Ascent 217 – I Don’t Know

Question MarkToday is the anniversary of my leaving England to come to the United States. It’s hard to believe that 32 years have flown by.

I found myself thinking about the interview I had in London for the position and the one answer I gave that I’m confident was the key to starting my journey.

It was 1983 when the interviewing process started. I had been in computing since 1979 and discovered a penchant for programming in late 1981. I transferred into that department and rapidly gained expertise as my passion had been found and I discovered I was pretty adept at it. After a couple of years, I found myself feeling disenchanted with the company and was jonesing for a change. I was working in Stevenage, Hertfordshire at the time, which was home to some pretty substantial companies like British Aerospace. I felt I needed something a little further afield and an opportunity presented to apply for a consultant programmer position in the United States.

I only had a couple of years programming experience albeit I felt I had the goods and have been known to take a chance on more than one occasion.

There were a dozen other candidates in the room, all filling out forms and preparing for their turn in the interview seat. Finally, my turn came and I was invited into the room with a New York gentleman.

The interview flowed very well, with my responding rapidly and appropriately to all the questions he was throwing my way. And then, he threw a curve ball. He asked me some off-the-wall question around secondary allocations for the major data management system at the time. I promptly said … “I don’t know.” He looked up from his clipboard and looked straight into my eyes. I then followed with “But I know where to look it up.” He smiled and went back to his questions. At the end of the interview, he shook my hand and said they’ll make me an offer.

A month or so later, I received the offer letter and the invitation to work in the United States. When the Visa paperwork was all taken care of, my flight was arranged for August 4th, 1984 and my journey began.

Upon my arrival in New York City, I met the interviewer again at the company headquarters on Fifth Avenue. He brought up that nobody had ever said they didn’t know something in an interview with him and that my statement of knowing where to look it up sealed the deal. (Tip – don’t BS in a technical interview.) He also said that I was the only one out of that dozen or so that they extended an offer to.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing and it’s always better to say you don’t know than to try and pretend that you do. Becoming comfortable with the unknown has become a foundation of my journey. All I know is that it will be perfect.


2 thoughts on “Ascent 217 – I Don’t Know

  1. I’m not surprised at all about your response or that you remember the interview so vividly. Those moments when we are courageous enough to choose transparency and encounter others who recognize and value such behavior, are markers on the high road. Rock on my friend!


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