[Baypiggies] Salary Ranges

Roderick Llewellyn roderick at sanfransystems.com
Wed Feb 17 17:33:45 CET 2010

I applied to one job (Calypso Technology, in the financial communications 
space), for which I had very good qualifications IMHO. They had a typical 
automated form, which required about 30-40 minutes of cutting and pasting 
from my resume, as it had separate entry fields for each job, each employer, 
dates, etc (rather than just pasting my entire resume), and also asked for 
skills ratings for various technologies. They had the requirement of filling 
in a numerical desired salary (you could not proceed without doing so). I 
entered $100,000, not believing in low-balling either. At 9:34 in the 
morning, moments after submitting the form, I got an automated reply 
acknowledging my submssion. At 9:37 -- three minutes later -- I got a 
rejection notice from the same mailing address. Obviously no human looked at 
my qualifications. I was rejected by a computer program that said "IF 
desired_salary > tiny_amount_we_want_to_pay THEN Reject(candidate)".  The 
good news is it took only 3 minutes instead of waiting around for weeks and 
never hearing back from the employer, which is more typical American 
practice. Should I have "low-balled" the salary requirement? Tried to 
out-guess their program?

Just for fun, here's another horror story. I was contacted by Facebook (thru 
LinkedIn), by an internal recruiter, someone named Yancy Rivera. (I don't 
mind naming names!). After some discussion, it sounded like I qualified for 
the position, so he told me the next step was to go on their engineering 
page and solve one of two "puzzles" held therein. These puzzles are computer 
programs you must write in any of several languages. I chose Python (doh!) 
In case anybody is familiar with these, I picked the "User Bin Crash" 
problem. It's a typical NP-complete type problem.You prepare your program 
and submit it to its "Puzzlebot" which every 4 hours runs your program and 
presents it with various test cases. If your program doesn't pass, the bot 
gives you a rejection email. You are told nothing else; you are not given 
test data, you are not given exceptions, you are not even told that your 
program took too long to run. Is this a realistic debugging scenario?

Now my mistake was not doing what every modern programmer would have done: 
cheated. I should have just downloaded a solution off the web. Maybe that 
was the real test. After all, few companies actually want you to do any real 
programming these days, they want you to download free software and tweak 
its XML configuration parameters. Anyway, after many submissions, I was 
still unable to pass their bot, tho my program passed every test case I 
threw at it. So I finally broke down and downloaded a Python solution off 
the web that supposedly passed Puzzlebot. I analyzed this solution and 
discovered a flaw! If your test case contained a large prime number, it 
would blow memory and could take a very long time. Sure enough, when I gave 
it the largest prime < 1 billion (there's a table on the web, of course), 
the "working" solution failed by blowing memory but it passed my solution 
handily. However, for many cases, the "working" solution was somewhat faster 
than mine. Almost certainly that was why my solution did not pass Puzzlebot.

So I wrote to the recruiter explaining this, saying that "this is the 
problem with using a machine to judge a man". With my mind, I was able to 
analyze a supposedly working solution, one that had passed Puzzlebot, 
discovering a major flaw. Letting Puzzlebot decide who gets hired would not 
have brought in the most analytical mind, merely one good at fooling a 
machine. He promised to contact Engineering and, at long last, actually run 
my resume past a technical person. About 15 minutes later I got a "thanks 
but no thanks" from them. After 20 hours of programming, they spent a 
quarter of an hour of their technical people's time on me. Maybe much less. 
Needless to say, I won't be using Facebook anymore!

Have fun,

Rod Llewellyn

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