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The Unemployed Life: Anticipating the First Phone Interview

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Well, doing some research (which I should have done BEFORE I submitted my CV), indicates my upcoming interview is destined to be a fail. They seem to be intent on asking CS-type questions, like data structures & algorithms, Big-O stuff...things to which I've never really been exposed, not having gone through a CS curriculum.

I'm sure this sort of stuff is great for learning and pedantry, but the reality is in 15 years of real-world business coding I've never had a need to delve that deeply into it.

And this...this is why I hate interviewing. I'm now considering just nipping it in the bud at the start of the interview and saying "Listen, if you're going to quiz me on stuff I would have studied in CS, let's just skip it and call it a day; it's not in my background". It may be a better option than the embarrassment I will suffer at saying "I have no idea" to a bunch of theoretical interview questions.

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Shane Hudson Icon

14 May 2011 - 07:07 AM
Well, why not. I am sure the interviewer will understand if you say "I have 15 years experience in industry, but I have not done CS". They would ask you what you HAVE done and I am sure you can impress them enough. I don't know what job it is, but it is unlikely you will need to know too much that you do not already know or cannot learn on the job.
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modi123_1 Icon

14 May 2011 - 10:41 AM
I say go with the interview - just prepare some slight of hand tricks to direct the conversation away, or do a quick wiki search on some basic CS topics - get an understanding and roll with it. Explain though you never had to apply the concepts in a direct way. I am curious if this is their way of weeding out candidates or something.

Still - go for the interview. Push your skills and your body of work, 'on time and under budget', up time, and all that jazz. Keep throwing bones out there that you are more than willing to spend time getting up to speed on the current theory, but as now your history is results and action orientated.
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GeekBoy Icon

14 May 2011 - 02:32 PM

modi123_1, on 14 May 2011 - 11:41 AM, said:

I say go with the interview - just prepare some slight of hand tricks to direct the conversation away, or do a quick wiki search on some basic CS topics - get an understanding and roll with it. Explain though you never had to apply the concepts in a direct way. I am curious if this is their way of weeding out candidates or something.

Still - go for the interview. Push your skills and your body of work, 'on time and under budget', up time, and all that jazz. Keep throwing bones out there that you are more than willing to spend time getting up to speed on the current theory, but as now your history is results and action orientated.



"Wiki'ing some basic CS topics" is not going to give him the ability to answer any of their questions. Understanding algorithm analysis takes thorough studying to be able to understand it and apply it. Even one semester at a university only gives you a basic understanding. With his 15 years experience he says he has, they will expect a lot more out of him than some wiki knowledge.
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JackOfAllTrades Icon

14 May 2011 - 03:40 PM
GeekBoy, yeah that's pretty much what I believe. Yeah, I can study up on some stuff but I'm no BS artist, nor do I want to be. I know what I know, which is a considerable amount about a wide variety of topics; it just doesn't extend into theory.

Well, we'll see how it goes, but I'm not hopeful based on what I've read. I've started pinging the recruiters. It may be in my best interest to seek out contract stuff for a while, maybe in C#, such that I can get more of a mastery of that. Seems there are a great deal more jobs out there in that realm than the C/C++ on Linux that I've been doing. Lots of ASP.NET too, which is not my forté, even though I have done some basic stuff with it (a REST-based WCF service, for example).
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GeekBoy Icon

14 May 2011 - 07:40 PM

JackOfAllTrades, on 14 May 2011 - 04:40 PM, said:

GeekBoy, yeah that's pretty much what I believe. Yeah, I can study up on some stuff but I'm no BS artist, nor do I want to be. I know what I know, which is a considerable amount about a wide variety of topics; it just doesn't extend into theory.

Well, we'll see how it goes, but I'm not hopeful based on what I've read. I've started pinging the recruiters. It may be in my best interest to seek out contract stuff for a while, maybe in C#, such that I can get more of a mastery of that. Seems there are a great deal more jobs out there in that realm than the C/C++ on Linux that I've been doing. Lots of ASP.NET too, which is not my forté, even though I have done some basic stuff with it (a REST-based WCF service, for example).



It also depends on where you apply. If you go to some place like Google, or Microsoft, where software is their core business, then you probably have no choice than to have that CS background. Even those Bachelor in Game Development from places like Full Sail University are not all that desirable, even for those who only want to work for gaming companies. A CS graduate would get picked over them.

Less technical places such was Walmart, for example, see everyone the same whether you are in Information Systems, or Computer Science. And that is why I work never would work for a place like Walmart; to be lumped together with someone who only had a very basic course on programming and zero on science and math.

You may want to consider going back to school. Have any of you driven by places such as Intel and others at 5PM? Looks like a Bombay traffic jamb. That is who you are competing against. Lower paid workers who the US government allows to come in by the thousands each year with no legitimate reason other than to save companies money.
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Martyr2 Icon

15 May 2011 - 09:02 AM
I have attended interviews where they ask some of that CS stuff. While I can go on for miles and miles about such things, I typically find they are just looking for familiarity rather than you sitting down and hand coding a merge sort with a certain worst case timing. If they are skilled, they will also know that it often takes a host of tools to write and debug something properly... something you can't do by hand right there in front of them.

I would go through with the interview and just talk about what you know. You may not get it but the fact that you get some exposure to how the interview is conducted will help ease nerves for that job you really are perfect for. You have to practice interviewing and this is the best way to do it.

I would still take modi's advice and go get familiar with the topics. At least that way you can say to them "Hey, I am familiar with the topic, but I just don't use it often." which is much better than a simple "I don't know" and not even try.

You can still get the basics down with a few days of studying. Read some of our data structure blogs we have written over the years. Read my entry on skip lists. Heck, you may never use it but if they ask for example of a data structure you can say a skip list and at least tell them how it works in theory.

The worst thing you can do is simply go in there saying to them that you are not experienced at all in CS. That will right you off as not even trying when you could have tried and possibly they saying "This guy tries and has some great work, he will just need to be polished up with some training."

:)
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r.stiltskin Icon

17 May 2011 - 02:55 PM

GeekBoy, on 14 May 2011 - 09:40 PM, said:

Have any of you driven by places such as Intel and others at 5PM? Looks like a Bombay traffic jamb. That is who you are competing against. Lower paid workers who the US government allows to come in by the thousands each year with no legitimate reason other than to save companies money.

That's a pretty fuckin' bigoted remark. If "they" have the incentive to study & better themselves they shouldn't be demonized for it. As long as they're not like many students I see who think they deserve to be rewarded just for warming a chair.

All the best Jack. For what it's worth, there's been a flurry of stories in the media recently applauding a recent uptick in tech hiring, and claims that it's expected to continue through the rest of the year. I hope your experience bears that out.
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macosxnerd101 Icon

18 May 2011 - 04:56 AM
You probably will just need to know the basics like Linked Lists, stacks, queues, a little about trees and graphs, some about sets and maps, Big-O, and some basic searching and sorting. I doubt you'll be asked about more advanced data structures like an AVL tree or a union-find. If you read up on KYA's data structure adventure series for C++ and his Big-O tutorials, you should probably be good. Hope the interview goes well. :)
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JackOfAllTrades Icon

02 June 2011 - 09:49 AM
Followup: I blew off this interview out of fear. Sad but true.
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