< Return to Blog

When that Startup Interviewer cares more about where you're from

For the past couple years, I've been primarily working for a client based in the UK. I'm lucky to work with a fantastic team and I have no complaints there. The only downside, is the sort of work that comes through the doors, although I'm of course grateful that we have work!

The thing is, the client in question is a design firm, and this kind of work is all about work that has been scoped on a project-basis. You basically get an X-number of hours to get the project done and dusted; fall shy of that estimate and things start to get hot under the collar!

While this may not be apparent, there's a different approach to life as a programmer, and that's the startup scene. Rather than hopping around multiple client-projects, hell bent on profit vs. quality, at startups there's typically a single product. Remember 37 Signals, had Highrise, Campfire... and they renamed themselves Basecamp — it's actually one of the best things they did since sharing Rails with the rest of us mortals.

So the lure of the startup - single product, no code's left unturned, i.e. DRY'er than the Mojave, 200% spec coverage, BDD up the wazoo, Continuous Integration and git 'hooks' to deploy builds. You get my drift. This is starting to become an itch.

It has been a while since I've taken on any serious consultancy work, in part as it is hard to find to quality clients as well. I like working in an iterative/Agile manner, and this only works to the point where the client's commited too. Find yourself with a client that doesn't care to provide stories etc, and things start to unravel rather quickly.

With the background out of the way, I came across what sounded like a decent 'job' posting where they were happy to take on a remote developer. The stack is something that I work with daily and my skills/experience was more than what the role was asking for. As a stab in the dark, I sent some info on myself back in May and just last week received a reply

Thanks for your interest in the Ruby on Rails Engineer position at FancyStartup. Your qualifications are impressive -- in posting this opportunity, we had high hopes of starting conversations with developers like you.

Well, of course they are impressive. I've got double-engineering degrees — they make me so much more likable. Haha! I responded to their HR Director (mind you, a team of 5). That's something I miss about startups, the fancy titles that are handed out like a bunch of tic-tacs. "Hey, Mr. Jan Itor, would you like the title of COO?"

Great, I had my meeting set. They were using GoToMeeting, and at 10:20 pm I was at my Mac, ready for the 'call', already sitting in an empty channel. Let's make the interviewer a "Chuck", cause he was a likeable guy. A surfer dude. They are always likeable!

The call starts up and Chuck's like, "Uh... what time is it there, in the Philippines?"

// awkward silence on my end. Let's be polite.

"I'm from Sri Lanka... uh, remember me, I'm Mike?"

I think I had to mention Sri Lanka about 3-4 times, when Chuck's face pretty much said it all. And it dawned on me, I'd lost already. He's like "let me look it up", so here I am spelling it out (later sending it over IM) and I summarised that we were occupied by the Dutch, Portugese, and the British. Being the pearl of the Indian Ocean, back in the day we were the hub where merchant vessels carrying spices and other precious cargo would pass through.

The TL;DR version was that "we are famous for our tea and uh, we won the Cricket world cup back in '96". I was kicking myself for that last one, as I'm sure he doesn't have much of a clue about Cricket.

He did bring up Surfing, so I mentioned Arugambay in the East, where surfer dudes from around the globe flock to.

With the initial awkwardness out of the way, I took charge and described my engineering backround, how having played at the microchip level and now developing at such a highly abstracted high-level, that I have a perspective on programming that I consider to give me an edge.

And this is where I expected him to engage me a bit further, but Chuck still had the "who the hell is this guy" expression on his face — "Why the F--- isn't he from the Philippines!" The call ended abruptly, and he referenced that the HR team had liked my CV. That's the most honest BS I've heard, as I never sent them my CV to start with.

At the outset I made it clear — I'm not looking for a job, I run my own consultancy where I'm working during UK hours. However, I have plenty of time during US working hours, and am looking for work to take on a remote basis.

I like to end my interviews by sending up a followup email, thanking the interviewer, for their time. Having spoken with me, and having spent time preparing for the interview. Yeah, "Chuck" didn't even know who I was, but I thought I'd thank him anyways.

...and that's when I got a kick in the balls.

Hey Roberto -- I forgot to mention that we're sorry about the mix up this am.

Who the F--- is Roberto? I just can't seem to get a break from "Chuck". There's no worse feeling than knowing the interviewer doesn't have a professional bone in their body, to even remember you.

I later got a follow up from their HR Director saying the position may have been filled. Yeah, like I didn't see that coming.

Have you had any nightmare interview experiences, not necessarily when looking for a full-time job but even when looking for freelance work?