Some time back I had a second round interview with Amazon for an SDE role. This is my experience. The first round interview experience has already been documented well here. Please note that I ~respect Amazon as a company (mainly because a lot of people I respect work there). I’ve kept this brief, without excessive philosophizing about the Right Way to Interview and Privacy etc, talking only about my interview experience and spinoff feelings/thoughts. If you think developers are whiny and are exceptionally well-paid and a little interviewing inconvenience is really not a big deal, then you have a point, but this post is not for you.

My second round interview involved me being on line with a proctor (from ProctorU), whose job was to provide tech support and make sure I don’t cheat. As preamble, the proctor made me download some software, one of which spun up a UI for chatting with the proctor and giving them access to my machine so they can take control of my entire computer, including mouse. The proctor then proceeded to shut down all my running applications for me (I never realized what an unnerving experience it is to see your mouse move on your screen under someone else’s bidding). Then, my system settings were messed around with to make sure I can’t take screenshots. Of course, my camera and microphone are taken control of as well.

After similarly Big Brother’ing around for a while, I’m asked to raise my laptop and show my desk through the webcam, which I do. At this point I was told:

“Clean your desk.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly.

“Clean your desk, please. Your institution [Amazon] has mandated that there cannot be any written material next to you while you take the exam.”

“Cleaning my desk” would take upwards of an hour to do properly, and there was a lot of paper I didn’t want getting mixed up, so I suggested half-jokingly I take the exam on my bed.

“Yes, but first you have to show me the bed and remove the sheets to make sure no written material is hidden underneath. Also, you cannot have access to a pen or paper. Please also keep your cellphone far behind you, where I can see it.”

So here I am, taking an interview that is supposed to mimic real working conditions. On my bed. With my Macbook on my lap. Without access to pen and paper.

After about 5 more rounds of “pick up your laptop and show a 360 degree view of your room” and “please show your floor, no sir, you need to get up from your chair and push it away and then show”, I’m allowed to start. I’m helpfully told that I can take one bathroom break, for 5 minutes, in between two tests.

I start with the first part of the interview, which is a Work Simulation. In order to gauge how well I work with a team in a real-life scenario (umm), a video is supposed to play where I’ll be addressed in the first person and be asked to give responses to stuff that will happen in the video. Except the video never plays.

After waiting about 5 minutes for it to play (hey yo Loading spinners that give no feedback to the user whatsoever), I contact my proctor. What follows is 20 minutes of the proctor refreshing my page. At some point I suggest that if refreshing the last 5 times didn’t work, it’s unlikely to work this time. I wait some more, twiddling my thumbs, wondering if I should get some studying done while this is sorted out (oh haha except I can’t because a textbook classifies as “written material”). After about an hour of this, I tell the proctor that I am no longer interested in the interview, and that I want to quit. I’m asked if I want to reschedule. I repeat that I want to quit. I’m told that a Log Out Procedure(™?) will have to be initiated.

Now, I understand that the proctor is just an employee. I understand that they’re following a protocol. So I wait. I ask at 5 minute intervals if I can leave and am told to wait “just a few minutes”. Finally after about 20 minutes of more waiting, the absurdity of what I’m doing - waiting to get access to my own machine - outweighs the patience I have for someone trying to do their job, and I click the “Revoke All Access” button, switch off my WiFi, turn my firewalls up to the max and delete all software they made me install.

Of course, I have no screenshots of this entire ordeal, because that privilege was turned off for me. I sent them an angry email, but based on my past experiences with Amazon recruiters, I’m certain I’m not getting a response.

The whole experience was somewhat surreal. I remember in previous years, while applying for internships at Amazon, on being told that I have to take an automated test while being recorded through my camera, I’d recoiled at this intrusion of privacy. Now, I’d given a company complete access to my entire machine, just so I can apply to work there. If the video had worked, I would have proceeded with the interview, because at the time of doing the interview I was looking for a job and I 1) don’t live in the Bay Area, and 2) am not a citizen of a North American country, so good/interesting programming jobs aren’t plentiful.

The normalization of privacy violation has never felt more real.


<standard line about how I did not imagine that this would blow up like it did>

I’ve heard from a number of people inside Amazon that they’re now overhauling their interviewing process, which is fantastic and the ideal outcome I could have imagined writing this. They are “no longer using a third party service for proctoring”. Kudos to Amazon for responding to feedback. Thank you to everyone who contacted me saying nice things :)

Hacker News discussion here. Reddit discussion here.