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Cold reality check - First Java Interview

 
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So I had my first job interview yesterday. It was actually the only company I was interested in so I kind of zeroed in on getting a job in that particular company. I didn't even send in my resume, just an e-mail expressing interest. I wanted to get as much information as I could about what technologies and abilities I'd need to work there.

Two days later I had an interview via Skype. That went quite well, and a month later I was asked to come in person. I thought it was a great opportunity because they weren't looking for someone with a lot of experience, and I was really excited about the work I'd be doing. They were fully aware of the fact that I am inexperienced and still need to work on some skills. Yet it's exactly what I want because I'm self employed and I don't have always the luxury of learning/coding because of other responsibilities.

A couple of days before the interview, I was asked to solve some database-related problems and send in the solutions. It had been a long time since I'd done any kind of database work, but I sat down and worked my butt off to make sure I got it all right. In fact, I almost re-read an entire book in three days. I made a nice presentation and sent in the solutions. That was last Friday, the interview was yesterday.

I re-read what they required, and they were quite specific with regard to what they expected candidates to know. I covered all the topics but two.

Now, just so you know I was ready to leave my family behind (for a while) and move to another city just so I could get a shot at working for this company. I drove halfway across the country to get there, quite tired as I didn't get much sleep the night before.

As I walked into the open-space office the first thing that hit me was: SILENCE I swear there must have been about 40-60 people there and no one uttered a single word. My hello kinda went unechoed and I just did not see blazing enthusiasm in these people's faces. In fact, it seemed as if they were all scared of something. Now I understand they're working, but c'mon! It just really struck me as, "Umm, so I'm going to be one of those people?"

The next thing that made me feel very uneasy was the fact that the interview was conducted in the open space itself, so I can safely assume that most people in the office heard the whole interview. I shouldn't probably even assume anything, since I did not hear any of the workers say anything at any time while I was there. It was just eerily, deadly silent. No one discussing the project, no one asking anyone else about something, just people sitting there glancing at their screens working, hopefully.

I know that when you're at work you should be working, obviously, but I've been to a lot of offices and have never come across this kind of silence when there are so many people in on area.

And this open space interview was supposed to mean what? " Hey, there's a guy who can take your spot so you better work harder." My enthusiasm dwindled. I think interviews should be conducted privately.

Anyway, the interview did not go well either. I admit I was nervous and tired and when asked questions about my presentation and the databases I designed and queries I'd written I hit a wall. I managed to somehow figure everything out, but the nervousness was impairing my thinking. In the end I did explain pretty much everything, but I don't think I'd made a good impression.


I understand that I will have to make this decision myself. I'd like to become a software developer, perhaps later a designer and project manager. Tomorrow they're supposed to let me know whether they're interested, but at this point I'm not. I'd have to drop everything and move and I just don't see myself working in a place where people just don't communicate. Or perhaps there's a company policy that tells them to use instant messages? I should have asked.

Or perhaps my expectations are wrong and that's the way things look in the software industry, can someone clue me in?


Anyway, I do want to say that the experience was enlightening. I discovered some of my weaknesses, refreshed some of my knowledge and pushed it further thanks to the assignments and directions they'd given me earlier (regarding both Java and database programming). I honestly wanted to be a part of something exciting because of my enthusiasm for it. As long as I can live comfortably, the salary is not the most important thing for me - just want a chance to develop and contribute to a great project. I know life's not perfect, but can someone please at least tell me that it's different elsewhere? Cup of coffee in the morning, some hellos, questions, and discussion about the project?

About two years ago I worked in a similar environment for a few weeks to make some extra cash. Most people would be quiet most of the time, but there were managers who would go around asking questions, the person next to me would chat me up, or I'd chat them up in at the beginning of my shift. Not a 30 minute conversation, but just things to break the ice if we hadn't met before. I just failed to see the slightest hint of humanity in that office.











 
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It's very uncommon for an entire software development office to be silent. It does sound eerie, but, I wouldn't make assumptions based on that alone. I have, at times, wished that I could have couple of hours of uninterrupted work time. It could be that the company might have instituted a "no-meeting" rule for 2-3hours per day. That would be completely awesome actually. Or it might not be the software development office that you had the meeting in. Maybe all of them were doing data entry. I've worked on a floor full of data entry operators, and man, those guys are focused* Frankly, I would have asked them what's going on, and told them point blank that the environment makes you nervous. That would have given them a chance to clarify the situation, or make corrections. You might want to still go back and speak frankly with them. They might be able to explain you further and if you want give you another crack at the interview.


*Funny story. I got a job at a company and the manager gave me a join date which was earlier than they had offerred other people. Then, they forgot I was joining earlier. I showed up on the join date, and they were "huh... you start today. We thought you start next month". I said "Here's the paper that you gave me. I already resigned from my previous job. What do you want me to do?" They started fumbling around, and finally figured out that one of their data entry operators called in sick, so they gave me his station, with a bunch of floppies that had the compiler and their source code. The tech lead gave me a task and loeft me alone. I started before the data entry shift started, and installed the software. By the time the operators started working, I was plugging away at my code. The operators get assessed based on how fast they put in the data, so those guys were constantly at their keyboards, whereas, I was more or less think..type..think...type...think...type. I would even take longer and more frequent breaks than they did. The data operators broke for lunch, and the guy next to me asked me if I want to join them. I said no.. I need to finish what I have on hand. He looked completely alarmed, and said something to the effect that I won't last in this company very long. I don't know if it was advise or threat, but it sounded a mix of both. I think they were all union, and by union rules they had to take their breaks and couldn't work during break time. I started laughing, partly because I was amused (haha stupid data entry operator thinks I'm doing data entry) and partly nervous (are they going to gang up on me). He went and talked to the supervisor, who probably knew I wasn't data entry. He didn't bother me after that.

But yeah, getting to the point, it's very eerie to sit in a room full of data entry operators. Your no talk-all work scenario reminded me of that.
 
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Well, this sounds like a fairly unusual development environment, although as Jayesh says, this might not have been representative of where you might work. But I would certainly encourage you to trust your own judgement and your instincts on how you feel about this job. If the job/workplace doesn't feel right for you/your family, then it probably won't be right for you. If you pull out of the recruitment process, do so gracefully - e.g. "for family reasons" - rather than "because the whole place was ultra-creepy". You never know when you might run into the same people again, and next time it might be for a job you really do want. Good luck in finding the right job for you.
 
Paul Mrozik
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Thank you for your replies.

Just to clear things up, the company is small so what I saw was the whole development/testing team. Perhaps there were two different groups, but both were quiet.

Jayesh:

Definitely not data entry, but testing yes. I admit that you're right about asking them directly, though. I should have done that. They said they'd let me know by tomorrow, but given the interview impression I'd made I doubt that they'd want to hire me, although everything was great pre-interview.

Chris:

You have a good point there, I just might run into them again one day. The job would be a great way to get my foot in the door, but I'd have to move to another city, leave my family behind, and rent a room somewhere. I was really excited about the job itself so I was willing to do that, but I'm having second thoughts now. I wouldn't have anyone to come home to so work would have to be at least mildly satisfying, but they said they'd start me off on an external project and then this ultra silent environment...

Thank you both for your input again, greatly appreciated.
 
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It was your first and only interview right? If you do not like it, do not do it. Because it was your first interview and you did not apply for any other company, I think if you would try more you will get other possibilities. You as a candidate can also say no to a job!. Although sometimes the interviewers seem to forget that. I just had a very bad experience in that myself :-) Don't worry, just apply to another company. Anyway, our open office environment is so noisy, your situation would be paradise for me, if it was just for a few hours a day. We are in a chicken run! We have customer support on the telephone next to us. Management thinks it's good for communication..
 
Paul Mrozik
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Jan de Boer wrote:It was your first and only interview right? If you do not like it, do not do it. Because it was your first interview and you did not apply for any other company, I think if you would try more you will get other possibilities. You as a candidate can also say no to a job!. Although sometimes the interviewers seem to forget that. I just had a very bad experience in that myself :-) Don't worry, just apply to another company. Anyway, our open office environment is so noisy, your situation would be paradise for me, if it was just for a few hours a day. We are in a chicken run! We have customer support on the telephone next to us. Management thinks it's good for communication..



Yeah it was my first interview for a programming position ever. I think the interviewers were okay, but the whole environment was creepy, way too stiff if you know what I mean. The funny thing is I never actually applied for the position. I just sent them an e-mail because I wanted to get more information, and then I got a reply and they wanted to interview me via Skype. I knew at that time that there's still a lot I have to learn and I told them I could start around July. Then I got an e-mail from them with three conditions, one of them being that I relocate and start work at the beginning of the second week of June. Everything was kind of unexpected. I wanted to start looking for a job only after taking the OCJP exam, or at least getting prepared for it. I really didn't like going in there knowing that my skills are not solid, but I was very motivated...at least till I saw the working environment.



 
Jan de Boer
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Okay Paul! But just do not worry. You can reject a job too, just as they reject candidates.
 
Paul Mrozik
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Jan de Boer wrote:Okay Paul! But just do not worry. You can reject a job too, just as they reject candidates.



Thanks Jan. I see nothing wrong with rejecting the job, it's just like pulling out of a transaction you're not certain about. I was just wondering whether perhaps my gut feeling was wrong here, but I think I'll go with my gut and it says no.
 
Jan de Boer
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Well the only thing I can think of is that maybe they just had lack of space and were forced to hold the interview in the open office space, and they told all the workers to keep quiet since we do not want our candidate to be distracted by your chit chat. But otherwise it is a strange situation. I never had an interview in an open office, and mostly the problem with an open office is that too many people are talking, not too little people.
 
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It is still very naughty having an interview in public like that. Not as if it were an “ordeal by sherry” or similar.
 
Paul Mrozik
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Yeah it made me feel uneasy and nervous to be honest. I really didn't like that about myself on that particular day. I don't remember that last time I'd been so nervous.

Anyway, they didn't get in touch with me since the interview and I don't think they will.
 
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