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Natural Language Processing vs Neuro Linguistic Programming

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In 2011, I interviewed for a company in downtown Scottsdale who claimed to be doing RSA and Encrypted communication security work for the US Army.

I just learned something this morning that let me know they were not who they portrayed themselves to be.

I’ll get to that in a bit.

But first….

As was typical for interviews, I was often asked very weird logical questions, and often in front of groups of four or more, and in this group there were eight.

One of the first questions they asked was:

“Create a prime number function in C Sharp that returns a list of prime numbers from one to the number specified”

I smiled. An easy one.

I started off with the prototype for the function:

List<int> getPrimeNumbers( int max );

From there I created a recursive function, and was then asked specific questions about why I would use a recursive function.

A recursive function is a function which calls itself. This confused them.

So I explained myself:

“I like small manageable functions that I can thoroughly test out. But I suppose it’s mostly preference.”

The explanation annoyed them. One of them said “I don’t understand why someone would use recursive functions out of preference.”

I smiled and shrugged.

It was about hen that I realized , this interview wasn’t for me to get a job.

They were trying to understand the way I logically organized information and processed data.

One tried shooting a hole in my code:

“Well if I asked for a max of ten trillion your function will fail,” he said, gloatingly.

I responded with, “The business requirements would have outlined this as a requirement, but the fix is simple:”

I went to the board, and then wrote:

List<int> getPrimeNumbers( long max );

The difference between a long and and an int is that an int cannot exceed a little more than four trillion, or 4,294,967,296.

Changing the value to a long extended the possibilities to 2^64, a much larger number to hold his ten trillion.

His smugness dissipated.

I wasn’t trying to ‘win’ a contest here. I was merely trying to get a job.

Or so I thought.

Afterwards, they asked a question about NLP, and asked me to describe what I know about it in full.

I remember thinking “What an ODD question. I had never been asked about my life coaching training or my experience with Neuro Linguistic Programming before.”

I smiled, broadly. This area was of intense interest to me, it is applied psychology and sociology to understand human interactions, which programmers infamously have little to any interest in, so to be asked this question by a team of security nerds wasn’t just unusual, it was unheard of.

“Just to be sure,” I said, “You’re referring to Neuro Linguistic Programming, right?”

They hemmed and hawed a bit before responding.

I remember thinking at the time “That response was unexpected. It’s almost as if they are referring to something else.”

I discussed the topic a bit

“Neuro Linguistic programming, in a nutshell, is applying psychological understanding to human interaction and is used to both understand and predict emotional state, intention and actions. It’s not just useful for lie detection, it’s awesome to understand things about people that they themselves don’t know about themselves.”

By this point in the interview. I’d realized they were not just not placating me, they were engaged.

But I also became certain of something else.

They had never heard of NLP as I presented before.

So I continued.

“I have always been keenly interested in neuropsychology, or the brain’s wiring to the physical body, and have found it absolutely fascinating to study and understand the physical and physiological patterns that most humans seem to exhibit, in many cases, involuntarily that reflect what they’re thinking. “

I walked away from this interview….. One of the last interviews I had had in my professional career in August of 2011.

Thinking “That was… odd.”

It’s not that I knew or didn’t know about whether I got the job or not.

I suspected I wouldn’t for reasons I am unsure of.

Being sincere, though. The place and people seemed uptight and stressed. It was tightly controlled, being a government contractor, and while it was customary they didn’t tell me a damn thing of what they wanted me to do until I was accepted, I knew this is the type of place I just didn’t really want to be associated with.

I learned a week later I didn’t get the job.

But the overarching question haunted me.

When they asked the question about NLP, what were they expecting?

This morning I received an email with the subject line: “Govt. Client – Need a NLP Architect in MD”

I have been trashing the emails I receive from headhunters for the last two years, there is something wrong with my internet and anytime I respond to any organization I never hear back, so it is just not worth it despite receiving 15 email solicitations for jobs a week.

But I opened this one up. The NLP question might finally answer itself.

Sure enough in the email body….

“Description : Natural Language Processing – Subject Matter Expert 2 – NLP & Machine Learning Architect

DUH! I thought. Natural Language Processing. THAT is what they were asking about.

TLA’s. You gotta love them!

Now as I look for evidence to believe that I’m this quasi-omnipotent being named “Q” and I am re learning who I am as I get my mind back.

Belief is creating reality and providing me that support evidence.

In bite sized pieces.

And reminding me that this company in Scottsdale wasn’t really interviewing me.

They were trying to understand me.

And the interest the people at that table had towards a topic that was foreign to them was as I sensed.

Absolutely genuine.

I wonder how dramatically life would have been different if I would have answered the question as they were expecting.

Discussing Natural Language Processing.

Of which I had decidedly less interest in yet could have talked about it all in great detail by discussing Microsoft Speech SDK and Dragonspeak and similar packages.

I suppose the moral of this story is.

Sometimes, as a prospective candidate, it behooves you to throw curveballs to your interviewers.

You never know where that rabbit hole will lead.

Reminds me of the time I interviewed for Microsoft in Redmond…

A story I will save for another day…..

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