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Awkward: The Other Microsoft Interview Story

Pete Brown - 22 April 2010

Now that my friend Frank La Vigne (@tableteer on twitter) is leaving AIS, I can tell the "Awkward Interview Story" I've had to keep secret. This story takes place just a day after my wife and I returned from the hospital from the delivery of our second child, Abby. But we need a little more back story first.


Over the holidays in 2007 and into January 2008, I was contacted by Microsoft about a position on the Silverlight.net team. I spoke with the person for a bit, but ended up under the impression that the position would require moving to Redmond, so I politely declined.

I later learned that it was a remote position (almost unheard of out of corporate), and had a long call with a local friend who used to work at AIS but now works at Microsoft, and talked about what it's really like to work for the man. I was convinced I had to do it, so I contacted the person again in May and asked if a similar position was still open. It turns out it was, the WindowsClient.net position. So we went through the prelims and I scheduled an on-campus finals look in July.

I went through the finals loop, even surviving a bad case of whiteboard syndrome on a relatively simple programming problem in Brad Abrams' office. I was told it all went well.

It took the recruiters a bit of time to get back to me, and it turned out that, despite doing well on the loop in July 2008, I wouldn't get the position because the headcount had been pulled. It happens that the news of that hadn't quite reached everyone during my interview, since I interviewed right at the start of the fiscal year.

That was a major major bummer.

I was told to hold tight until the fall or so and the position might open back up, so I did.

Fall came, and the position hadn't yet opened back up. My wife was almost due, and I had figured it would be a long road to working at Microsoft. Around that time, I was contacted by a friend at East Coast DPE and asked to come in for a finals day in NYC for the East Coast UXE position. I contacted them and said "UXE, are you sure? I have no agency experience", but was told to come up as some folks there thought it would be a good match.

Baby Arrival

That interview was scheduled for Monday October 6. As luck would have it, my daughter was born on Saturday October 4, early, and we didn't get out of the hospital until late on Sunday October 5 - which is actually pretty quick turnaround if you think about it. With about an hour of sleep to go on, I got up early Monday October 6 (like 3am) and drove to the train station to take the trip up to NYC.

Train Ride Up

I had plenty of time, so figured I'd get some breakfast in NYC and rest a bit on the train. Of course, the train stalled several times on the way up, and finally broke down near the NYC/NJ border. The train crawled to the next station, going at slower than a walking pace, and finally stopped so we could switch trains. The passengers on the other train were not pleased with having to wait to pick up a load of passengers, and made sure we all knew it.

So I finally get to NYC, and get out of the train station, and find my way to the Microsoft building. I went inside and looked around, hoping to find a deli or something. I couldn't find any place to stop in there that didn't require going through security, so I decided to step back outside and find something. I was exhausted and hungry, and still running on a weird adrenaline surge from the birth of our daughter, but man did I need some breakfast.


So, I go back through the doors and walk out on the sidewalk, and right there in front of me, stepping out of a cab (or hired car, I forget which) was my then-coworker Frank La Vigne. Now, understand, we both work for the same company in the DC area. Meeting in NYC, in front of the MS building, on an interview finals day was ... awkward.

The conversation went something like

  • Pete "Oh… hi Frank"
  • Frank "Ahhhh. Are you here for …?"
  • Pete "Umm, yeah, you?"
  • Frank "Yeah"

Like I said, awkward.

So, breakfast was forgotten. We both headed into the building and went through security and up the elevator to the MS offices. We were a little early, but not much.

The Book

So, Frank and I are friends, but aren't above a little friendly competition when the situation calls for it :) We get up to the MS floor, go through the glass doors, and lo and behold, what is sitting on the reception desk but the recently published "Heroes Happen Here" book. It's a big coffee table book, 174 glossy pages with roughly 2 pages per person. That said, I look at this book as the IT equivalent of those wonderful "who's who" books you got into in high school, with the difference being no one had to pay to get in, and the photo shoot was actually a lot of fun. It's fun to look at it, but you won't list it on your college application.


Anyway, I'm in that book, for the Silverlight 1.1a carbon calculator (hence the tree), and decided to casually mention it at the desk in front of Frank. Something like "Hey, the heroes happen here book. Look, I'm on page 108…with a tree." It was a cheap attempt to one-up my competition. Didn't quite work, but still fun anyway :)


(For the record, that tree was HEAVY, and we took more than a couple photos. The shoot lasted 3 or 4 hours as I recall. The photographer was awesome, though. I've never before had a real pro photo shoot -- it's a pretty neat experience.)


Microsoft Interviews

The interviews themselves went really well. I had good discussions with the folks there. Unfortunately, neither Frank nor I had experience with agencies (ugh!) so the current UXE felt we wouldn't be a match. In the end, they didn't hire anyone for that position, and opted to fill a marketing position or something like that instead, given the headcount lockdown they had. We left the idea of a DE type position open should that happen. There was a third person interviewing there and she looked like more the agency type. Never heard about what happened to her.


So, I was back to square one, at almost a year into the process, and Frank and I were always a little more wary around each other, but obviously remained friends. Competing for the same job can do weird things to people. When you both had to go back and work at the same company afterwards, it gets even weirder. That said, we both started the CapArea.NET Silverlight SIG together, and tried to bring in the same type of business at AIS

Well, eventually the headcount on the *.net community team ended up opening back up, but now with Scott Hanselman in charge of the hiring.

In late summer/early fall I did the webcam interview round for the same position I originally interviewed for, took the position, and started on October 12, almost two years after the initial contact. I was happy as this was the position I really wanted anyway. I would have been happy with the other positions (there were two other DE positions in the mix), but I enjoy more the national and international scope of this one the most; it's the cream of the crop.

Next month, Frank starts a new position at Excella, doing exactly what he wants to be doing, with Silverlight. Congratulations Frank! And thanks for finally moving on so I could get this story off my chest :)

Funnier to have lived it, I'm sure. And Awkward :)


PS. On the way back to the train station, I saw the cowboy with the guitar in the middle of the street. He was playing and singing in just his underwear, a hat and some boots. Too bad I didn't have my camera, as my wife would have loved that one :)

posted by Pete Brown on Thursday, April 22, 2010
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3 comments for “Awkward: The Other Microsoft Interview Story”

  1. jakesays:
    heheheh when Scott hired you and the team i felt as if he was recruiting from my twitter list!! Man!! That wasn't awkward, it was eerie and freaky. In Uganda it happens all the time. In fact, i once went for an interview and met the guy in-charge of my dept interviewing for the same position. None of us got the job but still somehow, we never managed to gell ever again after that.

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