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Guide to Tech Interviews (kchodorow.com)
87 points by kchod 1521 days ago | hide | past | web | 27 comments | favorite

I recently had nightmare of a interview experience with AirBnb. They asked me take 2 days off from work and fly all the way to SFO after I wasted couple of hours doing their online coding puzzle. The first interviewer asked me a string matching question, and insisted that I code up his brute force solution with terrible insert complicity and second interviewer asked me to code up a binary search tree( he had no clue if what a symetric binary tree was when i asked him if it has to be symmetric). After which the recruiter asked me leave saying the interview was not going well. I am yet to hear back from them about the $1200 i spent on the whole ordeal.

Only interview there if you are ready to waste 3 days of your life and ~$1400 and think Justin Biber jokes are funny ( really? ).

Edit: Anyone know what I can do about recouping the money I spent, I sent all the receipts and filled out their candidate reimbursement form. They wont respond to my email.

From my own experience, I have concluded that start-ups located in the FiDi and SOMA have no idea what they are doing when it comes to interviewing and hiring. When they aren't interviewing for sport or to gather intel, they generally don't know what questions to ask to determine if someone is a good fit. EDIT: I've been asked several illegal interview questions, as well.. maybe I should start capitalizing on that.

A lot of people bash Human Resources departments, but they do inject a great deal of sanity into the process when your time is on the line.

I do think companies need to be more careful about managing the interview process. I have full respect for a company's right to decide how they'll interview candidates - if I object, I am free to terminate the interview as well. However, I have had the experience of doing an 8 hour "assignment" (after a couple of phone interviews), only to hear crickets chirping and finally getting a call from a recruiter with no knowledge of the evaluation other than to say that they had decided not to pursue my application further. No review, no feedback.

I understand that when you give a reason for the no hire decision, you open yourself to lawsuits and other types of trouble. But I also see a problem with asking for a substantial investment of time from the applicant (with no corresponding investment of time from the company) and responding to the applicant with a three second brush-off. It is a small community, and of course this will influence my impression of this company.

Did you speak about reimbursement before flying there?

Yes I did. I was also sent the policy document which stated they will reimburse me for the flights/accommodation/food. I also have the email communication with their recruiters which said that they will reimburse me. Do I have to get a lawyer?.

Sorry to hear about your troubles. I've always had the interviewing companies pay for the tickets on their end and they (or their travel agents) would send me the confirmation email/tickets.

Didn't know some companies are asking to pay for it yourself upfront first - definitely makes it more risky…

Perhaps look into small claims court? You shouldn't need a lawyer for that.

I asked this on reddit. The one thing about tech interviews. They could ask anything. Literally any facet of technology. How do you prepare for being asked anything?

In the Gayle book, they go from binay trees, to bit manipulation to queues, etc, etc. Of course that won't even get touched in some technical interviews, it will be more knowledge based, (Describe polymorphism).

I rarely get the complex algorithms (I am not in Silicon Valley) but I get a great deal of logic questions or draw this abstract concept out on the board. And it is hard for me to deal with NOT knowing a problem.

For example, if SQL is on the job description, might as well cover every aspect of SQL which aren't really covered in the technical interview books. How do indexes work, etc, etc? Venn diagram outer joins.

I wrote this specifically for this type of interview: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/GuerrillaInterviewing.... However, there are lots of companies that do "trivia" interviews, and that sucks.

Some interviews are just unfair and there isn't really anything you can do to prepare, so don't waste your time worrying about it. Try to get a good story out of it and pity the company (I know, cold comfort if you need a job).

Decent interviews will stick to what's on your resume: "you say you spent 10 years working on networking internals, can you tell me about how you'd design a reliable network protocol?"

You can find lists of common interview questions online for almost every technical topic, so look up "SQL interview questions" and make sure you can answer the common ones if you're worried about them.

Resist the urge to follow up with the company, try to put the whole thing out of your mind. You probably won’t be able to, but remind yourself that there is nothing you can do and concentrate on other things. (Also, feel free to write thank you notes, but I’ve never known a programmer at a geeky company who gave two shits whether you did or not.)

This is good technical interview advice, but I've never gotten a job that only had technical interviews. Programmers might not appreciate a thank you note or call, but managers probably will. They're trying to figure out whether you're someone who will follow up and be responsible rather than someone who knows what a binary tree is.

I disagree, it's not like it can be negative. There's only a chance for a positive...

Great tips, thank you. One tiny thing I -partly- disagree with:

"you absorb more info when you’re doodling than when you’re just listening" I think this differs a lot per person. I find creative types tend to be bad at focussing on one thing, and can focus better if they are distracted by something they control like doodling. Personally I tend to think very linearly and once I'm distracted by something, that immediately means I'm not focussing anymore.

I think she's actually referring to this http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/27/doodling-doodl... rather than making a purely subjective statement. Having said that, I don't know of any studies that have replicated that finding so it may not be valid.

Anecdotally, it's how I functioned best in a classroom setting.

i personally think you should get rid of that pirated book link.

Agree. In the PDF, there is this little statement:

Copyright © 2008 - 2010 by Gayle Laakmann. All rights reserved.

This means something. The author needs to respect it.

I'm trying to track down the link I got it from. It's freely available (I downloaded it from Google career site) I just can't figure out where, now.

Thanks for replying. I do want to say that I enjoyed and appreciated the rest of your blog article!

You might consider that just because you were able to download a file from somewhere does not give you the right to redistribute it. It is possible that the site you got it from may or may not have had the right to distribute it themselves!

This is so well thought-out and I think your advice is bang on. Thanks for posting!

Thank you!

Your site was throwing some DB connectivity errors...

Site accessibility was jumpy for me as well. Cached : http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://...

If you are using an IDE like Eclipse or anything with auto code completion, syntax color-highlighting, and syntax error highlighting, get rid of that while coding up the exercises in the PDF.

Use Notepad++ or kwrite and disable those features, if your coding speed grinds to a halt under these conditions, good!

That's the point of the exercise, like trying to jog at 30 thousand feet, as you overcome the hindrance up there, and you come back down to normal level, you feel like you can leap over a car. Same with coding, you feel like you can code blindfolded. And your ability/productivity increases by an order of magnitude.

One of my friend always take his personal laptop to the onsite interviews and asks the interviewer permission to type code on his IDE for whiteboard exercises. He didn't have a problem and infact most of them are more than happy to allow him to do so.

Not sure it's a good idea. Remember why your interviewer is asking those questions? So that he can compare candidates. You're making his job a bit harder because you now have advantage over people who did it on a whiteboard.

The other candidates could have asked as well.

When on the job, there's no such thing as cheating [1], so I'd like to see any prospective employy act as pro-active as that. (And if I really need comparability, I'd thank the candidate for their good idea, but explain why we are going with the whiteboard instead.)

[1] Modulo conforming to laws and ethics.

Some even recommend writing the on paper, I find it hard to do.

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