I got married when I was twenty-one, but I dated a lot before I was married, and I can say that I never have been as heartbroken as I have been during this interview process. To be perfectly honest, the first three weeks of the job search was a shit show. I legit thought I might just break. And generally I pride myself on being a pretty even person. But the ups and downs. The intensity. The expectations. The mind games. The uncertainty. I feel like I was part of some weird social experiment: how long will it take to break Bekah.
Before coming into tech, I had never been turned down for a job. To be fair, I hadn’t had that many interviews, but if I had one, I was offered the job. I didn’t expect the same from tech. I had heard all the horror stories, but when people described the tech job search as soul-crushing, I kinda thought, for real? I’m sorry to all of you people who I judged. It can definitely be soul-crushing. I have learned my lesson.
Why is it soul-crushing? Because, first of all, there’s a weird power dynamic in these interviews. You want to know what your interviewer wants, and you want to be that person. And sometimes, in really awesome interviews, they’re transparent and it eliminates the hierarchy that you often feel in interviews. Other times, there are responses, like, “I’ve talked to other people in the field about your salary expectations, and I won’t say what they said, but…” But what? What does that even mean? Am I not good enough?
And then there’s the coding challenges. I know coding challenges are controversial, but nearly all the repos I’ve worked on for the last nine months have been private, so I’ve volunteered to take coding challenges. And the thing is, they vary by company. I’m not against a 2-4 hour coding challenge. In my first job as a community organizer, my second interview lasted four hours. They asked me to plan an event. To me, it wasn’t outside the realm of reasonable. And this time, I didn’t wear a suit. I’m 90% sure I wore leggings and a sweatshirt. But recently, I was asked to take a 6-8 hour coding challenge, which is less than reasonable, IMO. I replied with a handful of questions, including:
- What is the workload expectation for this role?
- What is the pay rate?
- Do you provide compensation for completing the coding challenge?
- Are there projects you already have in mind for this position and would I be working independently or with a team?
For me, being direct is a necessity right now–and if you’re wondering, they don’t offer compensation for the coding challenge. And it’s the unreasonableness of somethings that make this all a challenge. Because when you’re dying to get a job, it’s hard to turn down doing a full day’s work for free. But that’s not the only unreasonable thing I’ve come across. One interviewer asked me how I planned on homeschooling my kids and working. Which, maybe is fair because I talked about my kids in the interview???
I plan on doing it by not wasting my time. Working is good for my mental health. I’ve tried homeschooling before. It doesn’t work for us. However, in these circumstances, it’s a necessity, so it’s built into our schedule. I have a good sense of the time I have, what I can accomplish, and what I’m able to do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be applying for jobs.
The lack of predictability has added to the frustration in this whole process. There was the case where I was offered an hourly rate, only to have that offer rescinded a couple of hours later because they couldn’t justify it. Another time, I prepped for 20+ hours for a second interview, reading two books recommended by the interviewer, only to find out that hiring was frozen at the beginning of the call. I never know what to expect. I’ve taken multiple interviews with companies whose hiring is frozen because I don’t know what to expect, but the people I’ve talked to have been the kind of people I want to work with. And that’s key.
I know that the people I work with are the most important part of the job. The first three weeks, the interviews were rough. I felt like the interviewers were searching for my faults. Last week, the interviews were great. We had conversations. We learned about each other’s side projects. We talked about our families. And I know that’s not cool for everyone, but for me, I learned I can work with those people.
One interviewer asked me one question: what do you think about the future of tech? And of course, I responded by telling him about my PTSD and birth trauma and how I think tech could prevent that from happening to other women and the app for postpartum wellness that I’m not working on fast enough. Because that’s how you should answer that question, right? But honestly, he told me that if they weren’t on a hiring freeze, he’d hire me right now. And then another interviewer, who focused more on behavioral issues asked me to describe myself in high school. Ha. High school is my least favorite period of my life. It was not a pretty time. So my initial response was just a laugh. And then a sigh. And then, “I don’t know how to say this, but I’m very focused, and very blunt, and sometimes people call that bitchy.” And the response from one of the interviewers was, “she’s hired right now.”
I’ve learned that I don’t have the emotional capacity to soften my tone and after the heartbreaking salary negotiation of one offer, I knew I couldn’t waste my time and the interviewer’s time if we weren’t on the same page. I was ready to be my most vulnerable self. And maybe it’s because we’re all going through a really vulnerable time right now, but it’s worked out incredibly well.
So, for me, not compromising what I need or myself is the most important part of this interview process. I’m not going to have my heart broken again. I’m not going to prep for more than four hours. I’m not going to mince words. And for the first time (in forever, for my Frozen fans), I’m super glad that I’m going through the interviews. I miss my job desperately, but I’ve gained confidence I didn’t have because I thought I would never progress. And now, I’ve finally had time to realize that I’ve come a lonnnnnnngggg way. I’m getting better, and I’m getting better faster than I was in the beginning. And that is so important as I move into Act II of my coding career.