Natasha found a job posting for a defense contractor that was hiring for a web UI developer. She was a web UI developer, familiar with all the technologies they were asking for, and she’d worked for defense contractors before, and understood how they operated. She applied, and they invited her in for one of those day-long, marathon interviews.

They told her to come prepared to present some of her recent work. Natasha and half a dozen members of the team crammed into an undersized meeting room. Irving, the director, was the last to enter, and his reaction to Natasha could best be described as “hate at first sight”.

Irving sat directly across from Natasha, staring daggers at her while she pulled up some examples of her work. Picking on a recent project, she highlighted what parts she’d worked on, what techniques she’d used, and why. Aside from Irving’s glare, it played well. She got good questions, had some decent back-and-forth, and was feeling pretty confident when she said, “Now, moving onto a more recent project-”

A blue sky, highlighted by a 'y' formed out of contrails

“Oh, thank god,” Irving groaned. His tone was annoyed, and possibly sarcastic. It was really impossible to tell. He let Natasha get a few sentences into talking about the next project, and then interrupted her. “This is fine. Let’s just break out into one-on-one interviews.”

Jack, the junior developer, was up first. He moved down the table to be across from Natasha. “You’re really not a good fit for the position we’re hiring for,” he said, “but let’s go ahead and do this anyway.”

So they did. Jack had some basic web-development questions, less on the UI side and more on the tooling side. “What’s transpiling,” and “how do ES2015 modules work”. They had a pleasant back and forth, and then Jack tagged out so that Carl could come in.

Carl didn’t start by asking a question, instead he scribbled some code on the white board:

int a[10];
*(a + 5) = 1;

“What does that do?” he demanded.

Natasha recognized it as C or C++, which jostled a few neurons from back in her CS101 days. She wasn’t interviewing to do C/C++, so she just shrugged and made her best guess. “That’s some pointer arithmetic stuff, right? Um… setting the 5th element of the array?”

Carl scribbled different C code onto the board, and repeated his question: “What does that do?”

Carl’s interview set the tone for the day. Over the next few hours, she met each team member. They each interviewed her on a subject that had nothing to do with UI development. She fielded questions about Linux system administration via LDAP, how subnets are encoded in IPs under IPv6, and their database person wanted her to estimate average seek times to fetch rows from disk when using a 7,200 RPM drive formatted in Ext4.

After surviving that gauntlet of seemingly pointless questions, it was Irving’s turn. His mood hadn’t improved, and he had no intention of asking her anything relevant. His first question was: “Tell me, Natasha, how would you estimate the weight of the Earth?”

“Um… don’t you mean mass?”

Irving grunted and shrugged. He didn’t say, “I don’t like smart-asses” out loud, but it was pretty clear that’s what he thought about her question.

Off balance, she stumbled through a reply about estimating the relative components that make up the Earth, their densities, and the size of the Earth. Irving pressed her on that answer, and she eventually sputtered something about a spring scale with a known mass, and Newton’s law of gravitation.

He still didn’t seem satisfied, but Irving had other questions to ask. “How many people are in the world?” “Why is the sky blue?” “How many turkeys would it take to fill this space?”

Eventually, frustrated by the series of inane questions after a day’s worth of useless questions, Natasha finally bit back. “What is the point of these questions?”

Irving sighed and made a mark on his interview notes. “The point,” he said, “is to see how long it took you to admit you didn’t know the answers. I don’t think you’re going to be a good fit for this team.”

“So I’ve heard,” Natasha said. “And I don’t think this team’s a good fit for me. None of the questions I’ve fielded today really have anything to do with the job I applied for.”

“Well,” Irving said, “we’re hiring for a number of possible positions. Since we had you here anyway, we figured we’d interview you for all of them.”

“If you were interviewing me for all of them, why didn’t I get any UI-related questions?”

“Oh, we already filled that position.”

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