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Somewhat Verbatim: Startup Job Interview

“Hey Mike, thanks for coming in. Here's the lineup today. We'll have a panel whiteboard interview, a pair programming exercise, some time for questions, and no lunch. Ready?”

“As ever.”

In walked a guy in a t-shirt who introduced himself as Dave, a guy in a polo shirt also named Dave, and an Asian lady. They got right down to business. “You have an m by n grid of squares. Each square is empty unless occupied by a rabbit or a black hole. There is also a wandering troll who eats rabbits but teleports if he falls in a hole. Write a closed-form expression for the number of rabbits at each round...”

I started writing. The group was quiet except for polo Dave suddenly leaving after ten minutes. “Is that normal?” They assured me it was.

I finished with minutes to spare. “Good enough,” they said. “Any questions?”

Next up was pair programming. I sat down next to Julien in front of his 30-inch monitor and he handed me a keyboard. “Code this. We have an hour, including a smoke break.”

His screen was splattered with tiny text in a shade of blue on a rather darker blue background. I squinted and started to type.

During our smoke break I think he forgot why I was there. “What a slog this is. What a way to make a living.” He stubbed out his cig. “Back to the salt mines.”

An hour later the code was ready. “Great! Now per our overly aggressive integration policy, it's already pushed to production.”

“Wait, it's on production? What is this, Ender's Game?”

The next interview was in an uncomfortably small room with two guys doing a good-cop/bad-cop routine. They started with an open-ended teaser.

“If you could change anything, what would it be?”

About myself? About the company? The world? I was stumped. I'd change the whole situation to a picnic at the beach if I could, but that may have been my stomach speaking. Before I knew it my time was up.

“Thanks for coming in. We'll be in touch!”

I stepped out blinking into the afternoon sunlight. A few bikes sped by. I headed for the curry truck.