Video games are big business. Ubisoft, EA, Activision; no one is exempt from using multiple studios, each employing hundreds of people, to get a single product to ship. Even indie studios have started to grow as that space settles into its’ own. Indies have elevated their game to the AA status and those bite-sized experiences from lone developers we once called indie don’t seem to have a name anymore; perhaps hobbyists? Everything is moving up and onward. And with all of this growth, where does that leave the process of finding those hundreds of people to ship the next game?
For the first time in my life I had an experience that I’m still not certain that I can put into words, but I’ll try. It was such an experience that I owe it to myself to try to explain. I had what felt like an uncanny interview, something that I feel could only be possible due to the success that video games have enjoyed.
I was contacted by a recruiter about a year ago, maybe more. I humored her because I did admire the studio she represented. We chatted and she seemed like a knowledgeable and friendly person. I turned down the offer at the time but the conversation was struck up again recently. This time I decided to at least take the first step and possibly answer my proverbial question about the relationship of this company and myself, “what if?” What if I passed the test. What if I got to meet the team. What if I got an offer. What if I accepted.
These were all questions that were always there, so I took the plunge and accepted the test. What transpired after that very human, very friendly interaction was… interesting.
I took the programming test. I finished it in what felt like a reasonable amount of time. Some questions took longer than others, but there was nothing terribly difficult. It was mostly questions that were masking a genuine engineering problem through humorous context. This is the point where I started to feel a little paranoid. Why would such a successful studio throw out a bunch of softball questions? And to add to that, why would they give me so much time to complete it?
When I finished the test, I reviewed it thoroughly. I ran inputs, good and bad, through every answer to validate their outputs. My answers were stable, consistent, and produced the demanded outputs. I sprinkled in comments to state my assumptions throughout my answers. As with all code, there is a large permutation of answers to any software problem, this is something that the test itself mentioned. Sometimes the answer relies on your objectives. Are we coding for readability, re-usability, performance, memory conservation, or is the real test just a veiled attempt to look at your choice of coding standards or see if you like tabs or space?! *cue dramatic chipmunk!*
I had many concerns at this point, but I was honestly having too much fun with the test to worry. My biggest concern was that the test not only stated there were multiple solutions, but it also stated that it would be processed by an automated system… Wait what? No human hands would touch this random Word document I was about to upload to a webpage that had little more than a “good luck, you’ll need it” message? I thought it was pretty funny at first… I mean, the answers were right, so I’d at least get a callback to discuss why I chose option 4 of 999, right?!. Sadly no. In less than 12 hours (many of those being sleeping hours) I was rewarded with a kindly worded generic email that confirmed my greatest fears.
Only after I got that email did I abashedly realize that they weren’t looking for a right answer, they were looking for THE right answer. The questions were a lot like a pixel hunting puzzle in a classic Adventure game; not nearly enough information, and mostly wild guessing based on what little clues were on the screen. I knew what the answer was, I just needed to figure out how to tell the game that I knew what the answer was. Alas, it was too late, and I had been judged and filed away by the system. My final interaction was a response that politely explained that I was but a drop of water in an ocean of applicants. That was the end it.
I wasn’t sure how to take all of this. I have never NOT gotten a callback and I can’t ever recall talking to a company I wanted to be at and not gotten an offer. It was a strange experience for me. It was rejection, sure; but it was the kind of rejection that I find harder to accept. An algorithm told me I wasn’t good enough, like something out of Minority Report or Gattaca. How am I supposed to feel about that?
Taking that test was an eye opening experience. It had honestly been a while, years in fact, since I decided to sit on the other side of the interview table. This may have been an isolated incident and in many ways I do hope so. In an age of Twitter, “Social” Media, You Tube, and Goggle Hangout, it’s easy to forget the value of just shaking someone’s hand. There is irony in trying to find intelligent and sociable engineers in a creative space by grinding them through a machine first. In the end though, my first and most important question was answered. I had little else to say about it after the following few tweets. As crushing as it may have felt, I’d like to think that it was in my best interest that it didn’t go any further. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself until I believe it.
I suppose the bright side to all of it is.. Now I know.
— Ben Quintero (@Ben_Quintero) January 7, 2015