By just about any measure, Google is one of the best companies a software programmer can work for, between its high pay, free food, playground of a campus, and the interesting tech it creates.
But in one important way, the company may have shot itself in the foot: its legendarily difficult interview process.
Google is right now being sued on allegations of age discrimination by a couple of job candidates who didn’t get offered a job there. Google is fighting the suit and calls the allegations “without merit.”
The suit may very well be without merit, but some programmers believe the company has designed its tough recruitment process to heavily favour those fresh from school with less real-world experience.
In fact, that notorious interview process caused freelance programmer Michael Geary simply not to apply for a full-time job at Google even after he had worked as a contract programmer for the company for five years, he told Business Insider.
Google knows he’s a Google Maps expert
Back in late 2007, Geary had been working at a startup called Zvents, a company which created local event calendars (it was later acquired by StubHub).
His job was to build maps to events, so he had become an expert with programming using Google Maps.
As a friendly, helpful fellow, he spent a lot of time on the Google Maps mailing list helping other programmers with their questions.
Google took notice and hired him to help it build an election map for the 2oo8 presidential election.
Although he lives near the Googleplex in Mountain View, he was attached to a team working in Washington, D.C.
They liked his work and he enjoyed working with them, so he continued on a contract basis for another five years. At that point, Google pulled the project in-house.
He faced a choice: apply to join Google, either with this team or another, or move on to another contract job.
He opted to move on.
“I heard about this interview process,” Geary said, “It seemed fine-tuned for people just out of college. When you are just out college, there’s a lot of algorithms, and data structures and fast-thinking on a whiteboard, like you do in school. As opposed to real software engineering, there’s a lot of other stuff that goes into that. In my real work, in 20 years, I’ve never used a whiteboard. I use my computer. But in job interviews they do it all the time.”
He said he feared the process would be “quizzes about algorithmic minutiae and having to code a red-black tree on the spot on a whiteboard — all things that favour recent CS grads.”
He’s not alone in this attitude
Earlier this week, a blog post went viral on Hacker News, a site where programmers chat about news of interest to them, from Pierre Gauthier, a man with 37 years of coding experience and 24 years of R&D director experience.
Gauthier, founder and CEO of TWD Industries, wrote that he never applied to Google but was called and asked to apply for a director of engineering job. So he agreed to a phone interview.
He posted the questions he was asked in the interview and the recruiter’s reply, coupled with his inner monologue about it all.
Basically, the recruiter was asking a list of technical questions and believed that there was only one “right” answer, he said. According to the blog post:
“Google’s representative stated that both management and up-to-date coding skills were required (a rare mix). But having exercised the former for more than 2 decades and the latter for almost 4 decades was not enough: I failed to give the ‘right answers.'”
His inner monologue basically shredded the recruiter’s “right” answer to pieces, pointing out other technical solutions that were better.
But perhaps the most famous story is how Google rejected a programmer named Max Howell in 2015. Howell is well known for creating a popular programming tool called Homebrew. Howell vented his frustration in a tweet that went viral.
The tweet said, “Google: 90% of our engineers use the software you wrote (Homebrew), but you can’t invert a binary tree on a whiteboard so f*&k off.” He later explained in another tweet, “I was rejected this morning. But it was a flippant tweet.”
Howell told Business Insider, “For me the situation was: Google really needed a plumber, so I turned up with 20 years of experience and all the right tools (some of which I’d developed myself), but then they insisted on quizzing me on fluid dynamics before they’d let me fix their leak.”
Ironically, after Geary talked about not applying in a post on Hacker News last week, a product manager for the mapping team replied and told him that he did want to hire him and tried to get Google to fund the position, but got turned down.
Geary says that not applying to Google back then, “could have been a mistake on my part,” although he still has no intention of applying now.
Meanwhile, Max Howell landed at Apple.
And Gauthier updated his blog post to say that after the post went viral, he received an outpouring of job offers (that he didn’t need) and resumes of people wanting to come work for him, telling us, “Google cold-called me – I was not seeking a job. I founded TWD 18 years ago,” he said, telling us he believes his company’s “‘post-quantum’ security technology is way ahead of today’s academic R&D.”
When we asked Google to respond to criticism that its interview process favours new college grads, a spokesperson told us:
“From hundreds of thousands of interviews, we hire thousands of engineers every year — from new college grads to people with decades of experience. The process is well known to be rigorous, but we get consistently positive feedback from interviewees. Of course, with that many interviews taking place, there are some candidates who come away unhappy. We want more great people from a range of backgrounds and ages to apply to work here, so are very grateful for their feedback.”
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