My Experience with Technical Interviews in 2022

I just had the chance to experience 8 different technical interview processes. And they were not what I expected! I didn’t get asked a single data structures and algorithms question. No leetcode for me. This may largely be related to the types of organizations that I applied. Despite writing a book about algorithms and teaching a class called “Data Structures & Algorithms,” I don’t do particularly well at white-boarding. I hadn’t done a software development job search in 10 years, and based on what I had read, and what I had heard from my students, I expected to do some white-boarding. But I didn’t have to do any white-boarding!

I wanted to write this post as a kind of follow-up to a podcast episode we did a few months ago about technical interviews. We really emphasized the prevalence of algorithmic problem solving questions and brain teasers. Maybe we got that wrong. Maybe that’s an outdated view. Or a view limited to only certain kinds of companies.

In this post, I’ll tell you about what the processes were like at the anonymized companies that I applied, how the rounds were ordered, and how the search ended for me. But first some background for context: Earlier in my career I worked as a full-stack web developer at a couple startups and then worked for a few years as a freelance iOS developer. Then I shifted to computer science education. The past six years I’ve been working as an assistant professor of CS at a teaching college. In the past three years I’ve been the co-program director of the CS program.

So, I’m a strange candidate. I didn’t know if I should be applying for mid-level roles or senior-roles. I don’t have any corporate software development experience. I do some open source work and write books and teach. I have a few very small indie apps. And as I mentioned, I worked for a few years in startups and as a freelancer. So, it was hard to tell how companies would see me.

I did a mini-job search this month. I had the option of a promotion and a new contract at the teaching college I work at, but I wanted to see what else was out there before I signed the dotted line. I want to emphasize that I was sincerely interested in exploring changing careers back into the world of software development. I was a serious candidate. This wasn’t a lark. At the same time, I knew there was a reasonably high probability I would choose to stay in my current profession.

That’s why I decided to do a very targeted search. I only applied to a select group of (mostly remote) roles that seemed like a very good fit. And I did all of the applications in 1 day. After that day, I didn’t apply to any more companies. The entire process from doing applications to offer was about 2 weeks.

How it Started

On May 2nd, I applied to a little more than a dozen jobs on LinkedIn and via the iOS Dev Jobs mailing list. I also posted on the monthly Hacker News “Who wants to be hired?” thread. That was it. I never applied to any more jobs after May 2nd.

By Wednesday I had received a few immediate rejections, 5 first-round interviews as a result of my applications, and 3 inbound first-round interviews from companies that saw me on Hacker News.

How it Was Going

I got a second round with just about every company I applied to. Apparently I did very well in those first round interviews. By the end of the first week I was very confident.

How it Ended

I’m going to break your suspense before I get into the details because it will help frame some of my decisions around why I pulled out of several of the companies’ processes. I received two offers by May 17th. They were time sensitive. I ended up accepting an improved offer to stay at my current employer. The other offer I received was for a senior software engineer position with a salary that is literally more than double my current salary. It was very compelling and I really liked the person I would’ve been working for and his team, but I ultimately decided I didn’t want to give up the academic lifestyle. I really do like where I work. It’s a great place. But it was a hard decision. I also received two outright rejections from companies that I had gone through three rounds with. I pulled out of the other interview processes after accepting the offer to stay.

The Processes

I am anonymizing all of the companies here as much as possible. I’m not here to criticize anyone specifically, but instead praise and criticize some of their interview processes more generally.

Company 1 — to be a Mac software developer

Company 1 is a small/medium sized maker of software for the Mac. I make indie Mac apps myself and first learned to program for the Mac when I was 14 years old. So, this was a very interesting company to me. And something I knew I would enjoy doing.

Application or Reach Out

I applied.

The Process

The first round was a 30 minute screen with the co-founders of the company. The second round was a technical interview that was just a conversation about some of my past work and programming philosophy with the CTO. The third round was a take-home software development project that you had unlimited time to complete and were paid to do.

Result

I pulled out before completing the third round because I had received the other time sensitive offers. I think I really would’ve enjoyed working for them, so I asked the CTO to keep me in mind for part-time or contract roles in the future.

My Feelings

This was a very good process for a small to medium sized company. It was very personable (meeting with the owners right off the bat) and yet also seemed to hit at the technical in exactly the right way. The technical conversation was non-intimidating and I think really did give the CTO a good sense of me and what my skills are. The take-home project was very relevant to the work they do and a good test, although I pulled out before completing it.

Company 2 - senior software engineer working in Python

Company 2 is a Fortune 200 company looking for an addition to a relatively small inner team that works on B2B products for an exciting and growing market in green energy.

Application or Reach Out

The hiring manager reached out to me based on my Hacker News post.

The Process

The first round was a 1 hour conversation with the hiring manager. I appreciated that he took the time to talk to me for that long instead of sending me to HR. He was erudite and personable. He was specifically looking for someone who could be an internal teacher which I really appreciated and made the job even more compelling to me. There was a short call with HR after. The real second round was a 5 hour interview with 5 inner rounds: 3 technical interviews (data modeling in Python, testing/QA in Python, and commenting on a Python pull request), a culture interview with 2 engineers, and a final interview with the hiring manager.

Result

I received a very compelling offer for more than double my current salary. I did seriously consider taking it, but ultimately accepted the improved offer from my current employer for the reasons I mentioned above.

My Feelings

The hiring manager was fantastic and I really enjoyed talking with him. If he hadn’t been so great, I could see a one hour first round being a bit much. On the other hand, the entire interview process really only had two rounds, so the entire process is very reasonable. While I don’t love live coding, the engineers on the live coding technical interview rounds really made me feel like it was a collaborative process. They definitely weren’t checking for syntax. They were checking for thinking. They helped me when I got stuck without giving too much away. The pull request technical interview was great because it really let you shine as a developer in a different way—as someone with judgement instead of just someone who can code. Overall it was one of the best renditions of live coding I’ve seen.

Company 3 - iOS developer at a consulting company

Company 3 is a reasonably well known consulting company. I used to work as a solo iOS consultant (freelancer) so this role seemed particularly compelling to me.

Application or Reach Out

I applied.

The Process

The first round was a 1 hour conversation with a senior engineer there who seemed to be guiding the process. The second round was a 1 hour technical interview with another engineer there that asked me technical questions about Swift (i.e. how do closures work in Swift). The third round was first some simple live coding in Swift, and then building a very simple table view based app in Xcode. I believe I completed all of the tasks successfully. The two technical rounds both ended with some more “soft questions.” In the third round I was asked by one of them if I had any “enterprise development experience.” And I said I didn’t have any, which is true and was evident from my resume.

Result

I found out just after I had received the two offers mentioned above that I was not selected to continue to the fourth and presumably final round. I had actually already accepted one of the offers, so I was about to pull out of the process anyway, but they emailed me first, so I unfortunately got to feel the rejection! They said the reason was that I didn’t have enough enterprise software development experience. Which makes sense because I don’t have any. But they knew that before the first round, so it was a strange reason to reject me. Perhaps they just had a better candidate who did, or perhaps they didn’t want to tell me the real reason.

My Feelings

The first round was great. They said they were interested in my book writing and podcasting work. I found the second round interviewer hard to read, but the questions he asked about Swift I thought were fair. I heard after by email that I did well. The third round was not great. It was live coding doing some fairly trivial stuff, but the lag of using a remote system did not work well for laying things out in Interface Builder. I did have trouble remembering during the live session how to do the syntax of some simple exception handling in Swift, so maybe that’s the real reason I failed that they didn’t want to tell me. I did get it right eventually, but it took me longer than it should have to remember the syntax. However, I don’t think asking live syntax questions is a good way of conducting technical interviews—in the real world we can just look it up. And I did politely criticize the laggy setup at the end too by suggesting it would’ve made more sense to let me share my screen instead of remotely controlling theirs (probably not a good move to criticize your interview setup). Ultimately the feedback for why I didn’t get to the final round felt too short—I’d like more detail. And if the “not having enterprise software development experience” was the real reason they should have screened me out after the first round, not the third. I think doing a live coding session in Xcode makes little sense in the iOS world—let us do a take home or look at our prior open source work or indie apps. That’s a better test of what we can do. However, I sincerely liked the company and could see myself applying again if I ever do another job search.

Company 4 - senior iOS developer at well known iOS app company

Company 4 is very well known. Their iOS app has millions of users. They were looking for someone to be in a senior role on the iOS team. They described it as a leadership role in the interviews.

Application or Reach Out

I applied.

The Process

The first round was a 30 minute screener with HR. The second round was a 30 minute technical conversation with the head of the iOS team. For the third round you were offered either a 2 hour live Swift coding test or a take home. I chose the take home. It was building a fairly simple iOS app but with plenty of room for embellishments. They said you had as much time as you wanted, but also said not to spend more than a few hours on it. After two days I got a message from HR saying they were eagerly awaiting my submission (I hadn’t started because of other interviews and them saying I had as much time as I needed). I told them that I had been busy (the truth) and would finish it by the end of the weekend (4 days later, which I did). I sincerely thought I did a fine job on the app. I even added a couple extra features, like some custom bar chart drawing, that was not required in the app description.

Result

I was not selected after the third round. The email from HR said “Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to complete our assignment. We appreciate the time and care that went into completing the assignment. At this time, we have received several assignments back that have set our candidate caliber very high. It has not been an easy decision but we will not be advancing to the next round interview. Please continue to view our job board for any future openings you are interested in.”

I replied because I really wanted more specifics after doing the take home because I thought it was reasonably good: “Thank you. I understand and appreciate the consideration. If I could receive any feedback about what I could have done better on the assignment I would appreciate it so I can improve my work in the future.”

The final reply from HR was: “The feedback was all positive, we just didn’t have a good match on the technical side. I do wish you the very best.” I’m not sure exactly what that means. Was the feedback all positive on the technical side but the techniques I used were not a good match? Was my code amateurish in style but good logically? Was my use of older technologies not good? I really would’ve liked more feedback after the time spent on the take home.

My Feelings

I felt this company had a very fair process. But their final feedback was not great at all. After spending several hours on an unpaid take home project, you’d like to at least know the specifics of why it wasn’t good enough or why overall you weren’t a good candidate. That would have to come from engineering, not HR of course. But HR could pass it on. The most likely explanation is that they were telling the truth in the first email—there simply were higher caliber candidates applying at the same time. But the second email then made me doubt that. What does it mean for the feedback to be all positive but to not have a “good match on the technical side.” What is it that I could’ve done differently to bring my take home to the next level and be a good technical match? I sincerely wanted to know. I thought my app was pretty good for the time they told us we were expected to put into it (“a few hours”) and not getting to the final round honestly gave me a bit of imposter syndrome :).

Company 5 - educational non-profit lead developer position

This is a non-profit with a strong engineering culture. They were looking for someone to lead one of their large initiatives which is based on a Web app written in Ruby on Rails.

Application or Reach Out

I applied.

The Process

I first had a 15 minute chat with the founder. He was super nice. The real first round though was a 1.5 hour conversation with him. It was wide ranging. We talked about technical stuff including him asking me to show him some of my work, and he asked me some well prepared interview questions about product improvements they could make and how I saw the product. The third round would’ve been working directly on their codebase (paid) to implement a couple features after speaking with two of their engineers for about an hour. But I pulled out before the third round. One thing I really didn’t like was that in preparation for the third round you had to sign up for all of their services (Slack, Stripe, Logging service, etc.). In total I received 7 invite emails for the third round. It was a bit much.

Result

I pulled out of this one before even receiving the other offers because I had a bad feeling before the third round. I decided I really didn’t want to work in Ruby on Rails (bad memories of a startup I did 10 years ago) and I also had a feeling that I wasn’t a good culture fit. I felt a bit bad pulling out the night before the third round but I didn’t want to waste their time or my own.

My Feelings

It’s a super cool non-profit but the third round process didn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, you want someone to show they can work on your actual codebase. But requiring them to sign up for 7 different services is a bit much when they are likely doing other interviews. I’m glad I pulled out because I did a lot of hard thinking about it and really knew it wasn’t a good fit for me technically or culturally. It was a tough decision though because they really do have a great mission and great founder. But I think this made me realize that the technology and culture I’m going to be working in is as important as the product.

Company 6 - developer relations at advanced startup

This is an exciting startup that’s pretty far along. They have a product that is solving real problems for real clients already. Developer relations seemed like a good intersection for me between my technical communications skills (teaching, writing, podcasting) and software development abilities. In some ways it seemed ideal, but at the same time I didn’t have any background in working with their type of product.

Application or Reach Out

They reached out to me based on my Hacker News post.

The Process

The first round was a 30 minute screen with one of the founders. The second round was a 45 minute conversation with their head of engineering. The third round would’ve been a written interview (you fill out 5 detailed question in a Google Doc).

Result

I pulled out after the second round because I received the other offers and had to decide between them. The timeline just didn’t work out. But they actually reached out to me after I pulled out to ask if I would reconsider. That was super unexpected and flattering. I was very impressed by them overall.

My Feelings

It was clear in both interviews that the team is experienced and intelligent. I have regrets about not getting to work with such a sharp team in a role (developer relations) that I think really exploits all of my different skillsets. At the same time, I was a bit hesitant to work in developer relations on a product that’s in a space I didn’t know anything about. I have a strong feeling they will be very successful and kind’ve have some FOMO about it. I also regret not getting to do the written interview process because I pulled out. I’ve never done a written interview before and it seems like a very unbiased way to judge a candidate.

Company 7 - iOS lead at small startup

This is a startup in a space that I would call a form of social networking. They were well funded, but funded by friends & family, which is a bit of a red flag for me based on my earlier career.

Application or Reach Out

They reached out to me based on my Hacker News post.

The Process

The first round was a relatively casual chat for over an hour with one of the founders. It was really wide ranging and I felt like we really connected. The next round was supposed to be a conversation with the more technical co-founder, but it never happened before I had to pull out due to the other offers.

Result

I pulled out as mentioned above because of the other offers.

My Feelings

This company is early enough and small enough that they didn’t have a great technical screening process in place. I actually mentioned that to the founder and maybe it’s something I’ll even help him with in the future. We’re still in touch by email and the product is definitely interesting. At the same time, I would’ve had some real hesitancy to join a startup funded by friends and family because I did that a decade ago and we ran out of funding.

Company 8 - software developer at huge multi-national

This was a poorly defined role at a subdivision of one of the most well known technology companies of the 20th century. The job is at an office near where I live, so I figured it was worth a shot to at least find out more.

Application or Reach Out

I applied.

The Process

The HR representative reached out to me by email. I replied. She didn’t. She reached out to me again by phone. I replied. She didn’t. We finally connected for the first round, which was an HR screen.

Result

I pulled out during the HR screen. The salary was too low.

My Feelings

This company is out of touch and it showed even in the application process. The UI of their job site was the worst I’d seen. Also, companies should post salaries on job descriptions so as not to waste people’s time.

Remainder

I got rejected without even an HR screen from about seven other companies that I applied. They were mostly big companies. This kind of makes sense because my resume is very non-traditional for these kind of roles and I doubt someone who is looking at me as the whole person and potential developer (for example looking at my open source projects) is necessarily working in HR at a big company. Smaller companies seem to more often have people with software development experience doing first rounds.

Conclusion

Overall, I got a great offer in just two weeks. I can’t really complain about that. And interestingly it was from someone who reached out to me on Hacker News instead of somewhere that I applied. While I ultimately just accepted an improved offer at my current employer, I came away from this process with three takeaways:

  1. If you have a non-traditional, but strong background, having that be well understood by a hiring manager is really important. You need to put all of yourself out there and get that information to that hiring manager in as succinct a form as possible. My Hacker News post did that for me.
  2. A lack of feedback after doing a take home test doesn’t leave a candidate feeling good. Employers, please respect that people put time into doing a take home and give them detailed feedback.
  3. leetcode problems do not seem as prevalent as the zeitgeist would have you think. Or maybe that’s the selection bias of where I got interviews. I mostly didn’t interview at very large corporations.

About Me

I teach Computer Science to college students, develop software, podcast, and write books about programming including the Classic Computer Science Problems series. I'm the publisher of the hyper local newsletter BTV Daily.

You can find me on Twitter and GitHub. Check out my podcasts Kopec Explains Software and Business Books & Co. You can subscribe to my very low volume newsletter to find out about my future book, media, or software projects.

Copyright

©2012-2022 David Kopec. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Based on tdSimple originally by Lasantha Bandara and released under the CC By 3.0.