Now I Fear Exploratory Interviewing While Employed

Until last week, I thought that it was a good idea to answer recruiters and go through the interview process to explore potential opportunities even if I wasn't necessarily looking for a new job. At the very least it seemed like a chance to keep my interviewing skills sharp, meet new people, and get out of my comfort zone. Hell, it's how I got my current job. Well that changed last week and now I think I'll be giving recruiters a canned "no thanks" response.

Why I Thought It Was A Good Idea

We spend 99.9% of our time working and 0.1% of our time interviewing. I read that somewhere on Twitter, or a blog, or I made the numbers up, but you get the point. As long as things are going well, interviewing is not a skill we have an opportunity to hone.

Should we even have to practice it in the first place? If you're good at what you do, then why do you need to prepare for an interview? Most interviewing processes suck. I won't get into that, but here are some Tweets and links that convey my point:

Google: 90% of our engineers use the software you wrote (Homebrew), but you can’t invert a binary tree on a whiteboard so fuck off.

Max Howell, creator of Homebrew, from Twitter


Startup: We’re hiring people to reinvent and change the world!

Interviewer: Please shift this char onto this array.

Zach Holman, from Twitter, and his popular post titled "Startup Interviewing is Fucked"

The fact that Cracking The Coding Interview exists and is the #1 Best Seller in the Software Development category on Amazon says a lot about the problem. I will never buy this book.

An Opportunity Appears

Two weeks ago, a company reached out to me to discuss a position writing automated tests and tooling to replace their current manual testing processes.

I went through the typical steps of:

  1. Basic programming knowledge phone screen
  2. Take home coding exercise, due 6 hours after receiving it
  3. Flight to visit office and meet the team
  4. Four hours of on-site interviews with different types of people including developers I'd be working with, managers, and HR

I did not expect to pass step 2 because the exercise was open ended and I spent more time refactoring and simplifying the code I was given rather than writing tests for it. But I did well enough to make it to the in-person interview.

Steps 3 and 4 happened so fast I didn't have much time to stop and think. I wanted to exit the process before they spent money and time on a flight and in-person interview, but the position was intriguing. The company sounded like a better fit for me given its size. It is a startup and a product company instead of a service company. And I'd have an opportunity to pave the way instead of trying to find my place in my current employer's massive hierarchy of people and process.

I sought advice from two of my best friends/coworkers. One said if I was only exploring, to cancel before the flight. The other said go for it and check it out. I decided to go for it.

Everything I mentioned above about it sounding like a better fit appeared to be true from what I saw in-person. Maybe it was smoke and mirrors, but that's always a possibility so I'm not even going to entertain that and just assume that my gut was right and it truly was a better fit. The offer sounded incredible on paper.

What Went Wrong

I'm terrible at making decisions. I can spend 10 minutes choosing deodorant or toothpaste. Being employed and presented with another offer makes me feel like I'm cheating on my wife. I have loyalty to my employer even though I'm not always happy and it's probably not mutually equivalent. I'm easily replaceable to them.

My wife and I spent 4 agonizing evenings after working 8 hours analyzing everything to make a decision. Ultimately it came down to basic stuff. No real surprises here:

  1. The cost of housing in the new city was significantly higher. A smaller apartment would cost $500 more than I currently pay per month.
  2. It was difficult to find an apartment available. Most were booked for months.
  3. Organizing a move sucks. Find a mover. Pack everything. Load everything. Inevitably you will arrive a few days before your possessions and sleep on the floor with nothing for a few nights.
  4. The state has income taxes, unlike Texas. That's an automatic $500 loss on my monthly income.
  5. I've only been in Texas for a year and am just now getting comfortable here.
  6. I want to water my own grass instead of assuming the grass is greener on the other side.
  7. Are you even still reading? Does this list even matter. Let's move on to the point...

The Point

I decided to turn down the offer and stay where I'm at. I already felt guilty enough for turning it down after they had spent time and money on me and the recruiter made me feel even more guilty by responding to my declination email with "It would have been nice to receive a phone call due to all of the time and energy that both of us put into this process".

I thought that an email was more professional and I even offered: "I did not take this decision lightly and declining is difficult. If you have any questions for me, I'd be happy to hop on a call" but that wasn't good enough.

Maybe there is a better way to explore other opportunities without ending up on a plane. Maybe I did nothing wrong and am over-analyzing it.

For a week, I cheated on my current employer and broke up with my fling via email instead of phone. It was stressful and all I learned was to fear infidelity.

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