Although I still don’t have an answer to “What is your favorite algorithm?”

It almost feels as if I will negate its power by putting it in writing, but serendipity has a habit of finding its way into my life. I applied for an internship at MITRE out of pack mentality; everyone else was applying, saying it was a good place, so I figured why the hell not. I had extra resumes, so I stopped by their table. After perhaps the awkwardest talk ever with the recruiter, I handed off my resume and left without a second thought. I still had a very vague idea about what MITRE was. They were lumped together with all the government/defense contractors, who all apparently did something noteworthy yet intangible.

When they contacted me about a phone interview, I still didn’t know who the heck they were. And given that they recorded my GPA when they took my resume, I was wondering why the heck they were still interested. But again, why the hell not, I’d never done a phone interview before and it would be interesting. Interview starts, interview ends, the haze over MITRE’s domain was lightening but I still barely knew anything about them. All I knew that was within a day, they had decided they wanted to see me.

MITRE’s interview process was similar to Microsoft’s: they pay all the expenses for you to come to their office and run an interview gauntlet with several members of one or more groups. Complimentary livery service, free range over their nice cafeteria, and interview experience wrapped up into one nice package. Sure, this nice package required devoting a seven-hour block of my school day to it, but my afternoon schedule was clutch and let me slip the visit in without missing any classes. And despite my small appetite, I always find some way to make the most of all-you-can-eat meals. I probably didn’t finish half my wide assortment of food, and walked out with a Naked, gummy bears and yogurt-covered pretzels.

The interviews themselves were a rollercoaster. I did horribly with some people, did amazingly with others, got valuable interview experience and found out somewhere around the second interviewer that this was actually one of my dream jobs. I would get to work on fresh, client-oriented projects that would see high use and had users interested in seeing them succeed.

That is unfortunately where the fairytale ends. A month later I received a letter from MITRE that was too thin, and suddenly I was back with the rest of the pack.

And so it is with my full determination that I enter my next interview experience, this time for a Program Manager position at Microsoft. Over the past semester I’ve come to also believe that it is one of my dream jobs. This one takes a different track than the one at MITRE: PMs are more architects and overseers than coders. They research a feature, convince management that it is worth pursing, plot out its development and interfacing and then make sure that the programmers get it done. A career without coding is perhaps not what I envisioned computer science to be, but I believe it would make better use of my skills (write well, play nice with others) and be less demanding of my flaws (actual coding).

I compared MITRE’s interview process to Microsoft’s, and the difference between the companies’ sizes also correlates with their interview process. I still run an interview gauntlet, but this time I am being flown to Redmond, Washington for three days and two nights with taxi compensation and a generous meal stipend. I have no clue what a $40 dinner looks like, but you can be sure that my camera and I are going to find out. Since I’m staying there for the better part of three days, with an allowance for each, you’ll find three posts to be in order starting the night of January 5th.

2 comments on Although I still don’t have an answer to “What is your favorite algorithm?”

  1. You know I’m rooting for you. Sounds like you learned a lot from the first rollercoaster and here’s to hoping the second is more fruitful. Isn’t it weird when all of a sudden you go ‘oh man, I could do that…for the rest of my life‘ and it’s something you never, ever thought of but it’s just so perfectly you?

  2. (good luck)^infinity

    omfgroflwaffles to the title- they actually asked that? it’s like me getting asked what my favorite drug is during an interview. btw, it never ceases to amaze (and bother) me how you can’t see why people would want to hire you. i can’t wait to read the posts and see the pictures- hopefully you’ll have enough free time to get some pretty pretty scenery and/or cool little seattle-area coffee spots.

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