“Please, come in and have a seat.”
I hesitate. All I see are bean bag chairs. I choose the purple one, gingerly ease my way down, and am promptly swallowed as my high hopes for lumbar support are dashed.
“Gum?”, asked the receptionist.
I briefly considered asking her what flavor the gum was but remembered that I was here for a job interview and would likely soon need to enunciate the word ‘polymorphism’.
“No, thanks.”, I reply.
I look over to the lime green accent wall behind the receptionist’s desk. “We are Future, and the future is now!”, read a sign.
“Future. It’s what’s happening!”, read another next to the emergency exit sign.
“Hey Jared, how are ya!“. I jumped as a tall man breezed into the room. He was wearing blue-light canceling glasses over his normal glasses. I wondered if he could see the future better than I could.
Without introducing himself, the man ushered my through the glass doors from which he had just burst. As soon as I adjusted to the blinding fluorescent light, I realized that we were not alone. Around twenty people were crammed up to a long conference table that ran the length of the room. Some were hunched over their laptops, heads bobbing to what could only be electronic dance music judging from the tempo. Most were poised on some sort of alternative to a traditional chair: either a bean bag chair or an exercise ball. One bald guy was flying a selfie drone down the length of the table as others egged him on. All of them were using Macbooks.
“We don’t believe in barriers at Future Corp. We are all one family here!”, claimed my bespectacled host as he dodged the drone. “Let me introduce you to the head of product, Gerald. Gerald! Say hi to Jared here!”
As we approached the end of the conference table, a frighteningly thin man with a very small goatee popped his Airpods out, wobbled as he stood up, and thrust out a limp hand.
“Pleasure.”, he said. His hand was shaking. I wondered if the coffee machine on his desk had anything to do with it. Or the 6 empty mugs behind his keyboard.
“So Gerald, I read the job description and think I have handle on it but I wanted to learn more about what Future Corp is doing! Can you speak more to the product?”, I inquired.
“We are building a distributed data analytics pipeline! It’s really fun to work on!”, he said, grinning from ear to ear.
“Really? So what sort of data are we talking?”
“Doesn’t matter! We are integrating disparate data from support, transactions, finances, human resources, internal messaging, and online reviews!”
“So what are you doing with the data?”, I ask.
“We have dashboards!”
”… So who is your target market?”
“We are focusing on B2B in 2020 but are pivoting to B2C and C2C in 2021! Coffee?”
Before I could reply, my host ushered me into a conference room. Or at least that’s what it seemed to be. It was just a glass walled box in the corner. “Your interviewer will be right in!”, he said and acted like I couldn’t see him through the glass door anymore as he fist bumped a younger guy who seemed to be heading my way. The drone crashed into the wall of my conference room prison. No one seemed to care.
A short and unassuming youngster with an uncannily perfect bowl cut popped into the room.
“I’m the intern”, he sighed. He seemed completely devoid of interest. He plopped what looked like an alarm clock down on the table along with a keyboard. He then promptly pulled out his phone and put his feet up on the table as he began scrolling.
“Are you on Facebook?”, I asked, dreading the answer.
“Twitter”, he mumbled. “I’m going to a startup launch party tonight.”
“…What sort of startup is it?”, I asked, attempting to lower my blood pressure.
“Its for a new app that is a social network for startup launch parties.”
I tried hard to think of something to say but before I came up with anything the box on the table sprang to life.
“Good afternoon, candidate! I am Candidate Evaluation Bot 3000 v1.2! I am a completely benign and unbiased tool that will be used today in your completely fair evaluation. I have been completely trained to provide you, the completely valued candidate, with a completely emotion free, completely unbiased information extraction experience. My manufacturer has mandated that I inform you that they ran out of seed money before the animal trial phase and thus there is no guarantee that anything I say is true and or non harmful. Do not worry! You’re humanity and self worth is being cradled in complete impartiality!”
I paused. I couldn’t figure out if the surprise I was feeling was an artifact of the shock or the sad realization that some Silicon Valley startup hadn’t already pushed this idea to the mass market.
“Please enter a number 0 to 9 on the keyboard representing your hostility level where 0 represents completely benign and 9 represents a threat to leadership and or likely to sink the company.”
I paused and entered ‘0’.
“Noted! Subject is guaranteed to become hostile quickly.”
“Wait! I thought you said you were completely benign! Does that mean you are going to get hostile too?”
“Do not worry! I was trained in deescalation tactics in a 13 week immersive!”
“Who trained you?”
“Do not worry! My trainer was trained in a 13 week immersive! He, too, was completely benign!”
Before I could ask if his trainer’s trainer had also been trained at a robot bootcamp, the box let out a piercing beep. The intern jumped.
“Warning! Be calm! I am about to ask a series of skills questions. At each beep, please answer the question following the beep.”
“What about it?”
BEEEP!! “The skills portion of the interview has ended. Thank you for the insight into your deep expertise!”
“What did that tell you about my skillset?”
“Do not worry! I am not a gatekeeper! Your skillset has been evaluated to the deepest extent possible.”
“Are you going to ask anything about my qualifications?”
“Do not worry! Future Corp does not believe in qualifications. All candidates are equal. That is why I was created to be completely benign.”
“But isn’t this about deciding if I fit the job or not? How can you be benign if you tell me no?”
“Do not worry! We at Future corp do not believe in ‘no’. You are being evaluated on a completely impartial basis for role fit ‘At this time.‘”
“So, given an infinite amount of time anyone could be potentially qualified?”
“Do not worry! The algorithm to find a solution to this question is currently running in the cloud. We should have an answer by the time the sun implodes.”
“Wouldn’t the sun imploding be the opposite of benign?”
“Do not worry! The algorithm to find a solution to this question is currently running in the cloud. We should have an answer by the time this interview is over.”
“This interview is over! Congratulations! You have been evaluated! You will receive an email with your results within 3 business days.”
“Wait! Aren’t you going to ask anything about my experience?”
“Do not worry! Experiences are completely anecdotal and are usually exaggerated and are thus unreliable.”
“Candidate complaints quota exceeded! Reboot initiated! Good afternoon, Candidate! I am Candidate Eval… ”
The intern promptly unplugged the box and apologized, “Sorry. Still a prototype.”
After I got home I checked my email on my laptop:
“Thank you for interviewing at Future Corp! The result of your completely impartial and fair evaluation is: UNDETERMINED BUT PROBABLY INCOMPETENT. Due to this result, we would like to invite you to do a coding challenge…”
I gently closed the laptop.
I slowly walk out into the garage to retrieve the flamethrower I bought from Elon Musk.
I get in my car.
I drive 23 hours to the edge of the Grand Canyon.
I incinerate the laptop.
I throw the remains over the edge.
I get on an airplane.
I fly to the Andes mountains.
I walk 33 miles to the most remote village I can find.
“Yes. Do you have internet here?”, I ask of a friendly looking villager.
“Good. I would like to apply to become an Alpaca herder, please.”
I thought it would be an interesting thought experiment to see what it would look like in our near certain future where we are interviewed by robots instead of people. It may speak to either a new and concerning level of cynicism I’ve achieved or to an unacknowledged need to entertain that I ended up with a comedy. But I am not so surprised really. Although our culture has produced a menagerie of examples of fiction where the introduction of sentient robots spells certain doom I think that anyone with any level of rationality might agree with me that the first attempts to introduce such technology would seem foolish and sometimes downright funny. However, the wise among us may realize that it doesn’t make much difference if you laugh or cry in the face of such a tragedy.
In my job search over the last year it has become evident that the human element of interviewing is slowly being crushed by an overconfidence in raw empiricism. It seems that we are victimizing ourselves with some sort of warped notion about what we think we value. The process has been remade into a rigid funnel where the need for human contact is minimized. If it follows that we truly are remaking the process into something more effectual, then it seems to be evident that personhood is being progressively devalued. Even as there seems to be a quiet revolution of pushing away from the draconian, soulless, and machine-like corporate model of the past it seems that we have yet to reinvent the idea human capital enough to warrant injecting any sort of humanity into the harvesting of talent. As we get nicer are we really getting kinder?
I just got through with another onsite interview cycle at a ‘top’ company.
- I was not asked to introduce myself
- No one on the interviewing team introduced themselves
- I was not told what position I was actually interviewing for
- I didn’t get to talk to the person who I would report to
- I only had the opportunity to ask four questions
There are more pressing issues than a perceived lack of dignity here. If communication is this bad when I am being evaluated for job fit, how on earth would we be able to get anything done on the job?
I will say what I know to be true. The most successful and effective people I’ve ever met have been in sales. This, I think, is not an artifact of a profession but one of a fundamental realization that reciprocity is productive. This is the real value in relationships of all sorts. So why aren’t we doing this when we talk to each other about software engineering jobs?
In conclusion, software is a business and business is people-powered. We can belabor the problem of how to introduce empiricism and rigor into interviewing until the end of time but there is nothing anyone can do to convince me that we should forgo a heavy focus on the person behind the resume in order to do so. It seems to me that in our pursuit of a predictive and data-driven hiring process we neglect what is to me the most important metric we have: a judge of good character. Conversation is the highest fidelity tool we have to understand other people. And we neglect it at our peril.
I am also an aspiring Twitter mob leader. Join me!