Interviewing at Microsoft: My adventure to Redmond

Let me preface this by saying that my story is not really different than any of the other stories on the web about interviewing at Microsoft. Well… except that it happened to me! Ha ha. In a nutshell, I had just finished my masters in mathematics, I was very excited to heard that they were interested in me and was really hoping to work for the big guy. Well, that’s not entirely true… I actually mainly wanted a job. In fact, I own a Mac at home, I consider myself primarily a mathematician, and am not particularly fond of Microsoft. But nevertheless, the whole experience was very enlighting and exciting, and I am forever grateful to Microsoft for giving the opportunity to visit the legendary campus, and meet some of the most influential people in Computer Science’s history.

On Campus Interviews

Let start where it all started: McGill University, Montréal, September 2006. I had been looking for a job for a while now, and so I decided to visit the McGill career fair to see what’s out there. Trying to find out what is available for kids with a Master’s degree in Mathematics these days. Ones specializing in theory of evolution, of all things! Well, the first step was when I handed my resume to Josh, an international recruiter for Microsoft at the fair. We had a chat and it turned out that the girl he was with was working on IE7, which was a funny coincidence because that’s the product I was most interested in. Anyways, they must have been intrigued by my resume, because they called me the next day to arrange a campus interview. I got to interview with a French Canadian working for Microsoft, Gilles, and the interview was a lot of fun. First off, we discuss some of my projects through university, and the ways I managed to solve hard problems, etc. We also discussed the reasons why I wanted to work for Microsoft, and then we shifted gear and dove in the coding part of the interview. A rather simple graphic-based question. Nice. Then I got to ask questions about his project, a windows version of Adobe Flash, called Silverlight!! Two days later, I got the e-mail. Congratulations! We are flying you to Redmond! I couldn’t believe it, but it was real. Microsoft thought I did well enough in my interview to pay for me to fly to Redmond and see the campus for myself! Yikes!

It took a while to go through all the required things before the trip, but about a month and a half after my initial interview, I was on a plane to Redmond. The whole process is actually very well organized. I couldn’t believe it. I got to my hotel in Bellevue rather late, so no time to study or go out. I went pretty much directly to bed so that I could be in shape for the next day.

On Site Interviews

Inside Building 19 by jschementi, on FlickrI got to building 19, and there was a couple of people also waiting for interviews. Most of them were there for Project Manager positions. I was there for an SDE position, which apparently is not the easiest to get… My first interview was with a recruiter, like everyone else, by the name of Akes. She was very nice and we had a good discussion about my skills and my personal achievements. We talked for about 45 minutes and then I was thrown on the recruiting shuttle to building 119, which to my surprise is home of the Windows Live group. The interview was for the Microsoft Digital Image Suite. The guy interviewing me, a lead developer, was really nice and fun to talk to. I unfortunately felt like I didn’t really do well on this interview. I came up with a solution very quickly (the question was simple enough How to find the MRCA, most recent common ancestor, of two nodes in a tree, but it wasn’t the most efficient. Kind of a bummer seeing as this was my field of expertise.

My next interview was a lunch interview. We went to a restaurant off campus called Pomegranate bistro. The food was delicious and we had a really good conversation. This interview was much more geared towards my resume and my achievements. We also discussed the product he works on, the same photo software as the guy before, and some of the improvements I would want to see. It was a fun interview. I really enjoyed it.

By then, I was off to another building. Interviewing with another group within to the live experience, Live Messenger (the new MSN messenger). This interview was also very good. The interviewer dug deep in my experiences as a Teaching Assistant and in some of my group projects at school. We discussed these a little and then switched to a programming question. This one I had a much better idea of how to solve it. I solved it really well and quickly! Then we discussed the design of a messenger’s program. I had a hard time explaining my thoughts to him.

Concluding Remarks

All in all, the experience was amazing. I would redo it anytime. The people were friendly, and efficient. The conversations were also very interesting. Personally, I don’t think I really fit into the whole Microsoft scene. I had just came back from a long trip, climbing in Thailand, and driving across Australia, and I really didn’t see myself working for Microsoft. From what I have heard, you end up working really long hour, and are constantly stuck to work around proprietary code that has been in Windows for ages. Another thing that struck me when visiting is how geeky and very communal the whole campus is. From there cars with advertisements for IE7 on them, to mailboxes just like the icons in their own OS… Finally, I don’t like the chasing-after-the-other-software-companies attitude Microsoft has these days (live search, live spaces, soapbox, etc). I just wish they could come up with their own thing. I know they can. They have the brains, I’ve met them!

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