Interviewing the Company

Posted on December 15, 2014 by Brian Jaress
Tags: work, people, story

I claim no special insight into the broader issues. This is something that happened, though details have been changed, and that I’m often reminded of:

Years ago, I showed up for a job interview and discovered there was no reception desk, just a large room full of occupied half-cubicles. In those days, most companies started with an in-person interview, not a phone screen, and my only contact had been via email with to set up the interview.

There were doors around the edge of the room to private offices, but barging into one of those seemed no better than interrupting one of the cubicle workers. I looked around for someone close to the door who seemed not too busy. Before I picked a person to disturb, a woman two-thirds of the way across the room poked her head over the top of her cubicle, saw me, and hurried over.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I handle all the emails and scheduling for the CEO, and I forgot to put your interview with him on the calendar. He’s in the middle of something right now, but he can see you in a few minutes.”

“No problem. Thank you.” I was relieved that I had the right place and that I wouldn’t have to come back another day.

No one else in the room had looked up from their work, even the people three feet from us. They continued to ignore us as she showed me into one of the side offices.

She sat in the chair next to mine, both facing the CEO’s desk, and we talked while we waited. She didn’t try to interview me or probe very much into my background, but she offered to answer any questions she could. She clearly felt responsible for the delay and obliged to wait through it with me.

The job posting had been vague, so I had a lot of questions about what technologies were being used and what the company actually did. She answered all my questions and, more importantly, answered them straight. There wasn’t any “oh, I think it’s something called . . .” or “I’m not really the person to ask, but . . .” which I took to be a good sign.

The CEO arrived in less time than I expected. “Sorry about that,” he said once we were alone. “She manages my email and the calendar. She forgot to tell me about this interview.” He looked downward and spoke forcefully through the entire interview.

“It’s all right. She must be busy,” I said, thinking of the room full of people, who I figured had meetings on that same calendar.

He went over my resume, asking basic questions in the same manner as his apology, as if he were scolding his desk. At first, everything he talked about was either on my resume or in the job posting. Then he told me about the company:

“We’re a small company. Most of the people out there work for another company that we rent space from. There’s just two of us. I’m CEO, she’s Head of Software Development. She wrote the software, but it’s too much work for her. You’d be reporting to her.”

It was one of those revelations that raises many questions at once, such as: Why is the Head of Software Development writing your emails and managing your calendar? Why didn’t she tell me she was the programmer? Why isn’t she doing the interviews? Do you really need another programmer? What if you hired an administrative assistant, or just sent your own emails, and let her be a full-time programmer? Do you realize how much effort, uninterrupted time, and skill it takes to write software?

I was too young and too polite to ask any of those questions, but I knew I didn’t want to work there. Nothing important was said after that.

Since then, women in programming has become a hot topic (or at least I started hearing a lot more about it) and there are two female programmers in particular who I remember when the topic comes up. One is the woman I met just once in the story above, and the other is part of a story I’ll save for another time.