Interviewing with Facebook — Onsite Part 1
The behavioral interview
So here you are. After getting off the phone in the earlier interview, someone at Facebook decided you are qualified enough to take a flight to one of their offices (wherever that may be). I interviewed in New York City.
The first interview is more of a “get to know you” sort of affair. They will ask you about your career leading up to this point, what sorts of projects you have collaborated on, and what you are most proud of.
Again, I didn’t get hired. So I’m not really sure if my answers struck the right chord. I wasn’t exactly pretending to be someone I’m not, and my work history is what you would expect from an independent iOS contractor — lots of fits and starts, some arguments with clients, and plenty of lessons learned.
If you know me, you know I’ve taken on some weird contracts over the years. If I’m totally honest, I should have done a better job evaluating the business goals before taking those jobs, but here I am.
What are you most proud of?
This is one of the first questions I was asked. It’s funny to me because I always answer this question the same way, and it is admittedly getting a bit worn out.
The thing I am most proud of happened six years ago when I collaborated with some folks down in New Zealand and launched a suite of apps geared toward skiers, snowboarders, and skateboarders.
I call them the Dice Apps because they come up with a random trick to try in each of those sports. Here’s some random New Zealanders playing the skier version.
Aside from the fact that this accomplishment is a bit dated (and doesn’t involve any work I’ve done for recent high touch clients), I do think it ticks whatever boxes the people at Facebook are looking for.
- It involves a collaboration with real human beings. In this case, I am talking about the graphic designer Nick Gladding and the man with the marketing expertise (as well as the following that enabled us to monetize the concept), Robett Hollis. We also collaborated with pro skier Jossi Wells.
- It involves bootstrapping. I am the one who took the initiative to build the first prototypes, contact people who have a following in the industry, and in part, organize the whole affair.
- It involves risk-taking. There was a period of time when I had to stop taking client work in order to see the project through. This briefly put me in a rough spot financially (although I’m frugal as hell, so I bounced right back).
- It involves a successful business outcome. On launch day, the apps rose to the top of the charts for the sports category. Although that status gradually evaporated, they still bring in revenue to this day.
Like I said, the only downside to the story is the relative lack of freshness. It’s getting kind of old, and if I were looking at myself from the outside, I would be asking “Okay that’s great, but what have you done for people lately?”
Tell me about company X. What was good about working there?
In my case, the interviewer asked about a one man iOS development agency I worked for three years ago. I won’t name names. If you look at my resume, you’ll know.
Deep down, I truly believe the guy I worked for was a charlatan. I think he played into his clients’ delusions of exponential App Store wealth and took them for a ride.
I worked for him because there weren’t any better opportunities at the time, and I needed more experience building apps. At least that is what I told myself.
At one point in the interview, I just straight up said I believe it was a mistake to work for the guy.
But if there is any positive spin you could put on this, I would say I got to tackle a lot of different projects in a very short period of time.
Some of his clients were totally off their rocker, believing they were going to invent the next Facebook competitor. And so off we went for like a month and a half, building a Facebook clone.
I don’t think you would get that sort of experience working for a big company. You are usually slotted into a highly specialized role.
In my case, I was responsible for setting up AWS, designing a relational database for a social network, building a service layer, and building the iOS app. Most other companies I’ve worked for hire a specialist for each of those pieces. But we were a scrappy operation, and I got to learn about it all.
I eventually left Company X after I had built up enough cash reserves to coast through some period of unemployment. The boss man was consistently late on payments, so all I had to do was say, “Yeah Bill (not his real name), I’m gonna have to stop working until I get your next check.”
Somewhere in the interview, the interviewer asked why I left.
If you ask me, this is arguably where I performed the worst in the behavioral interview. I was uncomfortable about the whole affair, and I was trying to hide how I really feel, for fear of coming off too negative.
I would say do less of what I did. Just blurt it out. It’s okay. These are software people. They get your struggles.
Even if an employment experience was bad for some reason, there’s always a silver lining to it. I entered that job as a lowly junior developer and left as a mid-level architect. I learned the how and why of core design patterns in iOS, knowledge I still use to this day.
Over the course of your career, you will go through a number of mindset shifts (as I have recently). Each of them will lead you to view your past experiences through a different lens. You might feel ashamed of your past jobs today, but the way you view them will change over time.
You got this far. Just tell your story as you see it.
I really don’t think I failed on the behavioral. I think it came down to my performance in the system design and coding interviews, which I will discuss throughout the rest of the series.
Next up, the very first coding challenge. Get ready to dive deep into Swift Iterators.