Tech interviews and how to cope with them

‘The recruiter will call you back soon’ told me the fourth (and last) interviewer I spoke with after a long day interviewing at the Microsoft campus.

I was pretty psyched about getting an offer and moving to Redmond. I wasn’t desperate (I think) but I definitely was a Microsoft fanboy willing to change his entire world to work there. I had decided to tell the recruiter that although I preferred a position related to developing Word’s ultimate new feature, I was willing to take pretty much any job there.

‘Let’s go straight to the point –  I accept your offer’, I practiced many times with a mirror. You can imagine my disappointment when the recruiter didn’t call me back, didn’t pick up my calls and didn’t reply to my emails.

Though I am not a black belt at interviewing in big tech companies, I have had my share of reality checks:

You had me at ‘hello’. I found that getting an interview with the Tech titans requires a lot more than building a nice resume and submitting it through their careers web page. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that this worked for me once in a hundred times. On the other hand, having someone internally refer me worked more often than not and reaching out to recruiters through LinkedIn also turned out to be a pretty good option. But by far the best way to get these companies’ attention is to be already in the club – once I joined Microsoft, other companies started poaching me.

The lucky streak. Succeeding in interviews requires a (very misbalanced) mix of luck and technical depth. I feel humbled to say that I have worked with a few brilliant minds who shine not only for their technical excellence but also for their outstanding ability to collaborate and their driven execution. Yet, many of them have failed to get an offer at these companies. How is that possible?

Think different. I agree in principle that it is expensive and risky to bring in someone new, so employers want to be very, very sure. In practice, however, these companies seem to have ultra-standardized processes that require applicants to interview a lot and only then, the ones who adapt quickly to the system get the offers. Presumably, this ‘uniform’ hiring bar ends up impacting the tech giants’ ability to attract diverse talent who can boost innovation.

‘Patience is a virtue’, said no one who has ever interviewed in the tech industry. The interviewing teams made an astonishing job on ‘selling’ me the position so I put my future in these companies’ hiring processes only to get disappointed after hearing back months after the interview, if at all.

Forwarding my life by a dozen rejections across multiple tech giants, I now sit on the other side of the table. I am someone who has been part of Microsoft’s and Google’s engineering teams and their hiring troops and someone who still scratches his head every time he is asked how to fix this. My guts tell me that there is plenty of bias to be removed and that no candidate should need to study for months before interviewing.

I’ve been told that tech startups are changing the game by doing more hands-on interviews where the candidate’s aptitudes are assessed as they fix a random bug in GitHub. I wonder if that will be the next turn… or maybe we should just go back to the era of erratic brain teasers with questionable ethics (just kidding!).

On Leadership

What is a leader? What traits do I want to make sure I have as a leader? What has my experience taught me so far? I’ve been trying to answer these questions and have been thinking about what leadership means to me. 

Even though the dictionary defines a leader as “the person who leads or commands a group”, I do not believe that this simple definition is the same thing as being a true leader. A person that merely uses their “power” to intimidate others into getting things done is not a leader. Likewise, a person who uses fear to motivate people into getting things done, or walks over people in a selfish attempt to achieve a goal, is also not a leader.

So, what qualifies someone as a great leader? Let’s start with a fact, and one that many leaders refuse to acknowledge; there are no perfect leaders. We are human and we have weaknesses. We are human and we have strengths. The key is to spot the differences between the two, understand the pros and cons of both, and be a leader that is balanced.

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On Risk Taking

“I wish they would lay me off so I can take time off”, “I would love to live abroad but it’s just too much of a change”,  “I thought of that idea first, I wish I had done it myself” and “That seems too hard” are some of the things I’ve heard friends and myself say so many times. Changing is hard, I know it, but why do we live “hoping” and “going with the flow” rather than doing? What are we afraid of? I don’t claim to know the answer but this blog post has some of my thoughts on how I try to approach taking risks.

The first thing is that each of us live in a comfort zone. It’s easier to deal with the known than with the unknown. It is easier to just go with the flow and let chance and others take decisions for us. This begs the question, why do we let this happen though?

We are afraid of failure. Failing is hard, and when you fail, you KNOW you fail. In Silicon Valley, failure is part of life and it’s encouraged. Only by failing we get better. People always talk about trying things and failing. However, there is still a big stigma in failing. In particular this is very strong in cultures like mine (I’m Mexican) where failure is synonym for loser.

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On Learning

Before I start, I apologize for not writing in the past almost two years. I’ve been on a pretty busy adventure and I promise to make up for it. This post will be one of the first of a series of posts not on technology itself but more on my thoughts about how to live in the world of technology.

The technology world only has one constant: change. In the past ten years though, change has accelerated at an incredible pace thanks to the Internet, crowd sourcing collaboration (aka open source) and an economic system that has allowed engineers to take risks. Even though this rapid change is amazing, it’s really hard to keep up with the rate of change but change we must.

Ever since I was a child I’ve been curious about things. I like to explore new things and learn about them. Either learning how to make computers do things, how to make a mercury thermometer or how wine is made. Reflecting about this topic I even found it interesting how I am more interested on the making-of movie add-ons than the movie. My curiosity is broad and has led me to continuously challenge myself to understand the world as a whole rather than its parts. We usually live in a bubble and learning things outside our bubble helps us be better every day.

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