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Lately I’ve been too drained to rant about much of anything (this job search process is emotionally exhausting and mentally draining). Considering that the Republicans are self-destructing quite nicely without my help, it hasn’t really been necessary anyway. So here are just a few odd observations from the past few weeks.

While I was in the airport waiting to fly out to Seattle to interview with Microsoft I was sitting in a rocking chair at 5:00 AM between the B and C concourses waiting for something to open up so that I can get coffee. Overheard in a distinctly Midwestern accent, “Lookit! They even got Hallmark!” evoking the little-known reputation the east coast has for a dearth of sappy cards and over-priced Vera Bradley quilted accessories.

When I told people that I was interviewing with MSFT, there were a variety of reactions, but probably the most heartfelt one that made me laugh was the guy who works with me on an advisory council at a local university. He gave me the thumbs up, a gigantic grin and the thought that “The mothership is calling you home!”

The interview process at “the mothership” is notoriously grueling. You’re given your schedule for pre-lunch interviews and left to wonder if you’ll get to the post-lunch round. This appears to be a sort of psychological screening to see how well you adapt to change and uncertainty. There must be some sort of telepathic communication that occurs, because the pre-lunch guy ushered me to the next interviewer (who had not been on my schedule) without a phone call or any obvious method of sharing information. [I do have to note that it was refreshing that the receptionist at one of the many buildings I was driven to in the RECRUIT-labeled Toyota Priuses did not know how to find one of the interviewers who had recently moved to another building. This was the one tiny smudge on what was otherwise a seamless process.]

Sites dedicated to previous Microsoft interview techniques are scattered around the web like so many magic mushrooms, offering insight and advice on how to answer the crafty questions. These range from the old stand-bys (why are manhole covers round?) to the obscure (how many gas stations are there in the U.S.?), all calculated to see how you think on your feet and the paths that your thought processes take.

My experience was somewhat different, with one exception that I’ll explain later. Most of the questions were about the industry I’ve worked in (higher education), what the trends are, my thoughts on how Microsoft should be addressing those directions, etc. We talked about the position I was interviewing for, what it entails and why it’s been vacant for more than a year. The interviewers (5 men; 2 Australians, 3 Americans; 2 my age, 3 considerably younger) were all scary-smart, with brilliance barely restrained just below the surface. They all obviously love what they do and are borderline-obsessed with their jobs. These are the guys who would have been members of the A/V club when I was in high school; this is their revenge on the world – control of the basic technologies that we use on a daily basis.

The one exception to the interview pattern was the guy who asked a series of what they call “case study” questions (I would have called them hypotheticals or What-Ifs, but who am I to differ with the largest software company in the world?). They were of this type: “If you had to go to Spain and talk with their national education minister about Spain’s adoption of open source solutions rather than Microsoft products, what would you do?” Probably about 25 queries like this one. All the while the squirrels in my brain were frantically trying to string words together into semi-articulate answers, the interviewer was just as frantically typing my responses into his laptop. He explained that the interview process requires immediate feedback and he didn’t want to forget anything I said. This is the guy who has been the product manager for MSFT’s encyclopedia product Encarta – like he ever forgets anything!

Anyway, I discovered a couple of things from this process:
1. I would love to live in the Bellevue, WA area.
2. This job would be an exceptionally bad fit for me.
3. Microsoft would be an exhausting place to work.
4. Number 1 does not override numbers 2 and 3 (I took that route about 10 years ago with very bad results).

Since I haven’t heard back from the mothership yet (they did set the expectation that it would take 2 weeks or more for them to contact me), I doubt I have to worry about drafting a sincere demurral of their offer. On to other possibilities…

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