the reverse interview

So after 20 years of doing this, I've learned a few things about the interviewing process. One of those things is the concept of a reverse interview.

For my example, I am going to use the interview I did for a company called Recurly (in San Francisco), they were based in the Mission near where we used to live and I was excited to finally get one of those 'warehouse' dev jobs, like I used to pine for in LA when I used to live east of Hollywood with my view of the downtown skyscrapers. So I get the interview, I talk to Scott, their lead dev, my prospective 'boss', and we hit it off like gangbusters. Seriously. I was super-excited to work for this guy.

And then he says, one last thing - we need our boss to sign off on you. He's going call you tomorrow. He's going to do an online 'code' interview. We'll call Scott's boss Steve. So Steve gets on the phone, hey how you doing, I am going to ask you how to code a binary tree, we need a left method and a right method and some sort of object. Pick a language. We were using a screen-sharing service, it might have been a shared google doc or something. I could type and he could see it. And I'm saying to myself, 'sweet! I just learned about data structures at Stanford - this is going to be easy'.

I had just finished a class about structures and algorithms at Stanford with Cynthia Lee, and although we used C++ for that I decided to write something with Ruby, because that's my go-to. And I decide to write an implementation using recursion, because had just finished that section with Cynthia and I was excited to show off.

ME: Ok, well the first thing we need is a base case.

STEVE: can you start with the left and right methods?

ME: OK...

and it all went downhill from there. Basically, if you don't understand recursion, it can't be explained to you in a few minutes. It's like the concept of limits - you need some time to wrap your brain around it. And it became clear that Steve did not really understand recursion, or worse yet, thought he did but hadn't put it into practice.

I did not get that job, and for a while I was angry because I really liked talking to Scott, but then I realized, that Steve guy is running the ship. And he was a mess. Put simply: he decided to veto a candidate that his own manager had already approved, based solely on his own limited understanding of Ruby, and recursion, and his inability to see his own limits (pun intended).

So that's what the reverse interview is - if you are not paying attention, as an interviewEE, to all of the details available to you in terms of what kind of culture exists at the company, then you are missing a huge opportunity to vet the organization before you are tied down. I believe great organizations are easy to spot - as are uneasy ones. Most of the time all we have to do open our eyes, and pay attention.

EDIT: I was shooting for something like this implementation but I didn't think to rope in the enumerable module.