Fog Creek Interview

» 28 Oct 2008

Last week I was flown up to New York City by Fog Creek Software for an interview for a summer internship. The whole trip was amazing. Fog Creek took great care of me, I like the city, and I got to see one of my cousins while I was there. The actual interviews were grueling, and I didn’t get the job, but I still have nothing but the warmest feelings about Fog Creek as a company.

This all started about three weeks ago when I sent in my cover letter and resume. I saw Fog Creek as pretty much the ultimate long shot internship (read about the intern perks and the reasons will become clear), so I basically expected to be condescendingly dismissed for even attempting to apply to such an elite position. Within a few days, I had a response asking for a phone screen. The next Monday I was on the phone with a developer being brutalized over data structures and the like.

The phone screen was a rather grueling hour. I walked around in a daze for the rest of the day. I felt like I did somewhat acceptably, but figured that this was where my adventure ended. I was just honored to have gotten that far. I woke up the next day to an email inviting me to interview in person at their Lower Manhattan office. After much celebration (including a few misguided attempts at dance), I rushed to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy of K&R C to study for the interview.

My schedule is fairly complex due to the general expectation that I attend class and don’t fail exams, but I had a surprising free spot in my schedule after my Sanskrit midterm last Monday afternoon. A week after my phone screen, I was on a small airplane from Charlottesville Airport (CHO) to LaGuardia (LGA).

Charlottesville Airport really is a nice airport. The view into the mountains is wonderful. It is a clean, modern, convenient facility. My biggest complaint with it is that I scheduled a lot of extra time for dealing with the usual crap of modern air travel, so I had a huge amount of time to just sit around after I picked up a boarding pass and cleared security in under ten minutes. The fall is a quite nice time to fly from the mountains and over the East Coast.

I arrived in New York and found a limo waiting for me. I felt pretty pimp. I arrived at the hotel and checked into my beautiful suite with no incident, though I did fear that the jig was up when I was asked my age (18, which is less than 21 which is probably what hotels say they require). I then headed out to Greenwich Village to meet up with my cousin.

The next day I got up early, cleaned up, and hit the town. My interview was not until 10:00, so I took the opportunity to explore the financial district. Fog Creek’s new office is a block or two away from Wall Street. I slicked back my hair, put on suspenders, and started my corporate raiding because greed, for lack of a better word, is good. After those shenanigans, I headed up to the 25th floor of 55 Broadway to get interviewed.

They really have a nice set up with a great view. I met with two people in the office and one guy for lunch. The first interview was on data structures. It took a little while for me to get my brain in gear and I was too slow starting off. I gradually improved as I got into the right mode for it, but I wasn’t exceptional at it. A lot of this was my general inexperience with data structures and a lot of it was my nerves. I know the fundamentals of data structures, but I just don’t practice with them too much. I get a little lazy and generally hide behind my abstractions. Going forward, I will definitely work on my DS chops as that seems to be a good investment.

The second interview was on pointers and recursion. One section of it involved de-obfuscating a bit of C code. Generally I’m pretty good with pointer arithmetic and foolishness, but I was way off that day. I think I just got overwhelmed initially and tried to depend on idioms that I only half remembered rather than actual thought. I stumbled through it and mixed up silly things, but I was eventually prodded to recovery. It was completely embarassing. I beasted the recursion though, so that was decent.

For lunch, we went to a nice Italian place, and I had a nice conversation with a member of the Smalltalk cult. I quite fancy Smalltalk myself, but I have not really walked the walk. This conversation convinced me to give GNU Smalltalk a shot. It was actually a really fun lunch.

After lunch, we went back to the office and I was told that I was done and could go on my merry way. I pretty much knew that I was still on the job market at this point, but I was only a little bummed. I walked back to my hotel room and watched some daily show and family guy. Then I hit the streets and just walked around soaking it all in. I managed to, through Brownian motion, make my way from just south of TriBeCa to somewhere in Greenwich Village. I wandered for a while looking at things. At some point my cousin called and I happened to be a few blocks away from his apartment, which was an odd bit of chance. One of my cousin’s roommates is an entrepreneur and founder of BigThink, which is pretty cool.

The next morning, I got into a limo headed to the airport and prepared for life back in Charlottesville. A few days later I got the email from Fog Creek telling me that I didn’t get the gig, but I was neither surprised nor disappointed. It was a pretty amazing couple of days and a great trip regardless. I do hope to find a cool internship this summer, but I am not dreadfully worried about it (yet).