A note to Google recruiters (and on Google hiring practices)

Writing this in part to let off steam, and in part so I can point the next recruiter at it.

Time from my leaving Google til getting the first unrelated contact from a Google recruiter: 6 days.

Interest I have in going through Google’s hiring process again: zero.

When Metaweb/Freebase was acquired by Google last year, we came in as part of the Search team. As a community/developer relations person, Search didn’t really have a place for me, but they brought me in on a fixed term offer, giving me a year to figure out how I might fit in at Google, perhaps by transferring my work to a more appropriate group or finding another role that made more sense.

I’m going to handwave a bit, but in short, we shuffled things around so that I could continue doing my job by moving to a more appropriate part of the organisation. And then I got to interview for my own job.

Now, I’m 100% confident that Google wouldn’t have hired me straight off the street. I knew when Metaweb was acquired that that was the only way I was likely to get in there, and I certainly appreciated the opportunity, but I wasn’t fooling myself: I’m not the sort of engineer that Google usually looks for.

You see, I don’t have a computer science degree from an elite university, or indeed any degree at all. I don’t have any pretensions toward being a computer scientist, though I’m familiar with enough of the concepts and terminology to be able to work with them. I’m more the type to know and use tools — preferably popular free and open source tools — that other people have built, but of course Google’s not very interested in that. I’ve also spent a lot of my time in the tech field on teaching, mentoring, encouraging software teams to adopt best practices, building relationships with other teams and with users of our software, advocating openness and transparency, and so forth, none of which Google’s hiring practices care about or look for. It’s all algorithm pop-quiz, and I’m crap at those.

I guess that’s why when I interviewed for my transfer, I was told I was “not technical enough” to do the job I’d been doing for 3 years already, supporting the Freebase community.

(True story: in my interview I was asked how I would extract entities from an HTML page. I suggested using OpenCalais (a free-as-in-beer API that does just that, and returns Freebase identifiers). If someone in the Freebase community wanted to do something like that, that’s exactly what I would have recommended. But the interviewer wanted to know how I would implement it myself. I told him I wouldn’t — that that’s why I was leaving the Search group for Developer Relations! Wrong answer, apparently.)

Look, it’s Google’s privilege and prerogative to hire whomever they want. And when your data centers are as huge as Google’s, and CPU time is quite literally more valuable than engineer time, hiring people who can optimise an algorithm to the Nth degree makes sense. (At least in core engineering roles; whether it’s necessary for developer relations, product management, or any of the many other roles where Google generally wants computer science grads is much less clear.) There are plenty of fresh-faced kids from Stanford and MIT and whatever other elite universities are on Google’s preferred list, who can solve stupid puzzles and tell you the O notation of anything you want. Go hire them. They’ll have a great time working for you. They’ll probably be so excited to interview at Google that they won’t even care that the people interviewing them aren’t the people they’ll be working with, that they won’t be told what projects they’ll work on, or that their passions and interests and abilities outside of solving Sudoku in linear time will be flattened out by a hiring process that represents them as interchangable cogs in the machine.

But if you are a Google recruiter, and you want me to interview for SWE or SRE or any role that has an algorithm pop quiz as part of the interview, if you want me to apply for something without knowing what team I’ll be working on and whether it meshes with my values and goals and interests, if you want me to go through your quite frankly humiliating interview process just to be told that my skills and qualifications — which you could have found perfectly easily if you’d bothered to actually look before spamming me — aren’t suitable for any of the roles you have available, then just DON’T.

If you’re any other recruiter, then you should read the following:

Mural: Capitalism is over if you want it

ObMural: a new one in Clarion Alley (Mission District, San Francisco), spotted a week or so ago, though I don't know when it went up.

52 thoughts on “A note to Google recruiters (and on Google hiring practices)

  • Lisa Crispin

    I had a phone interview w/ Google once after being contacted by their recruiter. Though I said up front, I’m not a programmer, they kept asking me coding questions, it was nuts. They clearly didn’t value the skills I do have, and weren’t impressed that I co-wrote a successful book on testing and do a lot of training and coaching in addition to my long experience in many aspects of testing. I was also not impressed with how they said they do their testing. It left me wondering how they are so wildly successful. But this was at least 5 years ago and it’s clearly not holding them up.

  • Dave Hodgkinson

    I’ve been round the block twice with Google, once in 2005 and once recently. The first time I got blackballed after a day of interviews by a guy who was then “let go” so they called me back but I had something better lined up. The recent one was for a “project manager thing” after telling them I’d so project management after all my fingernails had been pulled out. I also know a lot of ex-googlebots who have gone on to great things.

    Um, my point?

  • Phlip

    OMG I LOVE those prepackaged technical interview questions. Uh, not.

    BTW after the “OpenCalais” answer, the next question should be “And how do you think OpenCalais does it?”

    Answering Lisa: They can get away with it because they are number one. The largest net will catch enough big fish, even if it has big holes.

    Those recruiters have the same biases as colleges – that programming is about chronic wheel reinvention, not teamwork & best practices.

    And I would kick butt at Google. I’ll never work there, one way or another. Plz stop cold-calling already!!

  • Zebee

    They wanted me as a sysadmin, loved my admin abilities and understanding of how machines and systems interacted, my understanding of mail processes and spam fighting, my documentation fetish…

    And after 3 phone interviews, a full day of interviewing on site, the team wanted me but said I needed to get up to speed on the language du jour and pass more algorithm tests. They apparently wanted a sysadmin and document freak but couldn’t hire one who wasn’t also a programmer. I have no idea if this was damn fool company policy or correct for how they do things.

    I decided that while doing more programming might be interesting, a pay cut with less flexibility with hours and no work from home was not.

    Google in Mountain View might be a cool place to work with many perks, Google in Sydney seemed to be squarely aimed at young single men with no life. Sum total of amenities being free lunch, lolly jars, and an Xbox.

  • Ephram

    You’re right. The algorithm interview is dead. Hire those who you want and will be useful and evaluate them fairly.

    Let me say this. I can pass a google interview. I can pass it without trying that hard. I don’t want to spend a week practicing for the google interview by reading the same algorithms books that everyone else does. I have a specialized knowledge and if you don’t care about that, fuck off. DO YOU WANT A STATISTICIAN? THEN STOP WASTING MY TIME WITH WEAK DISTRIBUTED SYSTEMS AND DISTRIBUTED ALGORITHMS CRAP.

  • Ben Rosengart

    Many of these criticisms ring true to me. I interviewed at Google twice, several years apart, and felt dehumanized. I usually really enjoy job interviews.

  • @thorfi

    Crazy. And the thing is… the results of this hiring practice (only hiring algorithm geeks, and getting rid of everyone else) shows in their product line. Wave came out of Sydney – and from what I hear, the Google boys have no understanding why the hell it fell flat as heck, at all. A lot of the tech in Wave survives and lives in Google Apps, and is good…

    They do show some slight signs of a turnaround on at least the usability front with G+ and a variety of Google App makeovers, but it’s not clear yet whether it’s a surface makeover or whether they’re really understanding that normal humans exist yet and why it might be a good idea to take them into account.

    Ah well. My own Google recruiter flag says “don’t call me any more unless you establish an office in Melbourne” (which I’m pretty sure is never going to happen). :-)

  • Gabe

    I’m not going to try and argue the hiring process; it selects not just for technical expertise, but also for a couple of other criteria that should be irrelevant. It does yield a very low false positive rate, but it should be possible to do so without the frankly ridiculous false negative rate.

    But, please let me know the name of that recruiter, if you can; individual interviews aside, the process as such and certainly all interaction with our recruiters and sourcers should be professional, courteous and, not to put too fine a point on it, non-stupid.

  • Skud Post author

    Looks like it! I’m in transit at present, will look into it soon. I’ll keep twitter updated (@Skud).

  • Andrew Pam

    I’ve also interviewed at Google head office in Mountain View, with Google paying to fly me there from Melbourne at their expense; I’ve subsequently been called by Google recruiters and gone through several interview stages more than once over the last few years. I agree with everything Skud and Thorfy said above; I admire much of what Google has achieved, know plenty of people who work there, but am not convinced that I would actually like to work for them. And each time Google contacts me, I waste less of my time jumping through their hoops because I now know to ask myself whether I really want the job!

  • Aahz

    Thanks for this, I’ll point the next Google recruiter who pings me at it. (Found from your “banned from Google+” post, which reminded me why I try to avoid the Eye of Sauron.)

  • Paul

    I tried to get an office in Melbourne setup, but purchasing the maps team in Sydney sealed the deal. “No need for another office in Australia, we already have one”. :-/

  • Ahkim

    I’m not a recruiter, but we’re building something fairly massive and we need someone with independent thought and who consequently understands open source.

    Hit me on the hip, we gotta talk.

    Re post: Worked there too, gave them the finger. It’s like a fucking Orwell novel on the inside.

  • Skud Post author

    Did you read the linked post that said I’m not interested in open source work any more unless there’s something more to it?

  • Brian

    Ha…this resonated with me. I have a similar approach to software engineering, and I don’t think I’ve ever used big O in any real world development work I’ve done, yet it seems to come up in interviews.

    Maybe this is the difference between software engineering and computer science? Not sure what terminology is best, but there does seem to be disconnect in some interviews.


  • Subu

    I had a very similar experience interviewing at Google. They kept repeating the same/similar questions; I don’t think the interviewers talked to each other before/after interviewing me; by my 4th session I was so bored with the questions, I just wanted to finish, catch my flight and go home. They had absolutely no idea what was in my resume, I have decent experience working as a dev/tester and all questions were very academic… and I know that algorithms, etc are very important, but there are so many other things in Software Engineering that are equally important. You obviously can’t ask kids just out of college about processes, but you definitely have to ask people who have worked in the industry about processes, best practices, dev methodology, etc.
    At the end of the interview day, I actually did not want them hire me, I did not want to work for people like the ones that interviewed me, I did not want to have to make a decision if I had gotten an offer… It just did not seem worth moving, etc. And I was so glad when I did not get the offer. I am glad there are others that think the same! :-)

  • stony_dreams

    I remember being interviewed by Google for an internship while I was pursuing my masters in CS at a good university in NY. The guy asked me a bunch of algorithms based questions which I was all able to answer, maybe with a little bit of thinking and with little hints. This interview was in the morning and on the same day, another student from the same lab as mine at the university was interviewed by the same guy. After my interview, I was helpful to this other interviewee who was my friend and we discussed all the questions. I had high hopes that he would be asked different questions. But, he was asked the same questions, which he had no difficulties answering (as we had already discussed them) and was later offered the job!

    How can you ask the same set of questions to two candidates who belong to the same university and the same lab under the same professor working on the same master’s project on the same day??

  • Dan

    So you demonstrated that you have little to no problem solving ability and rely on others to do all the thinking for you. That and you seem to have a chip on your shoulder against using your mind to solve problems. Because hey, if you enjoy going through the process of working through a solution to a problem – you must be some hardcore algorithm geek that can’t possibly understand anything about communities or business.

  • Lisa

    Yes, Google (and any company) can certainly hire how and whom they like. However, companies who hire smart make look at candidates as individuals, understand that fit is not solely technical and that such intense hiring bias creates a culture of sameness, which does restrict innovation. Sadly, too many in my role also forget that job candidates are humans and not just a means to an end. How you are treated during the search process is a pretty good indication of how you will be treated as an employee.

    I pride myself on bringing in great candidates, providing them with a great recruiting experience and, if they’re not a fit for that role, remembering the great ones and call them when something more appropriate opens or by referring them to other great industry contacts.

  • Jared

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels that way. I have been a developer and consultant for 10 years, yet given an algorithms pop quiz I would fail. I’m not a good test taker or quirky puzzle solver. In my career I’ve held only one position in which we used a data structure outside the the typical standard development libraries (a home grown red black tree implementation). More time was spent re-inventing the wheel perfecting this data structure than was spent on the product, partially contributing to the company’s demise for lack of viable product.

    I’ve even considered brushing up my math and algorithm skills via free lectures online to build my technical skills further. I understand comprehending big O notation and optimizing algorithms is necessary in some instances, but focusing solely on engineering problems leads to a product know one wants to use.

  • zang

    The Google interview process sucks balls.
    After being contacted a few times (they really SPAM those interviews) I have accepted on told the first tech interview I wouldnt wanna be in Google and to mark me as “I failed”

    He refused. I had to pass the test.
    So i passed it while writing non-sense. I told him that was fun now what? He stayed serious and said I should retry to succeed (!)

    Later the contact point mailed me to tell me that I wasnt good enough at the test for them (!)

    I did not get any more interview request since then.

    Well, Google interviewers, you are a failure.

  • @thorfi

    *snort*. If you’ve *ever* talked to Skud for more than five minutes, you might be slightly aware that she regularly uses her mind to solve problems. Any decent interviewer would find that obvious.

    I also have no idea if you’ve ever gone through the Google interview process, or worked in the real world as a software engineer, but it really is “algorithms pop quiz”, which is nothing to do with what 90% of the real work of a software engineer is.

    Using an algorithm question to see *how* someone thinks? Sure, maybe – provided you actually go through the workings, *and* algorithm development is actually part of the important work to be done. For Google? Some of the roles no doubt involve hardcore algorithm nuttiness – and those roles *should* have such questions. They don’t belong in every role description.

    Aside from that, if you actually want to get things done, reinventing the wheel from scratch every single time is not even close to the best way to solve problems. In my twenty years of professional software engineering, at least half my work has been deleting other people’s crappy “invented” solutions to problems that have well known solutions that five minutes of research would turn up. My total career lines-of-code is a big negative number, and I’m much happier about that than the reverse.

  • iain

    i can sympathize with the arguments in the post/comments, theres no way around the truth – getting a job at google is hard. but when you remove your own emotions from it you can understand their logic. their process is focused on having zero false positives. if you accidentally turn down a smart person, you can always give them another shot. hiring a bad employee is much more destructive, because it tends to put strain on your other employees.

  • @thorfi

    That’s what trial periods are for. And it isn’t exactly hard to work out if someone is a dud during a trial period, or indeed afterwards even.

    Zero false positives is an interesting theoretical concept – but it fails rather badly when you add in the fact that humans can and do change their behaviour over time, and it fails even more badly when the process weeds out a huge number of positives in the process of ditching all the negatives, leaving you with a bunch of plus ones, instead of a lot of plus hundreds.

    This isn’t about emotion, it’s about actually having a process that achieves what would be beneficial for the organisation, instead of just being some kind of theoretical math. And that statement is coming from someone that loves pure math.

  • Lisa

    Iain, it is hard to get a job at my company, too. We are a start-up but in the last year I have put together a simply awesome tech team. From what the author says, the interviewer doesn’t have the basic skills needed (or perhaps the desire) to make logical conclusions about his background. The whole you’re not qualified to do the job you’re doing because you don’t do it like we think you should sounded like pure Idicocracy–“But Brawndo is what plants crave!”

    HIring and building a great team take more than finding one type of skill. I spend a good amount of time getting to know candidates before they ever come in, actually learn about their work, what they love to do, what type of environment is best for them, do behavioral based interviewing and take more into account than one narrow area of focus. From there, we do two more interviews, the final being white board sessions with the tech team (other interviewing is included in that final round with candidate being able to ask lots of questions, meet everyone). We have people who compliment each other, approach problems differently in some ways, similarly in others, but work very well as a team. Google, whose recruiters are only looking for one type of strength, are missing out on seriously creative and talented people. Their loss.

  • MrWouldHaveBeenGoogle

    In my “humble” opinion, Google recruiters are fools and their recruitment process is crap. They won’t consider a person to work for them, who have conceptualized an idea, engineered it, successfully deployed it on their company’s website (Alexa Top 10 US), published it at respectable forums, etc.
    What they are concerned about is “The” Big-Oh notation and the crappy dp problems, which one can mug before interview from 100’s of websites online and vomit in interview.

    That. Is. Not. The. Way. Google. (look at your founders).

  • Goggle

    I am totally with you. I was also part of a Google acquisition and quit after a few years. Though I was our main coder for the project that got us acquired, I did not fit their mold at all. I don’t want to say more, for I fear the wrath of elgoog.

    This is extremely random, but I happen to work a few blocks from you. If you want to co-miserate a bit, I am there 9-5.

  • Geoff

    google unfortunately has very strange interview protocol. I’ve gone through several rounds with them, for a couple of management positions, and for the life of me I breezed through the soft skills, but twice failed at being grilled technically. I’ve managed quite large and expensive deployment projects, but for some reason they continually pulled an obscure file system technology off my resume, and quizzed me on some very low level details about the product. Heck I MANAGED engineers who knew the nuts-n-bolts, my job was to motivate them and get the job done. Period. But for some reason they have this technical arrogance about them and for the life can’t understand why EVERYONE doesn’t eat, sleep and breathe as they do. I even had one interviewer ask a very detailed question, and when I couldn’t delve in deep enough, he made it a point to tell me that the VP’s could provide the answer. I told that was nice – and felt sorry for a company where that level of executives are bogged down in that level of technical details. Maybe the aura of Moutain View really wasn’t my cup of coffee.

  • ubo

    Sorry, but every comment seems to be “I’m the SMARTEST PERSON EVER, Google wanted me but I TOLD THEM NO!”

    Alright. Google’s success isn’t accidental. Google’s continued success isn’t accidental. Your own ego isn’t going to make you a millionth of what they make. Enjoy thinking you’re too good to work for them when you got rejected. A spurned lover’s “I never loved him anyway” response…

  • @thorfi

    It’s pretty clear the Google is quite successful.

    It’s also pretty clear that a number of the initiatives they’ve tried recently (Buzz? Wave?) have failed, and failed dismally in ways that are quite obviously related to the complete lack of “human skills” inside the organisation, which is, ultimately, what this post is about and what most of the commenters here are saying.

    They could be a lot *more* successful if they had some of those human skills inside the organisation, and their recruitment/hr process is filtering those people out entirely.

    As far as I’m concerned, good luck to ’em with what they want to do, and as Lisa says above… Their loss.

  • svilen

    nevermind gogole. They’re even taking the lab down.
    nevermind fakebook too. Even worse script kiddies than ggl.
    after interviews with both, i can say that ggl were more well-mannered. fb were… just waiting for me to finish thinking (which they didnt expect probably).

    Neither did care about more intrinsic or human side of the software picture. Not at all. sort-a, “if u cant measure it in big Zero notation, it does not exist.” u have 20 y experience? what’s that?

    Funny, noone of the recruiters i know so far has read even single page on my site – they only get the cv. pass the keywords plz.

    And there would probably be a wave of other companies applying those methods. The problem is theirs – just watch out, and
    instead of becoming another zombie, have fun. Even i that means growing potatoes.

    yes, have fun.

  • ses

    This definitely resonates with me as I recently interviewed for a position at a large corporate tech firm and despite making it clear up front that I was not an experienced C++ coder and them insisting that didn’t matter, I didn’t get the job because I didn’t do well on the programming questions they asked me… on C++!

    The fact that I’ve great experience and knowledge of Java development or gave them what was probably the best technical presentation I’ve ever done on a project I’d very worked hard to complete was of little interest to them.

    Oh well, their loss!

    I think its important that you realised that Google would not have been for you and don’t see it as a missed opportunity: sometimes it can be difficult to see that although lots of people would love to work for a particular employer, they might not be right for you.

  • Goggle

    This statement applies to people who work there just as well. Everyone there has always been the best. It is rare that they find subservient people that aren’t 100% after advancing their own career. The interview process just doesn’t test for ego/attitude, just how well you solve easy algorithms questions. When I interviewed, they didn’t bother reading my resume. The interviewers were unhappy that they had to take any of their precious time to deal with these lucky bastards. They hope to diversify by buying startups, but any original ideas from the startup get quashed and their inventors get angry.

    I think thorfi is right, they filter out everyone but the +1’s. The recruiters don’t know anything about programming. The recruiters have human skills, but the engineers have the final word.

  • ignatz

    +1. The interview process for SRE as I experienced it was a computer trivia game show loaded with attitude. More than a few times my answer was “I don’t work that way” or even “this isn’t how this is done.” I left thinking that the work in that group must be fascinating but I didn’t like being hazed, especially when the technical interview didn’t have anything to do with the job. It’s time for Google to get over themselves.

  • ignatz

    I disagree. I’m not the smartest person ever, and I would love to have worked for Google. And I admit there has to be some sour grapes involved; would I be annoyed if I got hired? Less so, certainly. But they are going to miss out on good people with this interview process. It selects for one kind of good mind. I don’t think they’re necessarily missing out by not hiring ME. I’m just a good sysadmin, not a great one. But they are going to miss out on a large group of people, many of whom could have business-changing ideas, by treating all applicants as contestants in a computer trivia game show.

  • Taliesin Beynon

    A small point here: Google is doing something that makes a lot of sense. They have a huge pool of potential applicants, it is *in their best interests* to favor precision over recall (to use some search engine terminology). They’ll throw away a lot of good candidates — but so what? The cost of hiring a dud employee that’ll bog down the system further is FAR higher than the cost of *not* hiring an unusual but potentially very talented one.

  • goggle

    (btw, I worked there for a few years)

    Take this with as much salt as you desire.. and not arguing against you:

    Within google, the software engineering “body” is made almost exclusively of people who can answer above mentioned interview questions – pretty specific.

    An organism is not all bone cells, antibodies, or muscle. A muscle cell can’t do an antibody’s job and vice versa.

    Software engineering is a lot of things – Big O thinking, UI design and programming, demo creation, algorithm programming, database and service admin (sre), documentation, testing, security, etc. Maybe I am wrong about this, but google’s interview process selects very strongly for just part of that, but they expect you to be capable of any of it. A brilliant UI programmer isn’t necessarily good at Big O, and someone who makes great demos might be bad at documentation.

    Not to say any of these skills are mutually exclusive, but the hiring practices may bring some prejudices. I never attended one of the “judgement committees” or whatever decides on the actual hiring, so maybe someone else can talk about that.

  • Borat

    The best at Google was 4 years ago as I had my interview rescheduled 3 times with a ******** “manager” located in NY, just to tell me 3 weeks later, as I was forgotten by their amazing busy schedules, that “I am not the right fit”.

    [Edited to remove ableist slur — Skud]

  • Addie

    A little late to this, but thanks, Skud, for writing about it.

    I interviewed at Google in the context of a diversity-in-tech recruiting event in 2006. I found my interview experience to be alienating, humiliating, and otherwise brutal; I hope to never repeat the emotional rollercoaster of that experience again. I also got an offer afterwards, and took it (for better or for worse).

    My interview was, in many ways, a good insight into about 80% of the experience I’d end up having at the company, in particular feeling misunderstood and unsupported (especially as a recent college grad.) I left after about 15 months when my attempts to find a new team to transfer to were going nowhere. I didn’t like the idea of having to interview again for a position within the company; I left and haven’t looked back, although I do still get very passionate about discussions of this nature, especially since I saw the exact effects it had on company culture and diversity in general.

    Like you / many commenters, I still respect Google and its employees greatly, but am never surprised by the times where products have an astounding short-sightedness (like G+ and other privacy / pseudononimity issues.) The elitism of the organization was an enormous turnoff (my offer was stalled for a good month because I had attended a state school) and although the company seems to have learned a little bit in the years since then, it still sounds like more of the same. They have missed out on a tremendous boon to their culture by filtering out SO MANY of those “false positives”, and many of their philanthropic activities seem hollow when their hiring processes favor such elite and privileged backgrounds.

    As other commenters have said, it does seem that Google can afford to have false positives, but I also see products like G+, Wave and Buzz as symbols of the consequences that come with that sort of filtering process. You can’t be that selective about the type of people you pick and still expect a diverse team on the other side of the process. Even when my coworkers were some of the most interesting and intelligent people I had ever met, I still felt like we were awfully detached from “reality”. Thanks for sharing your own experience; as a former Googler, it’s always comforting to hear that plenty of other Googlers past and present feel the same way.

  • Phil

    I’ll state my view on the SRE hiring, since that’s the side I’m familiar with.

    Context: worked at Google as an SRE for a little over 4 years, in two different offices, before I left earlier this year; the cultural problems getting pseudonymity stance to be taken seriously upset me and while not the main reason for my leaving, did contribute towards my deciding that I was no longer a culture fit and no longer saw myself at Google long-term. I conducted a lot of interviews in my time at Google.

    I have no degree. I stated outright that I suck at algorithms and noted what my strengths were. This was okay. There was one algorithms interviewer in the on-site, who gave me something comparatively simple to see how I’d handle it. I didn’t solve it within the session, but got the gist of things. That was enough. For the “must know the O(everything)” people above: I said I didn’t recall, but gave my best guess, which was sufficient to show that I knew what was meant by O(…) and was at least in the right ballpark.

    Like many things in Google, the roles depend upon the part of the company where you end up, or which happens to be interviewing you. A lot of authority is devolved. If you find a good manager inside Google, treasure them. I was fortunate to have two, in my time there. But there are managers for whom, and offices in which, I would never ever work.

    SRE vs SWE is typically a rather large gap. A fair number of SREs have no formal qualifications and no degree. I can only speak to that side of things. SRE covers a range of skills and you can be SW-sided or SA-sided or somewhere in-between, with a trade-off in what’s expected. For the SA-sided, being able to script, problem-solve and know some tech well is enough; for the SW-sided, algorithms matter more.

    A key point of the Google SRE interviews is that you’re not expected to be able to answer everything. The role of the interviewer is to find the boundaries of what you know, not confirm that you know a checklist of items. This can involve both breadth and depth. Some emphasis is placed on depth, to deal with the people who memorise checklists to pass the interviews.

    The management roles at Google have at least some technical interviews, which do *not* require that you answer as well as a candidate for a non-managerial role. They look for evidence that you did do what you claim to have done, at some point in the past, instead of getting promoted out of a position where you were expected to work – please don’t be angered by this: that sort of promotion does happen in some companies. :( Part of the Google approach is that you should be technical enough to be able to roughly follow debates and hold the respect of the staff who’ll report to you, in an environment with a little bit of “Sheldon” in every employee. That doesn’t mean being able to solve the same problems, but you should at least know what processes are, what a file-system is, and a few other things in areas which appear on your resume.

    As an aside: if you list something on your resume as a current skill, then you’re making an assertion that you have that skill. You should at least be able to demonstrate that you had that skill at some point in the past and remember enough of it to answer questions, even if slowly. Otherwise, you’ve engaged in false advertising. If you list something in the employment history as something you worked with at the time, but don’t list it as a current skill, then that’s different. If an SRE interviewer picks up on that, from a resume, then they were grasping for something, anything, they had the skillset to interview with and should have acknowledged that in their write-up, to set expectations.

    If you claim 10 years experience with Unix then the interviewers will look for 10 years experience, including things like understanding the Unix permissions model. Because unfortunately, managing systems inside Google can involve dealing with three different models (one modelled after Plan9) at different levels of the stack and if, in 10 years, you didn’t manage to understand even one, then unfortunately you wouldn’t survive.

    One of the main things looked for is an ability to honestly self-assess your own skill-level. You can have low skill and be hired on in a junior role, if you have the smarts, demonstrate ability to work through a problem, and don’t come off as knowing far more than you do. Look up the Dunning-Kruger effect. That’s serious issue for someone who will be root@google with the ability to take down the site.

    Know yourself. Don’t bullshit. Be honest about what you do know and don’t know. Know a broad enough swathe in generalities to get by, know at least one thing really well to demonstrate passion. Be able to solve problems. That gets you most of the way towards getting hired as an SRE. A few times, my assessment was “hire, and then get them to read book X to brush up”.

    But you need to be able to solve problems, deal with new situations. Often, you’ll end up writing the documentation for something. So for the more senior SRE roles (10+ years Unix experience) they really do need people who _could_ have written a book on some area, even if they haven’t, because they’re hiring for those who can write instructions for others to follow, not just those who can follow instructions.

    All that said, it’s true that there are some ******* who do not treat the interview process or the candidates with respect. That’s deeply unfortunate. (Although, some days, after interviewing someone claiming 20+ years Unix but who barely understands what a directory is, I can understand the source of the attitude, even if I don’t agree with its expression.)

    [Edited to remove slur. — Skud]

  • Spyk Amera

    I’m coming at this from a slightly different part of the ecosystem, as a Google customer, i.e. someone working for a company that pays Google money to do stuff for us. I have found the experience incredibly frustrating. There is an unassailable wall of arrogance and and unquestionable belief that their approach to every single problem is right, and if you’re too dim to get that, they don’t need your business. But I do not agree that they are elite. In discussions with engineers and product managers I found their arguments to be as weak as their listening skills. When I brought them show stopping issues with their implementation, things that meant we just could not deploy their product, they will literally argue that the issue is not an issue, and if you keep trying to have a factual argument with them they glaze over and switch off. The sales folks are slightly more diplomatic, the engineers are just aggressive and with unconcealed disdain.

    I used to think it might be nice to work for Google, despite the well known salary and lifestyle sacrifices. Six months up-close-and-personal as a customer has convinced me I would never work for them, never invest in them, never buy their products, and definitely never really on them for my business or a business I was advising.

    What I think is going on here is an extremely powerful groupthink that is instantiated at the point of recruitment, and reinforced forever after. A post above says that their success is no accident, i.e. that you can’t argue with results. I disagree. I think their success is totally an accident. They made a good search algorithm and they kept it pure, that is not an accident and I give them credit for that. That made them a great public service, not a business. One accident made them a giant, and that accident was AdWords. Without AdWords I’ll claim they would’ve crashed and burned like so many other 90s “portal” businesses based around advertising-industrial-complex income. All their other efforts to make money have been mediocre to crap. Most of what they do apart from AdWords still does not make money at all. Nor will it. Ultimately, as noted above, they are handicapped by an inability to understand normal people and normal businesses. Google is a giant charity playpen for egotistical, solipsistic engineers, funded by that one lucky accident of AdWords. Hence it is very correct when a post above describes the selection process as ‘hazing’. As in a frat house.

  • GoogleReject

    [Ed note: removed ableist slurs. — Skud]

    I rushed for membership into the Software Engineering Google fraternity earlier this year. The folks there were for the most part a bunch of arrogant r*****s like that college professor of yours who mastered his own little specialty but is otherwise a little invalid lemming in a pair of jeans and a Googley t-shirt. They didn’t ask me anything bizarre like how far Steve Yegge can fit his head up his own ass – it was just a series of canned algorithmic questions followed by “How can we make this faster?” “How can we optimize this?” ad nauseam until 45 minutes were up and the next eager beaver juror was rotated in. Previous experience was not a subject of interest. There is no reason why 5 people had to take turns proctoring my answers, I could have just phoned it in. It was obvious that the folks were going through the motions with their 45 minute time slot just reading canned questions while thinking about the amazing porn they watched last night. The company selects random people to interview you whom you will likely not be working with ( if hired ) which is about as abhorrent a practice as you can perform when it comes to team-building. I could tell that I was not what they were looking for, being that I was well dressed, well spoken, did not have student loan debt from Stanford, and not into sitting in beanbag chairs with a bag of cheese doodles and ice cream sandwiches to read email. The recruiter called me the day after the interview to break my heart saying “Unfortunately the feedback was that they did not see a fit” my response, a nonchalant “Oh OK” CLICK and immediately continued on with my work for the day. Fortunately, another nearby company scooped me up several weeks later and our product puts Google’s competing version to shame. Don’t buy the hype over there – legends in their own minds.

  • GoogleReject

    SPYK AMERA, you nailed it. Could not have said it better myself. Their Search engine is paying the bills over there for one failed science experiment after another not to mention all the bread and circuses to amuse their masses with. Academic wonks are great for arrogantly professing on blogs but clueless when it comes to business and interfacing with real people who would rather get laid than play with a Rubik’s cube on a Friday night.

  • Alexander

    A lot of people here are complaining that their hiring process is dehumanizing. Particularly in relation to them ignoring your credentials and asking you to show how you solve problems. A large part of it is similar to, and possibly stems from, Microsofts hiring process that is more concerned with creativity than ability. When your company is that size you will have tons of people with exactly the same credentials applying for the same job, so the credentials really do mean nothing. Of course they don’t care what you can do, they are concerned with what you could do in their environment. They aren’t taking someone else’s work and using it to their benefit, they are creating the work. If you lack the ability to creatively solve a puzzle then you won’t be of any use to their company, because that is exactly what they do. They aren’t just trying to maintain a profitable business following the same model year after year. They see a problem and then they try to create a solution. Their hiring process is ingenious, and the only type that would properly work for their business model. If you really feel dehumanized, maybe its just because you don’t like the possibility that someone else’s possibilities are more useful than your realities. Personally, I would love to go through their hiring process.

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