Last October 24, I was flown out to Zurich, Switzerland for on-site interviews with Google. They first emailed me last May asking if I was interested in any of their Software Engineering positions. Almost immediately, I dismissed it as spam. What would Google want with me anyway? What is the possibility that of the multitude of blogs of technical people out there, that the all-mighty GOOG would find mine and take interested in my little CV? Very unlikely. So I did not reply for fear that it might be some spam bot that hoards email addresses. A week later I got a call on my cellular phone from the same person that sent the email. Interesting…
A few days later, that initial recruiter called me up for a phone screen. She asked some questions regarding algorithms, complexity, arithmetic (doh!) and networking. Just basic Q&A stuff which lasted for 30 minutes. Then I was scheduled from one technical interview to another. Up until the first technical interview I didn’t have a position to which I was applying to. After which, it was determined that the position would be Software Engineer in Test. In total, I had three technical phone interviews with three different people every month, each lasting for almost 1 hour. I solved some coding problems, and on two instances we had a shared Google Word document where I can type in my solution. The questions asked were very broad, and sometimes very very vague. Something in the nature of “how would you go about doing blah blah blah”. I was asked questions regarding software development, networking in general, TCP/IP, DNS, the Internet, web development, Linux, testing processes, and many other things. After each interview, they got back to me a week or two later saying that I was to go on to the “next step”.
To some extent, I enjoyed the phone interviews. The interviewers were generally nice and patient while they probed deeper into my brain. There were some topics which I didn’t know in-depth but I found interesting, and the interviewer assured me that it was okay if I hadn’t committed into memory the details of the TCP/IP handshake, or the format of an HTTP header+body.
After the seemingly unending phone interviews and “next step” emails, I was informed that they were flying me over to Zurich, with 2 nights hotel accommodation also covered. The next hurdle would be to secure a visa from the Embassy of Switzerland which wasn’t an easy feat. The night before my scheduled flight from Manila to Amsterdam, I confirmed the e-ticket on the airline’s online booking facility, got my boarding pass, and I was finally assured that all of this wasn’t some kind of grandiose practical joke!
As this was my first time to fly out of the country (first time to put my passport to use), I found it even more difficult since I was alone. When I arrived at Zurich airport nearly 11 PM, the customs people rummaged through my baggage. I felt humiliated as all the other people were off and out of the airport while I was held up by these customs folks who probably think I’m going to be an illegal immigrant or something. When I was finally out, it was freezing cold and I didn’t have any Swiss Francs to pay for anything. I found an ATM machine in the adjacent airport shopping center and proceeded to go down to the SBB railway station to get a ticket to go to Zurich Bahnhoff. Unfortunately there were no ticketing booths manned by humans and the ticketing machine refused to accept my CHF100 bill. I got out again to the freezing cold hoping that there’d be a City Hotel Bus to take me to the hotel. Untrue to what the hotel’s website stated, the driver said that my hotel doesn’t have a shuttle bus. By this time I seriously wanted to go back home. I was exhausted from travelling 13 hours + 1.5 hours connecting flight + waiting hours in between, tired from lugging my baggage and I was freezing cold and found it hard to breath. There was no choice but to get into a cab despite all the travel info I’ve read saying that these cabs are extremely expensive! The fare was CHF 52.20 = Php ~2000. Argggh! Add that to the Php 3,300 that I’ve already spent for the Swiss visa. I was pissed and I wanted the whole thing to get over with.
Fortunately there were no more delays when I got to the hotel I was given a room. I tried to sleep but my ears were ringing so badly from the tinnitus caused by the noisy long flight. The next day I proceeded to walk to the Google office guided by a map I printed out of Google Maps. Unfortunately the hotel was so far away from where the interviews were to take place. It took me some 45 minutes to get to the area and another 30 minutes just trying to figure out where it was. After asking around, I found out that the Google office was located in a compound of buildings, behind several buildings and wasn’t even along the street. I was tired, cold, hungry, confused and on top of that I was late! What a first impression that’d be.
When I got there I signed an NDA at the reception and was ushered in to the interviewing room for the first of four interviews for that day. The interviews mostly involved coding on whiteboard and it would’ve helped if I practiced all sorts of programming problems, or got involved with programming competitions back in college. To prepare for this, I mostly did research on software testing since from the phone interviews I thought that this was the aspect I lacked the most. Unfortunately all the interviews were programming oriented. I made some mistakes which I corrected, some problems I answered only half, or with the interviewer giving me some hints. All in all, I thought that I didn’t do well, and I felt that the interviewers weren’t happy with me. I wasn’t confident with my answers, I made mistakes. Add to that the insecurity of being in an environment surrounded with very intelligent white folks. These Zooglers were all very bright, engaging and interested in doing a wide variety of things. I felt the brain power and could see why Google hires only the best in their respective fields.
The Google office in Zurich is a new building (not the one in Freigustrasse), and they moved in just this year. It is still undergoing construction and you’d hear drilling quite often. Nevertheless it is incredible. They have nice workstations, big 22″ or more Dell LCD monitors, spacious and so unlike in my office where we are all cramped together side by side. They have toys hanging about, I even saw a huge LEGO model of a Star Wars battle ship. There’s even a room where they have a billiards table.
Lunch at the cafeteria was awesome. The free food that Google is famed for is indeed true. They had wonderful buffet food just like in hotels. They had a fridge full of ice cream, another fridge for refreshments like juice, water, soda. These people are really spoiled! Over lunch they talked about what winter sports they plan to do, or outings since it was autumn. The last interview was via video conference with a test manager from Dublin, Ireland. The recruiting staff who took care of me gave me a parting gift. I am now a proud owner of an authentic Google T-shirt! The goodie bag also included a mouse pad, retractable pen and a notebook.
It was almost 5PM when started I walked back to the hotel. With the interview behind my back, I allowed myself to enjoy the scenery and walk slowly. Zurich is a very beautiful city and nothing like Manila at all. It is clean, organized, with lots of parks and beautiful buildings. There’s no litter in the streets, no derelicts, no polluting cars. Although I didn’t get to use it, the transportation system is very efficient. People there are proud of it. I had Friday and Saturday to go sight-seeing with my aunt and cousins who were coming over from Frankfurt, Germany via a 4-hour car ride. I had a breath-taking view of the Swiss alps on the flight back from Zurich to Amsterdam which was on Sunday morning. I was back in Manila by Monday morning.
Here is a chronology of the Google hiring process that I had undergone:
Yes, I went through all these interviews, and flew all the way to Zurich, and in the end I got rejected. I don’t feel angry at all since I saw it coming. I felt blessed that I got the opportunity to experience something unique. After going through the rigorous Google interview process, I feel that I can handle any kind of interviewing from other companies! Also I am happy I got to go out and travel although it was very difficult, I am proud to have experienced it. And best of all I’m happy to have met with my aunt and cousins whom I haven’t seen for a long time. Now I get back to life after all the Google “hoping”, finally it is over and I go back to my job, hoping to be as enthusiastic, inspired and as bright as those Zooglers. Thank you, Google, for the opportunity. It was puzzling on why you’d take interest on a little girl from the Philippines, but I’m glad it was me.