Shelley Powers posted a comment to a recent post of mine about her experience interviewing for a Microsoft position. She wrote

Tod, if I sound angry, I am. Bill Gates went in front of Congress and said we should have unlimited H1Bs, because Microsoft just can't find 'good' people in this country.

I interviewed with Microsoft. As soon as I started talking with the guy, I knew he wasn't interested. Within the first five minutes. I've been around long enough to know when someone isn't interested.

Microsoft doesn't hire 50 year old men, must less 50 year old women.

As for interviewing, yes I have interviewed people. And hired them. I've never once had a bad hire. You can tell when you talk to people, their enthusiasm, how they respond to what you say, if they're a good fit. Do they have to have all of the tech background? Not a bit. Oh, I wanted certain things: interest and background with a specific programming language, experience with relational databases, and so on. But as for the nits, most of us can do something called 'learn'. I looked for motivation, interest, fit with the team, experience, but more importantly interest in the job.

I can understand Shelley's frustration around not being made an offer for a position she feels qualified to handle. Last year, when I decided to leave the XML team I interviewed with a bunch of teams at Microsoft including the newly formed RSS team within the Internet Explorer group. The job would have involved community evangelization around the Longhorn/IE RSS efforts and working on platform APIs for RSS. Given my work on RSS Bandit and the fact that the job I was leaving was designing the core XML APIs in the .NET Framework I thought I was a shoo-in for the job. I wasn't. I didn't get an offer because I wasn't "passionate" or "experienced" enough according to the feedback I got when I inquired as to why I didn't get the job.

I could have decided to give up because "Microsoft doesn't hire black men" or "Microsoft doesn't hire people in their 20s for high visibility positions" but didn't. Instead I kept interviewing and ended up at MSN working on social software. Personally I think I'm happier at MSN than I would have been on the RSS team, I've gotten to broaden my technical horizons and work with a more diverse set of individuals on a prettier campus. Also I still get to work on RSS stuff both in my personal time and with different teams at Microsoft in an advisor role.

It's easy to give in to despair. Don't.


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube
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Friday, July 22, 2005 5:05:41 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I thought Microsoft only hires people that Google can then steal from them? ;)
Friday, July 22, 2005 5:18:31 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
(resemble that title) i didn't get an offer when interviewing for indigo evangelism. didn't know that i could ask why i didn't get it ... just assumed they wouldn't tell to avoid liability or some such nonsense. wish i would have asked .... maybe its because i'm white? sorry, couldn't resist :)

hey, this has been bugging me. how do you pronounce your name? is it 1 syllable, as in 'i dare you' ... if so, i'm jealous. or something international with 2 syllables?
Friday, July 22, 2005 5:56:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I'm 53 and MS recently hired me :-)

I agree with Dare -- from what I've seen here, mere "qualification" is not enough, you also need vision and enthusiasm. The blurb on the Careers page really hits is: "Imagine having the resources to influence tomorrow’s reality today, and having fun while you do it." If you don't come across as having some interesting ideas on tomorrow's reality, and you don't come across as thinking that it would be fun to work hard to change it, you're not going to impress people here.
Friday, July 22, 2005 7:03:44 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wow, it's hard not not to imagine you being enthusiastic about RSS. Thanks for the advice.
Friday, July 22, 2005 9:32:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Dare - Thanks for sharing this story. I, too, have interviewed for jobs within MS that I thought I would be a shoo-in for and didn't get the jobs. It's comforting to hear it happens to other people, too. And yes, the RSS team totally missed out on a great hire!
Friday, July 22, 2005 10:21:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
How nice for you Dare. Thank you for oversimplifying the comment and the discussion. And be out of work for three years and then talk to me about being philisophical. But you know, you'be really stood by your company. They should be proud of you.

I am not frustrated at not getting the job at Microsoft. I am frustrated that Bill Gates is making comments about the quality of developers in the United States. I am frustrated because from what I can hear of others who did not get jobs, there is no rhyme or reason in how the company hires. But there is a great deal of arrogance on the part of hiring managers.

But, this is hard to refute, so lets reframe the discussion about me being frustrated about not getting the job.

Good luck with your career Dare. I think you'll do well at Microsoft. I really do.

Friday, July 22, 2005 10:36:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
You ever really, really want to say something mean but then decide not to? I did.

Microsoft isn't the only IT game in town. I'm certainly no MS fan boy and I think their interviewing process sucks and I wouldn't submit myself to it. That being said, I've heard that the interviewing process at Microsoft leaves you feeling like the King/Queen of the world compared to the Google interview process. My info comes from someone who was approached by Google. He came away from the process with the impression that they thought he should be grateful to be scrubbing toilets at Google.
Friday, July 22, 2005 11:13:48 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Actually, I owe Dare an apology for the personal references in my comment. I wasn't particularly happy to see my comment brought out into a post, without the associated context. I also wasn't happy to see another young man use this to dismiss an essay I wrote that I had hoped would start a real conversation.

Dare was, in turn, responding in defense of Microsoft who is his employer. Most likely because he was also the person who recommended me to MS. I hope my comments do not cause problems for you at MS, Dare. I also hope your comments don't cause people to just dismiss what I wrote (the essay) without giving it some thought.

Scott, I am aware of Google's interviews. And Yahoo, too. In fact, there's a group of west coast companies that seem to have the same problems hiring people, and interestingly enough, they use the same hiring techniques.

Odd that companies in the rest of the country aren't having the problem hiring people.

Saturday, July 23, 2005 12:53:55 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)

I went through the interview process at MSN a few months ago. I didn't get the job that I applied for, and they sent me home saying (rightly so) that I didn't have the experience in specific areas that they were looking for.

Then they offered me a job, albeit a different one.

It's my experience that Microsoft doesn't just want to fill positions. They want *people* - specific people. People with big ideas. People who are creative and who aren't afraid to share new, crazy ideas just because some of them won't work out. Ask Scoble how he got his job. As I remember, he wasn't right for the position he interviewed for either - so they made him a new one.

Did you ask them if they knew of other positions that might be a better fit for you?
Sunday, July 24, 2005 8:12:25 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Brandon, yup, that's correct.

Sunday, July 24, 2005 6:16:06 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Shelley, if you truly wanted to start a conversation, you succeeded. There have been a number of reactions to your recent essay; unfortunately, it appears that not all the responses have been the ones you'd wanted. I don't think it's fair to raise a sensitive issue (and call out a particular company in the process) and then only expect responses that agree with yours. Dare and others are simply pointing out a different perspective.
Sunday, July 24, 2005 10:37:13 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Robert, I have no problems with Dare disagreeing with what I wrote. But he didn't really necessarily respond to what I wrote. Or at least, only that little bit having to do with MS>

But this comment and Dare's pulling it out into a post, now that I do regret because it derailed what the essay was about. This was my fault, though, for bringing that interview up in the last post--blame it on commentitus, mea culpa, whatever. I goofed.

My essay was not inspired by my direct experience with Microsoft. It was inspired, in part, by BlogHer, by Gates comments to Congress, and the one report that formed the basis for the essay, and other people's reactions to that report.

Now, if people do disagree with what I wrote in the essay, does this mean, then, that I can't engage them in dialog, Robert?

But no, I don't see a conversation going on this. Dare defended Microsoft in his post, but didn't necessarily respond to the focus of the essay. A few of the people I referenced have responded, most haven't. I have had good comments, including the author of the book I referenced, and some good notes in other weblog posts. But I wouldn't say there was a conversation.

Sunday, July 24, 2005 10:39:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Sorry, that was to Aaron. Dare's comments are a little hard to read and I thought the comment I was responding to was written by Scoble. Sorry Aaron.
Thursday, July 28, 2005 4:17:18 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Shelley, I think I saw a statistic that the average hire gets turned down 2.5 times before getting a job in the company. By definition, if the second team made a hire, this would mean that the first team made a mistake at least in some cases. This has been a frustration of mine getting good people into the company; sometimes it takes a couple of tries, and a good candidate can get fed up and decide not to keep trying. Part of the reason is that groups tend to demand *unanimous* thumbs up, so if one interviewer has a bad day, that's it. There are lots of other possible things that can go wrong; for example asking a really senior person things that only recent college grads would know or care about, and vice-versa. So a rejection or two is not really a reflection on the candidate, IMO, and the product group making the assesment shouldn't be judged too harshly either -- we all make mistakes.

To the bigger point, I don't think that H1B visas have any impact at all on hiring of citizens. I really do think it's an issue of availability of people. I mean, we probably mistakenly turn away qualified H1B holders at the same rate as citizens, because by the time the head is allocated it's already allocated -- there is no way that anybody sits there in an interview saying, "I wish we could hire this person if only they were not a citizen" -- it's not even a consideration. So the fact that we can't fill the headcount we have, with combination of H1B and citizens, means we need to increase the size of the pool. Enrollment in US compsci is just plummeting, and I honestly don't see the size of the pool in America increasing. And since the whole point of a visa program is to keep that pool artificially low, the H1B is the natural place to look. Continuing to artificially limit perfectly qualified people from other countries does not make it easier for qualified citizens to get a job; it just means that we do without qualified people, or else lower the bar (since the problem of missing good hires is agnostic to this).
Friday, July 29, 2005 7:02:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Shelley, I've been in the position of filling about four test development jobs for my group in the last two years at Microsoft. Most of my open headcount stayed open over eight months of active searching. It takes a really long time to find intrested and qualified people even with H1Bs. While I'm finally full, my pure development counterparts have had the same open head count for months. Every indication from where I'm sitting is that the talent tool is tight, not slack, and hearing about a decline of CS grads in the country is downright scary.
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