My amazing experience with Interview Kickstart
Technical interviews are lengthy and tricky let us just accept it.
A little background about me. I did my Bachelor's in Electronics and Telecommunications hated networking job of going to data centers and working with IPs and subnet. I started to get interested in coding. My roommate taught me HTML and CSS one night and I never stop since then. I pursued my Masters in Computer Science from USC and started working at startups in Los Angeles. Web development was fun but very volatile. The moment you learn and master one framework somewhere someone already wrote another framework or rewrote framework and now you are trying to learn that stuff. It was fun when I started but slowly felt like a monkey jumping from one tree to another.
During this time, I started to focus on services that I consumed on the frontend. I learned java at school but never paid much attention. I loved learning Algorithms and Data structures at USC however, never used in practice. So naturally, it errored from my brain. I interviewed a few companies with limited knowledge and found a job and accepted it. 10 years later here I am trying to use the same strategy of learning java for interviews and hoping for the best case to crack my interviews. Spoilers alert at the end of the interview rounds I had 5 job offers from good companies and end up choosing the one which doubled my TC.
Today interviews are broken down into stages. Stage one is spreading the word. Either by toggling the switch on LinkedIn or passively/actively reaching out to potential employer about the opportunities. After spending enough time, you will see the flood of emails from recruiters asking for intro call. Intro call is all about “skill set” matching. Basically, job description states Nosql, java and docker. Does your past or present experience have this skill set. Once there is a match you will be ask to schedule technical discussion with Hiring manager. Hiring manager will ask you about skill set. They might ask you some trivial coding problem to see how you approach the problem. Once hiring manager gives thumbs up you will be promoted to Technical phone screen. This is typical 45 min call with screen sharing and trying to solve the problems with another person. I am sure you are all aware of LeetCode and questions will be easy/medium/hard depending on company, level and luck. Finally, if all goes well you will be asked to come onsite. This is 5–6 hours of coding, system design and softskill rounds.
This may seem overwhelming at first but the idea is to not think too much. It’s like running a marathon, you look at the first 3 miles then the next 3 miles then half marathon and then finish line.
I started my job hunt in March 2019. I knew my current company was not doing good financially and I could foresee layoff soon. Being on H1b I always fear of losing a job and getting kicked out of the country. So, I wanted to go back to my three favorite books viz., Cracking the Coding Interviews (CTCI), Algorithms and Data structure made Easy and Elements of Programming Interviews (EPI) to jump-start my interview process. This is not new to me I have changed jobs in the past and these books worked. However, I had a target of making good TC and working for a good company. Thanks to Blind to get to my goal I realized that I need to have multiple offers and that means I need to time the market. In the past, I would prepare and get one or two offers and pick the best TC. Soon I will have this feeling of disappointment that I got tricked and the company paid me too little or I wish I could negotiate better. One of my good friends recently changed job and I noticed that he went from tier 3 company to tier 1 company. I called him up to understand the job market and see if he has any tips to share. He did mention that he joined Interview Kickstart (IK) and that helped him achieve his goal. I said what!!! You need coaching for cracking an interview. That’s like madness. I am not going to spend a dime. Here I am trying to make more money and you asking me to pay money to make money. I was dumbfounded and I ignored it.
I started with my prep and started my interviews. I was asked simple questions like sort an element in an array or how would you find a path from A to B. I would jump to the solution and bam done. But most of my calls were not converting to onsite. I was not sure what went wrong. Asking the company for feedback was not futile either. I ran into my friend who suggests IK in one of the social gatherings. He inquiry about how my job prep is going and I explained that I was not doing good. I was able to come up with the solution but not getting calls to onsite. He said that you will not regret it so I said well let me give a short what’s to lose. I was skeptical and promised myself that I will back out after attending the intro lecture. I wanted to see what is it that I am missing.
Lecture one was on sorting they have lectures on all topics viz. Sorting, LinkedList, trees, recursion, Dynamic Programming, Graphs, System Design, Concurrency, Object modeling, etc. The intro call with Soham he explains what the landscape looks like. Remember you cannot win a battle if you don’t understand the landscape. Next, he goes on about how the course is structured and how to prepare for interviews. This was useful. You don’t get up one day and say I am ready. You need to practice. By practice, I do not want to say LeetCode. I actually did 250+ Leetcode problems but it was boring and now that I think about it, it was all about mugging up. I had a few topics which I never understood. Like Backtracking and Dynamic programming. Whenever I see a problem of this kind in an interview either I will recollect the solution from my memory or make a horrible attempt to solve it. And even if I did succeed I will get mess up space and time complexity. When I attended this course in person I was wowed. I quickly realized that I was doing it wrong all my life. Sunny the instructor who took the class is from FAANG. He explains that you never jump to the solution. Bcoz if you don’t understand the problem your solution is not going to work. For example, sorting ten elements in memory is different than sorting trillions of elements that may not be loaded in memory. I was hooked as we practice some more problems in class. I have tried to watch videos from Youtube and others but I have slept in between. Also, its one-way communication so if you have any doubts you have to google and then you are distracted and lost. I finally, ended up going through the course. Each course has a prep video so that you are ready for the course beforehand. You will solve some interesting problem in the class and talk about time and space complexities and then you will have homework. This solidifies your knowledge. There is a group discussion for each topic both offline and in class. This helps you understand how others are thinking about the same problem. This feels like a group activity and you learn from each other. I remember I took one month of classes that around 4 weeks so four topics were covered and then I started doing phone screens. I would do some light LeetCode as fluency of coding and speed is also important. I would time myself. Easy 10 min medium 15 min and hard ones 35 min.
Now I am seeing much higher conversion to onsite and I am so much confident. Interviews all of sudden becomes a game. I remember I was interviewing at Twilo and was able to write the whole solution in 20 min and this is a medium to a hard level problem and we used the next 20 so min discussing how will we use it in their product. This was you are not only solving the problem but taking it to the next level.
I remember in my past life I would not negotiate and accept the offer as I thought bargaining would negatively impact my offer. IK offers negotiation coaching. You want to negotiate but at the same time don’t want to be rude or look greedy. Nick is amazing and he comes from LinkedIn and he provided insights from the HR point of view which was eye-opening.
Overall, I achieved my dream of joining a good company with a good TC. I would recommend anyone to join IK and at least attend the first intro course and see for themselves.