Archive for the ‘Hiring’ Category

It’s a tough job having a hire purpose in life.

September 15, 2011 4 comments

“Sheesh!”, I hear you exclaim. “What’s with the pathetic pun in the title?”, I hear you ask… (rather droll, don’t you think?). If you’ve managed to overlook that and are getting ready to dive in, I’d like to warn you that this isn’t one of those Deepak Chopra-like articles that dishes out banality in bucketfuls and peddles pious platitudes in plenty. This is really much much worse. I do not have Mr. Chopra’s rhetorical flair, nor his astounding gift for nuanced nonsense. I rely however on the unintentional (I assume) comic genius of Bangalore’s best and brightest, as they attempt to persuade me that I should hire them.

It has been well over a year since I left the comfortable confines of a large German software giant to try my luck at running an organization from a small house that should officially be declared unfit for human habitation – but works just fine for software engineers. Mine was a sheltered life until then. I hadn’t dealt with the multitude of mundane yet maddening struggles that comprise a day in the life of someone trying to setup and operate an offshore development center in Bangalore. Well… 18 months into herding cats for a living, I seem to be holding my own…for the most part. Actually, running an outfit in Bangalore is really pretty much all fun and games… but more fun in some aspects than you can even begin to imagine. Some of the best laughs of my life have come from interviewing the teeming masses of people I need to closely examine, to grow a team 6-fold.

The setup is usually the same…there’s the obligatory “phone screen” courtship, followed by the always entertaining “f2f” engagement, the “offer letter” pre-nup dance and culminating in the employee standing us up at the altar by almost always not showing up on the first day of work after signing the pre-nup. Phone interviews unerringly start with me speaking in an unnecessarily grave and ponderously deep voice to lend gravitas to the solemn occasion and sound appropriately middle-aged and sufficiently weighed down with responsibility. Following this, with very little provocation from me, the candidate speaks exceedingly highly of himself or herself, with glowing accounts of entirely fictitious (or borrowed) achievements at their current workplace and me oohing and aaahing at the opportune moments to express affected admiration. Life is good in these initial few minutes. I’m limbering up for the sucker-punch… the candidate is on a roll extolling many of his or her imaginary virtues. The sun is shining gloriously… and then I unfortunately feel compelled to strike the jarring note by asking them to do some thinking. At which point, what seemed to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, sputters to a halt entirely.

My first taste of the magnitude of the task that lay ahead of me in growing our little brood from six to thirty-six came when I was putting the finishing touches on what looked like the successful hiring of someone I’ll call “Bachelor #1”. Beaming benevolently at B1, I told him I looked forward to him joining. He beamed back competitively and said he looked forward to it as well. And then, suddenly, with the melancholic air of a man who has realized that unto each life some rain must often fall, B1 told me he can’t join me. I continued to beam (I like to have the last beam) and asked him why he was inserting the negative note in this happy scene. “I want to get married”, he replied, blushing like an excited beetroot and quickly averted his gaze to conduct a close examination of the (somewhat dusty) floor. This seemed like a puzzling non sequitur to me… neither here nor there. Jumping onto the nearest conclusion that happened to be passing by, my beaming took on an avuncular and sympathetic air as I graciously conceded that even the best of us makes colossal mistakes in life and that as a married man myself, I would be out of a job if I imposed an “only-singles-can-work-here” policy at work. While cautioning him against unnecessary rashness, I reassured him that I would still like to have him as an employee even if he did get married. I had apparently missed the point by a mile and B1 set me right quickly. Given the down-market chic, non-shiny digs we were in… and given that our company was not called “Infosys”, B1 did not fancy his chances of finding a prospective father-in-law rash enough to give him his daughter’s hand in marriage. I prefer to not go into the difficulties I’ve had in convincing my management to invest in a new office (or court acquisition by Infosys – whichever is simpler, I’m flexible like that) for the simple reason that our employees need to get married. We’ll save that sitcom for another day.

After this bracing episode, things have only gotten better. I’ve dealt with situations that seem to get funnier by the day. Next up on deck to have me in splits was Mr. Respectful – a very obsequious and somewhat timid young man. Having done himself credit in the written test I had administered to test his mettle, he waxed eloquent about how it would be a privilege for him to work in our organization. Considering that he had never heard about my company till he walked in for his interview that afternoon, I was impressed at this instant admiration for us. We bantered amiably for a few minutes and he took my leave promising to send me the signed offer letter after he took his grand-dad’s blessings. Touching… this expression of Gen-Y affection for the aged relative. Given that it was a Friday evening, I expected to hear back from him only on Monday or later. He called me from his native village outside Bangalore on Saturday. After the customary pleasantries (in the west this usually takes the form of small talk about the weather… in India it is always the all important question “have you had lunch?”), Mr. Respectful breathlessly asked in a hopeful voice… “Guru, do you speak Telugu?”. I’m usually unflappable in the face of bizarre questions… but this was a bit much. I reeled. “Cough… gulp… what?”, I managed to splutter. He repeated his question and I answered that I could manage a few sentences in the language (like – “have you had lunch?”), but that I didn’t see where this was going. He abruptly said “Great! I’ll hand the phone to my grand-dad. He isn’t OK with me working for anybody other than Infosys and I think you can convince him!”. Whoa! I really wanted to hire the guy, but not that desperately! Bye-Bye…

In the course of my adventures, I’ve met potential employees of all hues. Some are laconic to a fault. Like one gentleman who when confronted with the statement from me over email that he had not shown up for a previously scheduled f2f interview, merely responded with a short and sweet “Ya” (yeah). I guess the fault was mine… I didn’t frame it as a question, but as a statement. I got my just desserts. And another was when I (in my usual ponderously deep voice) had this back and forth with one guy

Me: “From your resume, I can see you work at XYZ Software Solutions”
He: “Ya”
Me: “Great! What do you do for XYZ Software Solutions?” (as you can see I’m slowly learning to ask, not just state)
He (with the patient air of someone dealing with a retard): “I *work* at XYZ Software Solutions”

And then there are those who are extremely inventive in the way they try to explain technical concepts. The following back and forth, with a gentleman from a neighboring state, maybe a bit technical for those fortunate enough to have not dealt with software for a living, but I’m wagering you’ll understand the fundamental underpinnings of Object Oriented Programming Systems (fondly known as OOPS to the Indian cognoscenti – or “woops” to some as I found out) after you read this.

Me: “Under the assumption that I don’t know a damn thing about OO Programming, convince me about the need for polymorphism.”
He: “Do you at least know superclass-subclass?”
Me: “No” (and I quickly add , lest he starts to think he’s interviewing for a job with someone who is utterly ignorant) “Just assume I don’t… ”.
He: “Tchah…” (with disappointment writ large in the tone)
He: “If you don’t even know that, I must explain things from the beginning…”
Me: “Yes, that’s always a good place to start”
He: “We have *woops* concepts in Java. Super class is like the father. Subclass is like the child”
Me: “Awesome…*woops*!!”
He: “You will inherit property and money from your father.”
Me (thinking sadly to myself): “Sighhh… that’s not really true for everybody, y’know…”
He: “The same way in *woops*, subclass also inherits property from the superclass”
He: “In real life inheritance is good. In programming also it is the same way. That’s why we need polymorphism”
Me: “Woops!!”

Since most of my interviews are technical, I have loads of other anecdotes that are sure to regale those of you who understand enough about Java programming to appreciate the unintentional humor behind some of the answers I’ve got. I’ll not bore the general populace with this.

I’m beginning to realize that the super-hot job market in Bangalore engenders a sense of invincibility in the people most in demand – the worker bees in the 3-7 yr experience bracket. How else would you explain the brash honesty and devil-may-care nonchalance displayed by a Mr. Sleepy in the episode below? I called Sleepy at a previously scheduled slot at 10 AM that my recruiter had setup. After letting the phone ring for an eternity, Sleepy deigned to answer the phone

S (sounding groggy): “Hullohhh?”
Me (in a non-deep, chirpy, top-O-the-mornin-to-ya voice): “Blah blah blah… calling for our phone interview”
S: “I slept really late last night and am sleepy… can you call back at 2 PM?”
Me: Speechless
S: <click>

However, with these episodes getting increasingly humorous. a sneaky suspicion is beginning to dawn on me…I think these guys are having some fun at my expense rather than the other way round. Here’s one for the ages from a week ago that really makes me think the joke is firmly and entirely on me… I called a chap we will refer to as Mr. Outdoors who worked at XYZ Consulting.. He asked me to call him back in 5 minutes because he was not in “a comfortable position to talk”… I caught him in flagrante delicto, I guess…
I called him back and asked him about his work at XYZ Consulting… he gave me the usual BS…

And then came the sucker punch – from him to me….

Me: “Looks like you have worked for XYZ for just 9 months, what’s making you look outside XYZ?”
Mr. O: “Are you are asking me why I am looking outside XYZ?”
Me: “Absolutely wonderful how you like to get instant feedback on your understanding of the question. Yes… that’s exactly what I want to know.”
Mr. O (in a conspiratorial stage whisper): “Actually, I am on the rooftop cafeteria of the XYZ building for this phone interview and it is an open cafeteria and I am near the edge… that’s why I am looking outside XYZ.”
Me: (after two minutes of silent struggle trying to not guffaw…tears rolling down my cheek) “That explains everything… thanks!”

Over the course of these months of mirth and merriment, I have unfortunately managed to hire many excellent folks (albeit lacking the comic talents of the above mentioned beauties). Unfortunate because, with each new hire who actually comes on board, the future for the reliable comic relief afforded by the hiring process looks bleak. I guess I will now have to look elsewhere for my daily dose of helpless laughter. Wish me luck!!

Categories: Hiring, Musings