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Key Takeaways From My First Technical Interview

jsgoose profile image Jonathan Sexton ・10 min read

Image courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Some History

I have been teaching myself front-end web development for a little more than two years now.  It has been a wild and crazy ride but also a fun and challenging one. I, like many other self-taught coders, have had my ups and downs with this journey but ultimately it has been a rewarding one thus far.

I started with resources like:

The list could go on and on but you get the point.  After completing my Nanodegree through Udacity and a Responsive Web Design certificate from freeCodeCamp I have found a new confidence that I hadn’t felt before.

I want to continue that journey and decided it would be a logical step to start applying for jobs in this field.  So that’s what I did and little did I know that people would be interested in me and my skills.

The Interview

I applied for a front-end web developer position through the Stack Overflow jobs section and thought if nothing else it’ll be great practice.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to get a call and after I applied I nearly forgot about it.  Lo and behold a few days later I got an email asking me to take a HackerRank test.

I was floored at the thought of someone wanting to interview me for a position in a field I don’t hold a degree in.  It was a huge validation of my skills and, if I’m being honest, was a giant ego boost.

I was extremely nervous and I had heard previously that even the smallest task can stump you even if you have completed it a thousand times before.  I thought it was exaggeration at best but it turned out to be true.

I was asked to complete a simple function that took in an array, copied the contents, and returned the new array….my brain blanked -- it was as if I had never coded in my life.  I eventually got the correct answer but it was a grueling process.

For reference, here is the code I ended up writing for the challenge:

let array1 = [1,2,3,4,5];

function duplicate(arr) {
    let arr2 = [...arr];
    return arr.concat(arr2);
}

duplicate(array1);

Here are some takeaways and feelings from my first interview for a tech position.  Obviously, have your resume in order before applying to jobs...that's honestly step one but beyond this post.  Maybe in the future I'll write a post with some suggestions about how to prepare your resume.

  Hopefully these will help you when your interview comes around :D

Takeaways

Be punctual!

I’ve always been of the mindset that if you arrive early then you’re on time and if you’re on time then you’re late.  If you’re interview is at 1 P.M. then you should arrive no later than 12:45 P.M.  This mindset has worked well for me through the years and I know it will help you.

At best it’s rude and at worst it signals to your interviewer that you don’t respect their time with the added assumption that if you were to be hired you’ll be late on deadlines.

Never be late for an interview!

I arrived 20 minutes early for my interview today and had a few precious moments to gather myself in the car before heading in.  I was thankful that I had time to “center” myself and calm my stress levels a bit.

Prepare prepare prepare

This is a broad strokes piece of advice in that it can mean anything from searching through LinkedIn for information on the company to reaching out to current employees for an informational interview.

At the very least read through the company’s website to gather some basic knowledge.

You should know some facts about the company you are applying to.  It signals to the interviewer that you care about the company and the position you’re applying for.

I had very little time to prepare for this interview (the turnaround was 2 days between applying and interviewing) but I still read through their entire website, a few articles from a local magazine that featured the company, and read through employee profiles on LinkedIn.

Also, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of websites that will help you prepare for a technical interview with practice questions.  I read through a few and felt much better about some of my knowledge.

Of course, you may know some info and just forget it or draw a blank in the interview - it happens.  It happened to me today. I was honest and open about it and felt like the interviewer could relate because he dropped a few hints to guide me to the right path after my stumbles.

Going into my interview today I would have liked to have some more information about the company but I felt confident enough in what I knew to answer some topical questions if I were to be asked.  I don’t think I’ll ever feel fully prepared but something is better than nothing.

Ask Questions

The importance of asking questions during the interview was stressed to me over and over again by several colleagues who have coding experiences/positions.  I was reminded, more times than I care to count, that asking the interviewer questions could make or break my chances of getting an offer.

It’s not only helpful in the sense of getting an idea of what the job is like but it signals to the interviewer that you’re interested in the position.

Here are a few questions I asked during my interview:

  1. Why do you like to work here?
  2. What’s a typical day of work look like here?
  3. What stack do you currently work in?
  4. What operating system do you use for work machines?
  5. How flexible are the hours?
  6. What’s something you would change about working here?
  7. What’s the growth/promotion path look like here?

This isn’t the entire list but I think you get the point.  Show interest in the job you are applying for and gather some helpful/useful information at the same time.  Again, if possible avoid talking about salary. Unless otherwise stated, you should view this as an informational interview.

Practice Writing Code by Hand

I know it sounds like an odd piece of advice but this was the part of the interview that really “threw me for a loop”.

I’ve written tens of thousands of lines of code in my text editor.  I’ve learned some snazzy keyboard shortcuts and feel like I’ve gotten far more productive with my setup than I used to be.

None of this prepared me for handwriting code on a whiteboard.

It was a very strange feeling thinking about closing my brackets and writing a semicolon.  My editor typically handles these actions for me.

I found myself thinking more about writing the correct syntax and closing my brackets than thinking about the solution I was being asked to implement.

Grab yourself a small whiteboard from any general store or a big box store along with some dry erase markers.  Practice writing out your code along with some sample questions from any of the interview prep websites I referred to earlier.

I feel like this is one part of the interview I would go back and change if I could.  I will definitely be practicing physically writing my code before my next interview and I hope you do as well!

Have Confidence

This one is extremely tough for me and I am certain that other developers can relate.  I did not start out in the technology sector  when I entered the workforce.

I've always had an interest in technology but it never steered my professional career (unfortunately) until now.  Add to that being a self taught developer and there you have a potent platform for doubt and fear to creep in.

Knowing what I have built and accomplished is one thing but letting those actions influence my confidence is another.  This is something I work on daily.

If you learn anything from my posts, learn to have confidence in yourself.  We can do this.  We can teach ourselves to code, build awesome projects, and get hired with a company and get paid for our skills.

Anytime you walk into an interview be confident.  I know that nerves and emotions run rampant during the interview process when your brain blanks (like mine did) but fight through it and crush that interview.  Keep that confidence no matter the challenge.  But also remember that life is about balance -- stay confident not cocky.

Don’t Get Discouraged

This is also something that every developer no matter the language you code in, the discipline you follow, or how long you've been at it can relate to.

Some days I get out of bed before my alarm goes off, grab a coffee, and knock out projects all day.  There was a day in November where I was getting so much work done that I didn't want the day to end.

There are also days where getting out of the bed feels like an insurmountable task in itself.

But through it all I have always kept my love for coding.  I've managed to stay motivated enough to get some great things accomplished.  It hasn't been easy and there are times where I'll work for an hour and then relax the rest of the day.

There are times where my PlayStation4 gets much more of my attention than it should but that's how I decompress and have some down time so that when I come back to what I'm working on I'm ready to completely annihilate it.

Find your motivation - whether that's a new job, providing for your family, earning more money or just loving your craft.  Find your motivation and hold on to it tightly!


I hope this article has been helpful for you and provided some tips for you when you're next interview rolls around.

Drop a comment or shout at me on Twitter — I’m always happy to connect with friendly faces and fellow developers!  All of my social medias are to the right of this article, just under the "Recent Posts" section.

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As always, have a fantastic day full of coding, love, family, and happiness!

Posted on by:

jsgoose profile

Jonathan Sexton

@jsgoose

Curious web developer insterested in tech, dogs, & good food! Believer in all things magical and lover of people!

Discussion

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Fantastic writeup! While this brings me back to my first experience of pursuing a development job it is still a similar experience for me now in that I've taken a break twice in my career as a self taught engineer. Stay the course and remain positive. Good stuffs! And, IMHO, good advice for all.

 

Thank you Karl! I appreciate your kind words. Thank you for the great advice as well - staying the course is very important. It's easy to get discouraged but I try to ensure I bounce back with a jolt of positivity :D

 
 

Hi Andreas! Unfortunately, no I did not get the job. The interviewer gave me some tips on how to improve my interviewing skills as well as some areas I need to work on in terms of my knowledge so that's a silver lining :D

 

Keep your chin up and remember that all interviews for all jobs are a numbers game. Each interview is a subjective slice of time and space.

Certainly it's a good idea to be open to suggestions. But never take any single person's perspective as gospel. Use the interview process as a tool. And don't dismiss the prospect of calling a previous interviewer to say something like: "ok. I've been working on the things we talked about when you passed on me in the past. I'd like to send you a summary of my improved skills...."

Most importantly: keep trying. As I said, it's a numbers game. Tenacity for the win!

Also, keep re reading what you wrote in this article. It's incredibly inspiring.

 

A pitty, but at least they gave hints on how to improvisiere.