I Failed My Technical Interview and That's OK

Posted by BeejLuig on May 20, 2017

So I just had my first experience in a technical interview situation, and it didn’t go too well. Alright, I’ll admit it: it wasn’t a real interview. I scheduled a mock technical interview with Skilled Inc, a company that provides very real interview experiences with valuable feedback. In my case, the feedback was “you’re not ready.”

It’s good to know where you stand

In the web/app dev world, it’s common knowledge that CS concepts like Big O and sorting trees are required for technical interviews regardless of whether or not they actually apply to the job. To quote my interviewer: “this stuff is bullshit, but it’s part of the game.”

Hate the game

I have no illusions that my coding bootcamp experience left me with very little in the way of computer science fundamentals. I know I have a long road of study ahead of me but, in a way, I am glad to have confirmation of that.

BJ is definitely really smart but needs more practice before he’s able to tackle actual technical interviews. I’d suggest he pair up and solve problems with a friend of two and actually implement them in code.

It’s ok to bomb

When it comes to tackling a coding challenge in a technical interview, it’s not enough to be clever and know how to code. You have to have a solid strategy, especially if the best answer isn’t immediately clear.

Here is some advice:

  • Take the time to fully make sense of the question.
  • Break it down into digestible segments.
  • Address each segment as best as you can. When you have a solution, write out all of the steps (without code) or say it aloud.
  • Be prepared to come up with another approach if this one doesn’t work out.

Whatever it takes, try not to get stuck.

Don't get stuck Like this

All of this advice became immediately apparent to me moments after I bombed a medium-difficulty coding question.

BJ originally proposed a quadratic-time solution which would definitely work. I asked him to optimize it to be linear-time…I kept giving him the hint to keep track of information but he didn’t get it…I then gave him the answer because we were running out of time.

So it’s not just about understanding the concepts, it’s also about knowing how to get over yourself and communicating efficiently with your interviewer.

It’s good to be taken down a notch

All my life I have been a self-motivated overachiever and hopeless workaholic. I was an A student through school. I graduated magna cum laude in undergrad and attended grad school on a full scholarship. Much of my career as a teacher and freelance musician was spent working 6+ days a week. I’m used to hearing the usual positive reinforcments:

  • “You’re so talented!”
  • “You’re so smart!”
  • “You do such a great job!”

What I’m not used to hearing is:

  • “you’re smart, but…”
  • “I tried to give you a hint, but you didn’t get it”

I need to hear that sometimes. It’s not healthy to be surrounded by unrealistic expectations. That kind of criticism lights a fire under my ass. It makes me want to work harder.

It’s ok to feel crappy

Ok, sure. The stakes weren’t high. And I didn’t totally blow it. But I didn’t pass, and that feels gross.

So why is it ok?

This is a perfect opportunity to learn from my mistakes. I’m going to need to get used to failing because this will happen again. There’s no question about it.

At least now I have nothing to be nervous about.