Job interview at Kanga

Today, I did something I haven’t done for about four and a half years. I went on a job interview.

Relax, I didn’t get fired (and hopefully, this little escapade of mine doesn’t precipitate that — though I can’t imagine why it would). I acted on an impulse that, admittedly, I’ve been sitting on for a little while. (If you’ve been receiving these, then you already know that there have been a number of things about Critical Mass that have been grating on my nerves for some time.) It was a case of putting my money where my mouth is, and seeing what might happen.

The position is Director of Applications Development at Kanga Communications. Ironically enough, I came across the job as a result of a job application at Critical Mass — one of their senior developers wants to work for us. In the process of checking his application, I found that his company was looking for a Director. The description seemed similar to what I do at Critical Mass, so I thought: why not? The worst that could happen is they say "no".

Besides, after four and a half years, one begins to worry about interviewing skills going rotten.

As I always keep on top of my resume (always a good plan), it wasn’t much to submit the application. To be honest, I didn’t think much would come of it. I’ve tossed in resumes every now and then, to positions that are usually way out of my league, just to see what might happen. This time, I was more serious about it. This time, I actually kind of wanted it. This was my chance to be senior management, and possibly develop it into something else.

Late Monday night, at 23:15, I received an email from Kanga’s CEO, asking me to call him and arrange for an interview. Needless to say, I actually took pause at the news. I hadn’t expected it, and certainly not so soon after applying. I stared at the message a few moments before deciding that, yes, I would go through with the phone call.

The next morning, I received another email from Kanga’s Director of Strategic Marketing as well as a voice mail from him. It wasn’t until noon that I could call back, merely because I was so busy. They wanted me to come in that afternoon. Being dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, however, I suggested that perhaps the day after might be a better idea.

Fortunately, today was the day Alex returned from her trip to Ontario, which allowed me a great excuse to show up to the office wearing clothes that would normally set off every Interview Alarm at Critical Mass. As far as I was concerned, I was picking up Alex from the airport (which was true, I did), and wanted to look nice for her. (As it stands, even she didn’t buy my story, and wanted to know what the deal was with the snazzy threads. She knows me too well.)

I ducked out a bit early to make my 16:30 interview. Arriving at Kanga’s offices (only about a kilometre away from Critical Mass), I found that neither the Christopher (the CEO) or Vince (the Director of Strategic Marketing) were available. I was asked to take a seat while they were hunted down. Within mere seconds of doing so, a familiar face walked by — Cat, Critical Mass’ former Communications Manager.

Busted...

I had kind of hoped to do this without anyone knowing. I have no doubt that people will learn of my little visit. Whether or not this comes back to bite me remains to be seen. Cat and I always got along, so I can only hope that she keeps this under wraps. Vince, who appeared moments later, was concerned about the situation, since Cat doesn’t work for Kanga — she’s one of their clients. If she does tell, well, I’ll just have to deal with the consequences...

Vince and I chatted for a while about management issues and the general operation of Critical Mass, spending a lot of time on how Critical Mass and the other Omnicom sister companies get along. I was having difficulty, tripping over my own thoughts as I tried to formulate them into coherent answers. Vince wasn’t really engaging me much in the interview, and I was having trouble finding my own groove.

I’ve been doing interviews at Critical Mass for months, now. It’s been far too long since I’ve been interviewed myself.

I knew the interview wasn’t going wonderfully. I’ve only ever had one interview where I really had a good feeling about it. That was the one I had for Critical Mass. I’d gone with with Dave and Shannon, both of whom stayed stone-faced the whole time. (Shannon barely said a word, and was there mostly as an observer.) It wasn’t until I stumbled across the topic of Monty Python that I saw a reaction from Dave. Technical issues went out the door as we discussed the finer points of "The Life of Brian".

No such luck with Vince. I wasn’t making the kind of headway that I’d hoped for. But as I would learn, that wasn’t such a bad thing. I knew Kanga was a small company. What I didn’t know was how small. The position I was interviewing for would be the head of their programming department. I would be responsible for the entire technical team, and ensure that the company’s technical needs were addressed. Sounds like a great opportunity, right? Well, I found out a few things after Jeff came in to represent the developers.

Jeff is one of the acting co-directors of application development. He’s been in the industry for three years. I have over nine. (At one point, Critical Mass’ Web Development team had in excess of 100 years of collected experience.) He gave me the skinny on the team prior to hitting me with a few questions. Some things I learned:

  1. Kanga doesn’t really follow any particular standards that I could tell. Critical Mass’ development teams follow the standards that exist (such as the J2EE specification or those defined by the W3C), or we follow the generally accepted practices we see on the internet (generally known as the Web Standards).
  2. Kanga needs someone to set up mentoring amongst their team, encourage team play, “protect” the developers, create some form of performance evaluation, and still be able to dive right into the code when the opportunity requires. While I have no particular objection to that, I wonder how much I would be actually able to make the kinds of changes that they need?
  3. Kanga has seven developers.

So basically, the job at Kanga is almost exactly the same as the one I have now at Critical Mass, except that instead of being middle management, I’d be senior management. Theoretically, with better pay, too. So I’m going to take it, right?

Well, even if they did offer me the job (they didn’t, in case you’re wondering — this felt sort of like a preliminary interview), I honestly don’t know if I would. For all the bitching that I’ve done about Critical Mass and the way that things have been going as of late, there is a lot for me to lose by leaving: outstanding people, a great environment despite the large number of people, a killer Bistro and a hair salon, great parties, challenging work, and the opportunity to push not only yourself but everyone around you, with the full support of the company (knowing that the effort might end up fruitless).

Not to mention that they sent me to San Jose.

I think this is a “grass is always greener” scenario. I needed to see what else was out there. I needed to know what it was that’s keeping me at Critical Mass. Am I just too damn complacent to leave? Maybe, I certainly can’t discount that possibility. I’d like to think that I’ve weighed the situation and determined what’s good for me. I know that Critical Mass is still going to do some assoholic things. But that’s to be expected of a company that’s trying to exist in the market we’re in, with the clients we have, and the competitors we’re up against. Unless Kanga comes back with an offer that I quite literally can’t refuse (and believe me, that would have to be a lot), I can’t see myself leaving Critical Mass any time soon.

Besides, I want to see if we can hire Jeff.

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