Quirky Corporate Culture or Plain Weirdness? - Pronexia

Quirky Corporate Culture or Plain Weirdness?

 dans corporate culture, interview stories, unusual work environment

It is no secret that many companies are trying to stand out in the market place and create a unique corporate culture (take Google or Zappos as an example). We have seen a lot of quirky things that get implemented – a bring your pet to the office day, an on-site gym, a dry cleaning service, gaming rooms, relaxation rooms.. and even trips to Cancun, all expenses paid, for employees and their families.

That being said, in an effort to be unique, some companies push the envelope so far that they leave many job seekers (and headhunters alike) puzzled and plain uncomfortable.

Case in point…

One of our most hilarious and well-spoken candidate shared his interview story with us earlier today and we felt compelled to share it with our readers (with our candidate’s full consent). Please note that the company in question is a US-based firm and is not a client of Pronexia!

The interview was with a social media marketing firm.

The phone interview with these guys was very strange. They weren’t interested in talking about anything I had actually done in my career, nor anything I was currently doing. The position was for a systems engineering role, but 100% of the questions they asked me were DBA (data base administration) questions. For instance, they kept asking me to design complex SQL queries. Detailed questions about normalization techniques, etc. I asked if the interview was for a Linux systems role or a DBA role. They said systems, of course, but kept on with the DBA questions. Later, I told the recruiter that I thought they gave me the wrong interview. They told her that they only asked me exactly one database-related question, and that the rest were systems questions. Curious, eh?

Curiouser still… they said they loved me and wanted me in for a face-to-face.

At first I resisted, saying I wasn’t interested, but the recruiter ultimately convinced me to give them a second chance.

So, this past week I went in to see them.

Upon my arrival, they shuffled me into a room with two people waiting. The first person to talk introduced herself as « a database administrator. » I thought it was going to be a repeat of the phone interview.

But she then started asking me some programming questions — python libraries and what not, finally getting to « tell me a really cool one-line hack that you’ve done. »

I responded that my programming style is most influenced by my early work in Ada and embedded systems, which means that I write code in an extremely deliberate (and hence readable) fashion, so I really don’t do one-liner hacks. That got her angry. I mean angry.

Then she started in with the DBA questions. I guess as punishment.

Finally, the other guy in the room spoke up asking me, « so tell me everything you did at your job yesterday. » I said « my day started out with a call to our partners in India, where I am organizing a data center migration. Then, I had another call with some Ugandans, where I am working to set up point-to-point microwave connectivity between two schools and training the local IT staff on virtualization. »

The guy interrupted me after my second sentence with « OK… we’ve heard enough. » With that, both of them got up and walked out of the room.

Weird, I though.

But it got weirder.

Two new people entered the room. These guys started telling me why their company was so wonderful, and why I would be a fool to want to work anywhere else.

I learned that this company was without question, the most wonderful place on Earth. The best place to work in our city. The smartest people in the industry. Best at everything. And, they are all super-best-friends. So much so that a lot of them share apartments together. This sharing, this social awesomeness, is evident in their « face-wall », they told me.

« What is a ‘face-wall’? » … I ask.

That’s when they let me out of the room and showed me.

This « face-wall » is a wall in the office filled with a grid of mug shots of all the employees along with their name and start date.

So imagine your face, with your name printed right below it, with a calendar date below that. It looked like one of those memorial walls you see at the site of some massacre like 9-11 or the Holocaust. Wicked creepy.

What’s worse was that all of the photos were relatively nice, well-behaved shots. No one was doing anything off colour for the camera. No costumes, no loopy expressions. Nothing. Rien. Nada.

I turned to one of the guys and said « so has anyone defaced this? »

« NO!… why would they » he said.

« ‘Cause it’d be funny » I responded. « Come on… are you seriously telling me you have never… even once… had the urge to vandalize anything on this wall? Not even adding a little ‘make-up’ here and there? »

« ABSOLUTELY NOT! I wouldn’t even THINK of that. »

« Honest? »

« Honest. »

« Wow!… Really? Not even a virtual kidnapping spree? Ransom notes? »

« A lot of these people are our friends… why would we do that? » … the guy was clearly getting a little offended, so I dialed it back and said how awesome I thought the wall was.

Then they gave me the tour.

Get this. The company didn’t have any desks. That’s right. No desks.

There were basically four or five very large rooms filled with long picnic tables on wheels. Each room had maybe 50 people in it.
I asked why no desks, to which they responded that they want to encourage people to socialize and get to know each other, so when you come to work, you just find a spot on one of the tables, fire up your laptop, and that’s where you work. That’s why they also have the scary « face-wall », they said.

Now, when I was taking this tour, it was already 6pm, and the office was packed full of people. So my last question was  » as is the case with many start-ups, I imagine you guys work a lot, so how do you manage a work-life balance here? »

« We do an awesome job with that here » one guy said.

« Give me some examples » I asked.

« Well, just this week, my whole department went out after work together to play billiards. Most groups like going out to lunch and dinner together at least one or two times a week. »

I responded with « well, the ‘life’ part of my ‘work-life’ balance usually doesn’t involve work people. I really like hanging out with my family. »
To which I got a « well, everyone here is cool, you’ll make a lot of friends here. »

« I rarely see my own friends because I still like my family better » I said. To which I got some blank stares.

And there we have it…

The recruiter called me after and asked how it went. I said « they were nice enough, but frankly, I already have a religion that works just fine for me. I don’t need a new one. »


We would love to hear from you! What has been your weirdest interviewing experience so far?