April 03, 2004

Interviewing @ Microsoft

For the last couple of months, I've been trying to fill an open position for a software engineer in my team to work on servers for our new IP-based TV system. One thing I've noticed is that there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of web sites about interviewing at Microsoft. Almost all of them are based around listing all the 'trick questions' that people at Microsoft ask and tips as to the correct answer. But we don't ask trick questions. I'm sure some groups do, or did, but we don't. If you actually want helpful information about interviewing at Microsoft, you should read the blog that Gretchen and Zoe, two of the technical recruiters at Microsoft, keep.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of people are really reluctant to ever say, "I don't know" in response to a question. That's not actually the worst answer you can give -- a completely made-up answer is. For some questions where you don't know the answer, it probably makes sense to talk about how you would figure out the answer. What are the steps you would take? After all, almost all bugs start out like this ("why is this crashing?"). On the other hand, if it's a question about some obscure C++ feature you've never used (for me, that would be almost anything involving the word 'template'), just say you don't know. When I interviewed at Microsoft, I knew almost nothing about C++ -- almost everything in QuickTime at that point was written in C -- so I admitted up front that I couldn't answer C++-specific questions. I still got the job.

Another thing that seems to throw people is the simplicity of some of the programming questions. You can actually tell a lot from the answer to even a simple question. One person, when asked one of these simple questions, explained to the interviewer that the question was beneath him. While this was certainly an interesting interview strategy, it did not turn out to be a successful one.

My favorite phone screen moment: when I asked someone an algorithm question and, behind the noise of his hemming and hawing, I could hear the clacking of computer keys. A few moments later, he suddenly had the answer. Google is so great, isn't it? This, too, did not turn out to be a successful strategy.

Posted by Mike at 10:24 PM | Comments (1)

April 04, 2004

Another great game

Wow. Now that was an amazing end to a game. The Tennessee Lady Vols just beat LSU 52-50, shooting the winning basket with just 1.6 seconds left on the clock after stealing the ball.

I love this team.

Posted by Mike at 07:19 PM

April 07, 2004

So close...

I still love the Lady Vols. To close the gap to just two points after trailing by 17 was amazing. For a few minutes, it really looked like they would pull out another miracle. But 17 is a lot, and Connecticut was, in the end, just too good.

It was definitely a good game, but I'm sorry that UT lost.


Posted by Mike at 08:14 AM

Finally hired

We hired someone today! We interviewed him yesterday, gave him the offer today, he accepted today. He starts in 2 1/2 weeks.

One open position down, one more to go.

Posted by Mike at 10:03 PM

Excel: destroyer of batteries

I don't use Excel that often, but have been having to use it more and more lately. I keep learning that I don't actually know anything about it. After spending most of the last few days cursing at it, last night I found yet a new thing to hate. I shut my laptop, went home, watched my team lose, and then pulled my laptop out of the bag.

And noticed that the laptop was on fire, because it had never actually gone to sleep.

I opened it up to find a dialog box from Excel telling me that it couldn't let the system go into standby when it had a workbook open that was on a network file share.


I swear, the decision to allow apps on Windows to abort system standby was just not a good idea at all.

Posted by Mike at 10:13 PM | Comments (2)

April 08, 2004

Printing sucks

When I joined Apple as a summer intern in 1990, working in the group responsible for printer testing, I was told numerous times of the print engineering team's motto of "save, then print." It was widely (and correctly) viewed that this was an honest assessment of the quality of the print code in Macintosh System 6, and even more so of the quality of the not-yet-released print code in System 7.

That was fourteen years ago. How times have changed.


Eric Raymond, a long-time open source and Linux advocate, recently wrote a rant on how unusable Linux GUI design was in some cases. His example? Trying to share a printer.

The time in the last two years that I was most infuriated by OS X's user experience? Also, coincidentally, trying to share a printer.

At work, we use HP printers. I frequently print long documents with 50% reduction, fitting two pages to a piece of paper to save on paper. The print setup dialog that the HP driver supplies has a tab where you can save frequently used settings. Except that for me, I instead get a helpful balloon help icon that, when clicked, explains that I don't have sufficient privileges to save settings on my computer. Never mind that I'm an administrator user on all of my PCs.

Earlier this week, a print job of mine failed because the printer reported that it was out of paper in Tray #6. I opened tray #6. It had at least three reams of paper in it. I decided that I didn't actually need to print anything anyway.

Earlier this year, Meredith and I wasted about two hours trying to print something at Kinkos's on 11x17 color paper. We never got that to work -- it refused to print on the entire page.

Today, my boss was trying to print a web page, and it kept cutting off the right quarter-inch or so. He kept trying to figure out how to make it print correctly, then said, "aha! I'll set it to print at 50% reduction, and that way it will fit." I told him I'd bet him a dollar that it printed the same cropped image, but at 50% size. Sure enough, I was right. He never did get it to print correctly.

It's amazing that anything ever gets printed from computers. How is it, in 2004, that printing is still such a disaster across multiple OS platforms and multiple printer manufacturers?

Posted by Mike at 10:08 PM

April 10, 2004

Unplanned remodeling

Meredith and I ate breakfast at Hobee's in Mountain View yesterday. We eat there about once a week or so. This time, we noticed plastic sheeting covering the front windows, and the area around it was roped off.

We asked the waiter if they were remodeling. He explained that no, it was that an older driver was trying to park, made a "mistake", and wound up driving her car through the front of the store.

Good grief.

Posted by Mike at 08:57 PM

April 13, 2004

24 hours in Redmond

I'm on the flight back home from Redmond from meetings at Microsoft. This is my second trip in two weeks, and I'm probably coming back again in two more weeks.

The good part is that it's only a ~2 hour flight each way. But still -- it adds up pretty quickly. Right now I'm just tired.

Posted by Mike at 10:55 PM

April 18, 2004

Baby Goslings

We were in Reno this weekend visiting friends and found this family by the river.

Posted by Mike at 04:45 PM

Kill Bill

Meredith and I saw Kill Bill volumes 1 (on video) and 2 (on the big screen) this weekend. Wow. They were just great. Uma Thurman is awesome. The choreography and cinematography were great. This is definitely worth seeing.

Posted by Mike at 08:34 PM

April 20, 2004

Don't like a judge's ruling? MA says: throw 'em out!

In the latest affront to the separation of powers between the three branches of government, a Massachusetts legislator is sponsoring an act to remove the four judges from the Massachusetts Supreme Court that recently ruled that a ban on gay marriage in that state is unconstitutional.

Can the judges issue a ruling to remove this idiot legislator?

What insanity...

Posted by Mike at 08:21 AM

April 23, 2004


This post will be the 289th in this blog. As of this writing, there have been 320 comments left.

132 of those comments have been left on just two posts.

Since this means that the 'recent comments' listing on the main page of this blog is almost always overrun with comments from those two posts, I've changed it to 'recently commented on', which shows just one comment per post.

Of all the things I've written about in here, I would never have guessed that a post about getting my oil changed would be the one to set off such a firestorm of comments. It's a weird world.

Posted by Mike at 08:15 AM

April 24, 2004

Going to Redmond ... again ...

Next week, I leave Monday afternoon to fly to Redmond, and come back on Tuesday. I was originally flying up and back on Tuesday for an all-day design meeting, but had to fly out earlier so that I can, ironically enough, meet with someone Monday evening who sits 50 feet from my office. But he's going to be in Redmond all day Monday, and we need to both meet before our meeting on Tuesday to prepare for it.

I think I have something like 13000 frequent flyer miles on Alaska now, and I didn't start flying on Alaska until last fall. All of those miles were earned between here and Seattle. Amazing.

Posted by Mike at 09:01 PM

April 25, 2004

Baked out of house and home

I'm at the office right now because it was too hot to live at our house. Microsoft has air conditioning; our house does not. It was so hot, Jake, our cat, spent the entire day sprawled out on the tile floor of the shower stall, presumably because it was the coolest surface in the entire house for him to lie on. Meredith is at Great America today with kids from the youth group at Half Moon Bay. I can't even imagine being there all day. It's so hot that it's almost too hot to drive with the top down in my car.


Posted by Mike at 06:44 PM | Comments (1)

April 30, 2004

SpamBayes: the anti-spam

I've been using SpamBayes for about six months or so now, and it has had a profound affect on my life. It has almost no false positives (and the false positives it does occasionally have are always things like receipts for things I actually ordered -- I've never seen it have a false positive on, say, a personal note), and it rarely misses spam. You can download an SpamBayes plug-in for Outlook (not Outlook Express) on Windows for free.

As I'm sure that all rational people would agree, spam won't truly cease to be a problem until we legalize setting packs of ravenous, rabid dogs on the people who send email filled with visions of hot teenage girls with instant University degrees and cheap Rolex watches getting it on with viagra-enhanced goats, as featured on free pirated cable TV. But until that glorious day, SpamBayes is the next best thing.

Posted by Mike at 11:49 PM