My First Onsite Interviews in Seattle

I had my onsite interviews for two companies that I’d like to work for this past week in Seattle. I don’t think I got those jobs, because there’s so many things that I could have done better. But given what I knew then, I’m not sure if I can do significantly better. But if I knew what I know now, I would:

  1. Focus on writing code a lot faster. I think one of the problems is I take too much time writing code.
  2. When someone is watching you and you’re being graded while you’re on a whiteboard, you tend to choke. So my advice to myself next time is.. do as many mock interviews as possible. Sure, you need to do a ton of problems to be able to identify what the problems types are, but there’s no point in doing this if you are not comfortable explaining your thought process to the interviewer. There’s a chance that you will completely bomb the interview because you didn’t practice explaining your thoughts and communicating effectively.
  3. Expand and detail all the answers. Be as explicit as possible. It’s better to throw out all the things on your mind, even if it’s wrong, rather than leave the interviewer in the dark. They might also help you if you throw out a good idea, even if you think it is bad. It might actually be good.
  4. Focus on really understanding the principles behind solving each problem. Personally, I think it’s important that you understand a few set of problems very well to explain the reasoning and approaches, rather than shotgun the total number of problems. Simply put, if you can’t explain how to solve the problem and your approach, i.e. explain why the asymptotic run time is the way it is, then you’ve memorized the problem. You never understood it. What I find that is helpful is that when I’m seeing other people’s implementations, it’s so much helpful to always go through the solution code on a concrete example. If I could do the interview prep all over, I’d summarize the big principle takeaways for all the problems I do and drill it down. Maybe even make a YouTube video for them.
  5. Screw the job part. Go in there to learn and have fun. I think this mindset is powerful and effective.
  6. When the interviewer give you a hint, or tries to lead you to the right direction. Drop the approach you’ve taken and seriously consider what he’s trying to tell you. Seriously. Stop. DO NOT GET STUCK IN A LOCAL MINIMUM. And look deeply and wide about what you’re doing. Ugh. I think this is the most important part I need to work on. But it’s so hard to get out of tunnel vision mode.

Anyhoo, I did definitely learn a lot, and for my next set of jobs I am looking forward to improving my skills with these newfound lessons.