ask coding questions, but when I have, I let them use a keyboard. I hate coding on the board myself as it's not representative of how people actually code, so I don't find it to be a good indicator of what people will actually do. I guess I even use behavioral techniques for technical questions, now that I think about it. : )
Tuesday, Jul 25, 2006, 10:52 PM in Interview
This spoof on Microsoft's college recruiting practices was recorded long ago (back with the XBox was new), but it has recently surfaced again, so I thought I'd share. Enjoy.
Wednesday, Nov 23, 2005, 9:43 AM in Interview
From "Pete" (not his real name):
I walked into my first technical interview at Microsoft, and before I could say anything, the woman says, Youre in an 8x8 stone corridor. I blink and sit down.
Interviewer: The prince of darkness appears before you.
Me: You mean, like, the devil?
Interviewer: Any prince of darkness will do.
Interviewer: What do you do?
Me: <pause> Can I run?
Interviewer: Do you want to run?
Me: Hmm I guess not Do I have a weapon?
Interviewer: What kind of weapon do you want?
Me: Um something with range?
Interviewer: Like what?
Me: Uh a crossbow?
Interviewer: What kind of ammo do you have?
Me: <long pause> Ice arrows?
Me: <floundering> Because the prince of darkness is a creature made of fire???
Interviewer: Fine so what do you do next?
Me: I shoot him?
Interviewer: No what do you do?
Me: <blank stare>
Interviewer: You WASTE him! You *WASTE* the prince of darkness!!
Me: <completely freaked out and off my game> Holy crap what have I gotten myself into.
She then tells me that she asks that question for two reasons. 1) Because she wants to know if the candidate is a gamer (which is apparently really important please note: Im not a gamer) and 2) because she wants her question to show up on some website. I hate to accommodate her, but this is definitely the weirdest interview question Ive ever heard of.
Well, here you go, weird-prince-of-darkness-wasting-lady...
Tuesday, Sep 6, 2005, 2:29 PM in Interview
Tue, 9/6/05, 2:29 pm
Tuesday, Feb 22, 2005, 12:30 PM in Interview
Scott Hanselman has posted a set of questions that he thinks "great" .NET developers should be able to answer in an interview. He even splits it up into various categories, including:
- Everyone who writes code
- Mid-Level .NET Developer
- Senior Developers/Architects
- C# Component Developers
- ASP.NET (UI) Developers
- Developers using XML
Am I the only one that skipped ahead to "Senior Developers/Architects" to see if I could cut Scott's mustard?
Friday, Jan 21, 2005, 8:16 PM in Interview
Jason Olson recently interviewed for an SDE/T position (Software Development Engineer in Test) at Microsoft and although he didn't get it, he provides the following words of advice for folks about to interview for the first time:
- Just Do It
- Remember, no matter how much you might know your interviewer, it is important to not forget that it is still in interview
- Pseudocode! Pseudocode! Pseudocode!
- But, as long as you verbalize what you're thinking you should be in pretty good shape
- Bring an energy bar or something to snack on between breaks in order to keep your energy level up
- [B]ring a bottle of water and keep it filled up
- A lunch interview is still an interview!
- Know the position you're interviewing for [ed: unless you're interviewing for an editing position, in which case you should know the position for which you're interviewing]
- Your interview day is not only your opportunity to be interviewed, but also your opportunity to interview the team/company
You can read the full story on his web site.
Sunday, Aug 22, 2004, 8:22 AM in Interview
After seeing all of those pictures in Wired of the wacky letters that people send, I love the idea of Michael Swanson opening the floodgates by sending his resume along with a life-size cardboard figure. What's next?
Friday, Aug 20, 2004, 3:22 AM in Interview
Channel9 did what I was unable to ever get done: filmed some of the interview process (part 1, part 2 and part 3). It's not an actual interview, but Gretchen Ledgard and Zoe Goldring, both Central Sourcing Consultants at HR for MS, lead you through what to expect at a Microsoft interview, providing a wealth of wonderful tips, e.g.
- MS is casual, so it doesn't matter so much what you where (i.e. don't feel you have to wear a suit, but don't show up in flip-flops and headphones around your neck [still playing!]). Regardless of what you where, it's what's in your head that's important.
- Interact a lot of with the interviewer. Ask questions, think out loud, etc. The questions are meant to be vague and again, it's about what's going on in your head, so verbalize it.
- Bring water if you're thirsty, not coffee, as spilling coffee is going to leave a much more lasting stain/impression.
- MS rarely asks logic/riddle questions anymore. They're not a good indicator of a good employee.
- Expect coding questions if you're a dev, testing questions if you're a tester and passion questions no matter what.
- If an MS recruiter calls, don't expect them to have a specific job in mind. Instead, expect to be asked what you'd like to do at MS.
- If the first interview doesn't take, it may well be that you're right for MS but not right for that job. It can literally take years to find the right job for you at MS.
BTW, I have to say that I never got a ride on an HR shuttle. I guess they save that for the "good" hires... : )
Tuesday, Jul 20, 2004, 4:19 PM in Interview
A friend of mine sent along some questions he was asked for a SDE/T position at Microsoft (Software Design Engineer in Test):
- "How would you deal with changes being made a week or so before the ship date?
- "How would you deal with a bug that no one wants to fix? Both the SDE and his lead have said they won't fix it.
- "Write a function that counts the number of primes in the range [1-N]. Write the test cases for this function.
- "Given a MAKEFILE (yeah a makefile), design the data structure that a parser would create and then write code that iterates over that data structure executing commands if needed.
- "Write a function that inserts an integer into a linked list in ascending order. Write the test cases for this function.
- "Test the save dialog in Notepad. (This was the question I enjoyed the most).
- "Write the InStr function. Write the test cases for this function.
- "Write a function that will return the number of days in a month (no using System.DateTime).
- "You have 3 jars. Each jar has a label on it: white, black, or white&black. You have 3 sets of marbles: white, black, and white&black. One set is stored in one jar. The labels on the jars are guaranteed to be incorrect (i.e. white will not contain white). Which jar would you choose from to give you the best chances of identifying the which set of marbles in is in which jar.
- "Why do you want to work for Microsoft.
- "Write the test cases for a vending machine.
"Those were the questions I was asked. I had a lot of discussions about how to handle situations. Such as a tester is focused on one part of an SDK. During triage it was determined that that portion of the SDK was not on the critical path, and the tester was needed elsewhere. But the tester continued to test that portion because it is his baby. How would you get him to stop testing that portion and work on what needs to be worked on?
"Other situations came up like arranging tests into the different testing buckets (functional, stress, perf, etc.)."
Tuesday, Jul 6, 2004, 12:20 PM in Interview
For the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell discusses various indicators of how well interviews actually work for screening job candidates (in a phrase: not very well). The discussion of how we make our decision about someone in the first 2 seconds after seeing them and then use our future interactions with them to either reinforce our initial reaction or forgive as an aberration is particularly telling.
Tuesday, Jul 6, 2004, 12:17 PM in Interview
Bram Cohen, the inventor of BitTorrent, discusses his thoughts on interviewing, include:
- "In an interview you can tell if a person is a pleasant conversationalist, and you can give some technical questions to rule out the truly inept, but beyond that you might as well be rolling dice."
- "I'd like to note that in an all-male work environment hiring an attractive female is probably good for morale."
- "Even though work history doesn't correlate with job performance, being a lying sack of shit almost certainly does."
Fun. : )
Friday, Mar 19, 2004, 8:11 PM in Interview
I've heard for years that MS HR uses my site as part of their internal HR training, although I've never heard it from the HR folks themselves. Until now.
On Wednesday, Heather Hamilton, an MS recruiter, said that my "site is legendary, especially here in staffing."
On Monday, Zoe Goldring, also an MS recruiter, said "Net/Net Chriss site is great. Plus I respect the fact that he doesnt give the answers to the questions!"
And, to top it off, they're even bloggers, and they provide a whole host of interesting info for folks interested in interviewing at Microsoft. Certainly, I'd trust anything you read on their blogs far more than the stuff on this one, most of which was obtained far before I ever worked at MS.
Friday, Feb 6, 2004, 3:33 PM in Interview
Shawn Morrissey (my boss) posted some questions he asked at UPenn's Wharton School of Business:
- Explain a database to a young child.
- Explain the Internet to your grandparents
- What is your favorite web site? Why? Now improve it.
- Steve Jobs calls and asks you to improve the iPod. Go. (No bonus points for saying, Add WMA support!)
- Youre in a boat with a rock, on a fresh-water lake. You throw the rock into the lake. With respect to the land, what happens to the level of the water in the lake goes up, goes down, stays the same?
He posted a couple of answers, but you'll have to read his post for them.
Saturday, Jan 10, 2004, 10:12 AM in Interview
Sat 1/10/2004 10:12 am
Jamie, a contender for a Master Builder spot at Lego, describes a very different interview process than you're likely to get at Microsoft (except that 'softies hit you with sneaky stuff, too, sometimes : ).
Wednesday, Aug 13, 2003, 10:23 AM in Interview
Robert Scoble (the Scobleizer) sent along his answer to a common question: What is it like to interview at Microsoft?
About dress code while interviewing at Microsoft. Yeah, I wore a suit and tie. Not mandatory (no one wears them up here) but I feel it still shows respect for the company hiring you, and for the interviewing process. And, it makes it so I never wonder if I under dress. Microsoft employees might joke with you about being overdressed, though. That's cool. I'd rather that then have someone write me off cause I didn't dress well enough. But then, I was also up for a job that required me to be in front of people, so I'd expect to wear a suit and tie on the job occasionally.
The process for me was:
Each interviewer would meet me at the lobby (Microsoft has a recruiter shuttle that'll fly you around). I'd usually try to get a question in, like "what role do you play here?" Just to get things going.
- An exec asked me "would you ever consider working here?"
- A one-hour phone interview with HR. They asked me questions to make sure my experience matched my resume, and also to make sure I wasn't gonna embarrass them in the longer interviews.
- I passed the HR interview, so they flew me up to Redmond.
- My interviews started at 8:30 a.m. First interview was with someone else from HR. She explained the process, and asked a few more questions to ensure I was gonna be worth sending onto the first group.
- She gave me a list of three candidates, which would take me through lunch. She was pretty clear that if the three liked me, I'd get another list of "after lunch" candidates.
The kinds of questions you'll get will vary, but I got a lot of questions about past experience, and some more fun ones "how would you get Google to convert from Linux to Windows?" Other people have gotten questions like "how would you sell ice to eskimos?" or "how would you sell a pen to someone?"If you're up for a programmer job, they'll ask you logic questions, and ask you to demonstrate that you can think in code on the whiteboard.
One guy asked me to explain the architecture of Radio UserLand on the whiteboard.There's an excellent book written on the Microsoft interviewing process called "Moving Mount Fuji."
I also read Chris Sells' "Interviewing at Microsoft" site: http://www.sellsbrothers.com/fun/msiview/Some more advice: I came an hour early and took an early-moring walk around the campus. That helped me calm my mind down, and get into what it's like being there. Also, it let me think about "why do I want to work at Microsoft?" which was one of my first interview questions.
I brought my own water bottle. That saved awkward moments where interviewers would want to take you to the company refrigerators. It also makes it look like you aren't there to take advantage of Microsoft's largess. Try not to drink too much during the day. The temptation is to drink a Diet Coke on every interview. You can get a bit jittery by the end of the day.I also treated everyone I met as an interview candidate. I have no idea if the recruiting shuttle drivers report back on their feedback or not, but why take the chance? Plus, the stories you hear are often good ones to tell later on.
They did interview me over lunch, by the way, and also took me to a Sonics' game . I'm sure that was to get a feel for how I'd be in social situations. Behave, and geek out! (we only watched about five minutes of the Sonics' game cause we were so busy talking tech).I later found out that they usually have three to seven candidates fly up for each job and that flying up isn't any guarantee of a job. A few friends have gotten flown up and didn't pass muster.
My wife has interviewed here too and didn't get hired. I think it's solely on passion. Most of the people who work here are hard-core geeks and they like hiring other geeks. Anything you can say to demonstrate that you're a geek and that you love playing with technology is probably a good thing.Later I found out that the flyup interview is mostly to see if the candidate can fit into both the job, and work with the team. They figure you're mostly qualified because you got that far. They're just trying to make sure you'll fit in at that point.
Don Box also gave me some advice: "we want you to think, so think." The way another friend of mine put it, is "look like you think about every answer. Take a few seconds to think about it."My answer to the Google question? "Acquire them." Hey, it worked for Hotmail. (Seriously, then I followed that smartass answer up with a more serious one ) . Luckily I had spent a few hours with some of the kids who started Hotmail, so I knew what the pain points were in getting them to move their system from FreeBSD to Windows.
When did I know I had the job? At about 6 p.m., the guy who invited me up, told me I had gotten a job. Turned out I wasn't appropriate for the job I was interviewing for (which he knew) and then he made a new job. It took a couple of weeks to get all the T-s crossed from that point. Other people don't learn whether or not the got the job for a week or two afterward. It's OK to ask at the end.If you get walked to the door at lunch, though, you know you blew it somewhere. (Not many get walked to the door, from what the recruiting shuttle drivers tell me).
One last piece of advice: keep your energy up all day long. It's tough. Hard to think straight at 4 p.m. after answering questions all day long. But, a lot of the decisions are made on "does this guy get excited by technology?"Good luck in your interviews!
Monday, Jul 28, 2003, 5:18 PM in Interview
Here. "Like baseball's New York Yankees, Microsoft Corp. has been paying top dollar for top talent in an effort to dominate the new playing fields of XML and Web services." While I agree that finally coming to work for Microsoft is like a baseball fan getting to play for the Yankees, I'm not sure where Darryl got his "top dollar" information. Maybe I should talk to the other guys about their deals... : )
Thursday, May 29, 2003, 12:00 AM in Interview
Thu, May 29, 2003
If you're interested in a book about the high-tech interview process, including lots of info about MS specifically (and some material from yours truly), check out How Would You Move Mount Fuji? by William Poundstone.
Tuesday, Apr 22, 2003, 12:00 AM in Interview
Tue, Apr 22, 2003
My Dad, a long-time draftsman in a civil engineering firm in Fargo, ND, had this to say about manhole covers:
"It's like this. Sanitary manhole covers are usually round (and solid, i.e. VERY heavy) but Storm sewer manhole and Inlet covers are usually square or rectangular grates which let water in. The deciding factor is where they are placed relative to the curb line. All covers are actually installed on a concrete generic 'Mexican Hat' structure which can be centered or offset to one side. The structure fits on the round concrete casting (5' - 8" diameter) and can be made to accept any solid or grated casting. If this part of the world, where river flooding is fairly common, Sanitary manholes and lift stations are either raised above potential flood limits if possible or sealed and bolted shut, making them much more difficult to open. It's also a very good idea to vent Sanitary manholes and lift station with a portable fan to avoid being overcome by methane and other gasses trapped in them."
Anyone wonder where I got it? : )
Monday, Apr 21, 2003, 12:00 AM in Interview
For more than a year, I've had a request to video tape an interview at Microsoft up on this page. The goal was to show the human side of Microsoft by showing that one of their most famous practices isn't something to be scared of. I never expected that I'd actually get to tape an interview. In fact, I expected to be ignored by Microsoft altogether.
Of course, as the most juicy litigation target in the world, and especially sensitive to legal issues, Microsoft couldn't grant my request. That didn't surprise me. What did surprise me is how hard that they tried. In fact, all kinds of folks at Microsoft -- from engineers who wanted to interview me to managers who wanted to help make it happen to HR folks who went to legal to ask -- all kinds of folks at Microsoft really did *try* to make it happen.
So, while I'll never be able to put a recording of an interview up on this site, I can tell you that my mission to find the human side of Microsoft was a success. All of the people I've encountered there -- whether trying to let me tape an interview or taking my feedback on whatever technology I'm working that day -- all of the folks that I've encountered at Microsoft really *care* about doing the right thing. They want interviewees to succeed. They want to build the right products. They want to meet their customers' needs. And as much guff as I give them (they are a juicy target), by and large they succeed. I wouldn't spend my time with their technologies if they didn't.
With that in mind, I withdraw my request. I'm seen the human side of Microsoft. Thanks for showing it to me.
Sunday, Apr 20, 2003, 12:00 AM in Interview
From Fred (not his real name):
So the interview was rough, as to be expected. Here is a synopsis:
10:15-10:45 - Met with my recruiter. Discussed what day would be like and talked about the two teams I would be interviewing with: the CLR team and the Enterprise Services team.
11:00-12:00 - Enterprise Services Interview: Discussed High Performance systems and Enterprise Service standards. Programming problem: Design and Implement a self-managing Thread Pool class.
12:00-1:30 - CLR team Lunch interview: Discussed Security in the CLR and PKI. Programming problem: two fixed length buffers padded with nulls. Swap and reverse them, not swapping and reversing nulls.
2:00-3:00 - Enterprise Services interview: Discussed VS.NET. Design a function to select the six strongest stations for a car stereo.
3:30-4:30 - CLR team interview: Implement strpbak. Common Parent for two nodes BTree problem.
Sunday, Apr 20, 2003, 12:00 AM in Interview
Interviewer: Now comes the part of the interview where we ask a question to test your creative thinking ability. Don't think too hard about it, just apply everyday common sense, and describe your reasoning process.
Here's the question: Why are manhole covers round?
Feynman: They're not. Some manhole covers are square. It's true that there are SOME round ones, but I've seen square ones, and rectangular ones.
Interviewer: But just considering the round ones, why are they round?
Feynman: If we are just considering the round ones, then they are round by definition. That statement is a tautology.
Interviewer: I mean, why are there round ones at all? Is there some particular value to having round ones?
Feynman: Yes. Round covers are used when the hole they are covering up is also round. It's simplest to cover a round hole with a round cover.
Interviewer: Can you think of a property of round covers that gives them an advantage over square ones?
Feynman: We have to look at what is under the cover to answer that question. The hole below the cover is round because a cylinder is the strongest shape against the compression of the earth around it. Also, the term "manhole" implies a passage big enough for a man, and a human being climbing down a ladder is roughly circular in cross-section. So a cylindrical pipe is the natural shape for manholes. The covers are simply the shape needed to cover up a cylinder.
Interviewer: Do you believe there is a safety issue? I mean, couldn't square covers fall into the hole and hurt someone?
Feynman: Not likely. Square covers are sometimes used on prefabricated vaults where the access passage is also square. The cover is larger than the passage, and sits on a ledge that supports it along the entire perimeter. The covers are usually made of solid metal and are very heavy. Let's assume a two-foot square opening and a ledge width of 1-1/2 inches. In order to get it to fall in, you would have to lift one side of the cover, then rotate it 30 degrees so that the cover would clear the ledge, and then tilt the cover up nearly 45 degrees from horizontal before the center of gravity would shift enough for it to fall in. Yes, it's possible, but very unlikely. The people authorized to open manhole covers could easily be trained to do it safely. Applying common engineering sense, the shape of a manhole cover is entirely determined by the shape of the opening it is intended to cover.
Interviewer (troubled): Excuse me a moment; I have to discuss something with my management team. (Leaves room.)
(Interviewer returns after 10 minutes)
Interviewer: We are going to recommend you for immediate hiring into the marketing department.
Saturday, Apr 19, 2003, 12:24 AM in Interview
I had an interesting two days interviewing at Microsoft. Bottom line: I didn't say whether I accepted their offer.
Friday, Apr 18, 2003, 12:00 AM in Interview
Fri, Apr 18, 2003
After never thinking that I would, I had two days of interviews at Microsoft in the middle of March, 2003. The first day was with the MSDN content group. They're the folks responsible for all of the technical articles at http://msdn.microsoft.com and the ones at Microsoft with the job most closely related to what I already do. It's their job to tell developers how Microsoft technologies really work through articles, talks, samples, online chats and whatever other
means they think will be effective.
My first interview of day #1 sticks freshly in my mind even two weeks later. It was a guy that I'd most closely describe as a human molecule. I've been told that he's big into coffee and it's not hard to see the effects the guy never stops moving! Likewise, his brain was constantly moving. He had all kinds of interesting questions about how I would turn my product ideas (created on the spot) into compelling educational materials of Microsoft technologies. Very fun.
I had several other fun interviews that day, all with smart people asking really great questions. However, after a few interviews, I was disappointed that nobody was asking me to write any code on the board. Apparently I had enough street cred that this wasn't necessary for me, but one interviewer laughed and said I could write whatever code I wanted on his board if it would make me happy. Another had a strongly negative reaction to the idea that anyone would be asked to write code on a whiteboard, which he considered a supremely unnatural act. In fact, all day long, I had questions that dove into my motivations and my ideas, but none of them tested my technical knowledge at all until the very last interview w/ my potential boss's boss (or my boss's boss's boss I lost track). She asked me to solve one thought question, one visual riddle and to write some code on the board. The thought question we talked through, but she threw out leading questions faster than I could come up with my own conclusions (although it was a very interesting discussion). The visual riddle seemed impossible at first, but I solved it in a few minutes. When I showed it to Don Box, he also declared it impossible, then solved it faster than I did (bastard). The coding question showed me just how unnatural it is to write code on a write board (even my simple linked list code had three bugs in it doh!). I am *totally* addicted to incremental code-compile-test and at one point even suggested using a goto to avoid erasing half of my code to insert a loop (truly the low point of the day).
Even so, at the end of day #1, I was energized. I'm one of those sick people that loves to be tested, especially if I'm confident that I know the answers. My last interviewer told me that I had done well and we talked about what would happen if I was offered both jobs from the two teams that I was interviewing with. She needn't have worried day #2 did not go nearly as well.
The day #1 position was a highly technical position, which I've trained for since I was 12. The day #2 position was a <gasp> marketing position. But is was *so* cool. The job is to take whatever technology MS comes up with that day and make a business out of it. It was so diverse and so different than things I'd done before that I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Unfortunately, my answers made it clear that I didn't have anywhere near the background needed for the job. I felt like a new college graduate, trying desperately to match something from my background to what they were asking.
As a measure of the kinds of questions I got on day #2, at one point, I was asked to develop a marketing plan for packaged ice to native Alaskans. "Did you just ask me to sell ice cubes to Eskimos?" I asked. "Uh, yeah," he agreed. This was during lunch. And it wasn't the hardest question I got! By my last interview, I was so scared that they might actually offer me the job and that my brain would explode trying to do it that I confessed that I was definitely not the man for the job. However, that didn't stop my potential boss from drilling me on how to make a business on one of my sons' hobbies (about which I know almost nothing).
Of course, I never clicked with anyone on the team from day #2 (you can't click with someone that thinks you're ignorant). However, the experience was amazing. One of the interviewers had a fabulous technique that I just had to appreciate -- he had me role-playing in various real-world Microsoft-related situations over and over again til I swear my ears were bleeding. I'm a big fan of behavioral interviewing instead of role-playing as an indicator of someone's real skills, but watching him put me through the ringer was a thing of beauty.
Speaking now from experience, I'd have to say that the Microsoft interview process is all about finding the right fit. That's the case with all interviews, of course, but Microsoft seems to be very good at it. The fit includes both technical savvy (which they seemed to assume in me) and personality relative to the team. I fit very well into one group and not at all well into another. Working with the day #1 group would make me a successful part of the Microsoft machine, whereas if I had mistakenly gotten the job associated with day #2, I would have been set up to fail. So, if you are turned away from Microsoft, it means that you wouldn't do well there. That's a good thing to know; you certainly don't want to take a job at which can't possibly be successful. I know I don't.
Monday, Feb 24, 2003, 1:27 PM in Interview
Here. In attending a summit on code quality recently, we each shared the techniques we use in screening/hiring a programmer. This story provides a summary.
Thursday, Apr 4, 2002, 12:00 AM in Interview
Adam Barr, 4/4/2002
On October 26, 1999, it was announced that Microsoft would be one of the four new components in the 30 stocks that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This as a long-overdue recognition of the role of technology in the U.S. economy, and in particular of Microsoft's central place in the industry.
But Microsoft was different from the other three newcomers. It has no computer chip manufacturing plants like Intel, no chain of retail stores like Home Depot, no network phone lines like SBC Communications. Indeed, it's not "industrial" at all. Its product is software; its assembly line the brainpower of its employees. And while companies across America would naturally say their employees are vital to their success, for Microsoft in a large sense the employees are the company.
And that makes Microsoft very particular about who it hires.
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