Getting ready to go back into an engineering position i find myself reflecting on all those past rejection stories and what i learnt from them, so many questions about “how i did” and “why i wasn’t a fit”, and even if accepted, “was i going to fit in later?”. There are some good lessons behind these stories i want to share in these new job-hunting times.
1 Cisco CSAP, first attempt: The famous Cisco Sales Associate Program, a dream come true for new graduates. I did apply right after graduating and made it to the final, back then just with my CCENT certification in hand and very poor spoken English skills, which was kind of shocking to me.
- How i did. Quite well for someone without much work experience, reflecting now over 10 years after i think i didn’t stand out for my technical knowledge but because of the ambition i conveyed mentioning i wanted to get CCIE certified within the next 3 years (so naive 🙂) and because i did my homework and could surf the “selling approach” questions, back then related to Telepresence products.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. Shockingly i consider i was a really good fit and could have made it into the program, but when i was invited to the on-site i freaked out about life and some personal circumstances which led me to drop out from the process. Not that i regret, but i could be working at Cisco right now if i didn’t freak out, i was too young and inexperienced.
- Was i going to fit in? Probably, even if i like tech i do have some special abilities to convey tech information in simple terms so i could have done well on a pre-sales position. Who knows were in Cisco would i be working right now.
2 Cisco CSAP, second attempt: A couple years after, with better english skills, with a CCNP in hand, i also made it to the finals.
- How i did. Quite well again, nailed the “sell me this pencil” kind of questions, i felt much more confident this time and that’s why i applied again to the program, in the twilight of the last year i could apply after graduating.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. Once again i think i was and this time i kind of regret it, but i again dropped from the final interviews, that time because life got in the way, i was diagnosed with Cancer and had to focus on that with urgency.
- Was i going to fit in? Absolutely, i felt really confident with a CCNP certification in hand and decent selling skills, but life was just messy for me back then. Years later i met again with the person who interviewed me, that time i was his customer, and he opened the door to other opportunities within Cisco, which was nice.
3 Riot Games, Network Engineer: Very interesting position, engineering-wide they were doing a very nice project of getting their nodes connected to local IXPs around the world to reduce the latency for local “League of Legends” players, they were playing the ISP game.
- How i did. Decent, i was clearly lacking in the ISP core area, especially hardcore BGP/MPLS networks but i had a strong game in fiber optics and DWDM circuits. They seemed to be okay with me catching up later with the knowledge gap.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. Interestingly enough i’m not an avid gamer and not having a “favorite character” in their game was a huge drawback in the process. Besides that, the hiring manager vanished in thin air after the second or third interview, he said “i’ll schedule you another round next week” and never called back. I didn’t insist either.
- Was i going to fit in? Not really sure, that’s why i didn’t insist, not being an avid gamer myself seemed to be a no-go for them, or it was going to be later in the process. I kind of understand the rationale because you always need some level of engagement with the product you are selling/supporting, but i felt they were looking for “gaming fans” who also happened to be network engineers rather than network engineers willing to engage with the game.
4 Giant Magellan Telescope, Network Engineer. Astro-engineering has always been my main game, i have worked in this field for almost a decade and since it’s very niche, once you get in, you get bonus points in interview processes for other large-scale observatories.
- How i did. Solid, i felt very confident with the technology behind large-scale observatories and know quite well how IT interfaces with the different subsystems for data acquisition and telescope control. I did video-calls, phone-calls and an on-site interview in Pasadena CA.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. I was, i actually got the job but sadly enough the project went short of funds back then and i never got the job offer. They had to cancel the position until the project could get new funding. 3 years later they re-opened the position but with a slight mix with Network Engineer, and Sysadmin DevOps, which didn’t make me a good fit anymore.
- Was i going to fit in? I think so, even if there was a clear misunderstanding between the IT department and the Software and Controls department regarding responsibilities of the network infrastructure. In all honestly it happens in all observatories, the division line is way too thin and everyone wants to be in charge (regarding the campus enterprise network and the telescope control network).
5 Cisco, Senior Systems Engineer. Dream job here, i was referred by someone who did interview me many moons ago for the CSAP program, but i was way out my league from the very beginning and i was very conscious of it.
- How i did. Being absolutely out of my league i did quite well, i had 6 or 7 interviews and made it to the finals. I could surf all the questions related to selling, customer experience, and some technicalities.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. I made it to the finals with another candidate but the experience and knowledge gap was HUGE, not only she had a CCIE (or more than one i think), she was very well-known in the industry and an absolute beast of engineer. Until present time i feel VERY lucky to have had this opportunity and being put next to such a talented engineer even if i wasn’t even close to her in any possible way.
- Was i going to fit in? Absolutely yes, this is the closest to what a dream job opportunity i have had in my entire career, not only i knew the people but i also felt confident with the job requirements. Obviously the CCIE and vast experience of the other candidate made the difference.
6 Cisco, Mid-market Pre-sales Engineer. After not getting the previous job, the Chilean engineering manager referred me to another area within Cisco for the the mid-market as a Pre-sales engineer.
- How i did. Good enough to get the position, it was much more of my level than the previous one and i was confident of getting the job after 3 additional interviews (to the 6 i already had for the previous process).
- Why i wasn’t a fit. I was, unfortunately bad luck hits again and who was going to be my manager moved jobs as Country Manager for Fortinet and this position was cancelled.
- Was i going to fit in? For sure, i already felt confident from the previous process and i was already focused in becoming the best pre-sales engineer around, but life had other plans for everyone, i guess.
7 Facebook, Network Engineer. Huge opportunity this was for sure and the closest i was to a FAANG ever in my career. I was referred and had 4 interviews including an on-site in the Forest City DC, NC.
- How i did. In Networking technical terms i was clearly weak in BGP, but these guys do things with BGP 99% of the companies in the wild don’t even dream of, they don’t just deploy, they invent new technologies, new topologies, new ways to do datacenter engineering and set the trends. I felt solid with the datacenter infrastructure questions, everything related to fiber optics, DWDM, HVAC, power grid, etc.. i was all-in with the game, so much that i went overtime with most of the people interviewing me on-site.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. I wish i knew, i couldn’t get any feedback. On the drive back to Charlotte i was so confident i nailed it, it was a matter of time to get a job offer, so much that i wrote a long email with additional questions to my recruiter because time wasn’t enough to discuss everything i wanted to know about the position. 3 weeks later right before COVID outbreaking in March 2020 i got the rejection email. My theory is that COVID and the H1-B visa difficulties imposed by Trump, plus some clear uneasiness from Facebook about me being an IT coordinator (having people’s supervision responsibilities) on top of a network engineer made them wonder if i was a good fit for a 100% technical position, i reckon they thought i was more cut for a managerial position than for an engineering position.
- Was i going to fit in? 110% absolutely sure, yes. As much as a dream job as the Senior Systems Engineer at Cisco years before.
8 Amazon AWS, Network Development Engineer. Interesting opportunity to deploy the first Chilean AWS ground satellite station near Punta Arenas, in the Chilean Patagonia.
- How i did. Good, perhaps a bit out of game when it comes to Python scripting but solid in terms of contracts and staff supervision, civil works and datacenter infrastructure. The recruiter for this position was particularly good, probably the best recruiting experience i have had so far.
- Why i wasn’t a fit. I dropped from the process due to the extreme working conditions, living in Punta Arenas is serious business, it’s winter year long, lots of snow, 100 Km/h winds every other day, geographical isolation makes cost of living higher than average, and i was a bit concerned about how my mental health would be affected by the environment and the isolation. I’m adventurous, i have lived in northern, central and south of Chile before, and traveled the world as part of my work, but this seemed a bit too extreme even for me. In this process i learnt a lot about LEO satellite constellations, ground-based acquisition systems and the fascinating AWS ground-station as a service concept.
- Was i going to fit in? In terms of people, yes, i could have gotten along well with them even if the position was unique to the area (i.e. i was going to be the only person on-site, the rest of the team was offshore).
Needless to say, i have applied to Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Ekahau, Digital Ocean, and many other well-known companies and haven’t been able to get any interviews. By the end of this post i reflect on the importance of:
- Having good connections, if you have an internal referral you will skip most of the time the recruiter filters and jump straight into interviews.
- Doing your homework, going into an interview without doing in-depth research of the job description, the product you will be supporting or selling, is a recipe for failure.
- Getting lucky, most of the time it’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but don’t fool yourself, luck is also aptitude in search of opportunity. If you have the skills don’t sit waiting for the chance to hit you in the face, go hunting.
I clearly have a knowledge gap to cover so i can finally close a deal with one of these dream jobs i have lost over the years and i’m preparing for that, the rest is just a matter of getting lucky again.