Eric D. Schabell: How Google approaches a Red Hat employee (a missed opportunity)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

How Google approaches a Red Hat employee (a missed opportunity)

I was approached by an internal Google recruiter (for the 4th time now in the last 5 years and for the 2nd time by this same recruiter). I have continually said no to them as it always meant a move away from my home, with small children I did not see the benefits in doing that at the time. I have never truly interviewed with them beyond the initial email and one inquiry that was via the phone. Since 2009 I have been working for one of the best companies I have ever been involved with and have no reason really to want to move on, but there it was on July 31:
Hi Eric,

We exchanged emails back in March about roles at Google. I am with the in-house staffing team. I am just following up with you to see if you are still happy where you are. 
If anything changes, please let me know. I would be interested in speaking with you.

Have a nice weekend!
xxx-xxx-xxxx Google Voice

I got to thinking that if there is someone that just keeps being so persistent that they must really be serious about this. Maybe time for me to listen to what they have to say? My reply on Aug 4:

Maybe it is time I listened to your offer? My biggest question is what would you have in mind for me? I imagine you have looked at my CV / experience online and have some ideas? I would like to hear them first.

That got me a call and a discussion on what Google has to offer and what Engineers are to Google. It boiled down to filling in a questionnaire on my preferences and  two interviews and then coming on-site somewhere where they thought I might fit in. I assumed it was for a serious position, but turns out that Google has but one way to interview, treating everyone like they just came out of school. Case in point, the questionnaire was not too unusual:

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your reply.  We are excited that you are interested in our career opportunities. I thought your profile was a good match for Google because we look for Java and Linux experts who are involved in the open source community and like to mentor others. We also look for people who went to good schools and have experience working for solid companies like XXXXXXX.

Please let me know if you have 15 minutes to talk between 10am and 4pm any week day this week or next. I have included some information about our hiring process and a questionnaire. If you are interested in exploring Google, please reply with your resume when you have a chance

Because technologies, our business needs, and our employee's interests are always changing, rather than targeting people who are purely specialists, we want to hire engineers who have the versatility to move between new and interesting projects throughout their career here.

While we don't initially target candidates for specific projects, we do want to ask them about their project preferences and their skills.  Our goal is to have a win/win situation where we can identify a project that both fits Google's needs, and is also of interest to the Noogler -- because they will be the most productive in these circumstances. 
So having said that, we would love to have you interview with us if you are interested.  If you do consider interviewing with us, please email a copy of your latest resume and fill out the following information and I will set you up for a phone interview with an engineer right away provided your skills and location preferences match our open positions.
To better understand your background, please share the following about yourself...(short answers are fine)

1) Languages:
Please select the language(s) with which you are MOST proficient (no more than 3 please) in order of preference.

• C
• C++
• Assembly x86
• C#
• Java
• JavaScript
• Objective-C
• Perl
• Python
• Shell
• None of the above

2) Technical Skills:
Please identify your TOP areas of development expertise (no more than 3-5 please) in order of preference. It is to your advantage to only select your strongest areas, and to avoid the urge to list "everything".  Also indicate if you would like to continue working in this area of expertise.

• Advanced Algorithms
• Audio/video
• Billing/payment testing
• Compilers and software tools (linkers, debuggers, IDEs,   etc.)
• Computer Vision
• Concurrency, multi-threading, synchronization
• Database internals
• Distributed systems
• Embedded software and real-time systems
• Front End
• Graphics and imaging
• Information retrieval and data mining
• Internationalization
• Load and performance testing
• Mac and iPhone development
• Machine learning and AI
• Natural language processing
• Networking (TCP/IP and OSI stack)
• Object-oriented analysis and design
• Operating systems
• Production Systems
• QA
• Security and cryptography
• Test automation
• Unix/Linux Internals
• UI design and implementation (specify if you do this more on the design art side, or the software side)
• Web applications and multi-tiered systems
• Windows development
• Wireless applications

-Give a very brief description of what you currently work on and whether or not it is front end of back end technologies?
-What kind of position are you looking for? Role interests?
-Are there any particular projects or areas that you would enjoy working on while at Google?
-Are you open to working outside your expertise area?
-What percentage of the time are you coding and in what language?
-Have you ever interviewed with Google before? When?
-Do you know any professional acquaintances at Google? Who?
-Do you have any time constraints (offers expected, vacations planned, upcoming releases, etc.)?
-Are you interviewing with other companies? (If yes, at what step of the process are you?)
-What motivated your job search at this time?
-We consider our general engineering candidates for both development and Test Engineering or Site Reliability Engineering (keeping up and running 24/7). Are you open to that?
-Are you eligible to work in the U.S.?
-What are your location preferences? Will you be willing to relocate?
-Confirm current location where you are living.

Additionally, please let me know the following:

1-Five to six time ranges and dates within the next 3 weeks when you would be available for a technical phone interview. (between the hours of 10am and 4pm California time, Mon-Fri)

2-The best number for the engineer to reach you.

I look forward to hearing from you.


xxx-xxx-xxxx Google Voice

The interviews where another matter. I feel like they just want you all to 'dance' and that it used to be the way to blink out and be something special in the job market. Everyone wants to work at Google right? Not really when I have been working long enough to have a career, work hard to cultivate my working image, publishing, teaching, mentoring and open source activities.
I thought I would see what the first interview was like and take it from there. This is for me when a company lets you see how their internal processes work, what the P&O office is like, basically how on the ball everyone is. The first one went like this:
Call from California, from 1900 - 1941 hrs local time with the following 4 questions asked by a Google engineer originally from Israel on Aug 16:
  1. Tell me about one thing you have engineered / done?
  2. What were the engineering challenges?
  3. Puzzle question: showed me an image on a Google Docs document that included line segments, needed to write a function (try coding Java without hitting CMD+Spacebar, my reflex move to fill out code snippets, had the interviewer laughing at me!) to determine longest line formed by segments that aligned.
  4. Explain to me what happens when you request an image in your browser how it gets there (the entire process)?
 At the end we chatted a bit where I tried to find out what they wanted me for and why. The interviewer was pretty evasive and it should have been a hint as to what was happening. I was getting a general SW engineering interview process like I had just left school.
Unaware, I get a reply from the recruiter that all went well and that foreign candidates have to interview twice, so on Aug 25 the second interview. This one was a bit different, lots of talking from the interviewer about how his Google experience goes and how it all is structured. It was a nice start but then it took a turn towards more puzzles. He only wanted to ask one question, was almost apologetic and stated that they might need to rethink the process for more experienced people. Anyway, the quiz question:
  1. Given input of a number N, write a function (verbally on the phone) to return an array that splits N into combinations of 1's and 2's. 
I was not too thrilled about this after working all day. I stated this and he agreed that he would talk to the recruiter and see what the deal is. He was interviewing me for a basic SW Engineer post and they just seemed to be like those evening cold callers trying to sell something. They have a script in front of them and that is how it is going to go, no matter what. I thanked him and broke off the interview. Thanks for the coffee...

On Sep 3 an email from the recruiter:


Thanks for interviewing with XXXX. There seemed to be some confusion. We had discussed a Software Developer role on the phone and XXXXX indicated you were not happy interviewing for that position. I was not clear on this. Our Architects are integrated in to our development groups and they do a lot of coding. Did you have something else in mind?


xxx-xxx-xxxx Google Voice

My reply was as honest has I could be, on Sep 6:

Not really confusion on your part, but more puzzlement on my part that I would have to go through several of these interviews that feel more suited for someone who just left school (puzzles, etc). I am not up for that kind of interview process I guess. Feels a bit demeaning. I feel that I have reached a point in my career that I don't need to 'dance' for anyone. This is what it has now started to feel like.

If you have some position in mind for me, put me in touch with those in Google who like what they see in me. If not, I am declining the existing process.

The reply rather missed the essence (note the part that I 'showed interest in Google' while I seem to remember being approached by Google. On Sep 7:
I'm sorry that you did not like the interview process. The interviews are very CS fundamentals based and they do require some brushing up for most candidates. 

Thank you for interviewing and for your interest in Google.  We carefully reviewed your background and experience, and though we do not have a position that is a strong match with your qualifications at this time, we will be keeping your resume active in our system.  We will continue to use our database to match your profile with new opportunities and will reach out to you if we find an opening for which you may be qualified.

Thanks again for your interest in Google's careers and unique culture; we hope you will remain enthusiastic about our company.

I don't think they are interested in me so much, more like a developer fresh from school would be the good fit. Maybe too many Google employees are leaving to join Facebook?

It seems to me to prove that they only have one way to interview. Either you dance, or you are not invited to the ball. It's a shame really...