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Senior Software Engineer Interview

Anonymous Interview Candidate  in  Waterloo, ON (Canada)
Anonymous Interview Candidate in Waterloo, ON (Canada)
Application Details

I applied online. The process took 2 months - interviewed at BlackBerry in May 2012.

Interview Details

I have accepted an offer with RIM, so I'll be moving there this summer. To be honest, three months ago before this began I never expected I would turn down some of the biggest tech multinationals in the US and some amazing Silicon Valley startups to go work for RIM, but there you go.

I interviewed with a lot of US multinationals, and was fairly shocked at how badly some of them recruit. What you don't do is call interviewees names during interviews, put them and their country down with insults or throw phones at walls before slamming the door (yes, that actually happened) in a hissy fit. None of these things endear applicants to you. My experiences with Silicon Valley startups was vastly better, in fact I didn't have a single bad experience with any of them. The hardest decision was turning down a few of them, as much as for a few of them it was real hard turning me down - great people, great tech, great culture, and we really chimed at a personal level, but the costs of a H1B visa, or it was the wrong time for someone with my background to come on board during this phase of the growth cycle, or problems with fit ("what would he do here?") all were a challenge. Still, I gained a ton of LinkedIn connections, and I was happy to send a few bottles of whiskey as consolation prizes to those I had to disappoint.

The job I accepted in RIM, in Native SDK, is interesting but likely won't be massively challenging for me in the long run. The pay isn't great either, I took an easy 35% cut (much of it is higher Canadian payroll taxes admittedly) over other offers from the US. But the key thing which really swung it for me was their excellence of execution - I had 20+ hours of phone interviews and every single person I interviewed with knew their competencies (unlike most US multinationals which are stuffed with mediocre engineers who think they are god's gift, and who get *real* arsey when you correct their mistakes which can be legion. Big difference with the RIM engineers I talked to: they knew what they were good at and what they weren't, and not only liked being corrected but actually took steps to read up on their mistakes before the next interview stage. That REALLY swung it for me). As Shakespeare said, "know thyself before all other things".

Another thing RIM really excelled at over other employers was actually reading my resume, something only the Silicon Valley startups consistently also got right. It's only two sides of a single page, so it's not hard to do, but you'd be really surprised at how inconsistent interviewers are at this - most just skim a resume just before the interview, whereas RIM had gone through it point by point in detail with sticky notes attached from a group meeting they'd had before each interview. In addition, RIM went much further than just reading the resume - they pulled my academic papers, read through my blog, dove through my github in depth and even one of them purchased and read one of my books and quizzed me on its contents during one of the interview stages. This made the interviewing process exceptionally tough as I was asked to explain coding decisions made eight years ago in some obscure source file I hadn't thought about in years. As I said before, this is the kind of flawless recruitment you read about in HR textbook case studies of how to do high skilled recruitment. Very impressive.

The other big plus was a willingness to stray outside their comfort zone and follow their instincts in a situation - some of the interview stages were on the economics of the Chinese economy, others involved the managerial structures and strategies employed by the North Koreans (as you can guess, a fair few of the interviewers are originally from Asia), indeed an interview with one of their elite technical guys who knew the people I know from ISO and Boost centered on the energy economics of Canada's tar sands and the resultant likely consequences on global water and food distributions during the next twenty years. Absolutely nothing to do with coding, and they were further out of their depth than I was. The point being tested and interviewed was about how you think, and how you perceive, and just how adaptable are you.

I obviously proved how far down the rabbit hole I could go, as they made an offer without any face to face interviews. Given that they never dropped the ball once across all those interviews and all those weeks, with regularly biweekly interviewing and excellent communications - even their HR made only three small mistakes during the entire process - they ended up the only choice I could make. An outstanding excellence of execution, really very impressive indeed. I know it likely won't be as good when you're in there at the coal face, but it's the best possible start to a corporate position.

Interview Questions
  • Design and implement a thread dispatch pool using a latched hardware timer   View Answer
Negotiation Details
There was no negotiation. I filled in a form HR sent me. There was a question about expected compensation. Well, I'm in Europe and I have no idea about expected compensation in Canada, so I wrote down what I'd expect in Europe (about €100k +/- €20k), what Payscale said the going rate is in the US and Canada and I chose a figure right smack bang in the middle of what Payscale says is the salary range for my offered position within RIM in Canada. They offered me 10% above that with a further 15% performance related bonus (not that I expect to get this as they're losing money). That put me just over the 75% quartile for a Senior Software Engineer in RIM according to Payscale, and that seems fair to me.

I haven't said the exact money value as I'd likely be breaking contract, but you can get Payscale to tell you using the information I've given above.

My advice to others: don't be greedy. Choose good people before stock options. Friends of mine were shocked that I turned down a US$190,000 offer including options from one multinational, but I was almost certain I'd be working regular 80+ hour weeks there. Done that before, and I stuck it for three months before I decided it wasn't worth the money (it might be if I were single and young, but not if you have a family).
Accepted Offer
Positive Experience
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