Published July 26, 2020
We’ve all been there, coding interviews always have their challenges. In this episode, we are joined by Emma Bostian to talk with us about the technical coding interview. We share our experiences and thoughts on what we like and dislike about the various coding interviews.
Ryan Burgess Welcome to another front in Happy Hour podcast. In this episode, we are joined by Emma to talk with us about interviewing. Well, specifically, more like the coding interview. She's the perfect person to speak with us about the topic because she's recently written a book called The Decoding the Technical Interview Process. Emma, can you give us a brief introduction of who you are, what you do and what your favorite happy hour beverages?
Emma Bostian Yeah, definitely so. Hi, I'm Emma Watson. I am an American software engineer living and working in Germany.
Emma Bostian I currently work at LogMeIn as a software engineer. Kind of leading the design system. But in about a month, I mean, we joining Spotify over in Stockholm as a software engineer, working on basically the whole entire consumer experience.
Emma Bostian So that's really exciting. My beverage of choice.
Emma Bostian Okay, well, normally, if I were going out, I would either have like a margarita or a Moscow mule, but I'm not that fancy at home.
Emma Bostian And for me, an expensive drink is for euro or more. So I have a very nice two euro bottle of wine right on this cat.
Ryan Burgess You can't go wrong and you need a good stock of that when you're when we're all stuck in quarantine. Yeah. As you can. I need something on hand.
Ryan Burgess The other cocktail choices are very good as well.
Ryan Burgess And congrats on Spotify. So we expect to see some good features once you're started or we get.
Emma Bostian If you send me all of your bug requests, I will block you.
Ryan Burgess I love it. It's a quick way to get block better by Emma. All right.
Ryan Burgess Well, let's also give introduction of today's panelists. Stacey, I want to start.
Stacy London Sure. I'm Stacy London. I'm a senior front, an engineer at Atlassian.
Ryan Anklem I'm writing well, I'm a senior software engineer at Netflix.
Ryan Burgess And I'm
Ryan Burgess. I am a software engineering manager at Netflix in each episode of The Front End Happy Hour podcast. We like to choose a keyword that if it's mentioned at all in the episode, we will all take a drink.
Ryan Burgess And what did we decide? Today's keyword is to wait for word. All Whiteboard.
Ryan Burgess So if we say whiteboard whiteboarding anything around that which always comes up when you're talking about the coding interview, we will all take a drink.
Ryan Burgess Well, let's dive in. I thought a really great thing to kick our podcast off was just getting everyone's thoughts on how they actually feel about the technical interview. Like, how do you feel about it? There's good and bad. So I'd love to hear each of your thoughts on that.
Emma Bostian Yeah, for sure. So I finally feel like for the first time in my career, when I think about the technical interview process, I don't have a major anxiety attacks, but it's solely for the fact that I've been studying this for five years straight.
Emma Bostian I feel like because I've been switching jobs every year, which is ridiculous. When you're starting out, I don't recommend doing that. I had reasons like for the first you know, I wanted to move to Europe and I couldn't take my job. So of course, I had to look new. And then I wanted to move to Stockholm. So I found a new job there. But I think for me, the past five years, the majority of times when I would think of the interview process, it would be anxiety. But slowly it's turning into confidence, which is good.
Emma Bostian Yeah, I would say with time I would echo that. It's it was always a little bit nerve-wracking.
Ryan Burgess It always requires a little bit of proper studying before the technical interview, because a lot of times what you're asked to demonstrate is usually along data structures or algorithms which they come up, but not often on your typical front end roll.
Ryan Burgess That's not your day to day that you're practicing. So I find like that's always been one where I'm like, got to pull up the old CS book and figure this out again and just like riff as a refresher. But it's weirdly enough, I have not done a technical interview other than given technical interviews for people interviewing at Netflix. I haven't done one for a while now, so I feel like I'd be really rusty. It's been I've been at Netflix for over five years, so it's going to be a little weird if I go interview again.
Stacy London Yeah, I, I would say that I still get pretty massive anxiety about them. I especially the if there's any part of it where it's like life coding that really just puts me in strange brain space. And I and I it's really hard for me to not only start to think about how to solve the problem but also talk through it, which like, you know, when I'm coding during my normal day job, I'm not like speaking out loud and explaining what I'm doing while I'm doing it. So it's sort of a weird thing that a lot of the technical interview, I find out you're being asked to do stuff that is not how you normally work or normally do much of your day job. And so it's like a skill in and of itself. And that that disconnect seems strange to me. And I think we can do a lot better with how we figure out how to. Assess people to make it more realistic, to like what you're what you do normally versus what you're being asked to prove.
Ryan Anklem I agree and I think it's so random as in like if that person is interviewing or is having a bad day or a good day, you can totally change the outcome of your interview. Right. It's not how good you are and how good the person interviewing is feeling on that particular day.
Emma Bostian Well, one thing I really enjoyed about Spotify was so I went through Google and Spotify is tracks at the same time.
Emma Bostian And Spotify had two interviews with you, which I really liked because they weren't allowed to talk about it. So you're kind of alleviating this unconscious bias.
Emma Bostian They may or may not have, but additionally, they did allow me to ask questions that required an API and they would look it up for me and tell me, like the right API to use or whatnot, because I think a lot of my anxiety would come from not remembering, like, the right function call. Go over it. Yeah. Right. Ray metallic splice versus slice. And then my Spotify interview, they let me like, look those things up. And it was more of a conversation than a test.
Ryan Burgess I like that too. It sounded a lot more collaborative. But also we all Google are those API is over and over again. I know we all do it. Why remember that?
Ryan Burgess It says really quick to just Google that if you're not using the API day in and day out, you're just bi remember it. So I think that should be allowed in one of the technical interviews because you are doing that on your day to day role. I don't think you should be judged like, oh, you don't remember the Splice API? Oh, not a good engineer. Like that's is not good.
Ryan Anklem I start every interview by letting them know that they can Google anything they want because there's no way I do my job without Googling things. So. And I also try to let everyone know that I'm an ally. I'm here to help you. I want you to succeed.
Ryan Anklem I'm not here to judge you or lap at you or, you know, I'm rooting for you. Actually, I'm trying to be your help.
Emma Bostian Well, even knowing how to Google things is a skill in and of itself. So I think it's and I see how they do that.
Emma Bostian But it was interesting because between Google and Spotify, they both had data structures and algorithms, interviews which form for a friend, an engineer is interesting.
Emma Bostian The Google side of things was very computer science-heavy. It was a lot of hardcore data structures, like I was asked to, like, find a broken engine, a binary church. Something of that source was a while ago, remember, but it wasn't necessarily applicable to my day job versus Spotify. It was about like the DOM. If you think about it, the Dharma's a tree. That in and of itself is a data structure that you would learn in computer science and you kind of forget.
Emma Bostian So the fact that they tested man practical knowledge about Dom Traversal was so much better suited to like I just enjoyed the whole process with them.
Ryan Burgess That's awesome. And it sounded like it was exactly what you said is more practical. And that's something that I've always thought about. Interviews on our team are I want to see us asking questions that would almost be coming up in a day to day job where you're like maybe you're building out a feature or a component. Maybe it's like build out autocomplete for search or something like that. And it could just be as simple as asking someone not and just seen how they think through it. What are the follow-up questions that they're asking, too? Because I think what's important is like anytime that you're working on the job knowing gives, you know, and spells out exactly what you need to go build to a T. You have to ask a lot of follow up questions of trying to understand, you know, how many titles of my search mean, like my D balancing. I'm like thinking about all the edge cases while you're going in sometimes asking. I think that's a good way to build more of a collaborative feel with the person interviewing you as well.
Stacy London I liked what you said about the interview at Spotify being more realistic. I think that's what I really liked about it. Last scenes interview compared to a lot of other places I had interviewed where the problem that I was coding to try and solve was really realistic. It was like, hey, make a tabbed UI interface and switch between the tabs and swap some content out. And you're like, yeah, that is a problem.
Stacy London That's something you do really pretty frequently and the things that you build. And so it was nice because you could show you could exist. You could demonstrate what you actually have strengths as opposed to solving some riddle or some, you know, the arcane thing that is maybe not going to come up very often. Did they make you use a whiteboard? I mean, whiteboard, but chairs.
Emma Bostian That's a little bit planning. Not gonna lie.
Emma Bostian Y'all are thirsty.
Emma Bostian And it was the same at Spotify. They actually gave me like a visual mockup. It said, Hey, Bill, this is HD montieth s and then let's add some functionality.
Ryan Burgess I'm curious, like, as we talked about, some of the pain points are very, you know, some of the experiences that we've had. What's the worst technical interview that you've all had to do and why maybe you don't have to tell what company it is.
Emma Bostian Oh, my gosh. The surprise technical interviews. Those are the best when you're least expecting it. I've had multiple instances. There's one company specifically there. They were a startup at the time and they've grown as a result. So essentially, the Sparkman's sedition is I interview with this company in Australia super cool company. He's sprung a technical interview on me at six a.m. my time because we had a time difference and I was nice enough to be like, alright, I'll get up early. Not going to complain about it. And he started firing away these really intense, like questions at me, like trivia questions like, can you define the difference between constant. And I defined it even though I was caught off guard. He goes, well actually that's not correct. And I'm like, well, actually it is correct. I'm not really sure what you're looking for. And so it just left a really bad taste in my mouth. And I and I straight up told them, you know, at six a.m. my time. I was not right. I was not expecting a technical interview. This is the initial phone recruiter call. Normally you just have a call to see if you're even a good fit. And so it really bothered me. And then he reached back out. Well, actually, let me clarify this. The first I went through an interview process with them a year before and had an amazing experience when they were a startup. They were really great. I interview him a second time. It was the second time. It was a surprise interview. And because the company had grown, his ego had grown with it. And so he became a completely different person. He was like, you should want to work for us. And like, why should we hire you? And I'm like, Why? Why should I want to work for you? And so, like, it just, you know, so all the interviewers out there or other recruiters, if you do not treat your candidate with respect and make it very clear like what's going to happen in this process, they're not going to want to reinterview with, you know, any sort of confrontational early, you know, where you get that sense of confrontation.
Stacy London And that's awful. Like it doesn't feel like it doesn't make you want to work there because you're like, if this is the first impression, what's the rest of it going to be like? Yeah, I had. One of the worst ones I ever did was. This was a long was a while back. This was kind of before we had better collaboration tools. But I was asked to code write some code to sort of file like sort names in a file and output it.
Stacy London And it was over the phone.
Stacy London And I started kind of pseudo coding, but the person on the other end was actually writing it in an editor and making sure that it compiled and worked correctly. And he's like, you're missing a semicolon. And I was like, oh, my gosh, we are on the phone. Like, I am not even in an editor myself. I'm just trying to, like, express how I think generally it should work. And that was just really uncomfortable. And then I had looked this person up beforehand and they had written a blog or they it was a very angry blog about how they are so frustrated by all the people that they interview. And they can't believe that you don't know how to do X, Y and Z. So I read that blog and I was like, OK, I'm an interview with this person and I'm going to be prepared. I'm going to make sure I know all those things really well. And I studied and he asked me that one quote, one of the questions from his blog. And I was able to answer it really quickly because I had prepared and studied beforehand. And he's like, you answer that too quickly. And I was like, oh, I, I, I'm not cheating. Like, I had to figure it out. And so it was just very confrontational and strange and it really put a bad taste in my mouth. I'm like, I do not want to work here. Wow.
Ryan Burgess I mean, good for you to do the research.
Ryan Anklem I guess my worst one was at a rather large company. And it wasn't the interview itself, but it was I came in after work and I believe it was six-thirty or seven o'clock at night. And I walked in and it was buzzing like everyone was still there working hard. Like, I'm not going to be one of those people that works till seven, eight o'clock just because all my other coworkers are. So that one was over before it even started. I had such a bad feeling about that company.
Ryan Burgess Yeah. It's funny how that can just throw things right off you because you're looking at that. This year you're like, yeah, something's off here. I think for a simple thing that I found, you know, we talked about the anxiety of the technical interview and this was a specific phone screen. It was one of the larger companies in Silicon Valley. I can't be, to be honest, I'm not even trying to hide the company. I can't remember which one it was but asked me to code in a Google doc. So I'm on the phone, you know, the hall and trying to hold the phone or put it on speakerphone. And I'm having to do a technical question over the phone in a Google doc, which is really, really painful. And they're watching me because, like, we're just sharing the Google doc that way. And it wasn't pseudocode. And I don't think it was supposed to compile, but it was was supposed to be as real as possible. And, you know, even just tabbing in a Google doc can be awkward. And so it wasn't the worst question. Like, I know I I did fine on it. It was probably the simplest question if he were just doing it in an editor on your own. But having someone watch you in a Google doc where you're just like this, there's no syntax highlighting this feels really awkward. I mean, it was probably like six or seven years ago. So I know we've gotten a little better with how technically interviews can be done on the phone. So I guess I can't fault them not. It was a while ago, but it was still an awkward moment where I felt like I could have done a lot better on that. I still answered your question, but this felt a little weird. What do you all think of like I mentioned? OK. So brought up the phone screen and, you know, mentioned that as, you know, maybe being anxiety coding over the phone. What do you all think about doing the take-home exercises? Like, how do you feel about that? I know that's a big thing that companies use. You know, go, go, build us. Send us back your code.
Emma Bostian I love them. I love them so much. But here's the thing I don't mind is when companies pile on like this big take-home project with 12 other technical interviews, like pick one or the other or like find some medium. I love the take-home challenge personally because I don't do well under pressure. I never have. I've had a really good take-home challenge with one of the big, big companies and they let me choose. There were two very different projects that were well-scoped. They one was more asynchronous rest API stuff. The other was more UI design. And so for me, having that choice was so pivotal in my like, ability to succeed there. But I like those because you're in your own element.
Emma Bostian Like, you can choose your tech stack. You can if you're really good at documentation and communication, you get to showcase those and you don't have to do it under pressure, which I love them.
Ryan Burgess Yeah, I think for me echo a lot of what you just said, Emma. I think though, they're really great for a lot of reasons where people do get anxiety, live coding on the spot or being put under pressure. But I remember one time being asked to spend a good I think the minimum was to spend eight hours on the technical on what I was building.
Ryan Burgess And to be honest, I just was interviewing with a bunch of companies and I was one that I was like somewhat. Interested in. But I kind of I turned them down, I was like, I just don't have the bandwidth to do this. Yeah, it was just too much.
Ryan Burgess There's a balance where you want to show off some of your skills in a few hours. But they said, like, this will take. We want to see you spend a minimum of eight hours. It's not like, hey, spend the maximum eight hours. It's like even setting this minimum. And so, yeah, I just I stopped the interview there.
Ryan Anklem Before I start at Netflix, I interviewed with Invision and they actually paid you to do it the take home and that way. Yes, that absolutely blew my mind. And that was such a soda.
Emma Bostian Gatsby feeling.
Emma Bostian Yeah, they Gatsby had a really great process where they actually let you pretend to do the job that you would be doing. Like I was interviewing for, like opensource maintainers that were like, here's a fake like polar quests. I want to open like can you gently, like, write a red response back to be like, oh, sorry, we're not going to emerge. That's at this time. Like, what's your response to that? Or can you do this. But they paid you for it and I thought that was really cool. Really quick. Before I forget, here's another tip I just want to mention as alongside the. These are the things I would have improved if I had time. If you make explicit tradeoffs and you understand the implications of those. Be explicit about that. So, for example, if you want to focus more on, I don't know, some kind of functionality, let's say you're building like a timer application and you want to focus on maybe an additional feature, maybe you want there to be a sound that goes off when the timer finishes, but you don't spend a ton of time building out a custom UI for a timer and you decide to use a UI framework like material UI or carbon design at the expense of the performance. Just say that there's nothing wrong with using a UI framework. Just be honest to be like Alec. You know, again, like I understand this has implications on my performance bundle, especially not using a ton from the library. But if I had had more time, I would have gone and done it from scratch. And one other tip, I get very passionate about this, in case you couldn't tell. One other tip is to run your application through an accessibility tool and include the lighthouse screenshot or the act screenshot in your deliverables. And people will love that.
Ryan Burgess That's a great tip. I love it. I would be happy seeing that.
Stacy London I think I think maybe, Emma, you mentioned like I pay people. There's it's just like delicate balance because there's it can be really exclusionary to only offer the take-home for reasons you all kind of mentioned, where, like, you may not have time or what if you're a single parent and you have like zero time because you're, you know, trying to raise a kid. There's so much stuff there that, like, can make it where you're going to only see a certain kind of candidate because of how you're choosing to do your interview process. I think offering choices is really nice.
Ryan Burgess Yeah, I love that. I like that too. The choices. We've been talking a lot about the technical interview, which makes sense. Emma, you've actually written a book on it, but I am curious, like when you've all been interviewing companies or are just we all talk about this, these types of things. Do you feel that companies are spending too much emphasis? On on technical skills vs. on cultural or culture is probably the best way to put it. Yes, simple. Yes.
Emma Bostian I think it depends. Yes and no. It depends on the company, because I've had somewhere they're very much focused, like there I was going to interview with Amazon Web Services and I don't know why I decided to say it out loud. I feel like I could just add a W.S. and people to No one time. But anyway, that role was kind of I think it was more developer advocacy, but there was literally like one pretty basic technical interview. And the rest were just talking about, like your experience working on a diverse team or how you communicate. Those are really important skills. Like I've been on teams where people don't know how to communicate and it's super frustrating. I know. So my dad is a senior architect at IBM and he used to be responsible for hiring. And he would always say, I would rather hire someone who does not have the strongest technical skills but knows how to learn and has the work ethic than someone who is a know it all and not a team player. And it's so true. That's what we should be hiring for. But. To your point, Stacey, a lot of companies have too much emphasis on these technical skills. And I can't remember shit during his interviews like I can't memorize, vaporize or whatever. So it's difficult.
Stacy London A lot of these companies definitely hyper optimized for, you know, the technical stuff. And they're like, oh, well, we have you know, we do the, you know, culture fit values interview. Like there's one person that does that. But the thing is, is like I was a technical interviewer, I want to know that this person is going to be a good teammate and that they're friendly and kind and humble and that stuff like I almost rarely get to tease out because I'm executing an interview by just asking technical questions. And so I think it's nice for everybody in the interview process to be able to, you know, ask not just technical questions.
Emma Bostian One of the questions I got once I think I was interviewing for my current role at Ludwin and I was interviewing with the hiring manager. And he goes, so how do you stay up to date on stuff in the industry? And I thought that was a really great question because there is no right answer other than like, you know, I read things occasionally. You're like I you know, unless you'd never look at the news or whatever, but like, for me that was like, oh, like I can show that I read books. I can talk about the blogs in the podcast. I listen to and it shows that you're a lifelong learner. That to me is more important. I think he also might have asked me, like, how would you explain the whole concept to your coworker? Like, if they just were not getting it or like, what would you do in this situation that's more important than can you explain a promise?
Ryan Burgess I love that question. That's something I've definitely asked candidates in the past is like how do they stay up to date? Because I think a lot of it is also you can you start to connect on a human level, too, because you're learning something about that person, too.
Ryan Burgess Like Emma, you mention like maybe it's reading books or you're like, I really love listen to podcasts. Hey, I'm actually on a podcast, which for those of you don't know, Emma's on a podcast called Ladybug Podcast. So highly recommend going and checking that out. But it's like those types of things come up and you're now connecting a little more on a personal level and you're learning about someone that you wouldn't normally have learned in the past. I think that's really a great question. You had mentioned on even like asking like to tell me about explain promises. One of my favorites. Not asking that a but even as a bit of a technical question. But even more on the communication side that I'd be looking for is, you know, tell me about something that you've got a technical problem that you've currently or recently run into. It can be really anything. It could be like a side project, could be something in their current day to day work. Doesn't really matter. It's not really about what the problem was. It's like, how do they explain that to me? Because I think that's another important aspect. Maybe that fits a little bit in technical, but it's really in the cultural aspect is you're working with other engineers and we do run into problems all the time. And you might have to be working on something together to debug. And it's like, how do you explain to someone like all the things that you've tried? What's going on? And I think that can tell a lot right in that question. And you can see how someone thinks through the problem and articulated one thing.
Emma Bostian I just when I kind of touch because we're talking a lot about how people think and how they communicate, I think we take for granted that English is our native language because I work with a lot of international candidates and I get a lot of messages from two different kinds of people. One, there is English as a second language candidates, and they're very anxious about it. And the second, aren't people who actually have typing or speech disabilities who are very concerned about presenting themselves well.
Emma Bostian And I would I wish I could say that these things shouldn't like they don't matter in a technical interview, but the reality of it is people are. Unconscious biases. And how do we work through that? So I think it's easy for us to sit here and say, oh yeah, as we should talk about communication or that could be more relevant. And I agree. But also, like, we need to be patient with our candidates who are maybe so anxiety-ridden because they have to speak in their second language.
Emma Bostian Like I had to do a technical interview in German. I would shoot myself, like for lack of a better term, like I don't know what I would do. So, yeah, that's another aspect.
Ryan Burgess Thank you for calling that. That is very, very important. You know, I'm the one who said it, but I'm like I think it's it's important to be aware of that. And also, this is why you don't evaluate a candidate solely on one aspect because, yes, someone may be at a disadvantage already. Like, yes, we're all native English speaking. But yeah, if I had to go speak in French, which I probably should know French better, I would do a terrible, terrible job at it. And I wouldn't even be able to get past the first phone screen if that was the case.
Ryan Burgess So I think we've highlighted a few things as we've been talking, but I'd really love to hear some more thoughts on from each of you is like, what are some things that companies can do to improve the interview process? And maybe it's even if you're the one being an interviewer to a candidate.
Emma Bostian Holy crap. This makes me so passionate because the biggest thing is to have diverse interviewers for the love of all that is holy because let me tell you why. In the five years I've been interviewing, I've been interviewed exactly once by a woman and it was at Spotify. And that to me is sad. Not only that, I have been interviewed by very few people of color, which also makes me angry. And it makes if it makes me angry, I cannot imagine how it makes other people who are underrepresented feel. So please have diverse interviewers. I remember when I was at IBM, I tried so hard to get on the interview panels to give interviews and people kept saying, OK, sure, we'll book you in time slots. And then they never did.
Emma Bostian And I had to fight my way into it, you know, and it's just it's really hard if you have the same cookie-cutter kind of person interviewing your candidates at every phase in the process. Like, that's just it doesn't work. It's wrong on so many levels that I, like, came into eggs.
Ryan Burgess Well, guess what, if you want a diverse team, which we've said many times, even on this podcast, there's many great articles, videos, everything about why having a diverse team is so important, especially when you're building products. So we don't even need to get into that. But if you want a diverse team, if you have the same types of people interviewing, you know, we all have bias. So guess what? Now you're just like leaning towards that same candidate or the person who ends up getting hired. I think it's amazing. Anytime I can have a diverse panel on an interview that we're hiring for, it's so important because you're getting aspects that, like, I wouldn't have even caught Emma. Stacey, Ryan, you might catch something that I'm like, oh, I didn't even notice that. Or it just ends up helping get the more rounded interview out of it as well. And better for the candidate to that same as. Yeah, we do actually have diverse people here. Like, I would evaluate a company interviewing me if I just see a bunch of male engineers interview. Are there any female engineers? It's probably gonna be a question I ask.
Stacy London Yeah, there's some really interesting stuff that comes out through those interviews as well. Like if you have. Like, let's say, a woman and a man in the interview and the interviewee only ever answers and looks at the man in the interview. It's sort of there's an interesting thing there that's like Trini's probably unconscious, but it's telling. It's like, oh, you know, it is that person respectful of people that are different. And you know that there are little subtle signs there that can really help you hire better as well. If you have a diverse panel.
Emma Bostian Yeah. And the other thing is, like I heard this a long time ago, like one of the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Not only does it spark innovation, but also your customers are potentially coming from all over the world. Your customers don't necessarily look and think like you do. And when you have a diverse, like culture in your workplace, people empathize with people who come from a similar backgrounds or look similar to them, like just unconsciously. And so if you have a diverse workforce, you're bigger, better able to understand your clients as well. Like, there are so many reasons. And I know this is not a diversity episode. So I don't want to just monopolize it. But I did think that was a very important note because it makes me so angry.
Emma Bostian You know, like all these big companies who say that they are promoters of diversity, inclusion, and yet really because like based on my experiences with you and I've been in plenty of uncomfortable situations where I was made to feel very intelligent, and I do think that as a result of unconscious bias, like put your money where your mouth is.
Emma Bostian Right.
Ryan Burgess I can't imagine how it feels to as being the only on a team when you're the only woman or the only person of color that's tough. Like and so, you know, you want to have diverse teams to make people feel more comfortable and be able to do great at their job, like take that anxiety off their plate. I love that we went into it because I think this is an aspect that's so important in interviewing in general, get a candidate.
Stacy London Recently that was like you're the first woman I've ever interviewed during technical interviews. And I was like, wow. Yeah. Oh, no.
Emma Bostian Yeah, it's hard. I don't know. As someone as a woman who wanted to give technical interviews, it was like I wasn't essentially allowed to like it was all these false promises is like, OK, well we'll put you on schedule. And I never did. This happened in two companies. I don't know if it's just because they don't have women at the company are vicious, that they're not giving them the opportunity to interview. But, yeah, something needs to change.
Stacy London There isn't to say maybe another good piece of advice for companies, but I know that it's hard, probably for legal reasons. But to give good feedback to the candidate like you spent all this time, many, many hours, perhaps even over many days. And then if you just get like a no and no feedback, it's so demoralizing. And I'm sure there are tricky parts of like legal things.
Emma Bostian But oh, gosh, I would like feedback some I don't know if it's a company thing or if it's a cultural thing. Like some countries have different employment laws. Every time I've asked for feedback nine times out of ten, I'll get some. Whether that's proactively the recruiter giving me feedback or me asking, I've generally always received feedback. And the thing is, if we don't give feedback to our candidates when we can and we're legally allowed to, we're not helping our industry at all. We're not helping anyone improve. Like we need to help foster our own communities so that when they come back to us in a year, they can just hit the ground running and start contributing immediately, plus one plus a thousand on feedback.
Ryan Burgess I think it's so important. I sometimes yes, you're right to the point that some countries have different laws around this. Sometimes I also think it's an excuse. I think that sometimes companies are leaning on it too heavily to say it's an excuse to not give that. When you think about giving some feedback, especially on a technical aspect where someone is just missing some of that technical depth and you're able to give them some insights into two areas that you were evaluating that just didn't really shine for that person. That's our huge learning moment for them. They've taken their time to do that interview and they're going to walk away with that experience so much better, hopefully improving because of it, too. So I think it's really important. And Emma, I love that you said to ask for the feedback.
Ryan Burgess I'm usually very open in offering up the feedback. It wouldn't say if I'm hiring someone for my team and I'm closing out, meaning that I've decided that they're not the right fit at this time for the role that I'm hiring for. I'll usually give feedback like I try and just offer it up. But sometimes I might ask, would you like the feedback? Because sometimes people don't want to hear it. Which is fair, too. And so sometimes I might give a little and be like, oh, would you like me to go in a little more depth? Because I also don't want to just unload on them. Either it's like here are all the things, and so I think it's a balance. But I think so if you want the feedback straight up, ask typically companies will give it to you.
Emma Bostian I think it's important. Ask your candidates your feedback, too, because I've had so. Google is really good about this. They had like I think automated service that was sent from my recruiter also asked for feedback. And the second time I interview with them because there was a second and a third, the second time I had a technical interview is about binary trees or whatever it was, tech data structures interview. And I thought I was clarifying requirements now. OK, I was doing this in Munich. So there was also a cultural and a communication barrier to some extent. But where I thought I was like clarifying the requirements, which you should be doing and these questions, the interviewer thought that I was asking for hints. And so when she came back to me, I was like, oh, like, yeah. This person said that you asked for a lot. Hence I go, oh, because I was under the assumption I was just clarifying requirements. So like, you know, that I did tell her I go. That was a little frustrating for me to hear because, you know, I thought I was doing one thing and they interpret it as another. So to be penalized unfairly. This is the problem with having one interview or two. Like, if you get two interviewers and they submit their responses separately, you're less likely to get someone who misinterprets something or does like to your point, Ryan, like is just having a bad day. So, yeah, definitely ask your candidates for feedback. When I interviewed Google and I feel like they were kind of notorious for having the whiteboarding interview, they actually allowed me the cheers. Oh, shoot. Yeah, I have to open a new bottle. They actually allowed me to either use a whiteboard that year. Again, we're making up time here or to use a Chromebook. And I thought that was really cool because I got to use both. So I did all my pseudocode and. Right. I wrote down all my functional requirements on the whiteboard, which is shoot. Now, I'm gonna say it all the time.
Emma Bostian And the more I drank, the faster I talked to you. That's good. But I think writing down functional requirements are so important because if you start going in a direction without understanding the concept of the problem, that's.
Emma Bostian And this leads into like a piece of advice you would give someone. So first is clarify the question. And Ryan, you mentioned this earlier, but the questions are intentionally left with a few holes to see if you can deduce what information is missing. So by writing down these functional requirements of OK. If I have to do, let's create an infinite scrolling were essentially designed Instagram, like, how would you do this? OK, well, what's a functional requirement? Well, we never want the user to see the bottom, right. So maybe when there are 25 images, like maybe when we get like within 500 pixels of the bottom, we need to load more images. Maybe that's a functional requirement. And then you realize, OK, well, are these gonna be like the same size photo, like just like a little thing, find the holes, write down the list and then start coding. Take the ten minutes out of the thirty-two.
Ryan Burgess To do that, you also touched on another point a bit earlier too. That kind of stuck up for me as well. When people are giving feedback, as you mentioned, a couple of people being on a panel at the same time is really good because you're able to get two perspectives on the same interview. It's also very important that that the feedback is submitted separately, that you try not talk with one another because you will absolutely bias each other. When I'm the hiring manager. I love having unbiased feedback because someone might catch something that the other didn't. But then if they tell each other, then it really influences the other's feedback. And it's almost like you may as well just had one person defeats the purpose entirely.
Ryan Burgess I like Stacy that you've led into a bit of what advice for candidates. I would love to hear before we go into pics, what's one piece of advice that each of you would give someone preparing for a technical interview?
Emma Bostian My biggest one is not to cram information the night before. And I know that's hard because a lot of us do not job searching for fun. We're doing it because we're either laid off or we're in an unsafe work environment or some unforeseen thing.
Emma Bostian But here's. Here's the way that we learn, whether people realize it or not, we need sleep to process information and build synapses in our brain. And what happens when you cram information? The short term payoff is very high. So you will remember these things the day after. But every day subsequently, you're losing all of this information. It's actually better to take the two weeks to learn a little every day, get a good night's sleep, and your brain is building his connections. And it may feel a lot slower. Like you don't you won't see your progress moves fast. You're gonna get frustrated about it. But then you wake up on the 14th day and be like, oh, my gosh, I remember all this. I understand it. And not just you've memorized it. You've actually understood the concepts. That's another thing. As I see so many candidates, myself included, because I did this, I memorize solutions. I didn't understand why they were the most performant. And I wasn't reading anyone else's solutions. Like, I'd be like, oh, yeah, I pass this on hacker rank. Move on to the next level. Well, how about you take the second and go read other solutions, not just memorize them, but conceptually.
Emma Bostian Why? Why are they better? What are the tradeoffs?
Emma Bostian So yeah, it's a combination of like do it over a long period time and make sure you're sleeping well and read other solutions and understand why they're better or worse than yours.
Ryan Anklem The advice I'd like to give is to remember that you're interviewing them as well. You want to make sure that you're a good fit at this company and that kind of gives you a little bit of power. It helps you feel not so helpless going into the interview. But it's also extremely important. You know you want to make sure that you're a good fit at that company and you want to work for that company. So make sure you're in. You're evaluating them as well as them evaluating you.
Stacy London Yeah, I guess. Don't be afraid to ask questions. As a candidate now, if they give you or if they say, hey, we're going to do a technical phone screen and that's all they say, you just ask, oh, what kind of thing are you looking for in that in that technical phone screen or what technologies are going to be used in that? Or how is it going to happen? Am I going to code in a Google doc or am I going to. You know what? What's that going to look like? It helps you come into it more prepared. But just ask, ask, ask. It doesn't that it never hurts. Ask those questions.
Emma Bostian Yeah. Is it the more you know about the logistics, the less you worry about the things you can't control. And it kind of bouncing off of that a little bit is just don't be afraid to say you don't know. I would so much rather work with someone who is like, you know why? I'm not really sure this is what I say if I don't know the answers. And it's a very direct question, but I'm not sure. Here's my guess based on, you know, like everything I do know, this is what I would say, but I'm not sure. And that is so much better of an answer than trying to bullshit your way through it and pretending like you do know what you're saying when you don't know.
Ryan Burgess Because we don't know everything as engineers. We don't know have all the answers you don't have. Maybe you've just never worked with promises. I'll bring that example up in, like, OK, well, like, can you help me understand what a promise is? And like maybe I can implement that. I to me that shows that you can learn on the spot, ask the right questions and also show humility too, that you're like, I don't know that then that's OK because we don't know, we don't all have the answers. And I think to build off the questions aspect, another thing that I think is a really good piece of advice is ask the recruiter or maybe the hiring manager. What's the process look like? What should I expect from these interviews, especially when you're going on-site or for that like a longer day interview? It's like, who will I be meeting with? What are some of the things that I can expect from each of those interviews? They'll tell you. Ah, they should. Ah, hopefully because you're not wanting to stump people, but I think that can also help you mentally prepare like. Okay, I'm gonna have like two or three technical level interviews and this is kind of some of the things that they're gonna be talking about in here. I'm gonna meet with this person that's gonna be talking about architectural design or meeting with the PM to think about really products. And anyway, just like you get a better sense of who you're meeting with him, how to prepare for that interview.
Emma Bostian I think that's what distinguishes a good recruiter from a great recruiter. Is that the great one?
Emma Bostian You won't have to ask for the stuff that will tell you. And not only that, they'll cheer you on. And it's just important to remember that your recruiter actually potentially might have a say in whether or not you're hired. They might be able to push for you and advocate for you. So please treat them with respect and, you know, write them a thank you email and attend their meetings on time and be your great recruiter.
Emma Bostian And I've had many great recruiters. They will actively prepare you because they want you to succeed that.
Stacy London Thank you email thing. I never, almost never get these. And I'm like, it's that just old school and old fashioned that people sign these, you know, and they always stand out when a candidate actually sends when I was like, oh, that's so now you have to send it through carrier pigeon or it's not it's not legitimate.
Emma Bostian No, I'm kidding. Yeah, just like I said. Well, thank you. Email is so welcomed by the team. And yet, to your point, Stacy, like it's an I don't know, the right term. I'm losing my English, but it's dead. Yes. Now I know how I'm going to phrase it.
Ryan Burgess I like it. Yes. It was probably more common years ago, but as feels like not as common now. Yeah. I love what you said about treating workers with respect. I mean, please treat everyone with respect. I will absolutely pass on someone. They could be this the best engineer ever if they were treating their herding partner like shit. I don't want them on my team. I think it like it really the whole time. The minute you walk into the lobby, you might be checking in with a receptionist. You can learn a lot about someone just on how they interact with those people. And that can. Yeah, that can play out to not in your advantage. You should just sort treat everyone with respect. But yeah. Yes. Please treat your recruiters with respect.
Emma Bostian Let me tell you why. Ah ah. Receptionist in California. She was responsible for giving feedback to the executives on how the candidates treated her. And I tell you what, if they treated her like shit, they did not get an offer.
Ryan Burgess Right. They shouldn't. I mean, how are you a team player?
Emma Bostian Yeah. Not only that, as and as I told Handwrote Manana. Not only that but the recruiters as well. Yeah. Recruiters, I guess, but also receptionists potentially. They could have been beeps is back in their day and they could have been software engineers that you know, just because they are sitting in the reception that spot doesn't mean that they did not have a quote-unquote, distinguished career, as you might see it. Yeah, just be careful, you know.
Ryan Burgess All right. Well, let's jump in two picks at the end of each episode. We like to share pics of things that we found interesting and we'd like to share with you all. Let's go around our virtual table and share picks for today's episode. Stacy, you want to start it off?
Stacy London Sure. I've got three picks today. The first one is a friend of mine. David shared with me this program called Magica Voxel, and it's an eight-bit voxel art editor. And we're doing this little project where we're going to send each other a song. And then we're gonna create some 3D esche like art. Really like how that song inspires you. And it's super fun. It's very, very. It's. It's pretty intuitive in terms of programs, so Superfund check. Check that out. If you're barred in isolation during this time. The second one is a song called Lassus Leicestershire by Lambert. Then that is a Berlin-based near classical pianist. Really beautiful pieces there. So those are. Check that out. In the last one is a song called I Feel Better by Ghost Culture and Kiwi. There's words in it, so I don't often pick songs with words, but it's a fun, bouncy, bouncy track. So check it out. Brian, would you have for us?
Ryan Anklem Yeah, I had a really tough time getting pics this week because my life just doesn't change from day to day anymore. It's just the same thing over and over again. I'm not experiencing or discovering anything new. But the two things I clicked with first the pixel buds to I suffered through the first iteration of pixel bugs and they were absolutely horrible.
Ryan Anklem And I've had these new ones for about a week now and I really like them. They don't fall off when I run.
Ryan Anklem They work as advertised. They sound good. So that's my first tech and my second pick is a jump kick. The show, The Last Dance last week. And this week I'm going to pick the last dance playlist on Spotify. So, someone, I think Spotify actually did this. They went and took a lot of the songs from the show and put them in a playlist. So if you like that 90's hip hop R&D stuff, this would be a great playlist for you.
Ryan Burgess Right on, Emma. What do you have?
Emma Bostian Okay. I totally just pulled these out of my butt, but it's fine. The first is an e-book by Stephanie Maryla.
Emma Bostian She just published the Developers Guide to Book Publishing. So I highly recommend checking that out. She also has a segment called The Developers Guide to Content Creation. So go support her. The second is an audiobook. I just finished on launch by Jeff Walker and it talks about how you can literally launch any product online. This has an e-commerce theme, but it's mine because a third shout out that I have or the third pick I have is not related to e-commerce and that is bus simulator, which I just bought for my PS4.
Emma Bostian And let me tell you, I'm a terrible driver, but it's fine and I will get better. It's really great. You basically just drive around. You own a bus company. Mine's called Dunder Mifflin and used to try to stay in the lines and be on time.
Ryan Burgess That's amazing. So is that going to be a new career at some point? You're going to be like, all right, I'm going to be a bus driver now.
Emma Bostian You're going to see a very sharp decline in my content creation for the next six months because I will become the world's best bus simulator driver.
Ryan Burgess That's amazing. I love it. All right. To follow with our interview podcast episode, I'm going to actually suggest everyone go check out Emma's book, Decoding the Technical Interview Process. There's a lot of great tips in there. And you got a lot more depth than we have today on this episode. So highly recommend that. And then as we've all found us having to be remote and working from home, I thought I'd share an interesting site that's dedicated to what's called the Nomad List. It's dedicated to finding you can live and work anywhere in the world. It doesn't work exactly right now because we're not able to travel. But as travel restrictions come often, you know, things get a little bit more back to normal. I think a lot more companies are going to be allowing people to be remote. So I thought this is a great suggestion for people if they're wanting to travel the world and continue to work. This site gives you ideas of where to live and suggestions. There's a lot of great information on it. So that's a Nomad list Web site. I think it's it's just nomad list dot com. All right. Before we end the episode, I want to thank Emma for joining us. It was awesome having you. And thank you for sharing a lot of really good wisdom. Where can people get in touch with you?
Emma Bostian I am decently active on Twitter. You just find me @EmmaBostian. I do try to respond to every single D.M., but I get a lot of them. So just please be patient. Be. Absolutely. Feel free to DMA over there.
Ryan Burgess Right on. And thank you all for listening. Today's episode, you can find us at frontendhappyhour.com. You can subscribe to us on whatever podcasts application you like to listen to podcasts on. You can follow us on Twitter @frontendhh. Any last words?
Stacy London Don't make people code on whiteboards. No. All Cheers. Cheers.