My First Technical Interview

We’re not in Kansas anymore

Photo from #WOCinTech Chat

Hi everyone! Hope you’re well. Like I mentioned my last post, I had an interview about 2 weeks ago for a data analyst internship position at a startup company. It was a fun and interesting experience that I thought would be worth sharing. This post is especially for those interested in tech/data science and wondering what this looks like from a first hand account. Note: this will be different for every position, company, and experience level so my experience is not a one size fits all.

Phase 1: Online Application

I was perusing Indeed one day to look at data related positions to see if anything has changed in terms of what skills employers looked for. There was this one company called Bright* that stood it out a bit. It dealt with mental wellness and helping people through challenges related to work, stress, relationships, and self-esteem. I liked the fact that they created a community and platform to make something like this free and accessible to a wide range of people beyond those who can afford a wellness coach. (Cough $$$ Cough). The application on the website asked for a resume, areas I’d like to tackle and explore, and my experience with data analysis. I provided what they asked for and waited. *Bright is not the actual company name. Changed for blog post.

Phase 2: Virtual Interview

A day later I got contacted by Bright’s CTO who wanted to set up an interview through Skype for the following week. I was psyched! In my previous encounter job hunting for data science roles I either heard nothing back(jerks) or got rejected out right. We set up for a Tuesday morning. I was excited and that weekend felt soooooo long. Tuesday arrived and our interview started. I was asked how I found Bright, my experience with data analysis, and questions about R. He had limited knowledge of it. I would have gasped if it were not professional. So I told him how I found the role on Indeed, a previous internship where I primarily used Google Analytics, and the wonderful world of R. I told him how I started with DataCamp over a year ago, the various packages it has, the basic projects I did, and projects I planned on doing.

The interview was relaxed and pretty free flowing which I enjoyed. I in turn asked about his previous role, size of the team, the importance of growth at Bright, and compensation. He answered well. When the interview was ending he let me know that he might me send me a short technical assignment if they decide to move with my application. And so again I waited.

Phase 3 :Technical Application

Two days later I got an email from the Jack the CTO. They liked me and wanted to proceed with a short assignment. I got a CSV file of dummy data that’s based on their real data for their users that signed up during the month of April. I got questions related to user acquisition, user retention, how I would visualize my findings, and other questions I might find interesting to ask and maybe explore. I thought finally! This is the the stuff I heard and read about from all my tech friends. This is real! This is my shot!…..Ahem. I was pumped to say the least.

I spent day 1 just thinking over all the questions and what tools I might want to use to solve this. I spent day 2 and 3 working on it. I loved the experience because it allowed me to learn and experiment with a few new packages and work with a data type that I haven’t before. Considering that I was to turn this in to a non-R user, I also thought it to be appropriate to learn how to create a R Notebook. An R Notebook is a special kind of file where all my code and comments can exist in one place. I can run chunks of code at a time for quick experimentation and make sure things run smoothly. The coolest part is that I can export my results as a Word document, PDF file, or even a semi interactive webpage. If you’re coming from the Python world, this would be the equivalent to the Jupyter Notebook.

As fun as it was, it was a bit tiring as well. Bugs, errors, you name it. Google and Stack Overflow became my BFFs that weekend. Also I took many a break so I don’t rattle my brain for hours on end. Once, after taking a few hours off before I went to bed I suddenly had an idea I wanted to try. And lo, the bug I had long rebuked removed itself from my sight. The answer I had searched high and low for had made it self known. I raised my hands in jubilation and then my eyes closed in weariness.

Final Round: In Person Interview

A day after I turned in my technical assignment I got this in my inbox:

“Hi Kerry,

We’d like to invite you in for a final round of in-person interviews at our office in Brooklyn. I know it’s short notice, but would you have availability tomorrow afternoon or Thursday between 3–4:30pm to meet?

It shouldn’t take more than 1.5 hours. You’d be meeting with myself and at least one other team member. I’ll focus more on a follow up to your submitted assignment. And meeting with another team member will offer an opportunity to meet more of the team and would most revolve around more general interview and data types of questions.

Let me know if there’s a time that works! Happy to try to reschedule if neither does.”

I was excited! And nervous. I never made it this far before. I was suddenly concerned about how much I actually knew. What if they asked me a question I didn’t know the answer to? What if they ask me what my weaknesses were?(I suddenly felt like the answer was everything). Thankfully one of my best friends called me when I gave her the news and she got me to relax. She reminded me that I made it this far. I knew what I was doing and I just have to get in there. She was right. I took 1 day to relax so I wouldn’t overthink anything or doubt myself while I did more research on Bright. I wanted to ask them GOOD questions in return. I also looked up general interview questions because it had been quite a while since I had one. I was going in prepared.

Thursday arrived. I had all my questions ready and written down. I looked over my project so that I might be able to answer how to improve things. Today was the day I crush the interview and claimed that internship. NOTHING WAS GOING TO STAND IN THE WAY OF GREATNESS!!!!

…….Except the 2 train. Today was the day it decided it would get stuck in train traffic on my way to the interview. TWICE!! If there was ever a fml moment it was that day. Oh 2 train, why did you not want me to be great? Thankfully the stop I was stuck on had wifi so I was able to email Jack and give him a heads up.

I finally arrived. A little tired from running but still confident. Jack being the understanding guy that he was offered me water and a few minutes to breathe before we began. After a little respite we moved into the interviewing room. Again, the interview felt conversational so I didn’t really feel nervous or stiff. He pulled out his laptop and asked me about the assignment. I told him honestly while a little challenging it was fun. I found a few things interesting and concerning in regards to sign ups and retention. When asked about possible solutions I suggested content specified for Wednesdays when users dropped off dramatically and possibly begin tagging content so that it can be tracked and analyzed for the future. I also suggested looking into sentiment analysis so that we can possibly evaluate users feedback to see if users are becoming less enthusiastic and possibly needs to be engaged personally to stay on board. He was impressed by R’s flexibility and power of the R Notebook to remove code for non-technical or non R users so that you can only see the results of the report.

I asked Jack about what skills he learned on his last job that helps him in his current role and what he’s learned about himself since working at bright. He said he’s truly grown into a leading and management role and truly wants to invest in the growth and the learning of his team. He’s also more aware that he is human and that he doesn’t have to deal with the unhealthy 80 hour work week his previous role entailed(Wowzers!). He dealt with it because he was passionate about his work in the beginning but it eventually began to wear away at him.

It was around this point that the co-CEO had entered her room for her part of the interview. Mary was filled with positive energy from the moment she stepped foot inside and easily took over. She asked me about what led me to Bright. I told of my experience job hunting and how I felt towards the end. I thought her company was brilliant because it focused on sms (text messaging) which was a bit rare and that in managed to scale a good feeling and community support through it. I thought working there would be my chance to help people through tech, a lifelong goal of mine. She responded positively to that. Our conversation almost felt like 2 friends just chatting or getting to know each other. She told me about how her previous role gave her the skills to start this one. It was also the place she met her co-founder and got the idea in the first place. I told her about the CodeNewbie community, community management, sentiment analysis, traits used to describe me, and more. It was fun.

Jack then reentered the room to discuss any last questions I may have. We then walked to the elevator where he told me I’ll hear the big news next week. I bid Jack adieu and left the building with confidence.

Actual image of me walking out of Bright’s building

The Results!

After many days of anxious waiting I finally got an email back. I….. didn’t get it. I was miffed to say the least. Jack noted that my passion to learn data science and my communication skills were very apparent. I asked about any particular weaknesses or things that lead to the other candidate. My R skills were fine. He did note tools like MySQL, Google Analytics, and Tableau might be things to look into. He also noted while not listed, they were interested in exploring machine learning applications. I have some comments.

It is true I don’t have much experience with databases. Outside of a SQLite one I have installed on my computer. While it has been a while, I already have experience with GA and R covers anything I need in regards to visualization. Also, machine learning is not usually a skill needed or asked for data analyst roles. Could be wrong of course but to each their own.

Despite the end result I’m happy that I went through this process. I now have first hand experience going through a tech interview process. I learned a ton going through the short assignment. I have areas that I’m curious about learning on my own such as databases, sentiment analysis, APIs, and more. Plus on a positive note, I made it to the final round out of 500 applicants. To me that means I’m certainly on the right path. I’m going to keep going and share with you all when I finally land my first role. In the meantime, I hit the books.

My next post will be about the technical assignment that was given to me. You’ll see how I went through answering business questions for a real company and the neat R packages I used to answer them. Hope you’re ready!

If you enjoyed this read and ready for my next post hit the recommend button.

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