Saturday, June 18, 2005

I applied for this software developer job at a place called the International Biometric Group. Biometrics, in case you're unfamiliar with the term, includes electronic fingerprint recognition, voice matching, facial recognition, things like that. So it sounds pretty fascinating from an algorithm design point of view, even if it's kind of creepy from an Orwellian point of view. I called the human resources guy to set up an interview, and that's when my heart sank: at IBG, they do group interviews.

At which point, I should've probably just hung up the phone, but for some reason the job hunt process has a way of dragging out its futility on and on, like a date with a beautiful woman — "I don't want to sleep with you, but we can just talk. You're such a good listener." I had this one interview where the prospective employer, who couldn't have been more than five years older than me, was grilling me on the finer points of computer languages. Naturally, I'm stressed and nervous and semi-articulate, and I'm bullshitting answers that, without the glaring eyes judging me, I'd know hands-down. But then the guy asks me, "In C++, what is a virtual function?" Which is kind of like asking, "In English, what is a nominative pronoun?" You can give the rote, textbook answer, or if the rote, textbook answer isn't finding its way out of your little head, you're screwed.

Clearly I'm screwed. I come up with something that, as it turns out, is actually more or less correct, although I don't know that at the time. Then, Mr. Computer Science Genuis there interviewing me wants me to apply whatever the hell it was I just blurted out to this totally artificial example he came up with ("Let's say you have an A, and A has a function foo, and you have a B that subclasses A, and you publish B to the user..."). At this point, I believe that I would have had a better of getting the job by hurling myself out the conference room window, but for fifteen minutes there, I'm sitting stumped by his A's and B's and foo's. I would've like the courage to just walk out of there and spend the rest of the afternoon at a movie or something, but no, I just stayed in that interview looking sweaty and lobotomized.

So when Dave, IBG Human Resources Guy, told me they "interview in groups of five to ten people," I said, weakly, "Great." When what I meant was, "Thanks for calling."

But wait, it gets even better. The interviews go for about two hours, which is just absurd. I mean, people've gotten kicked off Survivor Island in less than two hours. One thing they're gonna do is ask each of us a "technical question" based on our resumes, and we'll have to give a five-minute presentation to the group. Wonderful. I'm stumbling over words just trying to explain to Dave on the phone what I do for Ken. And then there's a group project we'll have to collaborate on, and Dave, who's pretty soft-spoken, said this in the same tone usually reserved for statements like, "And then, we'll all go out for ice cream!"

I guess I can understand the logic here: you don't want to hire a guy and then find out that he can't get up in front of a room and make a stale, bureaucratic, corporate presentation for shit. And although one generally wouldn't hire software engineers to make three-piece suit presentations — you hire 'em to engineer software — Dave was forthcoming about IBG being a place where everybody would have to (he said "get to") deal with clients and vendors.

Nevertheless, I'm disappointed, and on a fundamental level. Some people just don't shine in groups. Some people might be great workers, but it just takes them a little longer to pick up the rhythm and warm up to everybody else. And there's nothing wrong with that, guy from Human Resources. We can't all monopolize the group dynamic like some arrogant loudmouths who you'll probably get to read all about on Thursday evening's post do.