//a two-part blog post//
During my time at school, one of the things that was talked about a lot was the interview.
One of the statements that struck me most during this time was that developers are the only people who not only have to talk about what they have done in the past (experience) but are expected to be able to stand up and PROVE that they can solve any problem that they are asked to solve, on the fly, whether they’ve ever encountered it before or not.
NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING.
Even that terrifying concept didn’t really prepare me for the reality.
Nor did the mock interviews we did during professional development sessions.
Or the speakers who came and gave presentations about what to expect and how to handle it.
Or all the articles that I read or horror stories I heard about white boarding and pair programming and whatever else you want to toss in there.
After all of that, I still expected a fairly standard process:
Apply for job.
Be contacted by company representative via phone or email, who sets up initial 30-60 minute “get to know you” interview.
If initial interview goes well, schedule technical interview.
Follow up with a nice thank you email.
Get hired if all of the above went well.
Repeat if it didn’t.
I don’t think I had a single experience that exactly matched that profile.
My first interview occurred in the first full month after completing my certificate.
I did receive a phone call from a representative of a company who left me a voicemail and followed up with an email, and over the course of an afternoon, we set up an interview.
The person who scheduled that interview turned out to be the person I met with. That interview was a “get to know you”, but it lasted 2 hours even though I realized within a few minutes that this job wasn’t a good fit for me and did everything in my power to indicate that without throwing myself under the bus.
The interviewer was really nice, but I felt like he wanted me to fruitlessly pursue a job that was way out of my league.
I followed up with a nice thank you email.
I didn’t get another interview for another 2 months, defying the notion that I might have 18 interviews in an 8-12 week period (since I was nearly at 12 at that point and only on my second, despite having sent out something like 80-100 applications at that point.)
Again, I received a voicemail from a representative of the company. Again, we set up an interview over the course of an afternoon.
Where the first interview was with a startup at a slick co-working space in a popular tech neighborhood downtown, this next one was almost completely the opposite. The company was way out, practically in the country, in a converted barn(?) garage(?) and had none of the amenities of the first (rooftop deck, stocked kitchen, beautiful office environment, etc.) What it did have was free parking.
This interview seemed more standard. I was asked about projects in my portfolio (not really covered in that first interview) and what would be expected of me and what I would bring to the table. Despite the fact that I had a lot of the skills they seemed to be looking for and the job sounded like a good fit (long drive into the middle of nowhere aside), it was far more disparaging than the one for the first job, which, again, seemed way out of my league, but I felt like I was being encouraged to pursue despite the fact that it likely would have been disastrous.
I followed up with a nice thank you email, and received a rejection letter without being given the opportunity to take their technical exam.
Somewhere after that point, things sort of exploded in a way I did not expect. I suddenly started getting tons of emails and phone calls from recruiters. Some were in-house recruiters or HR people, some of those were from companies I’d actually applied to. Most were not (and many were for jobs that aren’t even remotely my field.)
One of the first of these phone interviews led to a “Skype” interview (not really Skype, but some other similar service) and after a lengthy discussion about my skills and projects, I was informed that they were looking for someone with more experience – this was for an entry level/junior developer position.
Then I got another in-person interview. I was contacted by a recruiter, who set up an interview. No phone interview.
I went to the office, signed in, signed an NDA, and was whisked off on a tour of the office. It was a great office, really nice, modern, exactly the kind of environment any sane person would want to come to every day.
The tour culminated in my being dropped off in a small room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides.
After a few minutes, a person entered, introduced himself and WHAM! Asked me to whiteboard a problem with no other discussion. No questions about my resume or my education, no looking at my projects or anything.
This was my first technical interview and I’d had no idea showing up that day that I was having one.
But ok, whatever. I get up and get ready and he describes the problem he wants me to solve.
And I went: HUH?
Because it made ZERO sense to me. None. One term that he used was something I’d never even heard of. (I later attempted to look this up to no avail. In the end, I decided that he’d made up his own term for something that everyone else refers to as an object.) I felt like the stupidest person ever.
But I did the things you are supposed to do. I asked questions about the problem. I talked through it. I took notes. I couldn’t even start.
I tried to do it in a text editor. Still NOPE. I had a panic attack. I thought I was going to have to call 911. I had no idea how to handle it. I tried to talk through it some more, it just didn’t work.
I left, embarrassed.
It was not a good experience.
I did not send a nice follow-up email.
Not too much later, I received another response to an application, and was scheduled to have a phone interview.
After the phone interview, I was sent a “quiz” to fill out.
Apparently, I did well on that, as I was then scheduled for an in-person interview.
This one was with a BIG company. Another nice office.
After I signed in, my interviewer collected me from the lobby and escorted me to a small room, no windows, completely private.
We discussed my resume, projects, experience, etc. for about 15 minutes, then he said that we would whiteboard for a while. I tried not to panic, even though I’d known ahead of time that this was a technical interview. I steeled myself for the deer in the headlights feeling, prepared myself to feel stupid again.
He explained the problem. It made perfect sense.
I did have to think about it a bit and talk through it some, but I got through the problem satisfactorily.
He asked me to build on that problem, giving me an additional piece to solve. It also made sense, and again, I got through it.
That interview went well. Really well. I had every reason to believe I’d be called back for another interview. It was even suggested that there might be a second position that would be appropriate for me.
I sent a nice follow-up email. And eventually, another.
I never heard back from them ever again.
After having had this interview, I realized that maybe the first technical interview was weird. This seemed much more like what I expected, and in retrospect, this interview followed the profile much more closely than any other.
…to be continued