In this episode, we talk about what you need to be prepared for your job interview with Randall Kanna, author, speaker, and Lead Product Engineer at Trim. Randall talks about being discouraged from majoring in computer science, finding her way back to a career path in tech, and all of the things she learned about getting hired for technical roles along the way.
[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today, we’re talking about what do you need to be prepared for your job interview with Randall Kanna, Author, Speaker, and Lead Product Engineer at Trim.
[00:00:21] RK: The reason that I’ve really dug into technical interviewing and how to do well and stand out is because I didn’t have those resources when I was trying to get my first job, and I knew how painful it was.
[00:00:31] SY: Randall talks about being discouraged from majoring in computer science, finding her way back to a career path in tech, and all the things she learned about getting hired for technical roles along the way after this.
[00:00:55] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:00:56] RK: Thanks so much for having me. I'm so excited.
[00:00:59] SY: So Randall, before we get into some of your awesome advice and life hacks about interviewing for coding jobs, I want to get to know you a little bit. Tell us about what your coding journey looked like.
[00:01:10] RK: Yeah. My coding journey was a bit of a disaster.
[00:01:13] SY: Oh, no! Okay. That means it’s going to be a great story. So not great for you, but great for us. So go.
[00:01:20] RK: Yeah, sort of a very, very long path. I started coding when I was 12 on Neopets, Myspace. And that was kind of the very beginning when I was really excited about it and could do almost next to nothing. I was doing little like pet pages on Neopets or a guild. But after that, I was told not to major in computer science in college.
[00:01:43] SY: Whoa! Why?
[00:01:44] RK: Because it was a very male-dominated field. And I was told that I would be uncomfortable in the major. It was very impacted with men and I wouldn’t be treated well. Yeah. All those things that I hope aren’t said anymore, but probably still happen.
[00:01:58] SY: And who told you that, by the way? Where did that advice come from?
[00:02:00] RK: It was actually a college counselor.
[00:02:03] SY: Really? I hate when that happens. Those sort of people who are supposed to encourage you and push you. That’s a shame.
[00:02:11] RK: Yeah. I was told to go into communications instead or history, something like that, that was a little more female friendly. And I actually did. I got a mass communications degree and then I graduated and I couldn’t get a job anywhere.
[00:02:26] SY: I was going to ask when the counselor said communications, if they talked about the careers that would come from that because I have a feeling that’s probably a little bit harder.
[00:02:36] RK: Yeah, you would think.
[00:02:38] SY: Yeah.
[00:02:39] RK: It was very much like you could be maybe a newscaster or writer or you could go work at a political campaign. And I took that advice, which was a mistake, got that degree, and then graduated, couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t even get really an interview. I could get a call back. And it was a very depressing time because I had just graduated and I was ready to spread my wings to get out in the world and then I could not afford to move out, pay rent. And then about a year after that of kind of trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I basically got this email from my aunt and it was about coding bootcamps. And I was like, “Oh, this looks so dumb. This looks like some kind of magic fix for things. I’m sure this isn’t like an actual thing.” And then I kept doing my research and it kept coming back and coming back and eventually I just kind of started applying for coding bootcamps, and I guess, here I am.
[00:03:35] SY: I’m wondering when you were applying the jobs, and I remember going through that part of my life too when I graduated college, it was so hard to find that first job, oh my goodness! I was an English and Psychology major. So it was super depressing, really frustrating. Obviously, it worked out now, but back then it was really painful. I’m wondering, did you, at that point, regret not doing the computer science degree or were you still kind of hopeful and felt like you’d done the right thing?
[00:04:02] RK: I did regret it. I still feel like it’s just a certain amount of legitimacy that has provided people with a CS degree that I don’t have. And gosh, that was, I think, seven years ago, maybe eight now. And every job that I applied to had, “You must have a computer science degree. Don’t even bother applying if you don’t have a computer science degree.” And thankfully, that has changed quite a bit where that’s no longer really an acceptable thing to require, but back then it was very demoralizing. And I just thought, “Oh my gosh, I just paid money I didn’t have.” I had to borrow money. And I spent so much living there in the city. Back then, it was kind of the peak of housing. I was in a 12-person house sharing a room with someone for like 1250.
[00:04:48] SY: Whoa! Wait, you paid 1250 to share a room in a house of 12 people?
[00:04:52] RK: Yes.
[00:04:53] SY: Oh my goodness!
[00:04:57] RK: And that was the best thing that I could find as well.
[00:04:59] SY: Wow! Where was this?
[00:05:01] RK: It was in San Francisco in Chinatown. It was amazing. And it was such an incredible experience, but I think back, and I’m like, “I was in a bunk bed where the mattress was like three inches thick for months.”
[00:05:13] SY: Yeah.
[00:05:13] RK: “How did I do that?”
[00:05:15] SY: Yeah. So I’m wondering, going back to that visit with the career counselor and they’re telling you that, “Maybe you should consider communications instead,” what was going through your mind? What were you thinking as you were hearing this?
[00:05:32] RK: I was very sheltered growing up. So I definitely just thought, “Okay, I should take this advice. This person knows better than me.” I don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of men that are not going to be so polite in a computer science major. So there really wasn’t a second kind of thought in my head and I thought, “Okay, well, you know what? If it’s not a career for women, I’ll just kind of move on.” And it was definitely a really tough time because of that when I graduated because I had no skills to get a job.
[00:05:57] SY: When you were pursuing that communications degree, did you keep up with coding at all? Were you doing anything for fun or on the side while you were in school?
[00:06:07] RK: A little bit. I actually worked at a political campaign and I was kind of working with data there. I do a little bit of like data analysis. I was learning things like Joomla. This was a long time ago. I’m 32.
[00:06:18] SY: Yeah.
[00:06:30] SY: So tell me about the decision to do the bootcamp because you kind of have two opposing pieces of advice, right? You got the college counselor who a couple of years ago was telling you this is a scary place for women and you’re not for you and then you have your family kind of encouraging you. What made you decide to ignore that college counselor and just do it anyway?
[00:06:54] RK: It’s actually my mom. She’s always been just, “You have to go for it and get out there and chase what you want.” And she helped me with the money and I borrowed money from my parents. I took out a big loan from kind of a predatory company, but she was just so supportive and she was just like, “No, we can make this happen for you.” It was definitely like rough financial times for me and my family. But as soon as I got that first job, I started paying them back and helped pay out as much as I could. And yeah, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have done it, even my other family members were kind of like, “No, keep trying to get a job. That’s silly, coding bootcamps. It’s ridiculous. Save up. You can go in five years.” And my mom was like, “No, she cannot do that. She needs to go now.”
[00:07:37] SY: Go mom! I love this. Good for her. That’s awesome.
[00:07:41] RK: Yeah. Yeah. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be on this path.
[00:07:43] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Were you nervous going into bootcamp? Again, having that kind of context from your counselor, were you worried about what your experience was going to be like?
[00:07:52] RK: Oh, yeah. The first day of my coding bootcamp, I had a lot of fears because I had just spent money I didn’t have. I was about 13 grand plus rent in the city and food and all. And the very first day I paired with someone and it made me cry.
[00:08:08] SY: Oh, no! What? Wait. Why?
[00:08:11] RK: It was just not a good pairing experience. Getting used to pairing in general, hard for everybody. He wasn’t too much at fault, but he basically said, “Do you even know what a loop is?”
[00:08:20] SY: Oh boy. What was he, a student also?
[00:08:22] RK: He was also a student.
[00:08:23] SY: What? Oh, come on.
[00:08:24] RK: I just went home and I cried and I cried and I called my mom and I’m like, “oh my gosh, that college counselor was right. This is not a welcoming field.” And there was a lot of crying. I would run to the bathroom because I’ve never cried in front of anybody and didn’t want to start then. So I would run into the bathroom and I would just pretend to all is well when I came back and acted like nothing happened, but it was definitely some very rough times. It was a hard place to be as a woman back then in the tech, it still is for women, for many people, most people, unfortunately. But thankfully, it’s getting better. It’s been a lot better in the last five years for me.
[00:08:58] SY: So in that bootcamp, the negative experiences that you went through and the things that made you cry, did you feel like that was a gender thing or was that just because it’s coding, it’s a new skill, it’s hard? How much of that do you attribute to gender and that sort of thing and how much of it is just really hard thing to learn?
[00:09:19] RK: The ones that were crying or going home or being kicked out, mostly women. It was really hard. I think I had one man say at the time that he had a not so great experience, but I was very much like, “Wow! Am I alone in this?” And women shared that it was also really hard for them. And at the time, coding bootcamps were very intense. They were compared to trying to get a quick degree in Stanford and getting out and they were very, very scary. They ask people to leave all the time. So it was a very competitive place to be.
[00:09:51] SY: What did the program actually look like? What kinds of tools, resources were there? What was the day-to-day like? Paint us a picture of that.
[00:09:59] RK: It was about a 12-week program where the first four weeks were remote, which was amazing because it kind of gave you a little introduction to get used to things. That was very nice. And pre-work even before that, which was incredible, and then eight weeks onsite. And then at the very end, you had an extra bonus week for career week where there was like one day to go over coding algorithms. I kid you not, one day.
[00:10:23] SY: Wow! Oh my goodness!
[00:10:24] RK: Yeah, it was a little wild and it was all in Rails as well, at a time in the market when everything was moving away from Rails. So I actually had to end up teaching myself Ember.js and Node, kind of right about the time when I was graduating because I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get a job because those skills weren’t as marketable anymore.
[00:10:41] SY: What year was this?
[00:10:43] RK: Gosh, this was 2014 and I graduated I think in 2015, like the beginning of the year.
[00:10:48] SY: When you were entering the job market and you’re interviewing for jobs, did you find that it was those skills that ended up coming in handy? Or was it the things you learned in the bootcamp?
[00:10:58] RK: It was definitely the things that I learned prior to the bootcamp in terms of interviewing well, working on a resume really well, making it stand out, and not being afraid, just kind of going forward because my first job was I taught myself Ember.js just for one job interview, which I don’t recommend.
[00:11:17] SY: Oh, that’s tough.
[00:11:19] RK: Yeah. Because it was really hard to get a job at that point and kind of dark times.
[00:11:24] SY: And was this something that you did on your own or did your cohort, did your classmates help each other learning these new skills? Or was that something you did solo?
[00:11:34] RK: It was something I did solo. I was actually the first person to get a job out of my cohort.
[00:11:38] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:11:38] RK: I got a job after two weeks.
[00:11:40] SY: That’s great. Yeah.
[00:11:41] RK: I was really, really happy because I was about where I was going to have to move home. I ended up moving home for about four days and then kind of got two offers very quickly. I was able to move back to the city. I love the city. It was San Francisco. And I would have been so devastated if I couldn’t do that. So the reason that I’ve really dug into technical interviewing and how to do well and stand out is because I didn’t have those resources when I was trying to get my first job, and I knew how painful it was.
[00:12:10] SY: Tell me about your experience getting those two jobs.
[00:12:13] RK: I think the biggest thing that I did was really optimizing my LinkedIn profile. I was ranking for LinkedIn keywords and the title was updated and then I was connecting with people. And actually, the offer that I ended up taking was they found me on LinkedIn and they reached out to me about a job and they noticed that I had just graduated from a bootcamp. So I really spent so much time working on my resume and my presence and writing blog posts and trying to be really active so people could actually find me because I really believe there’s only so many jobs you can apply to in a given day. But if you have people reaching out to you, that’s kind of an unlimited amount of potential and potential luck that can happen. So they actually reached out to me, which was incredible. And then the other job was something that I had applied for and I didn’t end up taking it. And I’m really glad I didn’t. It was for a large company. And I was really happy I went with a small startup and that they had reached out to me and everything worked out. But definitely the biggest thing was just really trying to kind of stand out in other ways and then kind of going that extra mile with the interview because they gave me a coding take home. And I taught myself Ember.js over the weekend and two days and I didn’t sleep. And then I took that to the job interview and I basically said, “This is how serious I am about this company. I taught myself this. Here’s what I built.” And it wasn’t even really working that well. It actually broke away through the internet.
[00:13:32] SY: Oh, no!
[00:13:33] RK: Very sad, but I ended up getting that offer and ended up staying at that company for several years and through acquisitions and through promotions.
[00:13:45] SY: I think you’re definitely right. There’s only so many jobs you can apply to, but it’s how do you manage your time and I guess manage your energy in terms of, obviously the longer the job process takes, the more fatigued you are, the more frustrating it is, the harder it is to keep believing in yourself.
[00:14:06] RK: Definitely.
[00:14:06] SY: It takes such an emotional toll on you when you’re going through that process. So when you were starting your job search journey, how did you figure out how to manage your time and energy? How much time did you spend straight applying? And then how did you decide, “Instead of applying to this job, I’m going to write this blog post”? Which is a little bit riskier, right? Because you don’t know if anyone’s going to ever see it. It’s not as quantifiable in terms of the return on your time. So when you were kind of planning for that job search, how did you decide how to best manage your time and your energy?
[00:14:47] RK: I gave myself a rule actually that I wouldn’t do anything at night and I wouldn’t do anything on the weekends after like a certain hour. And during the week, I would apply and I try to make things happen, but I’d really just take that break because I couldn’t handle that. It was a lot. I just went through this really intense program and it was extremely stressful where you’re there basically Monday through Saturday and most people went on Sundays as well. So it was just coding nonstop. And then before that, even at the coding bootcamp, I taught myself for 10 months. So kind of all this whole time during the coding bootcamp, I was optimizing these things. I was really working on my resume. I was really working on my LinkedIn profile and my Twitter account. And I had like 200 followers. I wasn’t doing a lot there, but blog posts, things like that. And then when I graduated, I definitely just had some kind of base foundation built up that I was able to find a job quickly. But I have to say the biggest motivator there was that I had no money. I had no job and I didn’t want to go home and be a burden on my family and I wanted to be able to contribute and help my parents out instead of going home. So that was a big motivator for me. Sometimes fear is the biggest motivator and that really kept me going because I wanted to be able to stay in the city. I wanted to start paying loans back. I wanted to pay my parents back. I wanted to go and work at a big tech company instead of kind of going back and then I knew people at the coding bootcamp who had graduated and hadn’t gotten a job for like a year or two after or they ended up never getting a job. So for me, it was like a do-or-die thing. I had to get a job or I was going to be in big trouble.
[00:16:17] SY: Yeah. How did you learn how to do these things when it comes to optimizing your keywords on LinkedIn and your resume and blogging and all these different things that you did to make yourself a more desirable candidate? How do you know how to do those things in the first place?
[00:16:34] RK: I have to say the communications degree helped a little bit there.
[00:16:37] SY: Hey, there we go. There we go.
[00:16:39] RK: Yeah, it did come in handy. Yeah, a little bit, all that money. Yeah. A little bit, it did come in handy. In terms of presentation, I would show at my interview, I was able to present myself well as hardworking. And my mom has worked in PR and branding for years. So she was able to help me with my resume.
[00:16:56] SY: Nice.
[00:16:57] RK: And also political campaigns I had been working on my LinkedIn profile. And I thought it was really exciting to have a great LinkedIn profile. So kind of the things that I’ve picked up along the way that my mom had helped me with, and I realized that I didn’t have the technical skills. I mean, for instance, when I interviewed with Google at the very beginning, they sent me a huge packet of things that I would need to know to interview at Google. And it would have taken like six months to get through that packet.
[00:17:24] SY: Wow!
[00:17:25] RK: I don’t know how they thought anyone could ever get through that, but they sent me that and I realized, “Oh my gosh. Well, all these companies that I was interviewing at, they were all LeetCode.” They were all very like, “Pass this hacker rank challenge or we won’t even take your interview,” kind of thing. I didn’t have that. So I needed to figure out other ways that I could stand out and kind of use my background there. And I guess, thank goodness, I had the communications degree because I was able to work on my resume and my LinkedIn profile and write a good blog post and present myself really well and show that I was kind of a self-starter because I just didn’t have the technical skills to get the job.
[00:18:21] SY: Of the things you did to make yourself a desirable candidate, all the communications type stuff, what do you feel was most effective? And what did you try that maybe didn’t really do very much in terms of helping you get a job?
[00:18:37] RK: Yeah, definitely the LinkedIn profile. That was the best thing that I did in getting a job because I still have companies reach out to me every day because I sit and optimize my LinkedIn profile. And it’s so much better than having to apply somewhere. I would say the blog posts didn’t do a lot. They definitely helped when I was at the actual interview because I was able to use them as like, “Hey, look at this, I’m a self-starter. I taught myself this. I’ve learned this.” I would say the biggest thing was not applying earlier because I spent nine or ten months teaching myself how to code. And I wish that I had been more confident and just went for a job instead of going to a coding bootcamp and going through this whole thing. And if I had just had that kind of confidence, I could have saved myself a lot of money, but I thought I’m still not ready. I’m still not ready. I need kind of that proof, but really, you just need to kind of put yourself out there and start applying to jobs, which I wish that I did.
[00:19:27] SY: So when you are talking to people these days and giving them recommendations on what to do to help them apply for jobs, is the focus mostly on that LinkedIn profile then? Do you feel like that’s where they get the best bang for their buck?
[00:19:41] RK: Definitely. I have told everyone in my interview in course and in my book as well, which is Optimizing my LinkedIn Profile, because that is still really where people find people for jobs and then also networking. Getting that kind of personal intro for the first job, most important thing you can do.
[00:19:56] SY: How do you know when you have successfully optimized your LinkedIn? How do you know it’s in good shape?
[00:20:06] RK: I would say you’re done when you have people reaching out to you every day.
[00:20:08] SY: Okay. Fair. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:20:11] RK: I mean the headline is the most important thing, what is your current job title? Those are all very important things. Even if you aren’t officially working as an engineer yet, put engineer in your title and you’d show up in search, and that’s what I did. And back at that time, it was very like, “Oh, my gosh, how could you do this? This is like appalling. Don’t lie about your skills.” And I didn’t lie. I just put in my headline. I’m a developer looking for work, and that’s how I ended up showing up in search.
[00:20:35] SY: So what happens after they land the interview? When they’re actually in the room, having that first conversation, what things do people need to do to kind of be the most prepared for that interaction?
[00:20:49] RK: I would say kind of the big one is don’t underestimate how important soft skills are because I’ve seen people do really well in the technical interview, but then they just didn’t do well in the soft skills side. I mean, you have to interview with the company at the same time. They’re interviewing you, but you’re interviewing them, and you want to make sure it’s a good fit for everybody. So if you’re not asking those questions that are going to say, “How often does the team pair and how friendly is the team for junior developers?” Things like that. If you don’t find those things out there, they’re going to think, one, “Are you serious about this job? If you’re not asking us if you have questions, do you really care about this job?” But that’s a big one. And then another big one I would say is just looking at the actual app or the website or trying it out even what the company has and just giving your product a test run and coming prepared with feedback. And I’ve seen so many junior developers, yeah, they didn’t necessarily have the technical skills yet, but they were able to come in and say, “Hey, I tried out the app and this is my feedback. Here’s an app idea.” And that definitely takes more time to do that. But I feel like that’s just such a huge thing to take into an interview to say, “Hey, I care about your company. I’m interested.” And we kind of have to do whatever it takes to get that first job. And there’s been times where I actually got laid off like a few years and it was a struggle to kind of find a job again because I’d been out of the market for so long and I spent just a few months where I was just too overwhelmed, and it was like five or six years and I was too overwhelmed to even apply for jobs. And I was too scared about the technical interview, which is why I’m so passionate now about the technical interview because of all those things where you go into the interview and you just don’t really know what to say or what to do. And I think really the biggest thing is focusing on the company and showing why you’re excited about them.
[00:22:33] SY: So the two points you brought up really hit home for me as an interviewer, the whole, “Did you research us at all? And do you have questions?” Because I feel like those are like really easy points, the whole interview, just spending, and it doesn’t have to be a ton of time. It can be just half an hour, 15 minutes of signing up for the product or just looking up what the company does and just having an opinion. The return on that effort is so high. I’ve done a fair amount of hiring over the years and it surprises me how often people come without doing their research and without having questions. And I’m just like, “That’s the easy part.” Ask me three questions. It could be about me personally. It could be about the role of the company, but just give me a sign that you care. Give me something that tells me that you put an effort that you want to be here. And because, frankly, a lot of people don’t, it makes you stand out. It really does make you look good. And I feel like those are just easy, easy ways to show enthusiasm and to show passion and interest that, especially if you don’t have the experience you can, not fully make up for the experience, but balance it out a little bit. And those were just like two super easy ways to look good in an interview that surprisingly a lot of people do not do.
[00:24:01] RK: Yeah. And isn’t that easier than spending months in the technical interview process?
[00:24:04] SY: Yes, exactly, exactly. Just 30 minutes goes a lot of way.
[00:24:08] RK: A lot easier.
[00:24:10] SY: They’re a lot easier. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. So I’m sure that you’ve heard it all in your own experiences hiring when you’ve helped a lot of people get jobs. I’m wondering, what are things that people say that they should not say in those interview answers? What are things that maybe they should kind of avoid in those conversations?
[00:24:31] RK: I think the most important thing is take a deep breath and be honest, but think about what paints you in a good picture, because too many times I’ve been interviewing someone or I’ve heard an interview panel and they were asked, “Why do you want to work at this company?” And their answer was, “Well, I want to make more money.”
[00:24:47] SY: Yeah. I’ve gotten a couple of those. I’m like, “I appreciate the honesty, but that’s not the right answer.”
[00:24:54] RK: Yeah, that’s great, but kind of position it more towards the company. Don’t say, “Yeah, I want to move to this area. I want to live in San Francisco.” I would say the worst thing that’s ever I’ve seen in an interview was when I was interviewing someone and they asked me on a date while I was interviewing them.
[00:25:09] SY: Whoa! Really?
[00:25:11] RK: Yes.
[00:25:12] SY: Were they just like, “I’m not going to get this job, let me shoot my shot”?
[00:25:16] RK: I guess.
[00:25:17] SY: What did you say?
[00:25:19] RK: I thought for a second, maybe they were just trying to be nice and ask me about my plans later. And I was like, “Yeah, well, I’m going to go back to my desk and here’s kind of what the day-to-day looks like at the company after this interview.” And they were like, “No, no, you personally. Are you free later?”
[00:25:32] SY: Oh, okay.
[00:25:34] RK: Yeah. That was the worst thing. Avoid things like that. Don’t make your interviewer uncomfortable.
[00:25:39] SY: Yeah, don’t do that. Not a good look. So what are some major questions that people generally ask in these interviews? What can first-time job seekers, first-time applicants, what can they expect out of the interview process?
[00:25:54] RK: I think it’s very dependent on the company, but I would say anyone who wants to get a job quickly focus on the companies that are a little more junior friendly and focus on the companies, ask them their interview process, the first interview you have and say, “Hey, I just kind of want to get a feel for how the interview process is.” And if they say we want hours of technical interview prep or they’re going to make you come on for a six-hour onsite after a three-hour at-home coding take-home or they want you to work for a full week, move on from that company. And that’s going to be the fastest way to find a job. Interviews, they vary so greatly and there are so many opportunities to get a job out there. And I think the biggest mistake that people make, especially as junior developers, is that they think, “This is the end all, be all. I have to get this job.” And I’ve done it. I mean, there was a time where I spent like two weeks interviewing with one company and actually working on their repository.
[00:26:48] SY: Like the real one?
[00:26:49] RK: Yeah, like the real one, they have to work. Yeah.
[00:26:51] SY: Okay. Wow!
[00:26:52] RK: Yes.
[00:26:52] SY: I’m assuming you were not paid for this.
[00:26:54] RK: I was not paid for it.
[00:26:55] SY: Okay. Cool. Cool.
[00:26:56] RK: And I won’t name them, but this is such a really big company now and everyone wants to work there, which is so ironic that they were just really terrible back then.
[00:27:03] SY: Oh, no.
[00:27:05] RK: Right at the time, I didn’t know any better. And I thought, “This is what I should expect.” It was kind of early on in my career. And so don’t interview at places like that is the biggest one. Find a company that respects you because if they don’t respect you in the interview process, they’re not going to respect you when you have the job. Your power is even more gone at that point.
[00:27:23] SY: But at that stage in your career, do you really have that luxury? Especially these days with like mass resignation and all that, I’ve seen a lot of job candidates, a lot of employees kind of take back their power and be just as critical of companies and be not as willing to put up with stuff as they maybe were a couple of years ago. But I find that that’s more common for mid-level and senior developers who’ve got options, quite frankly. But if you are new, you have no job prospects, no experience, how much agency do you really have in that situation?
[00:28:05] RK: Yeah, I think as a junior developer, not much, but I really think that the opportunities, there’s still there’s so much demand right now. And the problem is if you spend that much time on one company, you work on their actual code or you spend five days doing a coding take-home, if you spend too much time on that, you’re not able to spend time interviewing elsewhere at a company that actually might hire you.
[00:28:24] SY: That’s true. That’s true.
[00:28:26] RK: So I think in a way it actually kind of makes you more likely to get a job. And I mean, like I said, my very first job, I literally taught myself their framework over the weekend just for that job. And it was amazing. But I think at this point, especially with the demand for developers, nobody should be spending two weeks unpaid.
[00:28:45] SY: How do you identify the opportunities that are maybe worth a little bit more of that investment? And how do you kind of say, “You know what? They’re maybe asking for too much, or it’s just unlikely that I’ll get it, even if I do well,” assuming you have the luxury to pick, how do you pick for the ones that you have the better chance at actually landing?
[00:29:10] RK: I love to talk about company red flags.
[00:29:13] SY: Sure. Sure.
[00:29:14] RK: But companies, they are just more open to junior developers that say they’re going to mentor you and they want to grow your career, and they have a track record for doing that. I’ve worked with them, right? And they would hire junior developers right out of a coding bootcamp and they would grow their career until they were senior engineers. They put so much just like love and effort and kindness. And it was such an incredible thing to see. And they have that proven track record as a company. So I think companies like that are really willing to dedicate and commit to candidates, so important to find those. Like my first job, they mentored me constantly. I mean, I paired with them every single day on the team and they put so much effort into my career and it really paid off because I ended up staying at the company for years because I felt so loyal and so happy to work there. I stayed through an acquisition. I stayed through a sale. So finding companies, I think, that have that proven track record and that actually have hired junior developers is so important.
[00:30:14] SY: Is there a difference people need to keep in mind when interviewing with recruiters versus interviewing with hiring managers?
[00:30:22] RK: Oh, yeah, definitely. I would say that in those kinds of situations, they have a little tendency, just they want to get people just in the company and interviewing and they’re not really going to check how much you’re aligned. For instance, when I was interviewing someone a few years ago, the recruiters in the company were very much, “We want to get people in.” And we interviewed a lot of candidates that were not a good fit and it wasted their time, it wasted our time. So I think just reading those job requirements and making sure that they’re really great match is so important. Anytime a hiring manager reaches out directly to you, great sign, and it’s a really great sign.
[00:30:57] SY: So technical interviews are obviously a really big part of getting hired for a coding job. We’ve touched on that already. Can you describe a little bit more detail about what they actually look like?
[00:31:10] RK: Yeah. The first interview, I think, and just kind of the overall structure, the phone screen. You might just have that initial call with the recruiter. They chat about kind of what you’re looking for, what the job is looking for. And if that goes well, they pass you on. And then generally, the next step is that kind of technical phone screen. And it might be, at this point, a lot of things are virtual, which is amazing, but kind of that first technical screen where you might speak to an engineer and they might go over a small coding challenge, they might just ask you a few questions about your experience. And then if you pass that next step, you’re generally onto the onsite or the coding take-home. Some people don’t like coding take-homes now. I still personally do, and I think especially if they’re paid as well. I’ve seen a lot of people in my course have a lot of success with just go doing a coding take-home. Because, generally, that on-site interview is so scary.
[00:32:00] SY: Oh, yeah. Oh my goodness! I’ll take a coding take-home any day compared to them staring you down while you whiteboard something.
[00:32:09] RK: Exactly. So generally, I tend to suggest that people look for companies that are a little more open to things like that, coding take-home, or just kind of a more friendly coding assessment. But I would say kind of the scariest part is definitely that on-site coding interview where it’s potentially four to five hours where you’re solving different problems. You might have, depending on if it’s a front-end interview, I’ve seen a lot of things where the front-end interview now is a really awesome you see work on a repo and you solve some bugs or you look through a technical pull request challenge, or you just kind of discuss the overall structure of something that you would build. And I love that. I love that things are changing in that way because there is that other side of the interview process that’s a little scarier where you have to do this whole white boarding algorithm challenge. And for people that are not going to do that at the job, it’s unfair. I don’t like it. I wish we never would do it.
[00:33:12] SY: Coming up next, Randall talks about some common questions new developers should definitely ask their interviewers after this.
[00:33:33] SY: So interviews are a two-way interaction. As you mentioned before, it’s great to have questions that you ask them. What are some common questions that you think, especially new developers, first-time, early-career developers, that they should definitely make sure they have answers to before moving forward in that conversation?
[00:33:55] RK: Yeah, I definitely think how’s the day-to-day. “What’s my day to day going to look like? Am I going to be supported if I ask a question? Am I going to be waiting three to four hours really frustrated, stuck, or blocked on something?” I really like the 15-minute rule that if you’re stuck on something for longer than 15 to 20 minutes, get help, especially as a junior developer. That’s kind of a rule I’ve always stuck to in my career because it moves things along a lot faster and then everyone learns. But really seeing if the company is going to give junior developers kind of that opportunity to actually learn and be mentored at the company. So I would say kind of those are the most important things. Like, “How are you going to support me at this company?” And then even researching their Glassdoor reviews, asking them pointed questions about that, really putting them on the spot. If you’re going to interview at a company, you’re going to be there for a year. So you want to make sure that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. And I have like this whole list of like questions to ask your interviewer, because I really think anytime someone asks you that question, you need to have like three to four questions right there prepared, even if that means bringing a notebook to the interview. Maybe it’s embarrassing. Maybe you have to like pull out that little notebook and pen, but it’s kind of the best thing you can really do to get the job. So I would say definitely things like that. Just asking, “How are you going to mentor junior engineers? How do you support a new hire? What is your onboarding process look like? How are you keeping your team diverse and opening and welcoming?”
[00:35:25] SY: Knowing the warning that you got from your counselor about the environment of tech and how it’s not exactly a friendly place, I think it’s getting better, I think. It feels like it’s getting better for women. That applies to other groups as well. People of color as well. When you were interviewing, did you ask anything or have a way of kind of feeling them out on that front? Were you worried about the kind of just environment you are going to be in and if you are going to feel safe and taken care of as a woman in the industry?
[00:36:04] RK: In retrospect, I really wish that I would have asked a lot more questions like that. I didn’t. And I think I have the worst stories in tech that I’ve ever heard anyone have. There’s actually a fiction book being written that actually features a lot of my stories because they’re so horrible.
[00:36:18] SY: Really?
[00:36:19] RK: I’m not going to name it. I don’t want to name myself.
[00:36:22] SY: Okay. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:36:24] RK: But I wish that I did because I definitely suffered for years. And I thought, it’s like, “Oh, this is acceptable. This is how it is being in tech.” And it’s not like that anymore. We can work remote. We don’t have to feel uncomfortable. We don’t have to deal with stalkers and harassment anymore. We can kind of take a step back from that, work in our own living room, which I love, but I wish I did. I mean, I wish I had someone telling me to do that early on in my career.
[00:36:50] SY: So knowing what you know now, how would you figure that out? Because if I’m going into an interview, I mean, I guess one thing I can do is kind of see, “Well, how many women already work there and how many people of color already work there?” But frankly, the numbers are so dismal. If you do that, I don’t know if you’ll ever get a job, but it’s also got awkward to be like, “Do you like women? Are you racist?” How do you get a vibe for that? How do you check for that type of culture and environment without taking the job and seeing for yourself?
[00:37:26] RK: Yeah. I think it always kind of comes down to the interview in a way. I think how they pay attention to you, how they treat you, how they kind of say things. For me, I’ve always kind of seen those red flags early, thankfully, later on my career. Earlier on, I did not see those, did not see those at all. Those kinds of tiny comments, like just small things that people say, I mean, just a few years ago, I was in an interview with someone and they mentioned, I can’t remember the exact comparison, but they said something like, “Oh, this in tech is like cancer.” And they made a joke about cancer.
[00:37:58] SY: Whoa! Oh, no.
[00:37:59] RK: Yeah. And people brush that off, but I was like, “Nope, that’s a red flag. That’s a big red flag for me.” So little kind of finding those tiny little things in an interview, it’s really difficult. But also just asking all those questions. Even now, I am no longer a junior engineer. I’ve been a senior engineer for like five years and I still ask, “How do you support junior engineers at your company? How are you going to hire a junior engineer? How do you onboard them?” Because it’s like how you say, how people treat the waiter is how they…
[00:38:29] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:38:30] RK: Yeah. That’s the same thing. If people treat junior engineers well, that’s where I want to work. If they don’t, I don’t want to work there.
[00:38:37] SY: So outside of your writing and coaching, and I know you have a course that you’re doing where you’re helping people get hired and get through those technical interviews, what are some of your favorite resources that people should check out on the topic of interviewing and getting hired?
[00:38:54] RK: I would say learning to code, I love freeCodeCamp.
[00:38:56] SY: Oh, such an amazing resource.
[00:38:58] RK: Oh my gosh. I love them. I think they’re so amazing. My sister also runs CodeBookClub, which is…
[00:39:02] SY: Oh!
[00:39:03] RK: Yeah, it’s amazing. Madison Kanna, she runs CodeBookClub, which they meet like every week and go over challenges together for junior developers, which I think is so incredible. Just finding that network is so important.
[00:39:14] SY: Especially for the people who are, it’s just taking them a little bit longer to get that first job, I’ve heard people say it’s taken months, years even to kind of land that first gig, how do you manage your energy and enthusiasm during that time? As time goes by, maybe your money is running out, your stamina is running out, your hope is maybe running a little bit low, how do you kind of keep the faith? How do you kind of keep up the momentum and manage your mental health and emotional health while you’re going through that journey?
[00:39:53] RK: Well, I don’t think it’ll work for everyone, but when I got laid off and I was looking for a job for a few months, I got a dog.
[00:40:00] SY: Okay. Cool.
[00:40:01] RK: You know, a little puppy.
[00:40:02] SY: Big commitment but sure.
[00:40:04] RK: Yeah. So it’s probably not the best trait at the time. At the time, I was dating someone who was also helping financially with the dog. So it wasn’t a big thing. Having hobbies outside of work, one of my hobbies was the dog and just not taking it so seriously. It was definitely very scary. I was, at the time, like literally living off a credit card and very panic, but not taking it, like not the end of the world. You’re not going to die. I was slightly worried about being homeless. Anything like that wasn’t going to be the end all, be all. If someone rejects you at a company, just don’t take it personally. Don’t think you’re never getting an opportunity again. Most people get rejected. I know the most senior engineers on the planet with CS degrees who get rejected all the time. And it’s really just a lot about luck and just putting yourself out there constantly. So one of the things I learned in my bootcamp that was just so powerful and it was definitely the best advice that I’ve ever had someone telling me was that the fastest growth and the change for your life is going to happen when you’re a little bit scared. So if you’re a little bit scared, you know, that potential that good things are going to happen.
[00:41:11] SY: I like that, leaning into that discomfort.
[00:41:14] RK: Yeah.
[00:41:14] SY: I’m wondering, when you got laid off after working for a number of years, how did you approach your job search process then? How did it differ from the first job you got?
[00:41:28] RK: It was definitely, I think I had about three years of experience when that happened and it was a lot easier than the first time around. It’s definitely a much better experience overall, but I was still updating my resume. I was still applying to jobs. I go on AngelList. I actively reached out to companies quite a bit and just saw who was hiring. And I was able to do a little more pick and choose, and it was back when remote jobs were not really a thing. And I was actually lucky enough that the job offer I took was remote. So that was incredible. And so I definitely was a little more picky at that point because I had that kind of experience, but I was still applying for jobs. I was still networking. I was still going to meetups. And it definitely was a much better experience, but I would say the biggest thing still, updating my LinkedIn profile, finding ways for people to find me. And then when I got to that interview, just making sure that I looked up the company and that I had something intelligent to say when they asked, “Why do you want to work here?”
[00:42:27] SY: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that might give people a bit of hope who are looking for that first job now is that it will never be as hard as it is now.
[00:42:38] RK: Yes.
[00:42:39] SY: Like this is the hardest it’s going to be. It’s all uphill from here. If you have just even a year, even two years of experience, it gets much, much, much easier, especially if you do those things like if you make time to blog and contribute and speak, just kind of just be present in the community. It makes things so much easier. So as hard as it is now, it will not be harder. It would only get easier from here.
[00:43:03] RK: Yeah. Just that initial push and then you have companies that will reach out to you. You don’t have to really worry so much anymore.
[00:43:09] SY: Yup. Yup. Exactly. So knowing what you know now and knowing what kinds of jobs are available, what kind of jobs people are going after, you mentioned that in your bootcamp, you learned Ruby on Rails. And then for the job, you taught yourself Ember and some other things. What would you recommend people learn today? If they’re looking to start today, get a job in let’s say a year, what do you recommend people focus on in terms of what skills to develop and what technical knowledge to attain?
[00:43:41] RK: Yeah. I would say build a React and Node app. Just get started. Build something you’re really excited about. For me, that was always like a cat facts app. So I think I built like a cat facts app in like five different languages at this point, like iOS apps, everything you can imagine. So just build something you’re really excited about and preferably in React and Node because this is going to be more likely your job.
[00:44:04] RK: Yup.
[00:44:04] SY: Yup.
[00:44:05] RK: Yeah.
[00:44:06] SY: Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Randall.
[00:44:08] RK: Thank you for having me.
[00:44:16] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, email@example.com. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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