Life in Seattle (and a new dog too)

September 27, 2006 at 3:34 am | Posted in Microsoft, Personal, Seattle | Comments Off on Life in Seattle (and a new dog too)

I have been doing a lot of progress in Seattle. We got cell phones with T-mobile on a family plan. I got an MDA and my wife got a Motorola RAZR. They have great deals for new Microsoft employees (although, some of them will only kick in once I get my microsoft.com email address).

We also opened a bank account at the First Tech Credit Union which have great deals for Microsoft new employees (as we do not yet have credit ratings). They provide unsecured credit cards, and car loans for Microsoft people with no credit rating (due to us being new hires coming from International locations). Most other banks will refuse us for such things. Also, when I get these two things (I still don’t have them because I am waiting to apply for my SSN) I will utilize them to build up my credit rating here.

I also decided to take a look at cars. I took a look at the Honda Civic, Honda Accord and Mazda3. I came in with a preference for Mazda3, and I still prefer it as it has all the features I desire for a very decent competitive price. I was going to go for an S Touring trim level, but I got convinced to go for an i Touring with an extra safety package (Side curtain airbags, and ABS brakes) for approximately 2000$ cheaper than the S Touring). So its a great deal, but we’ll see how things go.

And the other big news is that my wife and I have adopted a dog! First time either of us have ever had a pet. He is a Labrador Retriever/German Shepard Mix. He is four years old (we wanted an adult) and his name is Beau. He is not too big (I think around 25kg) and is a perfect size for us. He is very friendly and will make a good companion for us. We just adopted him today and were afraid someone would adopt him before us. We viewed quite a number of dogs before then, but this one was the one my wife felt most comfortable with. He is currently settling in the apartment quite nicely. I will post pictures when I have them.

As for work, I went in to Microsoft today and met my SDET Lead. It is a new team it seems, we will be 4 people underneath him. One of the guys is also new who is schedule to arrive tomorrow from Turkey tomorrow or something, so it should be fun and interesting. It seems that I will be responsible for Volume Management. The team will be working on Windows Vista mainly now. I am looking forward to working with them. Can’t wait for NEO next week.

Arriving in Seattle

September 24, 2006 at 4:56 am | Posted in Personal, Seattle | Comments Off on Arriving in Seattle

The trip to Seattle was quite an experience. Actually, I would classify it as more of an ordeal, but I tried to adapt and just look on the bright side of things.

My wife and I arrived at the Montreal airport approximately 2 hrs before my flight was scheduled to leave. After getting our boarding passes, apparently we had to go through US immigrations. No one had told me this and I was a bit perplexed, was I thought when I reach my destination, that I would go through US immigration. It was very strange to see US Border & Customs at the Canadian border. To make a long story short, due to interviewing, processing, and registering me they caused me to miss my flight. This is the first time my wife or I have ever missed a flight.

Now, this was approximately 7am Seattle time, but I called Microsoft Relocation which has somebody on call for any sort of emergency. They rebooked me for a later flight to Washington DC (and a connection from there to Seattle). This time around though, the immigration people were nicer and made things go much quicker.

The plane to Washington DC was quite small. First time I have been on an Embraer jet. It wasn’t very fun, especially during takeoff as the turbulance effects smaller planes much more. When we arrived, we made a quick dash to our connecting flight as it had already boarded and we were soon on our way to Seattle.

Upon arrival at Seattle, our baggage did not arrive. This was quite frustrating as we were now dead tired and had just waited around an hour at the baggage claim area just waiting.  The United people were nice though and apologized. My baggage was apparently in Chicago (it seems like it missed the connecting flight at Washington) and United said they will deliver it to my home.

I went to Avis to pick up my rental car. Everything was fine, but then I remembered to go back to check I had GPS in the car. Apparently she said it was not on her system, even though my reservation that I had printed out from their website said it was included. The Avis lady included the GPS, and I went to pick it up from another counter. Again, I had to wait quite a while as their GPS units are pin-locked and the one they assigned to me refused to accept the PIN. They gave me another unit, and finally we got to the car (Ford Grand Taurus).

I was very nervous driving as it was now late at night. I pretty much had no idea where I was or where to go. I had my wife act as navigator and we programmed the GPS. After driving for a while, I noticed it wasn’t updating my location. Turns out it disabled GPS indoors (parking lot) and didnt turn it back on once we were outside. The GPS was not useful at allat first. I plugged in my destination. It seemed the roads were in Yellow, but then there was a Red line, which I thought was my route, but then I saw other intersecting red lines, so it confused me as to which path(s) to take. I asked my wife to rely on my map but the thing is we were on a highway, we had no idea which one, and it was very confusing for her. She did a good job though as she managed to point us in the general direction we needed to go and began to pick up which exits I need to take. While driving we got a glimpse of Seattle at night which is just beautiful. It is truly stunning and I wish I could have taken a picture.

We began to get lost as we approached Redmond (especially as it began to fog pretty heavily), and so I followed some signs directing me to Redmond Town Center. I parked there, and decided to try to figure out this damn GPS, or figure out a route on one of the maps I had. After playing with the GPS for a few minutes, I enabled Audio Alerts and re-entered the destination and now I got a white line directing me exactly where I needed to go! Hmm, where was this white path before??? Also, the GPS would now direct me verbally on where I need to go (i.e. Turn Left after 0.1 mile) which was now really great.

I got to the place to pick up my apartment key, and then I put in the address of my actual apartment at Shorewood Heights. We arrived pretty easily now and no more getting lost. Unfortunately, it took us a while to try to find where our apartment is, until we found a map of the units, and figured out their numbering scheme.

The place is pretty nice. Of course, though, I can’t wait to move in to a permenant place, as the apartments here do not have a cozy/homey feel to them. Looking forward to exploring more of Seattle before I start work on October 2nd.

Moving to Seattle

September 20, 2006 at 2:51 pm | Posted in Personal, Seattle | 3 Comments

Tomorrow, I am finally moving to Seattle. It has been a very long wait. I knew I was accepted at Microsoft sometime in December. I got my H-1B in April, and have been waiting. Now, its finally happening and I am looking forward to it.

The relocation folks at Microsoft have been great. I shipped some of my clothes and books already and they are now clearing customs over there. I don’t have to do anything except fill out a few forms. They came and packed up all my goods in Egypt, and in Seattle they will deliver my goods to wherever I am.

Tomorrow, I will fly on United to Washington DC, and then onto Seattle. There I will have my rental car waiting for me (with GPS!) After that, I have to go to a building near Microsoft campus to pick up my apartment key. Then, I will be driving to Shorewood Heights which is where I will be staying for my first couple of months while I search and find an apartment to stay at. It is located on Mercer Island, near Lake Washington, so I’m looking forward to the great views 🙂

Also, after tomorrow, I will be meeting with a Destination Services Consultant who will help me in opening a bank account, getting a cell phone, etc.

If anyone has any advice they wish to give me, please leave a comment 🙂

IBM Egypt Interview

September 14, 2006 at 4:25 pm | Posted in Computers, Egypt, IBM, Software development | 5 Comments

I haven’t posted in a while as I have been a bit busy doing some chores in Canada. I am now in Ottawa (just arrived yesterday) as I need to do some things here. It’s a very interesting place, and I think I like it more than Montreal. It is difficult to stay in Montreal without knowing French.

Anyway, this posting is to reference a blog post that Mohamed Meshref, an Egyptian software engineer who is now at Microsoft, wrote regarding his experience with the IBM Egypt Interview process. He writes about it in the following posts (warning: He is highly critical of the IBM Interview):

IBM Interview Part A
IBM Interview Part B

Anyway, in response to this, I have some comments I wish to make:

1) I think it is okay for a Software company to require a person to be able to communicate effectively in English. Especially one that deals and works with customers who expect this. Microsoft USA can get away with this, because it is generally well known that the engineers they hire are highly qualified, regardless of their English speaking capabilities. Also, yes, it is great that Microsoft offers English courses for people who are not so good at speaking the language, and I would recommend any/all company offer the same. The thing is though is that some customers, when seeing very poor quality English from an Engineer, they may think the quality of their work is also shoddy. I used to work for a smaller company where they hired a candidate who seemed to know English (well enough to pass the interview with the owner of the company who was British), but then when I communicated with him (in English)  regarding a lot of things he was just unable to comprehend what I was saying. I believe having some standardized English test is fine. I also believe Meshref got bored from the test, which I can understand, but I wonder if he has seen the TOEFL exam, as it is pretty much the same difficulty/complexity. If you know English well, it will be a piece of cake. If you don’t, it will be difficult. Also Meshref writes the following:

I wont believe that a customer from US will come here to Egypt to have some sort of software developed to him inside IBM Egypt!!),

This is far from true. Most of my dealings at IBM Egypt were with various IBM labs that were located in the US. Plus, I know of many projects at IBM Egypt where the customers are US companies (and yes, IBM Egypt also deals with local customers, but this is the Business Consulting Services (BCS) side mainly, while this exam is for the TDC (Technology Development Center) which is basically an IBM lab).

2) For his comments regarding the technical exam. Well, the Microsoft Interview pretty much does the same. On the phone interviews I got asked questions regarding C++/Java which anyone who opens a book and reads will know how to do. I’ve also been asked to do “pretty famous” questions such as writing an atoi implementation. So I do not think it is a negative thing to ask for this. And keep in mind, one of the requirements for IBM Egypt is to have a Bachelors in Computer Science to even reach this stage, so its a safe bet, that you wont get any secondary school students applying. I do agree though that they could perhaps do a few technical person-to-person interviews (like Microsoft does), but keep in mind, IBM Egypt has different recruiting goals than Microsoft. Microsoft HQ wants to hire the best of the best, they want to keep “average” people out. I do not believe IBM Egypt has a similar goal. IBM Egypt wants to hire people who are just capable of doing the work. They do not have to be exceptional programmers. They just need to be good enough, and I believe their technical exam is based on this.

3) Regarding the Object Oriented Exam. Keep in mind, IBM purchased Rational which is pretty entrenched in UML stuff. I don’t like UML (I could write a whole post about why, so I wont get into it here). But I agree with Meshref on this point.

4) Regarding the general IT exam. I think this section is also fine, to try to weed out people who just took a certificate to program for a living vs. people who are interested in computers/technology. If you don’t know what XML in this day and age, then I question whether you should be working at IBM Egypt. Anyway, I once got sent a pre-screen worksheet by Google where they asked such questions as “What are contextual ads?” They are just general filtering questions.

I do not think this is the worst type of Interview as Meshref claims. You have to keep in mind their recruiting goals. I wonder what other interviews Meshref has done in Egypt that he would consider better than this. I have seen other companies that hire based on a person to person interview that does not even delve into technical issues. Also, once the exam is done, its just a filter or pre-screen. In Egypt, just as anywhere else, when you have graduates from University there are good, qualified people, and there are people who are not so good. IBM Egypt does the exam to try to get the best ones. Once you are done with the exam it is not over though, there is still an interview with the hiring manager, who has your scores. In one interview, I basically got asked different design patterns questions. At this point in time, I had no clue what design patterns were 😛 but I was able to figure out some of them on my own, but in general I do not think I did well on that. I had another interview with another manager where I basically just got asked a lot of general HR questions regarding my previous experience and what I have accomplished.

Regarding some of the other comments:

  • Yes, there is a dress code unfortunately. Pretty much shirt and pants, and tie. We don’t necessarily have to wear the tie, but we must bring it in case of meetings with customers or upper management. It is not something I really thought about a lot and it didn’t really bother me. But I can imagine it would bother and irritate other Engineers.
  • The timing is a bit inaccurate, its from 8.30 AM to 4.30 PM and on Thursdays until 3.30 PM. Unfortunately, they are a bit fussy about being punctual, which is a bit ridiculous. I believe the best policy is to just get your work done on time. If you need to stay late you should, if you are done and want to go home early that should be fine.
  • Regarding the salaries. I believe IBM Egypt has a competitive salary compared to other places in Egypt. Certainly not the best, and also not the worst. I’ve seen a lot worse, and I am sure there are a lot better. Working though is not usually about the salary. I was offered more than double my salary at IBM to remain working in my previous company and I refused (for various reasons). For an entry-level, fresh out of college position, I believe the salary that Meshref wrote is good for Egypt.

IBM Egypt is certainly not a perfect place, and there things that can be done better. But I believe what they have currently is working for them, so they will not feel a need to change. Anyway, just thought I’d write my opinion on the matter.

Joel Spolsky Article and Job Board

September 8, 2006 at 2:44 am | Posted in Computers, Software development | Comments Off on Joel Spolsky Article and Job Board

Joel Sposlky is one of my favorite writers in the world Software Development/Management. His articles are very insightful, relevant and to the point.

Recently he started a niche job board that aims to cut the problems of places such as Monster and other online web boards. There is a policy of publishing the company names, so you always know what you are applying to. Also, the fact that it is targetting people who read Joel Spolsky, I believe, will give recruiters higher-caliber candidates.

Anyway, in honor his new job board, Joel has written a couple of new articles which I enjoyed and I thought I would share with you.

The first is Finding Great Developers and the other one is Field Guide to Developers. Enjoy, and if you want tell me what you think.

World of Warcraft

September 5, 2006 at 10:51 pm | Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

I recently bought World of Warcraft and I must say this game is amazing and addictive. It is a good thing I am on vacation right now as I am really enjoying playing it. Right now, I am a Level 13 Shaman Orc named Rakholh so say hi if you see me 🙂

Also, my wife created a Flickr account today with some pictures of her and me. I will someday create my own flickr account, but in the meantime you can see some pictures of us at http://flickr.com/photos/aliahassan. Enjoy 🙂

Microsoft Phone Interview Tips

September 5, 2006 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Personal | 7 Comments

I wanted to give people some tips for interviewing at Microsoft (or anywhere else for that matter) in order to help them out.

Phone Interview

  • Seclude Yourself. I think it is important to be in a room by yourself without any distractions and little or no noise. If there is anyone else with you in the house, make sure they know not to disturb you.

  • Walk Around. I personally can not sit down while conducting a phone interview. I have to be pacing around. It gets the blood pumping and keeps you sharp and alert. It also makes your voice sound more active (rather than relaxed).

  • Guide the Conversation. Try to lead the interviewer to your positive traits and the things that you want to emphasize. Try to think of answers to common questions, which you can use to your advantage.

  • Be Prepared. Make sure you have a pen and paper handy with you. In a Microsoft phone interview you will more than likely need it in order to do the technical/programming questions. It can’t hurt to have it.

  • Prepare Questions Beforehand. If you have any questions that you think you may want to ask, you should have them prepared beforehand on a paper. I recommend you do try to think of some questions and ask them, because at the very least it shows you are interested in the position. Also, you can use the pen and paper you have prepared to write down the responses.

  • Sound Passionate. Foremost, Microsoft looks for people who are passionate about technology, programming, and development. I think if you sound passionate, have a good technical background and skills that you stand a good shot at making it. If you act or sound indifferent, you may be giving your interviewers the wrong impression.

This post is pretty long, so I will write more later about how I prepared for my interview and what sources I used.

Picture of Me

September 3, 2006 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Personal | Comments Off on Picture of Me

Here is a picture of me with some friends on my last day at IBM Egypt. I am (obviously) the guy in the center. It’s on a friends flickr account and it should also open a bigger version if you click on it.

DSC02859

The actual on-site Microsoft Interview

September 3, 2006 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Personal | 12 Comments

I left off the last post with having good phone interviews with both Microsoft and Amazon, but they were unable to proceed with me due to a lack of visas. My only two hopes were, the position(s) would still be open in Jan 2006 (when they said they would contact me), or the team from Microsoft coming to Egypt would contact me to schedule an interview.

A couple of months later, I was checking my junk e-mail and noticed a couple of mails from Microsoft. One of them, they had tried to schedule a phone interview with me, and the date had elapsed, and then another one trying to schedule a new one. I quickly added the microsoft.com domain to my email safe-list, and responded.

I had a phone interview scheduled with Priya Priyadarshini, one of the Microsoft International Recruiters (and now a blogger on JobsBlog). It wasn’t too difficult now that I knew what to expect and I had done well on the other phone interviews, so my nerves were a bit calmer. Towards the end though, I recall getting a Microsoft puzzle questions. It was very simple and straight forward (involved getting socks in the dark from a drawer). I misunderstood the question though and gave some ridiculous answer. I was told that I had done great so far, and that she would give me one more chance to answer…so I knew I was wrong, and I felt like this question could blow my chances, so I became nervous again. She repeated the question to me very slowly, and I realized she was asking something very different than what I thought (it was much simpler!) But now I began to doubt myself in case I misunderstood her again (I didn’t think it could be that simple). But it was 🙂

I waited some more after the phone interview, and then I got an email informing me that I had been selected to be interviewed when the recruiting team came to Egypt. It would be at the beautiful Four Seasons Nile Plaza. My timing was at 8am on a Friday. I found out (from friends interviewing) that they were coming only for 2 days of interviews and they have morning and evening sessions and about 5-6 people per session. So that meant I got a spot in a max of 24 possible interview spots, which made me feel good that I had gotten this far.

I went on Friday at 8am. The roads were deserted (as Friday is a weekend in Egypt). I had images of my car breaking down on the way (it has a habit of doing that!) Then I began to worry that I would go to the wrong Four Seasons (we have two that are very close by to each other). But finally I got there, and I found 5 other guys searching for the room where we would do our interviews.

We found a main suite room where we would sit, and where there were plenty of refreshments (tea, coffee, cake, soft drinks, cookies, muffins, fresh juices, etc.) It was actually a very nice set up. The team interviewing us would be the Windows Serviceability Group (who are responsible for the service pack and hotfixes of the latest Windows release).

I started off my day with interviewing with Holly Peterson (International Recruiter/Talent Scout). It was simple, and there were no complicated programming problems. One of the questions involved her handing me an inanimate object and asking me how would I test it (a Microsoft favorite I believe). I also got a couple puzzle questions at the end which I was able to nail.

I had two other interviews which were a lot tougher than anything I had experienced. There were no whiteboards, so I wrote my code using pencil and paper. In between interviews we would all go back to our initial room and sit together, while the recruiters/hiring managers would go discuss the results. We were (obviously) not allowed to talk or discuss the interview questions together.  But people were coming back with very negative results, complaining of how brutal the interviewers were, how difficult the questions were, and how they had many bugs in their algorithms which were pointed out to them. I didn’t feel or get any of the same results so I was hoping I was doing good at this point in time.

After 3 interviews, they sent everybody else home, and asked me to stay for further interviews. I felt that this was a good sign. I went in, to what would be my last interview for the day. I had spoken too soon 🙂 It was brutal. The interviewer asked me a question, and then attacked my answer which shook my confidence in the answer. In hindsight, I think he was trying to probe my weaknesses and see if I could stick to and back up my answers, which I don’t think I adequately did. At this point they thanked me for my time, and said they would be in touch in 2 weeks with the results.

I really was disappointed at this point in time as I felt I blew it in the last interview. I figured, I did my best though and that I could still try to pursue my possible interview in January with the Microsoft Speech Server group if things didn’t work out here.

It was an agonizing wait. I remember the day the results got emailed. The subject said ‘Microsoft Interview Results’ and I was afraid to open it. My wife thought I was being silly and came and opened it for me (I think she was dying to see the results more than me though!) I saw the words ‘Congratulations’ and that I had been accepted.

This is so far one of the proudest accomplishments of my career and I am real excited and looking forward to working at Microsoft.

I will attempt to write in the future some tips and advice that I would recommend for conducting Microsoft Interviews.

The Road to the Microsoft Interviews

September 1, 2006 at 4:44 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Personal | Comments Off on The Road to the Microsoft Interviews

I do not know when exactly I decided that I was interested in applying for Microsoft, but I remember my wife encouraging me to apply. I had heard that Microsoft was asking for CVs from people in Egypt and they were considering to come to conduct interviews through a couple of sources.

I sent my CV off to the indicated address and got an automated acknowledgement response. Then silence…

I am sometimes not very patient, so I started applying online at Microsoft to other openings. I searched all possible openings that I felt I was qualified for and that I found interesting and submitted my CV for these positions.

There was also some silence for a while, but then I finally got a response from a hiring manager that seemed interested. She was an SDET Lead for the Microsoft Speech Server group. I told her I was very interested and we scheduled a phone interview.

As this was my first ever phone interview it was a very nerve-wracking experience. Not to mention I was unsure of how exactly I would code over the phone. I also did a bit of preparing beforehand (studied algorithms, etc.) as I knew it would probably be a bit technical. When the time came, I sat in a quiet room in the house by myself and I made sure I had a pen and paper handy. When the phone call came, I was all set and it went well. I got the typical interview questions at the start, so it put me at ease and made it easier for me to go on, and then we got into some technical questions. I do not remember what they were as it was a long time ago but it was simple. One of the things that I had learnt from the excellent JobsBlog was to show my thought processes, and when designing an algorithm to show that I am taking into account everything (e.g. security, performance, bad data, globalization, etc.)

Also, while I was in an ‘looking for a new job’ mood, I decided to also apply to Amazon. I liked Washington as a state and decided if I get a new job, this is where I wanted to be. My first priority was going to Microsoft to be honest, but I was also interested in the things that go on at Amazon and I certainly would have been happy to also work for them.

They were very quick in their response (I got an Interview request almost the next day). I felt very unprepared and hurried, but I figured I could handle it. I scheduled a phone interview. It was also technical and very similar to the Microsoft one. I thought the technical questions were slightly tougher but I made it through. The guy seemed impressed and said I can expect a second interview (Amazon has a policy of two phone interviews and then one on-site). The 2nd phone interview I felt was a lot tougher. It was hard to read or get a positive response from the interviewer. There was also a question I struggled with, but I felt I got it at the end. He told me I should get a response from them in a couple of days with the results.

In all my phone interviews, apparently I had done well and they were all interested (both Microsoft, and Amazon) but since I was applying in approximately Oct-Nov 2005, there were no H-1B visas, so even if I was hired, they couldn’t bring me. They (both) informed me, that it was too early for an on-site interview due to this reason, and they could see about doing further interviews in 2006.

So my hopes were dashed for the time being, and still no news from the International Recruiting team that was supposed to be coming to Egypt…

I think this is a good place to stop, and I will continue in my next post the rest of the story.

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