Five Years

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a classic interview question that I’ve had trouble with in the past.

It’s not a terribly complicated question to answer as a 26 year old software engineer, but as my mother knows from my battles with homework, making easy assignments into hard ones is something of a specialty for me.

I’m a little cursed, you see, with a preference for answering questions correctly instead of usefully. Getting results with my answers often takes a backseat to exploring the truth of a given matter.

I won’t claim to be an expert interviewee, but if I had to come up with a “useful answer”, it’d look something like this:

“If you hired me, I’d look to climb the ladder at [company] by being smart & diligent. Odds are I’ll still be here five years from now, hopefully as a [two titles above the role I’m applying for].”

This response isn’t going to win hearts and minds, but that’s not really the point. A generic answer is mostly fine here – it seems to me that the point of the question is to filter out the sort of people who don’t know what not to say.

I’m not pleased to report that the aforementioned group has included me more than once.

How does this play out in practice? Well, I get enthusiastic when talking about my future plans & aspirations, which tends to makes my autism kick in & my mask slip. I say things like:

“I’ve been working on niche content websites on the side for about six months. I really enjoy being a software engineer but I’m hoping that in five years I’ll be running those sites as my sole income. I’m hoping that I can learn some useful skills to further that end during a few years working at the Post.”

This was (approximately) the reply that knocked me out in the final round of interviews for a very lucrative engineering role at The Washington Post, at a time when I was desperate to find work & had about a month of runway before I’d have to move in with a parent.

The third-party recruiter I was working with called me shortly afterwards – even through my autism & a middling cell connection, I could tell he was furious that he wasn’t getting paid for getting me into the role.

He’d worked with WaPo in the past, and supposedly the final round was a formality that I’d still somehow managed to screw up after crushing two technical interviews & a culture interview.

This isn’t a sad story. It was frustrating in the moment, but things worked out better than if I had gotten the job.

2-3 weeks later I flew into New York City for my final interview at the Full In Partners office in Midtown Manhattan. The rest is history.

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Author: Fritz Johnson

Fritz Johnson is a self-taught software engineer working on Wall Street.

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