The Full Lifecycle Development
My first real interview as a programmer was a memorable experience and a great lesson. It freed me from
the last bit of a sense of propriety or respect in relation to the work experience in general and the interview
process in particular. I had completed a condensed programming class through the extension course
department of my college alma mater in an attempt to transition to a more lucrative career. I was I thought
leaving the unappreciated underpaid and over worked administrative and customer service world behind. I
was heading to the highly compensated and valued world of technology.
Armed with my wits, confidence, and a handful of computer training classes I flooded the market with my
resume and jumped at the first response. It sounded perfect. An entry level programmer for a small local
software development company making twenty-five dollars an hour. It was more then I could have hoped
for. I remember taking an extra long time to get ready. Making sure everything was perfect. Each hair on
my head was in just the right place. All three copies of my meticulously crafted resume were stored along
with an extensive list of references in the professional looking portfolio which I had bought just for this
interview. I arrived thirty minutes ahead of time and sat in my car out of sight of the building while I practice
my answers to what should have been the common questions in order to make then appear natural. I had
researched the company web site and had a few end of interview question to ask as a follow up to show
that I was informed and proactive. I was ready.
I stepped confidently up to the door and then inside. It was a dumpy little office that had a damp musty
scent. It was dimly light with cheep fluorescents several of which where out and needed to be replaced. I
walked up to what was acting as the front desk but looked more like the pick up window of a mom and pop
sandwich shop. The main room was empty but it appeared that the hallway going back and the back
rooms were busy with a handful of young twenty something’s; all guys. It looked more like a high school
chess club meeting then a software company. As I stood there one of the guys came to the front and said
yeah. I said I was there for an interview with Phil or Bill or whoever it was. He was supposedly the owner.
The guy walked away for a moment and come back. He said the owner was in a meeting but wanted me to
fill out an application. I was prepared for that and went straight to it. I made sure every mark was perfect
and accurate. When I was done I gave it back to the same guy who seemed to be the lead guy or at least
the administrative one. I offered him a fresh copy of my resume and he said he didn’t need it. He then
lead me to a room with two rows of pc’s and said the owners was still in a meeting and wanted me to take
an online test ( by online I mean a computer test as the internet was still moving at 1440 back then and
web pages were static.) I had not been aware of the test but I was ready. I was confident I knew what I
was trained to do. I was one of the better students in the classes I had taken and always finish my
assignments before the others. The test was ridicules. It was confusing and filled with ambiguous
questions. It was a software program that had been developed in house from a list of question thought up
by the staff. I was sweating by the time I finished an hour or so later. I was sweating but not from the
questions. I was hot. The sun must have been high in the sky near noon in the warm climate of Southern
California and there did not seem to be any air condition in the old building. I thought hey how about
opening a window or something but there didn’t; appear to be one to open. I was also getting soar from
having sat uncomfortably on a cheap and somewhat broken office chair for the past hour leaning forward
most of the time to avoid having the cushion screws poke me in the back. I did not ask for another chair as
I did not want to give the wrong impression.
When I was done I waited around for a bit not seeing the guy who had lead me from task to task so far.
Eventually, feeling as if I might have taken too long on the test and thinking maybe they had abandoned
me, I ask someone else and he went to get the lead guy again. This time when I told him I was done he
just said, “You can wait in here.” leading to a tiny conference type room near the front again. It had table
that looked second hand and was way too big for the room. There were several chairs in the room that
looked better then the one I had been sitting on so I thought my situation was improving. He said I could
wait here and went away. About twenty minute later he came back in and said the owner was still in a
meeting and it would be a bit. I said ok. I had started to develop a head ach and I was getting thirsty. It
was likely after lunch by now and there didn’t appear to be any water or even a restroom in site. About ten
minutes later the same guy came back he said that the owner was not available and that he was going to
interview me. I thought, “Damn, Are you kidding?” OK at least we could get it done. He was a pleasant
fellow and it seemed we got along well.
We seemed to have the same understanding of programming. His technical questions where not hard and
I answered them correctly. His personality questions where easy and in fact it became quickly obvious that
in life I had a lot more experience and in regarded to work in general it was the same. In no time I was
guiding him through the interview and we where chatting about other things and interests. I did get the
impression that he was stalling for time by the end of the interview. I think he liked me and I got the feeling
that I might get the job. As we ended he said, “OK that’s all I’ve got. Let me check and see if the owner is
free.” He got up and worked his way around the extra chairs and to the door. It came flying open nearly
knocking him over. It was the owner. Out of his meeting or whatever had occupied him for the past two plus
hours. And it appeared he was not in a good mood at all. I by now was definitely hungry and thirsty and
my head had moved from a minor ach to a thunderous pounding. I was ready to be done and He was
ready to begin. Damn, I thought again. And this time I thought maybe I don’t want this job. If this is how
this guy does business it is not going to be worth it. It was however a bit difficult to leave. I was on the
backside of the table opposite from the only door. I was across from the owner who had come in and sat
in the chair directly in front of me and blocking the door.
I contained my self and with all pleasant decorum stood up and reach out my hand to introduce myself. He
had walked in and said abruptly, “What’s your name?” He waved off my hand and plopped down. I offered
him a copy of my resume as did the lead guy who had a copy from the fax I had originally sent. The owner
said no He would not need it. He seemed to deal with every one of his employees with as much contempt
and disregard as he had with me. I thought how rude. What arrogance. He was a fat middle aged man
shabbily dressed. He seemed to be permanently unhappy except when he was treating someone poorly.
He also seem to take a particular delight when he could make someone feel stupid or small by proving he
know more then they did about anything.
I would come to know later that he was what would be a prototypical mainframe or green screen
programmer. One of those guys who had learned programming back when the development world was
about multi-million dollar government projects that took years to create and required constant repair and
maintenance of machines that where maxed out at a single gigabit of hard drive space. He was one of the
few that had jumped from the dinosaur ways and marched in to the pc world of the future. He had
probably been fired by IBM or some airspace company for being a jerk. But to this group of minions he
was a near god. This was the first job for most of them and they were easily intimidated.
And although I had rarely been paid during my short lived computer career at that point I had already had
a long and varied work history to include four years in the Service. And I could see a fake and a bully from
far off. I had decided to just make it though as quickly as possible and go get lunch before I headed
home. I wasn’t going to get this job. He asked me a few short questions which I flipped off answers to with
a bit of contempt of my own. It was hard to contain the thoughts in my head, as he talked, that I was not
only smarter then this guy but better then him.
I had not mastered the art of keeping my thoughts and feelings from being seen in my manner and
speech. It would be years later that I had been able to control this. It’s a great trick and very helpful but
for the moment the more he questioned and I answered the more irritated he got with me.
Finally he just let it out and asked, “What makes you think your smarter then me?” I didn’t hesitate or try to
I said, “You took twenty years to learn what you have and you seem stuck with it. I picked this stuff up in a
few months and am confident that given the project some reference books and a bit of time I could do
anything you are doing.”
He was astounded. See he had called me out in an attempt to intimidate me. He thought I would deny my
thoughts and a fall a way like the rest of his little lackeys. When I didn’t it pissed him off.
He said, “That’s pretty arrogant. Do you know what these guys are doing? They are writing GIS
programming.” This was of course before every cheap cell phone had a GIS interface. And in fact before
there really were cheap cell phones but I thought ok so what.
I said, “Give me the book and two days and I’d be doing it to.” At this point the other guy in the room
looked as if he were trying to hide while the owner and I got into an actual argument with raised voices and
stern hand gestures. I was done by now.
Having stood up at some point in the conversation I now sat down and said, “Is that it?” In a manner that
really conveyed, “That is it.”
I said, “I don’t have any more questions. Do you?”
He said, “No.”
I looked at the other guy who seemed relieved and a bit dismayed as if he just realized that the Wizard of
OZ was just on old guy behind a curtain. As I got up and headed for the door the other guy seemed a bit
pleased. Like he had had enough of the bully and it was nice to see the owner take it on the chin for
once. I said good bye formally and walked out. As the door shut I thought of all my training and how I
could have just killed him. By the time I got to the car… I had a smile on my face and realized how much I
had enjoyed the conflict. I missed the fight and thought about getting back into the Corps not for the last
You never know how an interview will turn out especially if you are trying to stretch yourself into a new
position or making a career change. Interviews are a world of their own and you have to take them as
such. They’re like an audition for a play. You put on a costume and memorize a bunch of prepared lines
and responses. The key is to get to know and understand your audience as soon as possible and adapt
to them the way a good comedian can read a room.
The Lesson to Learn:
In most cases the interviewers hold the cards and you have to try an impress them. They have something
you want and as long as they hold the wipe you have to make the trip and put on a show. The only time
this is not the case is when you don’t care if you get the job or not. Not needing a job means that
unbeknownst to the interviewer you are holding the cards. It’s not quite a complete reversal because even
though you don’t need what they have and they need something; they may not need it from you.
The Brutal Truth:
Interviews suck… they don’t present an accurate picture of the candidate or the work place. You will have
to go to and get through many interviews in life and the best you can do is learn how to play the part and
try to make it so that they need and want you more then you need or want them.