My final year of grad school, I’d had about enough of academia. I knew I needed to look for a job. The ideal place to do so, of course, was the computer science career fair hosted by Virginia Tech.
For a young man graduating in computer science in 2007, there were two very clear front runners: Microsoft and Google. (Amazon were really only starting to come on the scene and still had the reputation that working for them meant writing gnarly Perl code to manage customers’ shopping cards. And Facebook was where you posted drunken pictures from the latest frat party which you would later regret, not a social media and ubiquitous technology juggernaut.)
At the career fair, I was in the exceptionally long line for the Microsoft booth. The companies were arranged alphabetically (this as much as anything shows how dated this was; nowadays companies have to pay for their spots, and Microsoft pays big bucks to get really good spots), so the line snaked by a smaller company I’d never heard of called NetApp. Standing there was a single awkward-looking guy in a gauche sweater, smiling although nobody was talking to him.
The line was moving slowly, so I figured, why not. I walked up and introduced myself.
His name was Ashish, and he was looking for low-level developers. He asked me what Linux kernel experience I had (not much; I believe “I’ve poked around” was the phrase I used. He dutifully recorded this on my resume.) We talked for a bit, and then I told him I had to move on because the line was moving.
Later that afternoon, I saw him in the grad labs! Apparently he’d sweet-talked one of the profs into letting him in and was going around glad-handing with possible candidates.
He stopped by my desk and asked me if I wanted to interview. I told him, sure. We set up a time, which turned out to be the last slot of the day for their interview. Fine by me; I wasn’t that interested in this no-name company, so I figured the interviewers would be happy to wrap things up quickly and scoot out of there. I’d get some interview practice, and they’d hit their interview quota. Win-win.
The next day, I stopped by the offices where they’d set up to do interviews. Ashish was still in his previous interview, so the other interviewer pulled me in. He was a very laid-back blond-haired guy with hipster glasses who introduced himself as Britt.
He asked me a few questions, which I generally breezed through. We were just chatting when Ashish stuck his head in and had me come into his interview room.
I don’t remember exactly how we got started, but I do remember at one point Ashish was drawing pictures of distributed systems on the whiteboard and I was so excited I was raising my voice as we were loudly debating the merits of various fault-tolerant systems. It turns out I had presented a paper on fault tolerant systems to my graduate-level operating systems class the previous year and was more than capable of holding my own on the subject. In fact, I was impressed how knowledgeable Ashish was, considering that he had been in the industry for over a decade and hadn’t, to my knowledge, presented any papers on the topic recently!
As I was the last slot of the day, we stayed in that room for an hour or more (I have no idea what Britt did during that time). Eventually Ashish said that they had to head back to their office in North Carolina, so I bid them both adieu and walked back to my apartment.
My head was reeling. The laid-back Britt and fiery Ashish both impressed me more strongly than any of the other recruiters I talked to. The topics had been fascinating — I felt very much like I did when batting computer science concepts back and forth with my friends and colleagues in grad school. Could this no-name company…actually be one I wanted to work for?!
Regular readers, of course, will recognize Britt’s name from the many stories I’ve told about my adventures with him over the years. Ashish also became a friend — now he’s working for a different company with the title of vice president. I ended up working for NetApp as my first job out of college and stayed there for almost nine years (my departure, of course, being a long story for another time).
They say that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Sometimes it’s even what happens while you’re in line for those other plans!