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Code interviews and ego fails

28 January 2021 • 17:00

I’ve had three code interviews in the last few months. In the first two, I did so badly that I lost any chance for the job, despite doing well on the other interviews. In other words, I bombed.

“Seriously?” you might ask. “You’ve been doing this how long, and you had a hard time with some code interviews?”

Sadly, I’m embarrassed to admit; it seems yes.

In a bit of self-fulfilling prophecy, I think part of what tripped me up was my low opinion of code interviews. Like many others, I find the entire premise of a live coding interview to be suspect. There’s a dynamic to them that doesn’t exist in any reasonable situation unless maybe you’re hiring somebody to do live code demos on stage in front of a critical audience.

Some of the best software developers I know fear this dynamic so much that they avoid interviewing for any job that requires a coding interview.

I went into those first two interviews with a combination of that fear mixed in with a “You’ve got to be seriously kidding me?” frame of mind. Not the right place to start. From there, it’s all too easy for the ego to slip into a thought loop along the lines of, “You want me to prove to you that I can do a simple coding task? Don’t you know I was helping to ship industry-standard platforms when you were probably still in diapers!? I’ve written books and...”

For me, this led to an obliteration of rational thought, and I froze. The interviews turned into a sad downward slide of compounding mistakes and ended in, dare I say it, shame.

The worst part? After each interview, I re-did the exercises and found that I could quickly solve them with ease. It only confirmed my worst fears of how useless the signal these interviews can give is.

How’d the third one go? Better.

I prepared by doing a bunch of exercises on Exercism and HackerRank. I found that I kind of like doing these kinds of problems. More importantly, I spent a bunch of time working on my attitude. I got myself to the point (for the most part, anyway) where I could go into it without focusing on the fact that I thought the entire exercise was pointless or useless. I still had a lot of performance anxiety and didn’t perform as well as I should have, but at least I didn’t bomb.