Episode 200: Crazy work work stories

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🎉🎉🎉 Celebrating 200 episodes! 🎉🎉🎉

In this special episode, Dave and Jamison share crazy work stories contributed by listeners to celebrate 200 episodes of Soft Skills Engineering

  1. Right out of graduate school I was in the process of interviewing and got through two phone interviews to get the final in-person interview at a location-based startup. The office was mostly sales but also had a small dev team.

    The in-house recruiter gave me a rough itinerary two days before: get there at 8AM, have four hour-long interviews with the team, then possibly a coding “quiz.” I was skeptical of what the quiz was but all she said was that everyone who got through the other interviews wouldn’t have a problem, it was multiple-choice, and it would take less than half an hour. I get to the office 20 minutes early but have to wait 45 minutes more for my first round of interviews because an internal meeting went over; the recruiter apologizes and asks if I want breakfast, and I say I’ll take something small like a bagel; she says okay and disappears from the room never to return with food.

    I get through the culture interviews just fine, though I thought it was a bit odd that several of my interviewers (including a VP) brought in their catered breakfast/lunch into the room but never offered me to get some and I had to go find my recruiter so I could get a cup of water between interviews.

    The final interview was with who would have been my boss: the senior engineering lead. She proceeds to ask me the normal bank of engineering questions and then lets me ask anything. She starts sending me the vibe that the engineering team isn’t really respected and that as a junior I’d be expected to put in overtime and be on-call on weekends without comp-time and without being able to have a say in when I would be on-call. Then I get some seemingly weird questions: Do you work well with loud noises? How noise canceling are your headphones usually? Is it okay that I would develop on a Windows machine?

    The engineering lead takes me to the recruiter’s office so I can wrap up the day but the recruiter had left early and nobody knew where she had gone so I was escorted to the front door by a receptionist and left. I didn’t hear back for a week and got a call late in the evening saying they had moved on with other candidates. A few days later I got an email from the engineering lead apologizing for my experience and that they were revising their hiring process due to my experience.

  2. Hi Dave and Jamison,

    I have a crazy work story to share for your 200th show!

    In my first role as a developer I was working for a small agency building websites for clients. One day I was uploading a new site, which involved FTPing into the server and doing all the config myself. I didn’t really know what I was doing, all of this terminal stuff was pretty alien to me at the time. For some reason or another I needed to change the permissions on the files for this site, so I uploaded it to the server and ran a chmod, (which was a brand new concept to me - luckily Stack Overflow had my back. OR DID IT?) Anyway, when I ran the command, my terminal went crazy and way more files went flying up the screen than I had for my website, so I thought ““that doesn’t look right””, hit ctrl-c and went to lunch, thinking I’d fix it later.

    When I got back from lunch, everyone was rushing about like headless chickens. Everything was down. When I enquired, it turned out that for some reason everyone was locked out of the entire server. After several hours it turned out that all of the permissions for every file on the server had been changed and nobody had any access to anything. Also, every client site had been brought down in the process.

    To make matters slightly worse, when I enquired about backups, it turned out that the main server WAS the backup server, because the main server died a couple of years before and nobody had bothered to fix or replace it. Whoops!

    I didn’t fess up - I was too scared - but coincidentally, a few days later I was fired. Oddly, during the firing, no mention of this incident was made and to this day I have no idea if the two were related.

    At the time I was devastated, I thought my career was over and I shed tears over how I was going to be able to provide for my family. However, in less than two weeks I was in a new role with a 25% pay increase, and my career has bloomed ever since. So 👍🏻 I guess!

    And here ends my tale. I hope you enjoyed it - it was devastating at the time, but now I can look back on it with both amusement and bemusement. Thanks for all of your work bringing this podcast to us for 200 weeks, I hope you continue until you also accidentally lock everyone out of your own servers.

  3. This is a crazy interview story. It was with a healthcare tech startup. The building was across the street from the healthcare tech company where my wife worked. After meeting the 9 people on the team and doing some white boarding, I met with the CEO. When he asked why I was excited to work at his company, I mentioned in passing that my wife worked at the company across the street.

    CEO then says “Oh, wow. They just announced that they are going public.”

    At this point, the company had not announced that they were going public yet, but my wife already knew about it and told me that it wouldn’t happen for a few months. I demurred, but the CEO pressed more “Yeah, I saw it on the news this morning.”

    Yep. The CEO of a company that rivals my wife’s was asking for insider trading information. I actually had to rehash my conversation to my wife’s boss to make sure I didn’t give away anything important (which I fortunately did not).

    After that, I decided I would never work for any company in the same industry as where my wife works.

  4. About 7 years ago I was looking for a side income. A fellow engineer I worked with told me that the park he spends his weekends at was looking for someone to build them a website, run some wires and a bunch of other IT odd jobs. I was interested so I made the drive down to the park which further confirmed my suspections of my co worker: it was a nudist facility.

    I sat in my car for a few minutes to consider my options and walked in. It’s weird how being the only clothed person in the room made me feel so awkwardly naked. I spoke to the owner, shared my resume, and my co worker showed up (naked) to vouch for me. I got the job but only under the condition i ““wore the uniform””. I agreed and worked there over the summer weekends for a few months doing everything in the buff.

    Being near the beginning of my career I wanted to put this on my resume, but didn’t want to expose the private parts of this job. I ended up listing it as ‘contracter’ with just a note: references available on request.

  5. The company I work at is a privately owned B-to-C e-commerce shopping platform. Over the past two years the non technical management has been trying to position themselves to be bought out.

    Their strategy has been to create a new layer of director level management and hire in candidates directly from FAANG with the specific intent of injecting “FAANG” culture into the company. I guess the thought is - if you want to be acquired from a player like FAANG, then become a mini FAANG.

    Unfortunately, it hasn’t been working out so well. The 💩hit the fan.

    The new director have absolute power, and as it goes, ““absolute power corrupts absolutely””.

    The new Director of Engineering did a culling of senior engineers and managers that raised any questions to initiatives proposed by the director (you know, healthy project analysis probing to make sure potential risks are considered). One day, 15 devs were let go. These were senior engineers with years of domain knowledge.

    Not surprisingly, the platform started to have issues. Payment processing integrations started going down, checkout processes needed maintenance - but… the domain knowledge was gone. In the usual “throw more people at the problem” approach, everyone was assigned pager duty, even for systems they didn’t know. The system got so bad that the director resorted to shutting off one of the major payment processing integrations since it couldn’t be fixed. This had repercussions of course, and we started losing completed checkout conversions.

    The rest of the senior engineers were leaving voluntarily at this point.

    Now that the ship was pretty much on fire, and the engineering department pretty much destroyed, we found out that the director was applying to another job at the new Twilio office in the city 😂.

    We found out he got rejected because his reputation had preceded him and the recruiters at Twilio had actually heard about the mayhem he was causing at our company.

    But it gets better! One of my coworkers thought it would be a funny prank to put a Twilio sticker on the director’s office window. Nope, my colleague was promptly fired. We later found out that the director was so pissed that he ended up going through the CCTV surveillance recordings to see which employees had entered the building early to find out who put the sticker on his office window 🤦🏻‍♂️.

  6. Had a manager who had transitioned to IT help-desk work from teaching elementary school and then worked their way up to manager over a large development team. They never let go of the elementary teacher mentality. The highlights were:

    • Requiring multiple forced-fun team activities a year, like cubicle decoration contests.
    • Playground level nick-names for everyone on the team. (Think banana-fo-fana level rhyming).
    • All team members got emoji stress balls, and were required to place the ball that reflected their daily mood on the wall of the entrance of their workstation.
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