I read this article a few days ago and wished that I could tell myself of more than a year ago what I am about to tell right now. Back then, I was hopelessly applying for jobs and got a few interviews. However, I failed all because of one mistake: I was not able to talk about my projects.
Elon Musk asks this simple interview question to tell when an applicant is lying
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk asks job applicants to tell him about the most difficult problems they faced. This…
I brought this up because I have been helping a few friends who are currently seeking opportunities in tech. Many of them could not elaborate on the projects listed on their resumes when we were having mock behavioral interviews. Some others talked about what they did on the projects, but with very little interest and passion.
True passion matters…
At some point, I did try to talk passionately about the projects that I listed on my resume. Before the interviews, I even prepared a whole story for each of my projects, but still, it was very hard for me to even practice by myself. The reason was that they were not my true stories. Yes, I did join those projects, but my passion did not.
Failing many interviews helped me realize what I was lacking: passion, motivation, curiosity, and dedication. I forced myself to remove all those projects off my resume and started creating from the beginning. My passion for tech began with a naive personal website written in React and NodeJS with a bunch of bugs, but I was very proud of myself. There was not much about such a simple application that only contains a gallery, but I successfully brought it up in the most passionate fashion during my interview with Facebook.
How? Because it was my true story filled with my own passion, motivation, curiosity, and dedication.
Talking in-depth about projects is hard without passion
Almost in any interviews that I experienced, I was asked a simple question:
What were the most difficult problems you faced and how did you solve them?
If someone asked me this question one year ago, I would have gone one level and then got stuck. Last time when I interviewed with Google for an Intern position, the same question was brought up on the Hackathon-Winning project listed on my resume. Here was my answer:
“Maybe it was the new technology that got in the way of the development. I found it very hard to get started in React, but eventually, I was able to build many front-end UI components that look beautiful and intuitive.”
Then, the interviewer replied in a surprising tone:
Well, I understood that he was surprised not because my answer was so “succinct” but rather because he was expecting more from such a Hackathon-Winning project. I knew that I did not make it and learned a great lesson. Right after that interview, I decided to remove that Hackathon-Winning project and some other similar items from my resume and start learning to create new projects from the beginning. I said to myself: “Let’s do it. You got this!”
Passion creates stories
One year after that interview, I had an interview with Facebook for a full-time Software Engineer position. My resume was refreshed with a bunch of new projects that I worked my ass off in the last year. This time, no Hackathon-Winning project, no internship, only a few freelance jobs in which I helped my friends create websites and some of the best projects in which I contributed a lot. I also gave a very nice title for each of those projects.
“Same strategy, different stories.”
My preparation for behavioral interviews was the same as before: I wrote a story for each of my listed projects. But this time, I found confidence while talking about my projects. It was like telling stories of all the hard work that came from my true inner passion for technology.
This time, I also got a similar question on my first listed project:
“What were the most difficult problems you faced and how did you solve them?”
My answer was improved a lot from last year:
“For this project, I was the one working on the back-end of this system. I created the cloud functions in [LanguageA] and deployed them as API endpoints on [CloudServerB]. My first problem was that [LanguageA] was mainly created for research purpose and designed for notebook interface, so it lacks documentation and community discussions for programming. However, as our project requires a lot of high-level computations and speed optimization, we need to use [LanguageA] to write symbolic expressions and utilize its parallel-processing feature. To tackle this challenge, I read carefully every single detail in the documentation and even contacted the customer support for helps of my specific use case. Eventually, I was able to run, test, and even deploy my back-end [algorithmC] successfully. But now, there arised some other problem…”
Yes, you can feel it, the passion. I could even elaborate more on each specific detail of my problem and how I tackled each of them simply because I love what I do.
“You have passion when you start loving what you do.”
Passion does not come by nature
When I started my first project after removing all the old projects from my resume, it was very hard for me to pick up even one line of code. However, what motivated me was this simple self-centered idea:
“Why don’t I create a website to tell my own stories and have people asking me questions? I can put a lot of great memes that I made in there!”
This crazy idea led me to the next question:
“Where should I get started?”
At that time, I heard a lot about this great web framework React, so let’s stick with that. I made tiny steps. I kicked off by following the React guidelines to create a sample application, and after a few days, I understood the new concepts. It was time for me to make my hands dirty by altering the code and seeing how it worked. I changed the code little by little and finally got something running as expected. From then, for each of the arising problem, I googled and always found an answer.
The result was pleasant. I was able to manually deploy my code on an AWS EC2 server and access it from any browser. It was crazy, and I love it.
Since then, I have created a lot of web applications and learned a lot too. At the time that I applied to Facebook, my resume was packed up with a lot of Frontend, Backend, and DevOps technologies and projects.
One year was not a long way, but there were a lot of stories to tell.
Well, I hope that this helps you to unlock your passion for tech. I will share other great interview tips in the next parts of the series.