The Anonymous Interviewer: How I Turned a Heart-Sinking Situation Into a Job

Photo: Sergiu Nista/unsplash

Hello! I’m a software engineer in the tech industry with a few years under my belt. I have a lot of experience getting through the crazy-tough interviews in Silicon Valley so I’ve decided to write a column to help you understand the intricate process of getting a job. And guess what? App Academy is letting me do it! 

But first, let’s get the anonymous thing out of the way. In order to share my most personal and honest stories and those I’ve heard from colleagues, I’m going to have to rescind my real name from posts. I don’t want people to get hurt and certainly don’t want companies to rummage through their ranks trying to find out who pissed them off.

The other reason is that I get to take on a cool, mysterious name. I think I shall be The Anonymous Industrious Interviewer Teller, or TAIIT. Let’s pretend that’s a cool name, a’ight? 

My first post is an interesting story I think you’ll find instructive. I call it The Heart-Sink Sitch.

The Heart-Sink Sitch

My first on-site interview for a full-time software engineer role actually happened near the end of the App Academy program. I interviewed at a tech company in Palo Alto and I was extremely nervous. This was the first real test of everything I’d been learning. Months of writing code followed by weeks of cramming random JavaScript trivia into my head and rifling through algorithm exercises had left me exhausted.

I had interned for this company while I was in college and had kept up with its progress: a Series B fundraising as well as strong growth in its market. I extensively researched the company and even found a bug on its website leading up to my interview. Given my interest and experience, I reached out to them via AngelList and heard back soon from a recruiter regarding an on-site meeting.

The on-site interviews were definitely tough, one relating to statistical probability, one relating to binary trees and Rails framework internals, and another relating to a typical Leetcode-esque algorithm problem. Of course, like in any interview, if you’ve seen the question before, you have a leg up on the competition, so you should definitely mention it to the interviewer. I think it shows your integrity and your fearlessness.

At the end of the series of interviews, I spoke to the VP of Engineering. He said that while they were impressed with my dedication and passion, they had no experience with bootcamp grads or people in general without a CS degree. They were willing to offer an unpaid internship that *could* convert to a full-time role if things went well. I only had three days to decide.

My heart sank when I heard this. I told them I would think about it, thanked them for their time, and took the train back up to San Francisco, where I was living. During the ride, I felt a mixture of post-interview adrenaline, reflection, anger, and sadness.

The next day consisted of a lot of conversations with friends, family, and the admissions staff at App Academy. Nearly everyone I spoke to confirmed what I already knew in my mind. That I was worth more than the offer on the table. That I had more confidence in my ability than they did. 

Pretty quickly, I got back to the company. I said no, even though it was difficult since I was a fan of the product and their mission, and let’s be honest, I wanted a job. 

Funnily enough, they immediately countered and said they could change the internship to a paid internship. I said no again. Firmly. I was not interested in doing an internship after completing a bootcamp that had graduated countless students into full-time roles. While they did express they thought I’d be a great fit with their company, the offer spoke louder than their words.

Less than a few weeks later, and shortly after finishing the bootcamp, I had multiple strong offers for full-time roles.

Life would have been pretty different had I accepted the internship instead.

Interview Lessons Learned

So what are the interview notes that I learned from that experience you can take away with you? Check them out below.

1. Don’t be fazed by low-ball offers because companies will always try to get you at the cheapest dime. While that sucks, it’s really important to know going in. 

2. Keep interviewing because there’s always a better offer waiting.

3. Try to find companies that already know the value of bootcamp grads (a.k.a. companies that have hired and kept bootcamp grads) or blaze a trail and be the first one at a company (but be sure to impress them so much that they don’t worry about the missing CS degree).

Hope you enjoyed this brief trip into interview-land. 

See you soon!

The Anonymous Interviewer 

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