Tags: | Posted by Admin on 6/7/2007 11:11 PM | Comments (35)

It was a little more than three months ago that I was contacted by a “talent scout” from a little-known internet company called “Google”.

She had run across my profile at LinkedIn.com, which led her to my resume. She evidently enjoyed it, so she sent me an email asking if I was interested in joining their team. I wasn’t looking for a new job (I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now), but I’ve heard great things about the work environment over there at Google, so I agreed to interview with them.

I won’t talk too much about the interview process here (I signed an oath of secrecy regarding the whole affair), but I will say this much:

After three phone screens, two full phone interviews, two different inside recruiters, a travel coordinator, a flight to San Francisco, seven in-person interviews, and lunch at the Googleplex, I’m completely exhausted.

I’ve had lengthy conversations about OO design patterns, database design, computational linguistics, naive Bayesian classification, agglomerative clustering, time-series data analytics, hash effectiveness evaluation, search algorithms, partial sorting, concept-mapping in n-dimensional vector space, and state-graph redundancy elimination.

I talked about the projects I’ve worked on over the years: performing technical analysis of stock market data, developing a domain-specific scripting language and the compiler to go along with it, implementing a special purpose 16-bit floating-point data type for Java, writing a partial-parser for perl-compatible regular expression syntax, and implementing a Texas Holdem AI engine capable of learning its opponents’ playing styles.

I talked about my project management experience working with the federal intelligence community, and about the types of language-classification problems that my team encountered. I talked about the training courses that I developed and presented to my clients in Washington, DC. I talked about starting my own web development business after graduating from college, and about my lifelong entrepreneurial ambitions.

And, of course, I asked in-depth technical questions about the Google software infrastructure. Really really clever questions. To…ummmm…cleverly demonstrate my…cleverness.

Somewhere in that process, I got really excited about the new job.


I didn’t get it.

I got a voicemail message from one of the recruiters yesterday afternoon, letting me know that it was a “really hard decision”.

Oh well.

Although I started working on a CS degree, I never quite finished it. I originally studied theatre, and got a bachelors degree emphasizing playwriting and dramatic literature. Aside from three or four semesters of CS coursework (abruptly interrupted when my twins were born 3 months premature and I spent six months living at the hospital), all of my software-development skills are self-taught.

So there are a few gaps in my knowledge. For example, it’s been a few years since I did much C++ coding. But I like to think I’m a pretty quick learner, and I can easily fill in any knowledge gaps when the need arises. The breadth and depth of my experience demonstrates my ability to quickly pick up complex new concepts and develop innovative software.

Also, my dad is a rocket scientist (seriously), so I’ve got good genes.

To Google:

I wish you the best of luck. You have a lovely campus, and a preponderance of giant colorful rubber balls. I enjoyed talking with your people; they are clever and lively. Also, you seem to employ more women than the average software company, and I was looking forward to occasionally smiling at some of those women in the cafeteria over a plate of macrobiotic lunchtime foods. I’m sad that I won’t be moving to the Bay Area. Please tell Josh Bloch and Guido von Python that I said hello.

To everyone else:

This has been the most exhausting experience of my career. Seriously, you have no idea. Preparing for these interviews has been like studying for the GRE. Times ten. I feel like I need to sleep for a solid month just to be my old self again.

On that note, I think I’m done trying to impress software companies with my madd skillz. For the last six years, I’ve spent much of my spare time researching interesting algorithms, developing fun prototype code, and reading papers by the industry’s top researchers. I’ve learned as much as I could about computational linguistics, statistical analysis, and machine learning. I did it because I enjoy it. But also to impress prospective employers and climb the software engineering career ladder.

Screw that.

I’m taking my fate back into my own hands.

I started my first business when I was eight years old. I went door-to-door, selling lighted address panels. I lived in Clearwater, Florida (in the Tampa Bay area) and I had a great sales pitch: “You hang this panel above your garage, and if anything ever happens to you, the ambulance can find your house faster because they’ll see your glowing address from the street.” With so many retirees in the area, it was a pretty good pitch. I think I made about a hundred dollars.

Anyhow, the point is that I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than twenty years. It’s time I combine my enjoyment of software development with my entrepreneurial ambitions and put all of my efforts into building a marketable software portfolio.

The next company I work for will be my own.

Original story

Comments (35) -

Delmar on 6/4/2007 4:41 PM And people shouldn’t get so worked up about interviews.

They are not real life. Doing well in an interview is not the same as doing well in real life.

In real life, a good person will create novel algorithms and deal with software problems that need hours to days of thought. This sort of thing can’t easily be captured in an interview.

And when people get worked up about Google interviews and jobs, I have two things to say:

a) Was Google a successful company before or after you joined or interviewed with them?

b) What does Senior Management think of you? Do they even know you exist or what work you do? If there is a downturn will they even think twice about firing you?

Quite frankly any bright software developer should be running their own company and not just a cog in a wheel of a company, which to an extent is just like an uncaring machine.
Claude on 6/4/2007 6:59 PM Google, like a number of other high-tech companies, uses a committee of at least ten people to make a hiring decision. Do you know how hard it is to get ten people to agree on anything? I suspect some of the difficulty of getting into Google isn’t due to being of the right intellectual callibre, but due to the difficulty of getting lots of people to agree.

The Lake Wobegon Strategy seems just like a piece of PR nonsense. There will always be employees that feel threatened by a bright, well-rounded interview candidate. Companies to some extent are doomed to move towards mediocrity. I’m quite sure when Google needed to hire hundreds to thousands of workers in a hurry, they didn’t always pick the brightest one or two per Computer Science or Maths class. The initial Google employees were obviously bright. However once the main work has been done, Google doesn’t need to recruit solely the best and the brightest. What about the dull, plodding work that every company needs done?

I suspect a very bright person will have more trouble getting hired that a mediocre person that threatens nobody.

I don’t even think Google is currently doing that good a job now. They have been playing catch-up with fraud on their search and content networks for a good few years now and one university professor panned them for being slow to route out click fraud.

Google’s interview process is too long and consumes too much time. Why should a bright person devote so much time to artificial situations? In a space of a few days, a clever person could add another feature to their software if he/she runs his/her own micro-ISV. It simply isn’t worth it to waste so much time on an interview process.

My time is worth up to 600 USD a day as judged by the income of my micro-ISV. Is it really worth someone like me wasting days on an interview process? Just think of how much I can improve my micro-ISV in that time.

Why waste so much time asking technical questions? Maybe an hour or two is sufficient, but over ten hours? No. Nowadays a bright software developer will have so much of his/her software on the Internet for everybody to see it really is getting to be a pointless waste of time.
Austin on 6/4/2007 9:17 PM I got an offer from Google and I have notorious memory. So, I don’t think you need to memorize or study anything. My feeling is that they want a person with strong theory background who can do algorithm, design/arch and implementation. One who is not a pain to work with. Well, all software companies look for these traits, but I feel that they put much more stress on theories than any other firm I interviewed with. For example, I mentioned that I don’t have much Java experience except that I only did some compiler and simulator work in college. (I was a C# only person during the interview.) So he said, “That’s pretty cool! So how do you implement method overriding?” So obviously it’s not a prepackaged question that you can prepare for.

I really think not being offered a job for a specific company could be a good thing. I would probably never get hired by Goldman Sachs because I’m just not what they are looking for. If I pretend to be what they want and get the job, I’d be stressed out and miserable anyway. I remember the humiliation I felt when Citadel rejected me on first interview… just to find out what a well known notorious employer it is. I also remember a few years ago being rejected by Citi - the fixed income division - hey, didn’t they just write off another 18 billions on mortgage backed securities the other day? Haha. Lucky me.

I agree startups are most rewarding. I’d do it except that I don’t want to work 18 hour days. How else can you afford a single family home in the Silicon Valley?
abby on 6/4/2007 11:35 PM This amazing site http://www.tekpool.com and its discussion forums http://www.tekpool.com/forums helped me get into Google in my 2nd attempt. In addition to the kind of questions there, I also was asked a very high level design question.
Aaron on 6/5/2007 1:53 AM I’m a combination copywriter/designer with a proclivity towards humor.

I created this “mock google resume”……It’s basically a satire on a google page
and I am the featured star of the search query…it’s actually quite original and
almost everyone I have asked just loves it…

So I sent my resume to google about a year ago and I too got a phone interview..
but I think when I told her my GPA was only 2.5…….I sensed that it was the
end of the interview…….

….After that I heard Nothing…….
Morgan on 6/5/2007 4:11 AM I have heard that the questions asked in Google interviews depends on the logic and looks like puzzles. I have recently run across http://www.technical-interview.com which list some questions from Google interviews.
Monroe on 6/5/2007 6:29 AM I have a fairly similar background to you and also had a similar experience with Google.

Google acquired the company I worked for a few years ago and drove it into the ground. I did however have a chance to interview in NYC with them. It went well. 3 interviews in NYC in which I think the Googlers were surprised that I knew of memoization, big “oh” analysis of heapsort, etc. I was flown out to Mountain View and endured 7.5 interviews; .5 for a lunch interview. The weirdest part was during lunch my interviewer clearly faked choking. I thought it strange that he didn’t have a beverage so I of course asked if he was OK and offered mine. Several people were sitting with us at the time and none of them did anything. I didn’t appreciate the mind games.

Long story short, I didn’t get the offer — “tough decision” (yada yada yada). Now I work for Yahoo! (from home even) as a software developer and could not be happier. I’m never leaving Yahoo! They treat their employees like gold; everyone has a voice.

You should consider us.
Marcus on 6/5/2007 8:47 AM I believe anyone who could go thru the google interview (say just the 5th one) is a genius and should never think of working with them because there are too many good companies where you’ll be rewarded intellectually/monetorily and more.

I am interested in what happens to google in next 5-7 years.
Lionel on 6/5/2007 11:05 AM From Joel on Software, in a very interesting article that I read just after I read this page.

>turning down jobs at Google because you want your own office with a door
Leroy on 6/5/2007 1:23 PM Google has employed smart people, but not all of them can make the billions that two lucky guys did. At some point, the equilibrium of smartness of the people that can be hired and the amount that can be compensated for them will tip. (BTW, I disagree with low pay at Google. Maybe true for fresh starters, but cannot be for experienced people, who can easily do better in other companies).

If one were looking for money and had the smarts, they are better off creating their own startup, and be bought by a company, than be slaving for a Google or Microsoft, and not see a dime in share options or bonus payments etc etc.

Also, I hate Googles no private offices policy. Real hackers like peace when they are coding seriously.
Lambert on 6/5/2007 3:41 PM I’m getting scared now! I used to be a ’self-proclaimed programming genius’ in college (2 yrs ago). Microsoft effectively put paid to all of that, denying me 5 out of 5 times in a 3 year span (yes…5 different interviews). Well now, I have this ‘thing’ with google…i’ll give it a right go and see…but another rejection, and i’m done…don’t think i could cope. Should i expect the first ‘pre-screen’ to be tough?

Thanks…forza Italia for the World Cup!!!
Kimball on 6/5/2007 5:59 PM I had a similar experience at Google when applying for a marketing job a few years back; I went thru months of interviews, only to be told at the end that I wasn’t hired because Google had decided that they wanted to hire someone with a BS degree, as opposed to a BA degree. (Maybe it was the Cal MBA that actually did me in - Go Bears!) ARGH!

It’s possible, therefore, that your lack of a degree was the gating item and not your rusty C++ skills. Has *anyone* been hired at Google without a degree?
Marc on 6/5/2007 8:17 PM Dude! you did not say anything abot the chicks at Google!

Is it like MIT or like Sequoia Capital? The latter of course recruits hot chicks as part of their strategy to attract young (read “geek”) entrepreneurs.

Jonathan on 6/5/2007 10:35 PM Benji,

I am happy to know that even the best of minds are put through crazy things and can pick themselves up without a scratch of discouragement. You are far more advanced than I. I myself am going through a rough period in the IT/Job market. I am currently employed but seeked employment elsewhere and everything appeared to be going great but then I receive an email saying that the recruiter “needs to talk to me!”. I may be reading into it too much but nevertheless it’s scary and all I think is how will I recover from rejection if this becomes the case. I feel better after reading your post. The organization I interviewed with I’m told is hard to get into. Most people employed there have obtained an MBA; which I do not possess. It seems that no matter how much skill or experience you have some organizations deem you not good enough or not to their standard. It’s frustrating! If I sustained the knowledge that you apparently have, I would do exactly what you are doing and pursue a career where I would be able to set the standard. Being independent is the best way to go!
Jeremiah on 6/6/2007 12:53 AM I had a similar experience for a Project Manager position. For PMs, they’re ideally looking for ex-CTOs of a Top 100 website (Amazon, Ebay, etc…) - highly technical with strategic business experience.

I went through 4 rounds, talked with 14 people and flew out to CA twice. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. Guess my current experience of a startup founder and CTO isn’t up to par.

I would agree with the assessment that they pay below market. I have several friends who work there who can verify. The millions have been made already. Sure there are millions more to be made there, but there are easier ways.

Starting your own thing is by far the most financially and personally rewarding path. I’m heading down that path myself.

Good luck!
Jack on 6/6/2007 3:11 AM #

Nice little discussion here about competition and incentives gone awry.

Foster on 6/6/2007 5:29 AM I keep hearing these stories and it smacks of arrogance. Google does some great work, but really. They’re not going to be producing a unified field theory, curing cancer or saving lives. So they might at some point want to do a mirror check and admit to themselves they’re just another technology company (albeit a good one).

Sure, you want smart people working in your company, and god knows the dot-con boom created legions of posers. But really, you can usually weed those out from the resume and a phone call alone. Technical mastery is one thing, and keeping the bar high makes sense to a certain extent. But creativity is what any good company should be looking for.

And creativity is not something you can easily qualify. I usually present interviewees with a seemingly simple problem that has subtleties and ask them to solve it. Then I watch them and get a sense of how they approach it. If they start off right away thinking in implementation terms, I usually pass (unless its for a more junior position). But if they take the time to walk around it and see if there’s a different approach that would work better, then I know I’ve found someone worth hiring.

I’d much rather work with people that have memorized less and can think more. I want to work with people that have to learn new things. Because they are the ones that are far more likely to innovate and its going to be much more enjoyable and personally rewarding to work with them. That’s what motivates me. I can pay for my own lunch, thanks.

(Ben, it sounds like you’re on the right track. Follow your instincts.)
Farrell on 6/6/2007 7:47 AM Oops. Misattribution. I meant to say “the Google Research Blog Benji mentioned.”
Dixon on 6/6/2007 10:05 AM My apologies to applicants who haven’t heard back from recruiters. There’s no excuse for that.

If it’s any consolation, one of our policies is that it’s far better to reject a qualified applicant than accept an unqualified applicant. We accept false negatives — people who would be great at Google but we incorrectly reject — as a cost of ensuring that absolutely 100% of the people we do hire are fantastic.

Ralph — it’s true that our hiring policies are getting stricter, but the Google Research Blog posting you mention simply describes what it would be like IF Google only hired engineers above its mean. We don’t think that way. If that were really our policy, everyone at the company would necessarily be smarter than Larry and Sergey Smile

Getting into Google is tough, no doubt, but once you’re in, you’re in. There isn’t any notion of firing the bottom 5% every quarter or anything like that. I’ve heard Oracle once had a policy of that form, and maybe still does: Larry Ellison seems to believe that competition is a fantastic motivator. Perhaps it is, but it’s not great for morale. Free food, however, is!
Dirk on 6/6/2007 12:23 PM –update–

Google is really a COOL place to workin !!
Derek on 6/6/2007 2:41 PM The Google interview process must be really a GREAT wonderful experience for you … like me… check out my experiece at Google India :

Delmar on 6/6/2007 4:59 PM Their hiring strategy (as explicitly stated on the Google Research Blog) is simply to only hire engineers whose skills exceed those of the average Google engineer.

That strategy sounds logical, and it might even work out, but there is a risk that Google could wind up with too many people who are preternaturally smart but have many quirks. If such people can be managed with a great deal of skill, that might still be okay, but the whole thing sounds a bit like the salesforce retention policy of some automobile dealerships: every month, fire the person with the lowest sales results. I think that strategy just adds tension to the workplace, not necessarily skill.

Anyway, I hope that whatever Google is doing works out for the best, because it’s the most interesting company on the planet right now.
Cyril on 6/6/2007 7:17 PM Google and their Hiring Policies are just unbelievable, they came to my campus and took 1 written test and 4 interviews and gave tentative offers to 4 ppl and then hired 3 and left one thats me. Then later they took another 2 telephonic interviews and then 4 more onsite interviews and were supposed to tell the result in 2 weeks, it has been more than 3 weeks and still haven’t heard anything. Isn’t that just great Google Hiring policy?
Curt on 6/6/2007 9:35 PM I just want to clarify something:

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily broken about the Google hiring process. Just because it didn’t work out well for me doesn’t mean it’s not a great strategy for them. I think the company has demonstrated that its hiring process works exceptionally well in producing great software.

They offer a great working environment. As far as I could tell, the people are top-notch, the software challenges are interesting, and there are plenty of perks. I never got into salary negotiations, so I have no idea how well they pay, but I have no reason to believe their salaries are below average.

Their hiring strategy (as explicitly stated on the Google Research Blog) is simply to only hire engineers whose skills exceed those of the average Google engineer. It’s lovingly referred to as the “Lake Wobegon Strategy” (where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average). They maintain an ever-increasing average by progressively eliminating even highly skilled people in deference to the even-more-highly-skilled people. As long as they can continue making that work, I say more power to ‘em.

For some reason, I didn’t convince them that I’m above average, compared to all those other Google engineers. My personal hunch is that it was because of my rustiness with C++. Or it could have been something else. I dunno. I’m certainly not perfect.

Oh well.

It was exhausting, but it was a fascinating experience, and I’m glad I did it.

And now I’m glad I’m done with it.

Like I said originally: I wasn’t looking for another job. I actually like my current job quite a bit.

And, besides, this whole process has given me a lot of motivation to push harder in working on my own software. Nothing wrong with that.
Chandler on 6/6/2007 11:53 PM Wow, at least they called you back. ;)

Best of luck on your new venture.
Carver on 6/7/2007 2:11 AM Sounds like my interview process with Yahoo. One round (5+ hours) for one position, 2 rounds (10+ hours) for another position, then NOTHING. Not even a “thanks, but no thanks”. For EITHER position. Contacted the HR person involved who said she’d investigate. Nothing. I gave up.

Got a great job at a GREAT startup. Am VERY happy, great work environment, etc.

A couple of months in, Google called. I took down the HR person’s number just in case, but that’s it.
Blaine on 6/7/2007 4:29 AM I disagree with Vesselin — and I work for Google. Our company has plenty of cash and isn’t shy about giving it to employees. Google is still a great place to work even if you’re older (I am).
Benjamin on 6/7/2007 6:47 AM It looks like what you described is the typical interview process of Google. Your blog is the third one I came across during the past few months, describing the same situation. Lots of intense phone conversations, a travel to Google headquarters, then again several phone conversations and… no hire.

There were discussions in these blogs, about the google hiring policy. Basically what Google want to do is to hire young guys and pay them slightly below the market rate. These young guys are happy to work for Google, since it allows them to put a top company like Google in their resume. And of course they do hope to earn alot by selling that google stock.

So if you are not in your twenties or prefer to work for cash, instead of stock, you have much smaller chances of becoming a google employee. Given their low salaries, you were lucky that they did not hire you. Of course this is just my IMHO.
Bartholomew on 6/7/2007 9:05 AM BS, I feel the same way, and my credentials are nowhere near as impressive. My background is business programming, and untangling some screwball eligibility rule, or shuffling and summarizing data seems almost trivial.

Google might be the Microsoft of tomorrow, but I think you are possibly on the right track. Best of luck.
Barry on 6/7/2007 11:23 AM I am an experienced 3D software engineer, headed and released many successful projects, I love mind-twisters and 3D algorithms. I was shut down in the interview by database optimization questions…
The whole experience made me question my engineering skills, and days of asking myself ‘do I really suck?’. Also, living in New York City, Google is almost the only legitimate software house in the city to work for.
So now, I have my own consulting business and on the side I am building a major open-source 3D framework. So, these database optimization questions turned out to be good for me, gave me the impetus to finally let go of the ’salary stranglehold’ so many people cannot let go of. Working for yourself is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Good luck on your projects, looks like you don’t need to work for a big company with your ideas.
Adriana on 6/7/2007 1:41 PM Wowzer, that’s an eye-opener.

I fancy myself a CS whizz; I’d probably have been floundering at the first question.
aggie on 6/7/2007 3:59 PM Wow, that sure sounds like a lot of work! I think you’re taking it well. Good luck with your new line of pursuits.
Addison on 6/7/2007 6:17 PM Good Article.
Aaron on 6/7/2007 8:35 PM Like always (Why I Hate Frameworks), a great read. I wish all the very best in whatever you do, Benji. Hope your business does well.

I can empathize with you about preparing and getting exhausted. I was flown to Hyderabad last December and had a similar no. of total interviews (eleven). It didn’t work out in the end.

Of course, I am not saying Google == MSFT Hyderabad. I am just saying I empathize.

Good luck.
Paul on 6/7/2007 10:53 PM Good luck for your ‘own’ venture.

Its really interesting read and I am particularly impressed with your knowledge and experience. God knows, what Google people really want to see in their employees!

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