Programming Interviews For Dummies
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An interview is your opportunity to highlight your strengths. With programming interviews, this means showcasing your technical prowess and illustrating your ability to be a part of a team. You don’t want to inundate your interviewers with questions about their concerns with the company, so you should do some interview prep so that you have some answers already in your pocket when you come to the interview.

The best way to learn more about the company’s concerns — and be able to then show the company your strengths and how those attributes can help put these concerns to rest — is to network with other employees in the company.

Your research into the company will inform the types of questions you want to ask current employees either online in a private LinkedIn message or when you ask to talk to a company employee one-on-one during an in-person meeting or mixer. Some questions to ask include:

  • What new hardware and software technologies are you looking into and what challenges is the company facing implementing them?
  • What is the biggest issue facing the company right now and how is the company dealing with it?
  • Why are you hiring a new programmer and how will the new programmer help you overcome these struggles?
Your intelligence-gathering methods will pay off in two ways. First, you can tailor your cover letter and résumé so that they focus on the problem the company is having that you can help solve. Second, you can craft the messages you want to give to the interviewers during your mock interview and then have them at the ready during the real programming interview.

For example, you can say something like, “I know you’re working on this new technology and here’s the experience I have with it and solving problems in this space. I can help you build and maintain the software and systems you’re working on. I can even help the marketing team with communicating the features so customers understand it.”

Explain how you can help the team you’ll work with

The information you gather about the company can also inform how you’re going to improve the team you’ll be working with. There are several ways you can communicate that before or even after you submit your cover letter and résumé to the company:
  • Create a website that shows off your work. If you’re not into web design, there are plenty of free and low-cost website builders such as Google Sites and Wix that can help you get started. The website doesn’t need to be involved — just a place to show screenshots and give brief descriptions of what you did. Don’t forget to add information about apps you created or helped develop if you have them, and be sure to add links to your related pages.

    Wix programming Source: Wix
    Scroll down the Wix home page to learn more about Wix and get answers to frequently asked questions.
  • Start a programming blog. One of the pages of your website can be a blog where you can write about programming topics and especially about how you solved problems with teams at another company. (You may need to tweak the parameters a bit to avoid transmitting confidential information from the company you worked for.) There are plenty of blogging platforms such as WordPress and Medium that help you set up a simple, attractive blog.
  • Consider creating a YouTube channel. Record videos to display on your channel that show people how to program and how to become better programmers. The videos don’t have to be very long, either. If you have a good webcam that has 1080p resolution and a good microphone, you can find free and low-cost tools online to record good-quality videos such as Free2X Webcam Recorder and Loom.

    Loom Source: Loom
    Click the Get Started button to sign up for a Loom account and download the app for free.

When you maintain a website, blog, and/or YouTube channel, be sure to update them regularly. If you don’t, and one or more interviewers notices, you’ll need to explain why you haven’t been updating your online assets.

For example, you could say that you were focused solely on improving one of your apps in response to customer requests so your customers could have the new and improved version as soon as possible.

Demonstrate how you fit into the company culture

If you’ve read any stories in your LinkedIn news feed or any business websites, you’ve probably noticed that company culture is a big deal with any business. When you network with company employees and you talk with interviewers, don’t forget to ask about and/or pick up on clues on what the culture is like and how it will determine who the interviewers recommend hiring.

For example, there may be people on your team who play a specific online game and they want all team members to be on the same wavelength by playing the same game. If you find out during your networking process that people on the team love to play a specific game and you don’t play it, start playing the game and become knowledgeable.

If you don’t know about the game until one of the interviewers asks you if you play it, tell the truth and say you don’t, but that you’d love to learn how to play it. Showing that you’re interested in the same things as your potential team members and are willing to connect with them could be what gets you the job offer.

Another company may want people who like the outdoors because employees bond by doing a lot of outdoor activities together during the workday, such as participating on sports teams that play on weekends, or holding specific outdoor events to foster connections within and between teams.

If interviewers learn that you like being outside, too, then they’ll talk with you about all the outdoor activities they have available for employees. If you respond that you’re very interested in that, you’ve taken another step toward getting hired.

If you discover that Averagenaut SpaceCo does things you’re not interested in doing, such as playing an online game constantly, consider withdrawing your application for the job. Being the odd one out on your team could lead to you finding a new job sooner rather than later. You can spend your valuable time working for Spaceman Spiff’s Rocketry where you feel comfortable, and Averagenaut can find another candidate who fits them.

Offer examples that back up what you say about your strengths

As part of telling stories about your technical chops during the programming interview, you need to include examples from your past experiences that show how you learned more about what customers want and how you can best serve them. These experiences can be at different companies and/or your experience creating software on your own (such as smartphone prep).

Even if you’re not going to be interacting with customers directly, showing that you’ve dealt with customers in the past and have at least some knowledge of what they’re thinking will only show off more of your value. After all, a programmer who’s customer-centric will put out a more usable product that will bring more money and customers to the company.

What kind of examples do you need to come up with? Each example has to show some kind of positive outcome for the company and/or the customer you worked for. Here are some ideas to get you started:
  • How you helped your team improve its productivity and by how much.
  • How one or two times you worked long hours to ensure a product shipped on time . . . or even ahead of time.
  • How your technical skills were key to finishing a software project that made the company money.
  • How you fit into the company culture by participating in different events the company put on so that employees across the company could connect with one another.
  • How you took advantage of company training that turned into an increase in your own productivity, which lifted the productivity of the entire team.
Once you get your brain thinking about examples, you can list those in your notes you bring to your programming interview. You don’t need to write a detailed description in your notes — thinking about examples will (or at least should) jog your memory about what happened during every situation. Then you’ll be able to talk about them off the top of your head and enjoy the looks of amazement on your interviewers’ faces.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John Sonmez is a software developer and the author of two best-selling books, The Complete Software Developer's Career Guide and Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual. He is also the founder of the Simple Programmer blog and YouTube channel. Eric Butow is the owner of Butow Communications Group (BCG), which offers website design, online marketing, and technical documentation services for businesses. He is the author of 32 computer and user experience books.

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