A chip on his shoulder

Some time in April 2007 I went to an interview with a company in downtown San Francisco. The company is small of about 10-12 people. Let’s call it Ooga. They brought me in to interview for a UI design job. I know I don’t have much visual design experience but some companies are just looking for UI, no eye candy. That evidently was not the case for Ooga, I found out the hard way.

They sat me down in a room with 4 team members. Three guys sat up in front of me and one guy sat back in the corner, somewhat mysteriously. He was an older gentleman, clearly a few years senior to the other guys in the room. His distant position gave me the impression that he was the boss sitting in the corner to let everybody else do the interview — he might have been just an observer.

The interview swimming decently until we hit a dead spot in the conversation. Finally, after 20 minutes and saying maybe 2 words the guy in the corner stands up. He draws a diagram of 3 big circles: product management, design, and engineering. Under Product management he puts UI design, interaction design, and information architecture.

“At Ooga we have 2 types of people”, he says pointing at design and engineering.

He proclaims: “We don’t have product management, all they do is write specs and draw boxes and arrows” while crossing out the product management circle.

“These other things — interaction design, information architecture, and so forth — those aren’t design. Those are just offshoots and servants to product management”, he says getting louder with each word.

In my head I’m thinking — “what the fuck is this guy talking. interaction design is not design? Quit smoking crack old man.”

He continues, “from what I see in your portfolio isn’t design. All you have is boxes and arrows and flows.”

In fact he is wrong, because I made some wireframes that hint at a design but I guess according to this super-elitist designer, wireframes don’t count as part of the design process. Two things distract me in my head while the guy starts ranting and yelling at me because design isn’t product management and I seem more like an engineer. While this is going on a few thoughts occur to me:

Inner dialogue 1: “this guy must be gay. He reminds me a lot of the gay guys I used to work with at a few years ago. Funny guys but, wow, you would be hard-pressed to find more closed-minded racist people. Those guys were seriously hate-mongers.

Inner dialogue 2: “this guy’s a designer? I thought designers were supposed to be chill. He’s really going ape shit about something I said… I wonder what it was.”

Finally he summarizes his anger — “You don’t have a design background! You’re not a designer! Quite frankly, I don’t know why you’re here!” Then he storms out of the room and slams the door, but not before I can say “thanks for your time” slightly shell-shocked by what an asshole that guy is and still not quite sure how I offended him.

After that I thought I was done because I thought he was the boss. I zipped up my backpack but nobody moved. I actually forgot that anyone else was in the room watching all this because I was just trying to figure out how this guy got so pissed out of nowhere. Post-tirade everybody was apologetic.

They had a lot of excuses

  • “Sorry, he gets like that some times”
  • “he worked for Siebel and Oracle”
  • “he’s one of those brilliant guys that gets out of hand sometimes”
  • “he’s got a chip on his shoulder because he worked for the big companies that had lots of product management”

Bullshit. Don’t apologize because it doesn’t matter. In a small company like that 1 jerk really screws things up. People walk on eggshells so they do not disturb or awake the dragon. Plenty of people work in those chain-of-command companies without freaking out about it. I’m not saying product management is awesome. But even if you hate product management to the extreme, it doesn’t make sense to freak out on some guy that comes in looking for a job. And it’s also hypocritical because he himself said that the designer-engineer teams did the product management between them. Wouldn’t it be useful, then, to know something about it?

Reflecting on that experience, I think it was quite entertaining and also quite educational. First, it tells me that I don’t belong there.

Next, it gives insight into the office culture. Obviously everybody was acutely aware that there’s a moody jerk in the office. Perhaps there is some political or personal intrigue that brought this guy into the place because damn, who would want to put up with tantrum bullshit all the time?

Also, it’s important to keep people on some type of leash. When you let a guy get out of hand like that how do you reel him back in? Without some recourse he will use tantrums to his advantage, like a toddler in the toy aisle of Wal-mart.

Nevertheless I was glad to go over there to get chewed out. I know I need to improve my design skills. I know not to talk to the people at Ooga again.