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.

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5 Comments

  1. OK, I’ll comment on your points:

    1- I think for a respectable international company, not everyone is supposed to contact the customer, this is a job for someone titled as Program Manager, whose responsibilities are to contact customers, study customers needs, etc.
    So if everyone is contacting customers, then it’s not a big company at all, it’s like any company in a small office in any building, I think this summarize everything on your first point.

    2- Don’t compare the phone interview, with the actual interview!!!
    I am talking here about the actual interview, for me as example I was asked to implement the select statement as if I am the one who’s writing the SQL Server Engine, can you compare a question like this with binary search question in IBM actual interview?!!
    No way of course!
    And if this is true, why I heard a lot about IBM engineer’s who don’t know what the ‘^’ operator is supposed to do, and don’t know anything about performance optimization (in other words nearly nothing about writing a good algorithmic based code)?!
    And for this reason, one of my friends who are working inside IBM Egypt, told me about a program in which you send the query (which is pretty simple) and you wait for minutes until you get the answer, this and he is a single user, what about real environment with thousands of users making queries at the same time?!

    3- OK

    4- Actually I worked in 5 companies before I came here, one of them was in US, and the others were in Egypt, let’s take an example of Sakhr, Sakhr interview was very good compared with IBM, and more simple, and takes less time to be evaluated, simply you make a personal interview in which you are asked some technical questions and personal questions, and at the end, you take a task which is something related with what you’ll be doing, and they you get X days to complete it along with small documentation to describe how to use it, so now they have measured:

    1- Technical Skills (not only writing code, but performance, code organization, code size, memory management, etc).
    2- Design Skills.
    3- Documentation Skills
    Tell me who’s better now?!
    And for that reason, you can’t ever find someone in Sakhr who doesn’t know what’s the ‘^’ is supposed to do, or who is creating and destroying big data structures in the main loop for the main server of his program.

    5- I don’t care if they have dress code, what I do care about is not to claim the opposite!

    6- Again I don’t care if they have fixed hours, but not to claim that they have flexible ones!

  2. Thanks for your comments Meshref 🙂 I enjoy discussing these things…

    Here is my opinion on some things:
    1) When I say customers, I do not mean your typical customer (i.e. a person who uses your service), although I have to deal with these people. When I mention customers I also mean, for example, other IBM labs, or developers at other companies we do services for. As an engineer, we are routinely in contact with other people and I have seen people with terrible English and it just does not look professional to be honest.

    2) Not sure about the things you claimed here, but you have coders and testers. The coders I knew, knew about the ^ operator. Testers in general didnt have to be knowledgeable in programming. Also, not sure about the program/query thing as this depends on the design specifications and the project itself. But I’ve also seen people who are very good coders. In any company you will find good/great people and you will find bad ones. I don’t think its fair to make generalizations that all of IBM Egypt is bad.

    4) I did not know about Sakhr’s recruitment method, but it does sound good. But again, I don’t think an exam is pretty bad. I was actually approached by a Google recruiter who sent me a worksheet to complete (I didnt do it), but it had some general and technical questions to pre-screen candidates. And keep in mind, this exam is one of the FIRST phases of getting into IBM Egypt, you still have an interview, and like I said, my first one was pretty tough and very technical where they asked me many complicated programming questions (based on Design Patterns). So I guess it depends on who interviewed you.

    5) You are right. They should not claim the opposite. Not sure who told you that, but any manager/team leader probably would (and should) tell you there is a dress code, because there is one.

    6) Yes, this is totally true. They say all the time they are flexible, but I think to them this means, if you wanna be late one day they will allow it, as long as you give them a call to make sure its okay 😛

  3. 1- If you’re talking about the communications between you and other labs, then you’re talking about technical communications in which english skills are minimum (I do the same in MS), also this doesn’t mean to refuse someone just because he’s not good in English, at least give him some classes!!!

    2- Yes, it may have bad coders, but don’t put them in sensitive places to develop the core of very important products, right?!

  4. Seems to me like Meshref is just upset about IBM not giving him a chance…It is normal for a company to have a screening process and to make sure that the candidates they are screening are proficient in English. Writing ‘I get bored’ after 2 pages in the exam shows that maybe the exam is needed to weed out people who need to work on their English and who also should accept any company’s exam.I wonder if he also told the Microsoft interviewers that he was bored of their questions…I doubt it, cuz if he had he wouldnt have been offered a job there either.

  5. I never told MS guys that because the questions were not tnhat boring, there were all algorithms questions if you know the difference between english questions and algorithms


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