How I did not get job at Microsoft?

It was early December. Friend of mine ( who at this time was working for Microsoft (he is still working there) asked me whether I’m considering myself as an passionate about technology, and having abilities to write code in C/C++. I’ve answered yes. So I’ve updated my resume, send it over to Tomek, and forgot about whole thing.

It was somewhere around of mid-January, when email have arrived. My resume was interesting enough to catch HR eye. I was appointed to phone interview. The day has come (or rather night, due to polish timezone). I had a drink, sat before skype, and it rang… I was asked several questions, mostly about my deep “thoughts” about software developing, testing and debugging. Nothing specific, rather general questions about approach. It was nice talk (did I mention about drink? :-)) ). At the end it turned out that both me and recruiter on the other side have started with computers on the same time, and on similar equipment. 8-bit computers. I’ve started witch famous and genuine Commodore 64 and “other side” with Atari. After this interview I was thinking I presented myself OK, but somehow did not expected any further steps. Something like that.

Warm up
But then, another email have arrived. I was invited to interview in Prague. Next week. Position – SDE/T in SQL division (Software Devloper Engineer/ in Test). Position in US but interviews are made (AFAIK it is not only this time) around the world. So I had to arrange all this stuff. Hotel was booked by MS, so it would be with tickets for plane, but… I choose to go to Prague by train. From Warsaw it is not so far away, and timing was much more right for me. I wanted to be well rested to this interview. My (and not only mine) experience says it is most important on technical interviews (not counting simple luck, since it is always most important in any situation ;-)) ). I also have started to renew my rusty C++ skills. I was impressed with C++ standard library improvements, since my last look at it. Nice to know. Finally I was in train to Prague.

On Wednesdays evening I was on place. Nice hotel in center of Old Town, but I had no time to go see Prague. I was just tired. So I went to bed. On the morning I’ve ate breakfast and did last browsing through my notes. Then checkout, and I had two hours free to interview. I went to sightseeing. Prague is very nice place. Unfortunately my camera went down, so I have nothing to share at visual level… But time have passed very fast, and it is 2PM – here I go!

The Thing
I have arrived to hotel, and there were already three another guys. One from Romania, Slovakia and Poland. We have talked a bit. It looked that I was the oldest, and most experienced. But not necessarily in software development ;-)) such a life. Interview have started. Room where we have met, was some kind of waiting room. From it we were taken to interviews one by one with folks from Microsoft. My first interview – about software testing. How to write test cases (how to search interesting points to test), what to expect from tested code. At the end little misunderstanding. I did not catch what I was expected to do (write sample code), but fortunately everything clears out very fast and I have time to write answer. It looks like not bad answer. Short (very) break and another interview. Now about algorithms, coding and etc. Now You may know why I wanted to write for myself proof of concept for recursion (URL). At that time I was confused and I could not force small detail, and get stuck. Interviewer was kind and helped me to finish work in ordinary way. But with next task I dealt much better. At the end I’ve received positive feedback.

Back to waiting room, water, cafe, next interview. Again about testing. And I’ve remembered baselines the most. In other words – how to tell whether new software version is better than older? Or worse? I was beginning to feel tired… Stress is powerful factor in such circumstances.

First milestone. We were told, that there will be three interviews, only in case of some doubts would be another two or three. I was asked to stay for another. Also my rodak was left after this checkpoint. At this moment I was taking this as good sign.

Now a little talk with some one from HR. I don’t like this talks. They always are for me a little spooky (talks, not persons ;-)) ). I always try to present myself without any fiction, but… I don’t know why I feel that I can not never to understand well what is under mask on the other side. My bad luck, since my best jobs which I got, it was when no HR was involved in direct hiring process (I was interviewed by technical persons and my future co-workers, HR was only processing my papers…). But lets go back to Prague Intercontinental 4-th flour. I was asked typical HR questions, some puzzles, etc. My interviewer looks very tired, and wanting only to finish her job for today (it is already about 6PM), she gets a bit more live in her eyes, when at the end I’ve asked what she likes most in working for Microsoft. Truly HR person?

Final (as it shows later) interview. This time much more technical, implementing SQL selects in C. Nice talking. Not remembering much details – it is 7PM, my brain started overheating some time ago… After that a few words with senior recruiter, and I can go for a walk to train station…

The way back home
I’m walking on chilly air and my brain is starting to function normally, again. I’m quite pleased with my efforts, however I see a few weakness, which I have showed during this interview. Tension is fading away, with each mile away from Prague. Finally I was in home. Then I could only wait for results. They came after promised two weeks. No, thank You, we would like to pursue other candidates. Bad luck or not?

Now, two month passed, and I can (I think so ;)) ) more honestly tell myself what went wrong. Or maybe not wrong, but what I could done better.

First – HR – I’ve told You – I can not talk with them ;)))

Read Joel on Software more carefully. If I’ve done my homework, I would be much better prepared for this. Joel writes how MS recruited in many articles, and I can tell that only my lack of time few days just before interview did not allow me to read it. Dammit!

If You are standing before chance like I was, take under consideration:

  • read JoS carefully – it is full of tips which can safe Your life (not only on interviews :)) )
  • be rested and fresh
  • make yourself sure You have understand task, BEFORE you start coding
  • test Your code without asking before You say “I’m done!”
  • go for it!

My lesson
So, I did not got job at Microsoft. So what the story for me? I did refresh my developing skills, and now I’m sure I want to do software developing. This is essentially what is interesting to me. Recently I spend a lot time reading blogs like Joel On Software, links from, Signal vs Noise and more others – and looks like this is really exciting to me, so I have to try.
Other thing is, that I’ve learned a lot about myself during this interviews. As usually, it turned out that I’m not so smart, how I like to think about. But most of us are also ;-))

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