I have had the opportunity to interview with a lot of great companies including Symantec, Google and Adobe but the most special one will always be the one at Microsoft. Mostly because of the events that happened before and during the interview.
Prelude: Sometime in May 2011, I applied to various jobs on their careers website. Got a mail from an HR person asking me some information and inviting me for a telephonic screen. Had telephonic interviews, two of them to be precise with two different teams. One of them decided not to move ahead and the other manager gave me a green signal.
Shock: Then the HR person emailed me saying that they wanted to invite me for on-site interviews. I was a little surprised and confused both at the same time. On asking again, it was clarified that they wanted me to fly to their Redmond headquarters for the next set of interviews! I was in shock. Because I had never been to the US nor had a visa. In fact not been out of the country ever..
Tried to control my excitement and tell them that I would need a visa to travel to the United States. But the HR person, unaware of the whole thing assumed that I can travel right away! In fact she even got my tickets for a few weeks later booked. It was then I had to tell her that its not possible for me to travel without a visa and they will need to sponsor my visa along with some invite letters.
Visa process: Had to understand the visa process to plan my travel. Had to get a B1/B2 visa for such short travels. Understood the whole process by looking up on google for various websites. Asked for the appropriate letters to be couriered right away. After getting the letters, filled up the online form for the visa, paid the visa fees through HDFC bank (old process-the process has changed now), scheduled an appointment for 20th July 2011. By this time, MS had already booked my flight tickets for 24th July early morning so as to reach Seattle on 24th July afternoon (it is fascinating to leave on the same date and reach on the same date when traveling westwards but adding up days when traveling the other way :)) Had my interview on 20th July which was a 30 minutes job. The interview was held at the old location near Mahalaxmi temple, Mumbai. The embassy has now moved to Bandra Kurla Complex. Cleared the interview and my visa was approved. Moment of joy and celebration :)
Now the wait for the passport since I had to leave for the airport from Pune on 23rd evening itself to catch the flight for 24th early morning. Had booked a cab for 23rd evening. The visa had not arrived till 22nd evening and I had to inform the HR person that the trip could get cancelled if the passport does not arrive. Luckily the status on the VFS site had changed that night indicating that the passport was dispatched through FedEx.Waited for the passport the whole day on Saturday 23rd July and my cab was booked for 6:30 pm to leave from home. No sign of the passport till afternoon. Got the FedEx support number and called them to ask where my shipment was. They assured to me it would be delivered by late afternoon. And then at 5 pm the passport arrived just in time for me to leave.
Travel: Left at 6:30 for Mumbai airport and reached a little late by 12 midnight. I was not keeping well and that had aggravated due to the fear of traveling all alone and for the first time. It was my first trip to the US and my first trip outside the country. Cleared the immigration and reached the check-in desk. Check in to the flight just in time. Since I was a little late, the flight was already packed and there was no space in the overhead compartment.
The flight was through Amsterdam and reached there after a long flight. Had my connecting flight in 2 hours and before boarding the aircraft, the guys there were asking questions as if I have entered America. Too much security. Showed them my invite letter and then they let me on the flight. After a long flight, reached Seattle and the immigration formalities were pretty smooth. Got out of the airport and tried searching for my friend. On not seeing him, I was feeling weird since I did not know how to get to the hotel. Basically I was too scared on the first trip. My friend arrived in a few minutes and we left for the hotel. On the way we had to pick up the rental car that MS had booked for me. Picked the car and dropped it at the hotel. Was staying at Hotel Marriott near Redmond town center.
Stay: The hotel was nice and comfy and had a nice restaurant. All the meals were on MS in the restaurant. Had free wifi too. Contacted my family through way2sms by sending sms to them. No whatsapp at that time. Looked out side the window and the streets looked deserted on a beautiful sunny sunday afternoon!
Called up another friend who came to meet me with some home made food and energy bars. Took me to his place and walk around the hotel to know some places. We also went to a departmental store to buy toothpaste :D He dropped me back to the hotel and just kept telling me not to sleep till it is late evening otherwise my next day would be screwed. After he left, I just couldn't control my sleep and went off to sleep after various attempts to keep awake. My eyes opened only to realize that it was 8 pm. Got ready and walked out of the hotel for some dinner options. the hotel's restaurant did not have much for my liking. Came across a Pakistani restaurant by the name Shalimar. It was a departmental store cum eating corner. Had a chicken gravy with naan and some mango lassi. The food was nice. Then chit chatted with the owner who could speak hindi and told him I was from India. Left the place and reached the hotel room. Watched tv for some time and then slept only to wake up at 5 in the morning. My eyes just opened and could not sleep after that. Tried to study some books that I had carried and pass time till it was 7. Walked down to the restaurant for some breakfast. They had an American breakfast buffet. Had breakfast and went back to the room. Had a shower, got dressed up and walked down after my friend had arrived. He dropped me off to the correct building where I was to meet my HR person. Met up with her, she gave me some MS branded pens and a diary for anything to write. Then she booked an interoffice cab for both of us to take me to the office where the dev team sits. The car arrived right on time. MS uses inter office shuttles called as Inter-connector for employees to go to any building from the current one. These are usually hybrid cars that run on batteries like a Toyota Prius. For that one needs to let the receptionist know and she will tell you the exact time the car will arrive outside. And mind you they are very punctual. Microsoft does not have a bounded campus but instead they own hundreds of different building in Redmond with public roads passing in between. We were dropped at the correct office where the HR person escorted me to the reception. She informed the first guy was to pick me up from the reception area.
Interviews: My interview was scheduled at 9 am on 25th July 2011. I will not talk much about the content of the interview but the style that MS follows, from what I could understand. They are not looking at certain technology or language to solve problems. They are not looking at very precise details. All I could understand from the interview is that they are looking at the approach you take to solve problems thrown at you. How do you design a solution for that problem? What questions do you ask to understand the abstract problem statement better.
I had about 4 technical interviews and a fifth one which was more on behavioral aspects. The fifth one was with a very senior person. The third person even took me for lunch at the Microsoft cafeteria. MS doesn't offer free lunch. But they have a live cafeteria where the chef can make something for you on the fly. They do have drinks that are free, so you can drink sodas, colas, juices, coffee, etc. whole day long. I chose to pick up a bottle of juice and just had water the whole day. By the time I was doing my 4th interview with the same person who had interviewed me on phone, I was completely drenched due to the jet lag and feeling terribly sleepy. I somehow managed to do that interview but I know I made a lot of mistakes. The 4th guy asked me to leave and when I was leaving, the lady at the reception informed me that one more person would like to meet you. That was the *very senior guy*. He asked me various personality related questions on how I would deal with certain situations. After that he dropped me at the reception and thanked me for coming all the way from India to interview. Called up my friend from the reception, who told me to take the shuttle to his building. Asked the reception for the same and she booked me for a shuttle. The shuttle dropped me where my friend was waiting. I described to him about the whole process and he told me that if I met with the fifth guy, my chances were pretty high.
Sightseeing: After the interviews, my friend took me around the town and showed me some places. He took me to Alki beach and showed me the Seattle skyline. Clicked some pictures and since I was very tired, I asked him to drop me to my hotel. Reached my room and spent some time watching tv. I was way more relaxed and dying to go back home. I was missing my family like anything. Got down to the hotel's restaurant for dinner and had a burger and juice. Walked back up and had a nice sleep. Had my flight the next day afternoon.
Return: Return flight was on 26th July afternoon. Got up the next morning, had breakfast, dressed up and raring to go. Checked out around 9 and left for the airport with my friend. Had to also drop the rental car back at the same place. The car just kept lying in the parking for 2 days :( Dropped the car and left for the airport. Reached the airport and bid farewell to my friend. Got inside and cleared the security checks and reached the waiting area. Roamed around on the airport since I had a lot of free time and even bought some chocolates to carry back home. Checked in to my flight and the return flight was also through Amsterdam. Pretty uneventful flight. Spent my time watching various movies and eating (that's all that you can do :)). Reached Mumbai airport early morning on 28th July and my family had come to pick me up in my car at the airport. Met with y family and my son. Was very happy to be with them and that the whole trip was over.
Result: Well I did not get the job but I am thankful to MS for sponsoring my first trip to the US and giving me an opportunity to interview with them. Some may ask, why I took so much time to write this article? Well, I just couldn't find enough time to sit and write such a long post. Now was just the right time, so wrote it :)