So you have an interview with Descartes Labs?

I wrote all the following in fall 2018 (?) right after my final interview. But I couldn’t post any of these job search posts until the sensitivity of the matter had receded somewhat. Descartes Lab is some sort of company that uses GIS and maps to solve problems for other businesses. If I remember correctly.


They are very exclusive. So be on your best behavior when you deal with them.

I sent my resume in and heard back the very next day that they wanted an interview. But they have a four-step interview process.

Step 1

First, they assign you to a thirty minute phone interview to their general, first-pass hiring scout, to see if you make the lowest cut. I honestly don’t really see the point, looking back. Pretty much, they were just going back over your resume, which they’ve already seen. Mine didn’t take the full thirty minutes allotted, maybe 23 minutes.

Step 2

If you impress that person enough – and I don’t see how you couldn’t, given they’ve already selected you to speak with them based on your resume – you then move on to a full hour phone interview. You’re supposed to hear back within a week if you will proceed. But I didn’t hear back for like two weeks, so then I emailed them. “Oh, we’re a little delayed because we have so many applicants!” I finally heard after one more week.

The second phone interview is with a Descartes employee who is working at a job similar to what you’re interviewing for. I was interviewing to be a satellite data analyst, so that’s what the guy I talked to did all day.

To set up this interview, a whole other “human resources” person starts emailing you, separate from the human resources person who handled your first interview. Is all that personnel really necessary? Seems like overkill.

I thought my hour-long interview went really well. It actually only lasted for 50 minutes or so, and it seemed to go fast. First, we spent about 10 minutes – yet again! – talking about my resume. Okay…

Then, he asked me what they referred to as “high-level reasoning questions and problem solving.” Except they weren’t all that high-level, and as it so happened, the first set of questions were directly related to my Ph.D. research. The second set of questions was directly related to my master’s research. I thought I had it all in the bag.

The Ph.D.-related questions were about satellites and water. The question was: if you’re trying to study lakes and dams in a cloudy area, where the lakes will often be hidden from satellites, what can you do? The answer is: use radar satellites. At first, my brain felt a little stunned at the sheer audacity of being asked a question and having to answer on demand, but then it came to me … after all, my second Ph.D. paper was literally based around those techniques!

There was a follow-up question that revolved around … what if you also have discharge gauges upstream and downstream of the dam, how would you use those? Well, in my Ph.D. work, I also mixed discharge data with data gathered from satellites, so my mind is used to thinking along those lines. I thought I gave a decent answer.

The master’s-related questions had to do with: what if an insurance company asks you to create a map of which properties in a city are most likely to be flooded. And they want you to figure it out based on areas that flooded in the past. Well, it struck me all of a sudden you’d want to use a spatial correlation. Yes, indeed, that was what my master’s work was about. My interviewer, at this point, while I enthusiastically waxed on and on about spatial correlations and autocorrelations and digital elevation maps, went a little silent. Did I say something wrong? I have no idea. All I know is that he had the sound of a bratty frat guy, and my conclusion was that he was miffed that a woman was answering the questions correctly. Like, how dare you? I like that conclusion better than me having said something wrong.

Any case, he got over that tongue-tied stage and ended the interview with a lot of “great, great,” “awesome,” etc etc, and then his final overture was to tell me how at the Santa Fe office, they get free and amazing lunches cooked in the company kitchen every single day! Yes, honey, your tech-bro-ness is showing.

And that was that. Like a week later, I got a super-prissy email from them, and this was the subject line:

“Thanks for your interest in Descartes Labs, Mejs”

That pretty much said it all. First of all, when you’re rejecting me, be kind enough not to appropriate my name into your fake-chummy email subject. Second, they decided to tell me in the email that “we’d like to keep your resume on file as our team continues to grow.” Oh, if I stacked up the number of times they told me they would “keep my resume on file,” the stack would reach the moon. First of all, honey, I only made it to stage 2 of your 4 interview stages. Do you really expect me to believe that you’re going to leave my resume on file or ever consider it again, stacked against all the people who made it to stage 3 and stage 4? No, I don’t believe it!

Which brings me now to …

Step 3

In a hypothetical stage 3, you have to take a test online to show you know the Python programming language really well. Well, at least I don’t have to study up and refresh myself now!

Step 4 –

You’re finally considered illustrious enough to merit an on-site interview. They fly you out to Santa Fe, I suppose, and I daresay you’ll get to try to their “oh my God, it’s so good” tech-bro free lunches while you’re there.

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