End of Act I

And the curtain comes down on Act I.

My project work was well enough received that I was invited for interview – again, super quick, just a couple of days.

The interview itself was the first slightly disappointing part of the process. I had always known it was going to be text-based via Slack and was curious to see how what it would be like.

My overall impression? Meh…

If the primary objective is to assess the candidate’s ability to communicate via text in real-time, then fair enough. And I do see that that’s important for a company like Automattic, who do much of their communication that way. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere though – written by an Automattic bod – that text-based chat is excellent for those times when asynchronous communication is needed. In other words, when people need to be focused on one thing or are occupied in another conversation, then keeping things rolling in the background on an on-and-off basis via chat is an ideal way to go. At other times though, when a phone call is possible, text-based chat is hopelessly inefficient in comparison.

It rather felt that way to me in the interview.

I also read somewhere that Automattic find a 90-minute interview by chat equates to an hour-long face-to-face. I think that’s quite a stretch. My interview lasted 2 hours, and in that time I was asked 4 questions of any depth. That bit actually took an hour and a quarter. Then them answering my questions took the remaining 45 minutes (which I had typed out in advance, and then as requested, posted right at the beginning of the interview).

I should be clear that I don’t necessarily feel hard done by – that somehow the style counted against me. Not at all. In fact it may be that Automattic have decided that the type of assessment usually attempted during a conventional interview is actually better done as part of the trial project that comes later in the process, if you get that far – and that this text-based “interview” is really more about assessing text-based communication over a few “starter for 10” questions. That makes some sense to me if that’s the case, though I’m not wholly convinced.

Anyway, it became clear during my 45 minutes of questioning – to me at least – that the happiness engineer role is probably not the right direction for me. I enjoy complex technical problems and building stuff, and while I’m sure happiness engineers do face some knotty problems I was a bit put off by the example provided during the interview of “complicated billing issues”. And when I asked about the typical career path, the trajectory was clearly away from technical towards management, training, scheduling, etc – precisely the opposite direction I’m aiming for.

The next morning I sent an email withdrawing my application – very very reluctantly as I so love the idea of working for Automattic. And that was that. Maybe I jumped before I was pushed anyway. Who knows.

Overall the process was excellent – very professional. Only a couple of other oddities worth mentioning:

  1. The role itself wasn’t described in much detail from the outset, and it didn’t matter how many blogs or youTube videos I was pointed at to help me prepare, I couldn’t get a handle on the typical problems a Happiness Engineer faces. They all went into some detail about how much they enjoyed the work and the company, and how great remote working was, and I even read a typical day in terms of timings – but nothing on the nature of the tasks. So it seemed strange to have to wait for the third stage (CV and covering letter, mini-project, and then interview) before I could get the detail I needed on the role.
  2. No remuneration info was provided at the outset. Not too surprising that, but I was definitely taken aback when my interviewer (herself from the “Happiness Hiring” department) said she couldn’t give me any information on package. Apparently I had to write an email to the Automattic HR department to get that info. Really? Why make it so hard to get info that every candidate must surely need to know relatively early in the process?

So. Onwards and upwards. Not fully confirmed yet, but it’s looking good for some unpaid work experience at a top-notch agency, alongside developers who really know what they’re doing. All thanks to an Australian who contributes mightily to their reputation of warm-hearted generosity of spirit. Fingers crossed…

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