Tags: , | Posted by Admin on 7/27/2008 2:48 PM | Comments (0)

I’ve been making an attempt to be environmentally-friendly/green/eco-responsible recently, whatever you call it. I’ve been driving better, exercising and studying in my free time. The self improvement isn’t due to increased social responsibility, self esteem or motivation. Its not peer opinion and isn’t even financially driven.

It’s because Google is watching me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big polluter - quite the opposite really. But when you try to evaluate whether its worth flushing a urinal that’s already leaking, or if watching the tv or using the computer is a bigger expenditure of electricity, especially when your laptop was charged on the other side of the country where electricity is produced through fossil fuels. Similarly, is driving safer on the left, behind another car or on the empty right lane, despite signs that say “Keep left when not overtaking”.

It all started, ironically, when I applied for a job at Chevron. I got through the extensive screening process down to the round where they show you where they work and put you through those psychological screeners and in a room with 10 other potential candidates in a “group discussion” where they look for leadership abilities. This later evaluation, if you ask me, is purely designed to initiate confrontation - a “Jerry Springer” of the recruitment world. Never-the-less I persisted and was very positive about the prospects for my new job as an IT Analyst in Chevron. Why wouldn’t I be? Of the other candidates I was the only one with any significant experience, a double degree and I was locally based. I don’t even think I interviewed that badly - quite the opposite, I saw some raised eyebrows and smiles at my answers.

So it was a big surprise when I got rejected. Huge. I was distraught actually, I kept racking my brain as to why - eventually it dawned on me: the perks. Talk about naive graduate, but the though of a company that evaluates your workstation (I’m talking about computer, hardware, software, desk, chair, footrest, couch and any other office furniture) on a quarterly basis for ergonomics, aesthetics, fit and just plain if you liked it or not.  This was in addition to the massages, bonuses and safety bonuses. Having never worked in a big company before, it was evident that economies of scale are very beneficial when it comes to employee perks.

What then? I promptly applied to Google. It was my personal “up yours” at Chevron.

That’s not a perk, mate….. This is a perk.

- Crocodile Dundee (or something like that).

At first it was a joke. No, really, I’ve heard how difficult it is to get into Google. Just look here. They hire the best (?) and they hire quickly. The company is 9 years old and doubling in size on a yearly basis. If ever there was proof that

There no such thing as a free lunch.

its Google.

I was contacted a few days later by the Google Australia HR lady by email to organise a time for a phone interview. I didn’t really give it much thought, but had I known the statistics, I probably would’ve thought about preparing for a bit more. I’m no people person, but I know how to talk about myself well, so usually when I get talking to someone I’m not surprised when things proceed from there. In the first phone interview I felt everything going according to that old recruiting rhythm. Its easy to be positive about your degree and your experience when everything you’ve done is stuff you really enjoy and are passionate about. It was allllll good.

Right up until she told me that we were about to arrive at the technical component of the phone screen. I panicked. It’s been a long time since I did Java, C++ is not my strongest suit. I was asked questions such as:

“What’s the order of a function that iterates through an array?” and “Whats the difference between a class and object?” and “What’s the difference between final and finally?” and “What does the static keyword do?” - and few others. I answered in plain gibberish. One of my own responses I struggled to gauge. She only corrected me twice, which I interpreted to mean that she was only telling me the answers which weren’t blatantly wrong. Her opinion of me must have been positive enough to warrant scheduling the actual technical interview though.

I asked her to delay it to the following week. After exams finished, I hit the books like crazy - I prep-ed for the Google technical phone interview like another exam. I started googling for interview questions and I hit a pack of brainteasers.

Which ever moron put the title Google Interview questions on those brainteasers wasted me a lot of time, cause I never, ever, came across any of those in the whole interview process. I’m quite certain that the whole “Google Interview Questions” title was just appended to some computery type puzzles in an attempt to make light how difficult the process was going to be. They were pretty fun though.

I studied for 2 weeks on the concepts that were fuzzy to me, using Steve Yegges posts as a guide. The HR lady had kindly sent these to me and they did nothing to boost my initial opinion that if I got to that stage that I would just “wing it”.

The fact of the matter was that Google was the cheese, I was the mouse and the interview process was a maze, no - a gauntlet. Ok start again, Google was the virgin princess, I was the black knight -

I figured out what my answers to the initial phone screen’s interview questions ment in real world terms (gibberish) and calculated how lucky I must have been to get by that day. Then I figured out what the answers should have actually been, what hash tables were and when I learned what they do, I went back and relearned Java.

I studied data structures and Java to kingdom come. I roughly figured out Big-O analysis and I even took a quick peak at regular expressions, graph theory. My old lecture notes would’ve come in handy if they weren’t in ashes due to my annual note-burning festival. I found copies of my lectures online, read through them all.

Then I started coding again. And had to relearn all the concepts again of-course. I started from the basics. Everything came back quickly enough, I love that I had paid enough attention in lectures to understand what was going on. I’d have been screwed otherwise.By the day of the big phone interview I’d gotten to a level where I could comfortably code things. Probably the level I should have gotten up to before my initial phone screen - or the level I should’ve started studying at.

I imagined the recruiter writing notes to the interviewer: “Just scraped in… show no mercy.” or “He’s funny when he talks about Big-O, ask him those questions - it’ll make your day.” or “We had to include him to show you exactly how low the base line goes”.

The interview started - he was a different guy from who the recruiter told me I should expect. I told him so. Then I backtracked thinking that he might think that I didn’t want to talk to him, or worse, that the other guy and I conspired to get me into Google by asking me easy questions. After that was resolved I noticed he has a heavy Scottish accent, thankfully he was aware of it too -told me to ask him to repeat things if I didn’t understand.

I have a feeling that a lot of Google employees in Sydney work on Google Maps. He was initially from Mountain View and a very interesting guy - I asked him a fair few questions, not because I had  to but I was just genuinely interested in what he did. He asked me what ideas I had for Google. I told him about an interesting idea I had and it really seemed to capture him. Then he asked me how I’d go about implementing it. This particular problem involved figuring out if an author of a particular article was male or female. This was my answer - I kid you not:

We’d just search thought the text, building probabilities as we go. We’d look for authors name, look it up in a table or male female names, we’d look at gender identifying establishments (eg. a private boys school)  and occupations (eg oil rig worker) multiplied by the gender distribution in these occupations, we could look at the colour usage on the text (pinks and lighter colours for females), we’d look for references to partners and multiply it by the probability that someone was heterosexual or homosexual.

At this point I stopped. I had said the word homosexual in a technical phone interview. There was a silence, but not too long - I mean, there really wasn’t anything to worry about, I knew that, did he, of course he did, didn’t he? - were both professionals, it was a professional answer… For the record

  1. I don’t swing that way, neither did he.
  2. Google is an equal opportunity employer.
  3. Of course he did.

The interview continued. We went through an implementation algorithm for a picture collage maker - top level design. Hashtable usage (where pictures were indexed by the predominant colour on them) was important to achieve the speed constraints. Short answer: Hashtables. We covered a similar question to the gender identification regarding fraud detection. Top level design again, used hash tables and probabilities.

Then it was over, he thanked me I thanked him, I said I thought it would be harder. He laughed and said he could forward on the message to my next interview. I told him that I really didn’t think that would be necessary. We said goodbyes. I was not really sure what to take away from that interview  - he was obviously positive enough about it to suggest that I would get a second. Was this for real?

Two days later, I got an email requesting a suitable time to go to Sydney. This had really gone too far.

Original story

Continue Part II

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