“Why are we mission-focused?”
I’m not a journalist, but I’ve interviewed dozens and dozens of software engineers in my career, as part of the hiring process at the tech companies where I’ve worked.
A standard session would be an hour, just me and a candidate engineer alone in a room (or Zoom). I spend 5–10 minutes breaking the ice and chatting about their background, we spend 40–45 solving a (contrived) coding problem, and then I leave the last ten minutes for the candidate to ask me their own questions about the company.
You can learn a lot about the candidate in those ten minutes — and you have to, because it’s the only unstructured time where you can just sit and talk as fellow humans. Sometimes the only question people ask is, “I didn’t get it, did I?” and then I try to give what comfort and guidance I can.
Mostly, people use the time as a chance to get candid answers to questions about the company; they ask some form of, “what’s it really like?” What is the day-to-day work like, how are the people, what does the business actually do, what are the challenges it faces, and where is it all headed?
But sometimes I would interview an engineer who would use that time very differently: they would only ask me about the computers. How big is our fleet of servers, how much data do we have, and what are the coolest tools we use? Often, these didn’t fill ten minutes, since they largely have factual answers that aren’t fertile for further discussion.
So I’d try to fill the time, “do you want me to talk more about the team? or the company, or day-to-day life?” Sometimes they would just say no; more often they’d hesitate, say “sure”, but not really listen to what I said. “No, ma’am, I’m just here for the computers.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to solve interesting technical problems. But I often left those sessions with a nagging thought, “they really don’t care what the code is used for? or what kind of people work here?”
What kind of environment would a person like that excel in? What kind of boss would be excited to hire them?