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How They Got There: Engineering job interview edition

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Welcome to the second installment of How They Got There series!How They Got There Series - Job Interview Edition

Not everyone's journey into engineering or software development is linear. In this series, we look at the different paths, career pivots, challenges and successes of women, non-binary and allies in the tech industry. Follow along with these engineers as they share everything from self-promotion to bootcamps and other educational opportunities that have led them to where they are today. Software Engineers Ofelia Rodríguez and Sarah Goldgar surveyed current employees at The Zebra for this series.

In this post, we’re diving into the tech interview process and resources that can aid you in your technical job hunt. Quality Engineer Lead, Journey Becker, and Site Reliability Engineering Manager, Deb Martinez, join Ofelia and Sarah in sharing their experience. 

Can you start your interview process immediately after completing a bootcamp?

Attending a bootcamp should provide you with enough experience to land your first development role. However, this is a very “it depends” situation because the outcome is based on the amount of effort put forward in your bootcamp and throughout your interviews. 

  • "Around the time that I started interviewing for my first role there started to be a bigger push for consideration of bootcamp grads or just people with diverse/non-technical learning paths because companies were seeing those hires really work out and be able to provide fresh perspectives." - Sarah

  • "Bootcamp is great for learning the skill, but many technical jobs look for the application of those skills too. But 'technical experience' can take many forms. As an example: working as an analyst for a software development group could count." - Deb 

  • "I believe attending a bootcamp is sufficient. However, you will most likely need to interview at a variety of places in order to find one that works best for you and your needs. Oftentimes, Software Engineer I roles vary in experience and it will most likely take a few tries to find a role that's a great fit for you and the company."  - Ofelia


Do opportunities for interviews differ between self-taught, bootcamp and CS degree?

There is no "true" answer for this question, but we’ve seen that depending on the company, size, industry, etc it can definitely vary. 

  • "In some cases they can, but I wouldn't say that's the norm. For example, if a company only goes to universities to recruit software engineers then CS degree graduates will most likely have a higher probability of receiving an offer due to their proximity to the given company's recruitment efforts. However, if that same company also advertises the positions on their websites and states all backgrounds are welcome, then I think the opportunities are more open to everyone." - Ofelia

Throughout the years, we’ve seen that more and more companies are open to non-traditional backgrounds and see value in having engineering organizations with a wide variety of backgrounds.  

  • "With traditional or non-software-focused companies, many are still looking for the typical paths of CS degrees. But most modern software companies realize tech skills are gained in more ways than just college degrees and those kinds of companies tend to be less discerning about where your skills were obtained." - Deb

In order to have the opportunity to interview or even apply for a company, it’s important to network and seek connections who can provide guidance and assist in your job search. Oftentimes, receiving an opportunity to apply comes from having a connection. 

  • "The opportunities can differ because of the connections that career counselors have in degree programs or bootcamps (if your bootcamp has a career counselor) you might get pushed to the top of a stack of resumes where you may not have the same advantage without those connections. This is why it is important to go to meetups or conferences and meet recruiters/hiring managers, no matter what your background is." - Sarah

Despite companies being open to more non-traditional education backgrounds, there will always be situations where job descriptions say a CS degree is required. Sometimes though this is not a true reflection of what’s needed for the role, so it’s still worth applying.

  • "Unfortunately, I think that they do. I see very few options for those who are self-taught, as they then don't have that education part of the resume to fill up, or don't have an 'official' degree or certificate. I see so many jobs requiring a CS degree that really don't need one!" - Journey


How do you approach technical interviewing and how do you handle the stress that often comes with this type of interview? 

 

Regardless of how many interviews you’ve done or how many jobs you’ve made — interviews are always stressful. Like any new skill, interviewing is something you can improve at with practice. Sarah Quote Graphic - HTGT Job Interview

Interviews are more often an assessment of how you process the information you are given, how you communicate and ask questions throughout. Practicing and getting into the right mindset is beneficial for being able to comfortably do so in a higher stress environment. 

  • "I practice solving logic puzzles beforehand - to get my head into the logical, analytical space. The technical interview isn't always about getting syntax right - it's often about how you solve the problem." - Deb

In interviewing, what changes have you noticed in technical roles?

Over the years, technical roles have expanded beyond solely development. While that is one part of tech, there are other people involved in the process that help create a better solution and outcome for the user. The emphasis isn’t solely on the software engineer but rather on how you can create beneficial solutions among a variety of stakeholders. 

  • "Technical roles [now] span way more job titles and way more industries! It used to just be "oh you're a software engineer" and everyone was clumped into the same bucket. There is way more delineation in careers and job titles and technical roles even exist outside of the standard software development space. Now we have User Experience Engineers, Product Owners, Backend Developers, Database Administrators, Security & Compliance officers, DevOps Engineers, Data Scientists and so much more." - Deb

Other skills outside of technical skills have also become more important throughout the years. If you are unable to collaborate, create solutions with other departments, etc. the value you bring to a job isn’t as great as another person who excels at those skills. 

  • "I believe there has been a higher emphasis on non-technical skills when it comes to software engineering. There used to be more emphasis on how well someone could code but the reality is you spend more time interacting with different departments, researching, debugging, etc in addition to writing code. So while technical skills are important, someone's willingness to learn and grow are just as important. I firmly believe it's easier to teach someone technical skills than it is to teach someone how to communicate effectively." - Ofelia

There has been a shift to seeing value in previous job experience and how that plays into the role the candidate is applying for. More importance has been placed on having a diverse background and skillset over pure technical skill. 

  • "I think that a lot of companies are seeing the value in having people with non-technical experience work in technical roles. There is often a great perspective on communication, design sense, problem-solving, etc., that comes from learning other disciplines along with technical ones. I'm unfortunately seeing less and less junior roles open because companies want someone who can "hit the ground running" rather than investing in training. The truth is that at every skill level new employees will need the training to learn all the business logic and understand the history of application. Junior developers are often able to pick up on this information really quickly because they are in a learning mindset from the get-go and don't have expectations or hang-ups on how things 'should be done.'" - Sarah

Outside of skills and experience, what attributes did companies most value during the interview process?

We’ve seen lots of importance placed on soft skills and culture fit. Companies are interested in  how you will work within the existing ecosystem and add to it. When you talk to a hiring committee, they often look at how you interact with them as an indicator for how well you work on the team. 

  • "I like to learn how the candidate solves problems and how they interact with others. I think those two things help portray a picture of the interviewee and how they work with others. It is important to me that new hires add value to the existing team." - Ofelia

  • "Attitude/"culture add" [are important along with] general following of the company values" - Journey

To further differentiate yourself, it helps to showcase how you drive solutions, problem solve, and spark discussion. 

  • "[N]ot everyone can really analyze a problem and solve the problem outside the span of what is given in a spec. And even less people can rally the stakeholders necessary to really push an idea forward." - Deb

  • "[C]ompanies value decision making skills, mentoring, ability to prioritize work, and being able to take initiative/lead on new ideas." - Sarah

  • "The hiring committee wants to know that you can be self-sufficient but at the same time ask for help if you run into a roadblock." - Ofelia


What are your tips for landing a job and interviewing in your industry?

It’s also an advantage to research the company before your interview and get a sense of the questions you have for them and what it’s like to work there. If you are able to have someone at the company refer you, this will often give your resume a better chance at landing on the hiring manager’s desk!

  • "Talk to people who work at the places you want to work if you can and take informational interviews or coffee meetups/emails/intro calls. This will get you on the company's radar and give you a chance to learn about the people who work there and what their day to day is like." - Sarah

Also remember that it can take many interviews to land a job - don’t give up and keep applying! 

  • "Your first job is a numbers game and you just need to keep applying until you find something that works for you. After you have a bit of experience, interviews tend to get easier." - Ofelia

 

What do you wish someone had told you about interviewing that you know now?

Interviewing can be a long and trying process and finding jobs that match what you bring to the table. One thing to keep in mind is that job descriptions are often more of a “wishlist” than requirements.

  • "You don't have to check EVERY box on the job description!" - Journey

  • "Apply to any and all jobs that sound interesting, including the ones you 'don't qualify for.'" - Ofelia

Remember that technical skills are not the only thing you will be evaluated on and that you are also evaluating the company as a fit for you when you interview.

  • "Just having technical skills or certifications doesn't land you good jobs. You have to tell a story with your experiences - how you saw a problem, used your technical skills to solve that problem, and what value your solution brought to the organization." - Deb

  • "This is your chance to interview the company as well. You don't want to end up somewhere you're unhappy and the company doesn't want an unhappy employee who will ultimately leave - this is why it's so important to ask questions about things that you value  during the interview (work-life balance, educational opportunities, etc)!" - Sarah


RESOURCES

We’ve compiled a list of resources we recommend to people looking to start or expand on their current knowledge. Most resources (if not free) take student discounts, so be sure to check if the resource you’re interested in has that offer!

Apart from learning on your own time, we highly recommend networking and participating in the engineering community. Most of us have benefitted from networking and have oftentimes received job interviews through our networks. While it doesn’t guarantee you will get a job, networking can help you get a foot in the door with an interview or introductory call. It can be especially hard for women to break into what has been a male-dominated industry. Below are some organizations the contributors have participated in that seek to change that:

WRAPPING UP

Interviewing is often deemed one of the hardest parts of finding your first job in tech. With practice, it gets easier but depending on how often you’re moving to a new company it's easy to get out of practice and people at varying levels of experience can struggle with interviews. It's important to remember that your technical skills are one fraction of what value you bring to every new opportunity. We’ve found that reflecting and thinking through how we interact with others and having great communication skills are equally important to ensure you’re finding the right company for your needs. Don’t be afraid to speak up during interviews and talk through solutions or ideas even if you’re not 100% sure they would function. Ultimately, you want to ensure you’re joining a team that's welcoming to your thought process and where you can thrive when you’re solving problems that are new to you.


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