CUSEC 2015: Impressions of Companies (Day 1)

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Canadian University Software Engineering Conference again to present Microsoft’s academic programs. I was only there for about 6 hours today, but I already made lots of friends and connections that I’ll definitely hit up in the near future (no really, especially considering you run across the same people in software all the time). We didn’t have the monkeys this year, or much swag at all for that matter, so the crowd was a lot smaller at the booth this time around (though still substantial).  This gave me the opportunity to go see the other booths with less urgency.

Last year, I was still in CEGEP and didn’t have much experience with professional software development. After having won the Imagine Cup and worked a few software development jobs, I felt confident enough this time around to go peddling my resume to recruiters. I knew I had at the least a presentable CV, as Morgan Stanley had interviewed me a couple months back with a less complete one.

I think it might be more helpful and interesting for my peers to hear about how I dealt with the anxiety of talking to recruiters and giving a good impression, but fuck that. Come ask me in person if you want to hear about that (or shoot me an email). Rather, I’d like to talk about the impressions the companies gave me. It’s only fair that recruiters get a review of how they performed. I know business is supposed to be an unforgiving trade where you only find out if you’re right when the results are delivered months in the future, but I’ll do them a favour so that intern hopefuls might possibly get a better experience than I did (not that mine was bad). Here is a list of companies at CUSEC and what I thought about them.

Microsoft: 

For obvious reasons, I got to talk to Microsoft first (actually, I might have forgotten and this might not have been true). I’ve had the chance to talk to many different people at Microsoft about interning over the last couple of years and I typically get different responses from each of them. Typically, they’re courteous, but they don’t make you feel hopeful about getting the position. I didn’t get any of the “So you worked on X, Y, Z, hmm good job I like that!” that recruiters typically give, which kind of knocked me off my horse. I’m divided on the effectiveness of this. On one hand, it’s being upfront that you’re not guaranteed anything, but on the other, it makes you feel like you’re not particularly impressive as a candidate. In my case, the use of Microsoft Design Principles as inspiration for my resume design went completely unnoticed.

Today’s recruiter was no different in regards to this behaviour. Actually, the recruiter just pointed out the flaws with my resume and what she would have changed (so more straightcut than usual). She suggested moving the education portion of the resume to the front, which was a fair point and that I should remove the portions where I talk about being a restaurant manager and owner. That kind of miffed me, as I kind of value my restaurant experience more than most other experiences. I think it speaks more about my character than short duration activities that I might just have gotten involved with recently.

I had a cover letter and the recruiter mentioned that they honestly seldom bothered reading them. This contradicted what my friend at Microsoft told me, which was that one of the things his interviewers said that impressed them about him was that he was the only person to write a letter.

I loved her comment about what your resume should have. “I want to see a resume that’s badass! Like you’re 21st on the ACM globally, that’s badass!” That’s telling it like it is. That’s what a top tier company aspires to hire, a fucking badass. Someone who’s a boss at some domain or another. Someone who’s indispensable on a team because he just does something better than anyone else. Someone who doesn’t see his other coworkers and feel underachieving. There’s room for all around competent people (who don’t particularly excel at any task), but he just better be competent at everything and very nice to work with.

Microsoft also holds the particularity (at least in Canada and in my experience) of having dedicated recruiters come to career fairs and evangelism events and market themselves as such. These people work in HR and don’t usually have development experience. This is nice because the recruiters really know the drill on the internship process, but also sucks because they tend to know less about how working at Microsoft is actually like (specifically the technical details about the job). They usually have some evangelists or developers on hand, but this often fails to compensate, because you usually only get to talk to one person at a career fair.

Overall Score: B+ Professional, well done, but failed to excite me.

Ubisoft:

We got off to a good start… That’s a plus I guess. I was made to sit down, because the recruiter injured her knee and also wanted to sit down and be lazy. That was a good tactic. I’ve never been asked to sit down by a recruiter and that really made an impression. She put my resume on the desk and we went on from there. She started circling a bunch of things in my technical skills section, such as “C#”, “WPF” and “C++” while groaning approvingly. That was initially encouraging. She didn’t look at my video game project or my experience with Unity or IDEs. At the time I had a weird apprehension that I couldn’t put my figure on. I know what it is now. She’s a recruiter and not a developer. I don’t know about you, but being judged on your technical aptitude by a non-technical person would leave a sour taste in the mouth of any decent programmers I know (I can guess that the same goes for creative aptitude for designers).

I believe she ended up mentioning the education first thing. She didn’t say much else but then asked me to apply on the website and that all the application stuff was in French so to use a translator (at which point I mentioned I spoke French). This is despite her keeping my CV. I was a bit disappointed to hear that, but I saw the benefit in having two leads in their system (though when a system requires that you be electronically tracked, off the bat, that’s never impressive).

She then proceeded to tell me about uploading my most recent college transcript, which pretty much sent me packing. Seriously, I don’t even need to explain this.

Overall Score: C+ Nice attempt, but felt shallow. Ubisoft has a stereotype as such by many and today it was reinforced.

Amazon:

Amazon is a top tier company so even though I wasn’t particularly in love with the company, I felt compelled to apply.

I figured I used their service more or less everyday, so at least they were good at whatever they do, which is a particularly inciting (wishing inciteful was a word) reason to work at a company. Also Jeff Bozos and Amazon have a respectable upbringing, which is something that plays into my desire to work at a company. I’d really only be interested in working enthusiastically for a company with epic founders and a good history. Desks made out of doors speaks more than any recruitment pitch.

Amazon was sure to be hounded by many hopefuls, so I was relatively surprised to find a recruiter who was unoccupied. I immediately made my way across the room. Evidently this was too good to be true. If you’re a recruiter, you should always be talking. If you’re not talking, you’re not doing your bloody job. You’re failing to recruit. If people don’t come talk to you, you’re the person to fix that. Heck, grab kids off the street. I know this sounds harsh, but face it, I’m right.

Anyway, so this person wasn’t talking to anyone. This should have raised flags then and there. I first said hi and the recruiter’s inability to articulate in English threw me off. He asked for my CV and after a few seconds he remarked that it was beautiful and chuckled. This also threw me off guard, but in a nice way. I really like my CV design and it doesn’t often get comments.

He didn’t say much else and I believe he just thanked me for handing my stuff and ended the encounter right there. I felt bad for him, he didn’t seem like he knew what he was there for. This kind of gave him and his company a human quality. I find that often these companies try to present themselves as super professional and ingenious, and that makes me not want to work for them due to insecurity about my skills (even though you will find people from across the spectrum at all software companies).

Aside from this, I have to thank the guy for appreciating my CV design.

Overall Score: C You simply didn’t have the right guy for the job. This suggests your company fails to pay attention to details in regards to non-essential affairs. This is something I value extremely. I do feel that with proper training and indoctrination however, this recruiter could have been much better.

Google:

This is the most peculiar recruiting I’ve seen by any company ever. I really don’t understand what you guys are doing here. I really like Google as a search engine (compared to what’s available), but my admiration for you ends there. Every time I’ve encountered Google in real life (~20 times), they’ve just come off as arrogant beyond their britches. Last year, they just talked amongst themselves and just ditched the conference after a day and a half. This year was not much better.

The first person I talked to (I feel like describing him physically, but that would be unprofessional) literally made me go what the fuck. I had a Microsoft hoodie on and they didn’t seem to understand the joke “that I’ve come to join the dark side”. Ok, so maybe this guy didn’t have a sense of humour, no big deal. I guess times really have changed. I then asked about resumes and recruitment and he said that he had no clue how that stuff works, because he was from the States and this was Canada (despite the fact that every company, including Google will hire for their US office). I then asked about what he did at Google, to which he replied “I can’t talk about it”. Umm.. okay. I then asked about what he could talk about, to which he replied that Gmail was celebrating some anniversary (I don’t know about you, but I don’t celebrate product anniversaries… at best, a video game could be a potential candidate for one). He followed up by saying that Lollipop was just released and that it may or may not have been installed on his phone. He pulled out his phone to spend a few moments deciding what the answer was (initially he said no and then said yes).

At this point I was flustered, so I asked why he was here and he said because he wanted to be, so he asked to be flown here.

Seriously… If you didn’t want to talk to me, then why the fuck did you talk to me?

I let him go and went to talk to another employee, who I typically saw at many Google events in Montreal. I remember her because she ignored my friend a year ago at some Ruby workshop, when he was asking a question.

I started off with resumes. They didn’t collect resumes, period. I don’t care about your HR policy, that is the stupidest shit ever. Why do you come to career fairs and not do resumes??? We all already apply on your bloody website anyway! I nudged her into going over my resume. She went over it and pretty much said it looks fine. Contrary to Microsoft, she said my job descriptions had good detail (specifically the one that mentioned I used Android). I guess she was hoping to see McGill as the education and stopped giving a shit when she didn’t see it (she asked to see the education and then nothing else. To be fair, I’m making quite a judgement). Didn’t get much critique after that.

I asked if I could know what she worked on. She said “Of course! It’s Chrome, it’s open source and you can go see for yourself” […] “I love open source!”  Well, I have to appreciate that. She sounded enthusiastic and any form of enthusiasm is a good sign. Still it didn’t really feel like an answer. I wanted to hear from her what parts she worked on and what challenges were involved. It was more shit she was asking me to google really. I felt like I was wasting her time so I called it quits after this. I just don’t see the point of a recruiter who waits on you to do the talking.

Overall Score: Nan (Not going to give you one) I really don’t even know what to say. You’re lucky your PR and advertising business is killing it right now. You’re clearly doing something right, because you have kids begging to work at your company, despite your attitude.

Khan Academy:

I’m a pretty huge fan of Khan Academy and both my sister and myself use it extensively. I idolize Sal Khan and I was glad to hear that everyone gets to see him on a daily basis. They’re a small team, especially for one reaching out to such a large audience, which is both particularly impressive and an incentive to join. Their career blog is wonderful, so they also had me sold before I met them.

I was a bit underwhelmed when I met them. They felt more like a bunch of kids selling vegetables on the roadside. They were just being really humble. One of the recruiters had a PhD in some math field but I couldn’t tell if she was even out of university. They didn’t use any of the full-of-yourself marketing tactics that other recruiters used. In fact, had I not been sold already, I don’t know whether I would have considered it. For me personally, I really enjoyed this because it gave me a nice view of their mentality. They’re certainly not a for-profit, so it’s natural I guess to see this behaviour.

The recruiter, despite saying that they usually didn’t take resumes in person, ended up taking my resume because he was supposedly fairly impressed. That’s a pretty nice thing to hear from any recruiter and I’d like to believe it was genuine, seeing as how they ran the rest of the gamut.

Overall Score: B Could have been more engaging and outgoing. Seemed to lack some of the social skills of more experienced recruiters. Pretty honest and enjoyable otherwise.

Yelp:

Yelp really impressed me. It’s definitely not a company I had considered working for before today. I first ran into the recruiter at lunch time, along with the CSEC recruiter. The CSEC guy ate quietly and with the intention of not talking. The Yelp guy and I started a discussion about various technical topics. At this point, I had not even thought about applying, it was just small talk. But he really got me liking Yelp. He talked about how it was just a plain old great job. Everything he could hope for. He didn’t show off any programming bravado, but as I started quizzing him deeper into various technologies and software development topics, he showed he really knew his stuff.

Yelp was apparently one of the only companies to visit his small time College (along with Microsoft), which is something that incurred brownie marks for me. I really believe all these companies that profess to be for everyone, should actually reach out to everyone, which Yelp did here. I also talked about outsourcing and he mentioned that only really low level moderation had been outsourced to India and nothing else.

After finishing lunch, I waited until the end of the day to go talk to him again. I got to talk about so many different things with him. This guy really knew his shit. After years, I still don’t have a clear picture of Microsoft and Google’s exact technical needs, but this guy gave me everything, from Yelp’s code reviews to their technical debt. He described everything about their recruitment policies. They’re going to ask you how the Internet works. I personally believe that’s a great question to ask. You’re really only going to get the best advantage over your software if you can optimize them for the underlying protocols and not just the APIs you’ve learned to work with. Some people just learn to do things a certain way, but understanding why is clearly a prerequisite to stellar software.

Overall Score: A To be fair, I got more time with the recruiter than with others, but taking that into account, he still did a job much better than others. He was just really an honest developer and that’s the best kind of recruiter you can muster for such an event.

There were a handful of companies I didn’t talk to for one reason or another. I can’t really grade their recruitment process (other than perhaps saying that they failed to draw my attention) so I will just note observations instead. Some are not mentioned here because you must have been hidden behind a rock.

Genetec: Had a nice demo I think. Was both impressed and turned off by the recruiter last time I talked to one (at a collegiate career fair). He was really aggressive which was both nice and bizarre. They asked you to rate yourself on different tasks and if you picked something like “6.5” or “7-8.5”, they’d just give you the lower number. Same with words. I understand the motive for doing so, but you shouldn’t make this public. You wouldn’t be lying, it would just a be a private judgement like the rest of your evaluation. Overall, they are much better than average.

CAE: These guys were just depressing as fuck. Please get new recruiters that can sell your company and that don’t look depressed as fuck.

IBM: These guys just didn’t show up. Hope you guys are okay. Obviously an F in terms of effectiveness though. The people last year were nice to talk to.

CSEC: These guys try to have some interesting things going on, but they really just creep everyone out. They really need recruiters that aren’t old boring office type people. If you’re going to want to draw people from this crowd, you’re going to need people that exemplify the best personalities and talents of the crowd. Also try to sell the adventure and NSA/CIA mystique.

Shopify: Didn’t visit them and would not be interested in working here. A mac loving fanboy from their company berated Microsoft in a pretty condescending manner at our booth last year and I was just not impressed. It was just kind of like, “why would I ever use the Microsoft platform and what do you guys even do”. Jeez, I’m sorry that nearly all your fucking customers are unfortunate enough to use Windoze. I really have nothing against Apple and love their products (still rocking an iPhone, same one for 5 years), but this guy was just an ass.

Vision Critical: I honestly wouldn’t have remembered you, hadn’t you not been right next to the Microsoft booth and had you not had me wondering who you were for the better half of a day. Not much activity at this booth. Couldn’t tell what your company’s name was or what you guys did (had to check the CUSEC site to find out). Considering you’re a gold sponsor, not sure what you’re getting out of this. If I’m hearing about your company for the first time at a post career fair, then your marketing strategy could use revising.

In retrospection, what makes a good recruiter is someone that comes off as both human and technically competent. If you’re not a techie, your company has instantly made a gaffe in my mind. Not having some elaborate professional behaviour going on also helps. I understand that you get 1000s of resumes, but we also have 1000s of companies to pick from. You want us to have great personalities and we want someone that’s not going to look like some corporate douche when it really matters somewhere down the line of your employment. Some companies clearly needed to brief their employees before sending them here. Even Microsoft could have used a bit of that. Without Susan to guide us like last year, it was definitely not as enthralling of a performance we put on. Also, don’t ask for online CVs. You could suggest that we apply online as well, but we’re at this career fair to apply with you, a face and not your faceless non human company. I’m lucky I get in for free, but I would not return had I been paying the full fee like everyone else.

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