My journey into tech was not as smooth as everyone perceives it was. But as I’ve shared my story with others and gotten to hear theirs, I’ve come to realize that it is actually the “norm” to have a nonlinear path into tech.
As mentioned in the video, my first ever technical interview was with Microsoft on the campus of Ohio State University. As a bright-eyed student who’d never gone through a technical interview before, I was lost.
I can’t recall what the interviewer had asked me to do but I do recall feeling helpless and being unable to answer his technical questions.
That feeling of helplessness was my first experience in tech. And as I’ve come to find out, it’s one I share with countless others.
They say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
After walking away from that experience I was determined to get better and improve my odds of landing a strong internship.
I reached out to my computer science friends who’d landed internships at companies, like Apple and Microsoft, and asked for help on how to prepare.
Shout out to my classmate, good friend, and study partner, Jon Ruben. Jon helped me break down the study process and prepare for technical interviews.
We relied on Gayle Laakmann McDowell’s “Cracking The Coding Interview“. And we dedicated regular practice sessions to each chapter.
And I continued to interview with other companies while practicing my technical interview skills.
But it wasn’t until my third interview that I felt ready and confident. This was an internship with IBM and I knocked the interview out of the park.
IBM offered me an internship to work with their engineering team in Columbus, Ohio and I verbally accepted.
Then a few days later, Microsoft came calling again.
A recruiter reached out to me via LinkedIn, asking if I wanted to interview for an engineering internship in Seattle. I didn’t mention that I’d interviewed on-campus before. I just took it as the universe offering me a second chance and accepted.
Upon passing the initial phone screen, I was flown out to Seattle for a rigorous day of final round interviews.
This was wayyy more thorough and intense than any other interview process I had previously been through.
That day, I interviewed for over 5 hours straight. Five interviews each lasting 45 minutes with a 15-minute break in-between, and an “as needed” interview to cap it all off.
Leaving the Microsoft campus I felt confident that I had put my best foot forward and answered all technical questions to the best of my abilities.
Not soon after, only a mere hour, I got a call from the recruiter. She informed me that Microsoft would like to offer me an internship position in the summer.
Ecstatic, I verbally accepted (I had to cancel on my IBM internship).
Looking back on that whole experience and knowing what I know now, here is how I would advise college juniors and seniors to approach the technical interviewing process.
Start by creating a study program involving “Cracking The Coding Interview”. Once you’ve consumed the main chapters on data structures and algorithms then start scheduling interviews.
Schedule your interviews like this. Start with the companies you’re LEAST likely to actually want to work for. Use those interviews for practice and experience. Early on you WILL get rejected but this way you won’t feel so bad after and you can use the experience as practice.
As you get better in your technical interviewing skills, as well as, your studying you should be moving your way towards the interviews for companies you actually want to work for.
By taking this approach you gain practice, experience, and, most importantly, a high likelihood that you will get an offer before you reach your target job interviews. Line up your interviews to optimize for this!!
I can’t understate how important it was for me to have that IBM offer going into my Microsoft interview.
There’s a psychological phenomenon that happens to humans when we know we’re secure. We tend to exude more confidence which allows us to put our best foot forward.
If it was not for the IBM offer in my back pocket I may have not done as strongly in the final Microsoft interviews.
But because I approached it with a nonchalance and cavalier attitude, I aced the interview and got the offer. Again, this was because I felt there was nothing to lose.
So before coming into your target job interviews make sure to have at least one offer to fall back on.
This approach can also be used outside of technical interviews. But I hope by sharing this knowledge I can help at least 1 student accomplish their goals of getting into tech.