Finding a full time job in Seattle
How did I get two full time job offers from two great companies? The answer is: a lot of hard work and preparation.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and not those of any past, present, or future employers. Also, your interview experience mileage may vary.
Getting the interviewsI started the full time job hunt before school started in September. The list of companies I was targetting was short; Microsoft & Amazon.
Seeing as my girlfriend, Natalie, had a full time unaccepted offer from Amazon it was not hard for her to get me into the process there. Unfortunately it took a while to get the ball rolling but I did eventually get my first phone interview. Now keep in mind, that prior to Natalie receiving her offer and getting me into their system and I had worked hard to be interviewed by Amazon. I had submitted my resume online and had friends working there refer me, but it was because of Natalie's inside connections and unaccepted offer that I got the interview. Of course, I am not in Waterloo's co-op system which makes it very hard to get co-op or full time offers from companies who use the co-op system.
I never blogged about it, but I have hinted about it, but I interviewed with Microsoft in the Spring of 2003 for a program manager position. The reason I never blogged about it was because I never got past the phone screen. It was a very depressing experience. Regardless, I had several in's at Microsoft and I got them all to either put my resume into their resume system or to personally refer my resume to the Waterloo recruiter. I also submitted my resume in the bins at the co-op building in response to the full time posting on the just graduated version of Access. But what I really think secured my first interview at Microsoft was that I attended their info session here on campus and waited till everyone had harassed the recruiter and I then moved in. To make my resume stand out I had circled all the relevant bits. (Though she did make fun of me for circling them, but since it was the resume that all my interviewers later had in front of them, I consider the exercise to have been a successful one). I thought it might get the conversation rolling and it did. The conversation lasted about five minutes and felt quite gruelling. She even asked me to give her a 30 second pitch as to why Microsoft should hire me.
Moral of the story: You need a personal in or some sort of human contact. We're convinced those resume@ or online resume things are blackholes.
In addition to aggressively pursuing job interviews I also aggressively prepared for the job interviews I hoped I was going to get. I prepared because I know other people prepare and I expected that employers likely expected candidates to be prepared. To prepare I bought Programming Interviews Exposed (PIE) because a new hire at Amazon told me most of her questions were straight from the book. PIE is also the number six book on the Amazon Purchase Circle. Now, why would someone who has a job at Amazon buy a book on interviews unless they were using it as a guide for conducting interviews? Note, the book contains errors. I found at least one, and some of their solutions are not as elegant as they could be. So, do not memorize the answers.
I also bought a copy of How Would You Move Mount Fuji? because I was convinced that the reason I failed at the Microsoft interview game in the spring of 2003 was because I choked on an easy brain teaser. While you do not want to regurgitate answers you've memorized you do want to be familiar with the different classes of problems and the corresponding frameworks for solving them. If you do get a question you know, tell the interviewer.
So, I read both books cover to cover and did all the proposed exercises. I also visited a lot of interviewing websites. One I spent a lot of time at was Techinterview.org where I worked through all 71 brain teasers.
In addition to this preparation I wrote my own 20 page study guide which covered C, C++, Java, computer architecture and object oriented design. It was also helpful that I was taking both CS 454, Distributed Systems and CS 456, Networks.
For the two months leading up to my interviews every spare moment during the day and on the weekends was spent preparing. I read a lot and I did a lot of problems. In fact during one power outage we got out the Mount Fuji book and we all worked through a couple problems by candle light.
Initial interview screensBut you can only prepare so long before you have to show that you have what it takes.
At Amazon I was interviewing for a Software Design Engineer position. While what I really wanted to do was be a Program Manager, Amazon does not recruit technical candidates into that position straight out of college.
On my interview wiki you can read all about my first Amazon phone interview which I felt went really well. My second one did not go so well. I felt I really choked on some of the questions. Of course everyone tells you that the process of how you answer a question is more important than the answer but you can't help but feel dumb for not getting questions that as a Computer Science grad you should get. But after a sufficiently long delay I got the good news that they would be flying me down.
At Microsoft I was interviewing for a Program Manager position. My initial screen was a thirty minute on campus interview. It went really well. He even had a copy of the same resume that I had circled up. This lead him to ask questions about stuff that wasn't circled which was fun.
After finding out Amazon was ready to fly me down I got in contact with Microsoft and got the good news that they too wanted me to fly down to Seattle. I arranged to fly down Thursday, October 30th with Microsoft and Amazon sharing the expense of getting me down there and taking care of my hotel. They put me up at the swanky, and very noir, Hotel W.
In SeattleNow on the flight down I made the mistake of sleeping. Once I got to Seattle I could not sleep. So I spent the night tossing, turning, and continually calling the front desk to get my wake up call changed. Moral of the story: don't sleep on the flight down.
I got up around 6am even though my interview was at 10:30. I had breakfast and spent the morning chilling on the sofa listening to my iPod trying to relax. I eventually got in a cab and made the trip up to the Pac Med building. I was early so I spent ten minutes outside enjoying the sun and listening to music.
Interviewing at Amazon
My interview process at Amazon was six and a half hours. I was met by HR and she took me to the meeting room where I'd spend my day. At Amazon the interviewers come to you. She also gave me a schedule of my interviewers. Here were my questions:
This is by no means an extensive list of the questions I was asked.. It is just the ones I could remember.
Many of them, while not straight from PIE, were similar and I was thankful I had prepared for linked lists and trees. I was however, thrown by a question on evaluating infix and postfix expressions. Of course after the interview I remembered that I had seen postfix in first year and then remembered how to solve them. What triggered this memory was a second year was in one of the labs loudily talking to her friends about trying to find an algorithm to solve postfix questions. I told her I had only had thirty minutes to answer the question and so she had better remember the answer once she Google'd for it because it might come back to haunt her in a full time job interview like it did with me.
Something that makes Amazon's interviews unique is that they have you interview with a 'bar raiser' whose job it is to ensure that you are better than the average Amazon employee so that the talent bar is continually being raised. It was clear from my schedule who my bar raiser was though I felt I had a bad experience with my bar raiser. I just didn't feel like we had much of a rapport.
Hanging out in Seattle
I was thoroughly exhausted and wiped out after my Amazon experience so my friend Ming who was interning with Amazon drove me back to my hotel and I crashed. Two hours later I met him for dinner. It was Halloween and we were way under dressed but after dinner we ran into a bunch of other Waterloo kids who gave us Mardi Gras beads. Not much of a costume, but better than nothing. We then drank and partied the night away.
Saturday Ming and I went to see the play 21 Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com. A very fitting play. After the play we went to U-Dubs university plaza to gawk at all the high end big box malls. The highlight was visiting the Apple Store.
Later on, we tracked down a sushi dinner, and then another Waterloo intern, Francis, and we went to the U-District but it just wasn't happening. Oh well.
Sunday I spent the day trying to do a programming assignment for Networks. Unfortunately I chose the wrong language, didn't have the text, and I had no idea what was going on.. It did not go well. But I ended up taking a late, getting it mostly done, and got 70% so it turned out okay.
Again, I couldn't sleep Sunday before my big day at Microsoft. At 6:30 I woke up, showered, ironned, ate, and at 7:15 got in a town car headed to Redmond.
Interviewing at MicrosoftI arrived early to the Microsoft interviewing building, filled out my forms, and sat and watched all the other nervous candidates trickle in for their 8:30 appointments. A number of other students were called up before me, but then it was my chance. The day started with HR.
This is by no means a comprehensive list but it highlights some of the bigger questions. I got a lot of repeats of the usual questions like:
The day started at 8:30.
What makes the Microsoft interview process unique is that as the candidate you do not know your interview schedule beforehand and that at each step of the way the interviewers are communicating with each other. This means that if you have a few bad interviews in a row your day could end very early. Conversely, if your interviews go well then at the end of the day you will get an 'as appropriate' interview which is typically with a general manager or executive. So at the end of each interview the interviewer will send you back to the building's lobby for ten to twenty minutes while they go talk to the next interviewer. Each interview was in the office of the person interviewing me except for the lunch interview. All my interviews were in the same building except for my last. I knew it was the as appropriate because my interviewer told me my day was done and then double checked this but exclaimed that I had another interview. He wrote down the details and I went back to the lobby and got on a bus. At the new building the front desk people called up to tell them I was there and it was clear that they were talking to an executive assistant. But it went well and I really enjoyed the opportunity to be grilled by the general manager of Outlook.
I think that Microsoft's Program Manager interviews are difficult to prepare for so I think what you should do to prepare is know what to expect, that way there are at least fewer surprises.
What also made this interview experience unique is that before I got to Seattle they asked if there was anyone I wanted to have dinner with. Wanting to take advantage of this I chose Robert Scoble as my dinner date. I met him at Anthony's in Kirkland and had a nice dinner with him and his wife. In hindsight, I was a little too tired to do dinner but whatever.
I got back to my hotel around 9:00pm, met Ming, had a drink, and then packed while watching a bad movie.
Final word of advice.. During my last HR interview I was asked why I would choose Amazon over Microsoft and I was quite honest. Later on Microsoft went out of their way to ensure that the reasons I listed would no longer be valid. So be honest and tell them what you want.
What are they looking for?
I'll disclaim that I do not know what they are looking for. This is just what I think they are looking for.
Differences between Microsoft and Amazon
Interviewing is time consuming, tiring, and a lot of work. But the reward for doing well is a full time job. Treat the whole process as a game and have a good time.
And don't give up. It took me a long time to get an interview with Amazon and I have failed at the Microsoft interview process before so keep at it.
...I accepted the offer from Microsoft. I start February 2004 working as a 'program manager' in their Media Center division. Yay!
You can find more interview stuff on my interviewing wiki.
DO NOT EMAIL ME ASKING FOR ANSWERS, REFERRALS, ADVICE,... unless I personally know you :).© Copyright 2005 Matt Goyer.
2/23/2005 - 1:45 am GMT - [guid]
Work on Windows Media Center
Want to work on Windows Media Center? We're hiring across almost all disciplines!.
One of the job perks is you get a Media Center to take home and run the latest and greatest software on.
4/11/2005 - 3:13 pm GMT - [guid]
Can anyone help out Mike?
I'm trying to setup My TV to work on a channel other than 2, 3, or 4.
My cable is Qwest Choice TV (Cable TV provided over the phone line).
What happens is that there is one set top box for the whole house and then each of the TV's are assigned a different channel (in my case 3,
10 and 13).
I can get Live TV working on Channel 3, but there doesn't appear to be a way to select anything else (signal comes in over coax).
4/7/2005 - 6:51 pm GMT - [guid]
I hate my Gyration mouse.
Even though the receiver is only six feet away from my couch it still does not work reliably.
I literally have to be one foot away from the recevier for the mouse to work.
4/5/2005 - 12:57 am GMT - [guid]
Ben has some complaints about MCE
Ben has three compliants about MCE:
You can't search from the guide page.
Skipping forward is hard.
Can't switch inputs.
Have you tried using the skip and replay buttons while in the guide? That should increase the rate at which you skip forward/back.
As for your other suggestions...
Yes, possibly easy improvements, but we have to weigh every new incremental improvement not just against all known bugs, other suggestions but also new features.
How would you prioritize hooking up VCRs to Media Center versus implementing new ATSC/HDTV functionality?* While we are 'Microsoft', we are still resource and time constrained and have to make hard tradeoffs and sometimes seemingly easy little things get cut.
Update: * I don't mean to imply we actually chose ATSC/HDTV over input switching.
I was just using ATSC/HDTV as an example of a new feature that might have been prioritized higher than input switching.
4/5/2005 - 12:17 am GMT - [guid]
How to put MCE/DVR-MS content on your PSP
Do you have a Media Center and a new PSP? Barb has the low down on preparing and converting Recorded TV from MCE (convert to mpeg4) content to copy to a memory stick.
4/5/2005 - 12:06 am GMT - [guid]
New Expert Zone article on burning and archiving
Microsoft Expert Zone, Burn, Archive, and Share Digital Videos Using Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.
Tim Muscott, a group program manager in eHome, describes how he shares personal digital videos with friends and family.
Learn how to burn, archive, and share digital videos using MCE.
3/31/2005 - 2:21 pm GMT - [guid]
Why I don't have Comcast
I would definitely try it out except that my building has signed an exclusive contrast with Millennium Cable, which is a huge bummer.
As for my setup.
I have a ATI x600 graphics card and an ATI ATSC capture card (I think it's unreleased?).
3/31/2005 - 12:44 am GMT - [guid]
Cool looking small MCE
MCE needs a better name
Scott Williams thinks Microsoft has lost it's groove with respect to product naming and points to Media Center, What's in a name?:
I think that Windows Media Center Edition 2005 is an excellent product, but sheesh, you practically have to take a breath while saying it and it sounds lame.
If Apple came out with a media center product they would probably call it iRock or something like that.
The last good Microsoft name I can remember off the top of my head is XBox.
It does a great job at sounding interesting and even manages to detach itself somewhat from the stigma of being a Microsoft product.
Yes, I'd love an XBox type name for Media Center.
I cancelled our cable subscription today
I called and cancelled our $80/month digital cable subscription from Millennium Cable today.
When the customer service rep asked why, I said that all the channels I wanted were available via over the air HD broadcasters.
He at first didn't know what OTA was but I explained it and he followed up asking 'what if there were a special promotion, would you stay?' and I responded that it certainly was hard to compete with free.
And not just free, but free and works with my Media Center.
Of course, HBO isn't available via either OTA or through Millennium so we're out of luck there when Six Feet Under comes back on.
We'll likely turn to an alternative distribution mechanism to get the shows and I'll feel a bit guilty, but not so guilty since it doesn't matter how much I'd be willing to pay I still couldn't get them in HD short of moving into a new building.
Millennium does offer HBO via standard def digital cable, but I'll be honest, I can't watch standard definition TV anymore.
I'm a HD convert and there's no going back.
3/30/2005 - 6:36 pm GMT - [guid]
mail *at* mattgoyer.com
Disclaimer: The posts on this weblog are provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confer no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.
University of Waterloo alumni
|Updated: 4/11/2005; 11:12:30 PM.|