Saturday, March 31, 2012

A successful failure

This post is about a really special failure that i had recently which i find as a success.

About a month ago i had a totally unexpected contact from a nice guy from Mountain View. He send me an email telling me that he is part of Google Staffing team and asking me if i'm interested to join the Engineering team.

At first i was pretty sure that this was a mail scam and i replied so, but he insisted with a complete description of the Engineering (a.k.a. SRE) team. I really got excited by that moment and i wanted some more information on how he found me. What made Google be interested in me? It turned out to be my involvement to opensource projects especially about machine deployment (via quattor) and monitoring (via nagios).

We proceeded to an (unfortunately quick) round of interviews. First i had an interview with him as my recruiter, he introduced me to the team once more and told me that there were two groups in that team, one focused on development and another focused system administration. That was a pretty good tip as i couldn't see my development skills on languages like C, Java etc to match Google's expectations. Of course he also knew this so we focused on the sys-admin side. This first interview was successful. He asked me to rate myself in a series of things like programming languages, administrating, scripting etc in a scale of 1 to 10 keeping in mind that 1 is like never heard about it and 10 that i've written some books about it. I'm not good in evaluating myself so shortly after this i was waiting a response like "Thanks Christos, we'll contact you again when you raise some of them", instead he continued with a list of questions on system administrating. To this point everything went well. I answer all (or almost all) of them correctly so we both were happy about the results.

He arranged the next interview about 10 days later with a member of the SRE team. He also sent me some interview tips and wished me good luck. I studied the resources he pointed me which were the google research documents about the infrastructure that (i believe) Google still uses like Google Filesystem, BigTables and MapReduce but also books both on development and system administration. These were some of the busiest but also exciting 10 days i had as i continued my normal work while i was studying things during night. I think at that point the Google dream was planted: "I will work on all these! I'll be a googler!".

The days passed and i had the second interview. This was with the SRE team member. He first made sure that i was expecting this call and then i totally lost him. He had proceed on the interview but i was still at the "HEY i'm talking with a Google engineer!"-world. At that point i introduced him my stressful side. He asked first about any strong skills that i wanted to outline, i've chosen infrastructure monitoring. We had a conversation on this for about 5 minutes (feeling like about half an hour). Then he asked me some network questions. Nothing real special, but things that normally computer scientists learn in college. It was about network blocks but i was still on "he asks me something, i have to reply soon or ..."-mood. I completely lost it at that point and started answering things that i knew to be wrong (but still wrong is better than nothing, or not?).

Next he proceed to a more familiar question about system load. I answered quickly and was happy that i passed this point till his next question "How would you calculate the system load?". Ok the theory is clear but how you do this in practice? This is totally kernel's job! To make it even worse he asked me to write a "simple" script to do so in the shared google docs we had both open. There my mistakes started one after another:
a) I used bash, awk etc for this. Why this is bad? because you get extra processes running :)
b) I only checked the Running processes from ps output. Completely forgot about blocked ones.
c) In order to get load average, i used expr for the final result, which didn't give me any decimals.
d) Probably many other things that i didn't realize, like use of so many external programs.
We discussed it a little bit and during our discussion i tried to fix some bits that would lead to syntax errors but the scope was already lost.

After this he gave me some time to ask whatever i wanted about Google and interview ended. By the time i hang up the phone every mistake, that at least i know about, came in my mind and found the correct answer (or at least a better one), but it was too late. I hoped that there will be another interview to try to fix things but the next day i got a call from my recruiter telling me politely that i'm not their guy and that they will keep my profile for possible future match. Fair enough considering their expectations.

So why i consider all these as success? Well after the interview i got really disappointed. I felt that the google dream was vanished. But then i got back a month... would i ever submit for an opening in Google? No! They found me! I got contacted by a leading corporation in IT world because of my previous (public) work. My first ever real (outside academic world) job interview was done by Google engineers! And most important this gave me the needed push to realize that what i do is important not only in academic world but also to the IT industry out there.

I no longer feel that the Google dream is over. Google may contact me in future again (given that the percentage of people being dropped at first and hired by the second time is quite high), it may also not. But does it really matter if it would be Google? Knowing that my expertise is in need by such corporations makes my day.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Christos, it is in deed a very successful failure! :-)