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Mastering the Interview for Your First Career in Tech

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Published

12 Mar 2017

Segment

from the ecosystem

Duration

13 minute read

Did you get to interview? It’s time to ask some questions to your potential employer about how to approach it. Some larger companies will have details on their website about how to approach it.

For an in-person interview, this is what you’ll want to know.

  • Who you will be meeting with 

  • The format of the interview 

  • The office dress code

  • What you should bring

Expect to get grilled on the company you want to work for. That’s why you do the research before!

 

Glenn Gillen, startup advisor and investor, says this is the way he runs interviews.

  • Potentially some kind of skills test

  • Conversational assessment, soft-skills, the dreaded "culture fit" test

  • The opportunity to ask the interviewer some questions

In interview, he is looking for a confident person who carefully thinks through their opinions. One way he does that is to ‘pick a topic that elicits a fierce debate in the tech community (IDE/text editor preference, javascript frameworks, backend frameworks, etc.) and ask the candidate what their favourite is’. He’ll probe deeply into why, but predominantly he wants to know if the candidate has questioned their own decisions and process enough to understand the compromises they’re making.

He wants to know:

  • Is someone willing to question assumptions?

  • Reason about things from first principles?

  • Are they capable of coming up with a decision of their own vs following the crowd?

  • It's often also a reasonable measure of how well they'll be able to hold their own in a disagreement.

This is a crucial skill in often hyper-opinionated dev teams.

Asking questions to the interviewer can put you at an advantage because it’s a great opportunity to highlight that you’ve done your own background research.  Ask questions like:

  • What's the career development plan for someone at my level look like?

  • Who within the business will be available to support and mentor me?

  • How do you assess whether I'm succeeding in my role or need further development?

 

The phone screen

 
  • Have pen and paper with you

  • Use a comfortable set of headphones with a good microphone

  • Don’t be at your computer. It will distract you.

  • (I hope you’ve already researched the company!) Research the person you will be talking to beforehand. It will help establish familiarity if you ask a question about the position, one about your interviewer, and one about the company.

  • Keep prepped on those concepts! You’ll get a few questions about them.

 

Pre interview Practical Exams

 
  • You might be given a test from one of the online platforms

  • Or a small project

 

Whiteboarding

 
  • Buy a whiteboard and simulate doing the questions

  • Watch someone else 

  • Practice working through a question aloud. This will train you to explain your thought process during the interview as you are whiteboarding.

 

Before you start coding

 
  • Make sure you understand the problem

  • Work through simple examples

  • Make a plan

  • Choose a language

  • Write down the question on the board. It’s better not to scan back and forth or ask for the question itself again. Clarifying is fine.

  • Ask questions. The role of these questions are to minimise assumptions and they show your depth of knowledge.

  • Set yourself up to not get defensive when you discover a knowledge gap.

  • Be confident (or act it!)

 

While you’re coding

 
  • Break the problem down and define abstractions

  • Delay the implementation of your helper functions

  • Don’t get caught up in trivialities

  • Listen to the interviewers hints

  • Speak clearly and calmly

 

Once you have a solution

 
  • Think about edge cases

  • Step through your code

  • Explain the shortcuts you took

A common characteristic of good junior developers according to Tyro Engineering Lead Geoff Chiang is ‘being an “open book”’.

That is, they are ‘inquisitive, eager to learn, ready to take any opportunity that presents itself to build up the toolkit that will make them successful in their careers as software developers’.  These developers make the very act of learning an ingrained habit.  The best software developers that he has worked with are those who not only technically solid, but who are also so passionate about their craft that they put in their own time to keep on top of technical and non-technical developments in the industry.  They are always learning something, whether through formal tertiary education, or online guided coursework, or through simply finding something that interests them and consuming all the information that they can find on the subject.  By continuously improving themselves, they keep their skills and knowledge relevant in our rapidly-changing technology landscape.

Practice timed coding exercises. You’ll find websites like Codility and Hackerrank have some great exercises, and Interview Cake can lead you through how to solve a few. For software engineering jobs, these types of questions are inevitable.

 

Adam Beck, Software Engineer at Zendesk keeps updated on languages, tools and processes by actively taking part in the communities of projects he’s interested in. Whether that's through Reddit, twitter, slack or meetups, he tries to embed himself in the community and truly listen to what people are saying.  Being part of a community and hearing the opinions of people in the same field as you helps guide you towards newer trends.

 

The types of questions you’ll see

 
  • Personality questions

    • If you had a superpower, what would it be?

    • What’s your biggest weakness?

  • Describe your experience/contribution to X

  • Solve a puzzle

    • How many golf balls fit into a jumbo jet etc

  • Code a function to do x

    • Could be algorithms, could be web dev, depends on the company

  • Tell me about your work history.

  • What experience do you have with [‘skill’]?

  • Can you explain to me [‘concept’]?

  • What’s an example of when you used one of the skills from your previous work in your new field?

  • What was your experience at [‘past_company’] like?

  • What's a technically challenging thing you've worked on recently?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years time?

  • Are you more of a front end or back end developer?

  • What sort of role do you see yourself playing on a development team?

  • When you move from one technology  to another technology, how do you prepare/learn for it?

  • Why did you decide to study software development?

  • Why are you interested in this job?

  • What makes you different from the other candidates?

  • What career accomplishment are you most proud of?

  • How do you stay on top of the latest trends?

  • What do you like to do in your free time?

  • What kind of work are you most excited about?

 

Some questions you may want to ask

 
  • Will someone mentor me during my on-boarding process?

  • Do you work on weekends?

  • Where have people in this position fallen short in the past and where have they excelled?

  • How does the team’s testing process work??

  • What would be expected of me in this role in 90 days? 6 months? 1 year?

  • How does the team perform code reviews?

  • How will I be assigned specific tasks?

  • Why did you chose to use [‘stack’] instead of [‘stack’]?

 

How to talk about your past experience

 
  • Tell a story

  • Show how your experience will be useful in your new role.

  • Emphasize your collaboration and communication skills. Employers like career changers because they come in with a whole new different domain and skill set, which they can integrate.

ING DIRECT Domain Delivery Lead David Bolton says most of all, he is looking for ‘basic coding aptitude, curiosity and perseverance’.



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