thoughtwisps One commit at a time

words and typos

Yesterday morning, I woke up, and like any proper millenial internet addict, immediately reached for my tablet so I could check up on the usual suspects - the tweets, the emails, the likes. Little dopamine fixes like these get me out of bed and in front of the tea/coffee cup (if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been writing more social media quitpieces than is healthy for any single individual).

An email from TechCompanyA was in my inbox and I happily clicked on it. In fact, given my previous experience and the recent interview grinder I’ve been through, I probably had no reason to be happy, but I so desperately wanted it to be good news that my brain automatically switched what could have been to what was until it was confronted with the words inside.

It said, with a bit more empty embellishement and some typos sprinkled in, that my programming ability was not good enough for the team. Then it wished me the best of luck.

It feels as though my whole career has been nothing but luck. No skill, just blind luck and maybe a bit of affirmative action. It could be true for all I know.

Several weeks of effort to prepare, two phone interviews and a take home coding assignment that had taken a week of work to complete were condensed into a sentence that said ‘thank you, but you can’t sit with us’. Except this time, it’s not because I am 14 and not wearing makeup, skinny jeans and a smile when the captain of the track team walks by, it’s because something about those lines of code I wrote, zipped and shipped was not cool.

At least, in high school, we were clear on these kinds of boundaries.

Now I’m left to wonder. I wrote tests and READMEs. I checked that the sample program ran. I did my best to organize into libraries and modules, to be DRY and make sure I checked all the YAGNIs. I was sure it was as SOLID as I could get it.

But I’d broken some undocumented rule that states what code written by ‘real engineers’ looks like.

In the end, it wasn’t the words that stung the most, but the typos - not really subtle typos, but typos that any half-decent spell-check would have caught right away. The hours spent preparing, coding and on the phone weren’t worth a few clicks to get the spell check to autocorrect.

Aside from a whole other set of ‘suggestions’ I might get from HN and other helpful online strangers (‘why do you think the company should bother responding?’ ‘why do you think you should get a job?’, ‘you just don’t interview well’, ‘you need to study more’, ‘don’t complain’), there is one thing I’d like learn from this: if, in the future, I am ever in a position to hire someone else and decide to reject the candidate based on a code sample, I need to be clear about why instead of saying their coding ability was not up to the standards of the team. If the company has clear hiring criteria which were used to judge the code sample in question, then there should be clear reasons why the code in question was not up to standard.

This August marked my three year anniversary in the technology industry. I know now a lot more than I knew back when I finished university and I’m not sure how long I want to keep going. Every day is filled with ‘this is not enough’ and an ever growing to do list of daily practice and routine: trying to work on open source, pushing personal projects to Github, working on the actual work I get paid for, practising data structures and algorithms, learning new programming languages and tools, going to meetups, writing conference talks, organizing study groups and workshops. The joy I used to feel for writing code to solve problems has been packaged into Github stars and activity graphs, JIRA tickets and sprint boards, velocity points and burndown charts.

I recently walked out of an interview. The interviewers set a blank stack of papers in front of me and told me to start implementing data structures. When I got stuck, the questions were repeated in slower and more frustrated tones and the air inside grew hot and bright lights irritating. When no one spoke and my pen was not busy flying sketching code on an A4 (because that is totally how most of production ready code gets written in daily life), we all sat in silence, marvelling at my utter stupidity for not being able to conjure implementations of things that surely any programmer worth his salt could do. I wondered many things: why I couldn’t solve this simple problem, how on earth had I passed their online coding test and initial phone screen, why was I here, in this room, with these people, who had no interest in being here and were probably wondering why they had to waste their time speaking to me instead of coding/sitting in meetings.

So I got up, straightened the papers and said thank you, I will see myself out.