Patterns in engineering job hunting

Newer job seekers and people not may not be familiar with the common job hunting/candidate recruitment process. I’ll try to explain the commonly used process that I’ve noticed to be used by many companies in the Bay Area.

Phase 1: Finding potential jobs

Roughly in order of effectiveness:

Internal Employee Referral – warm

If you happen to know somebody who works at a nice company and you’d like to join them there reach out! Take them out to coffee or get lunch or just IM chat with them. It really depends on how well you know the individual. It’s probably useful to be upfront that you’re open to new opportunities early. If your friend or co-worker is on a team that is actively hiring, you’ve got a warm employee referral on your hands! Going to interviews on a warm employee referral is so much better because I’ve gone to an onsite interview — completely blown half of the questions — and still gotten the job because I knew people that worked at the company who were able to vouch for my real work abilities that aren’t always apparent in a marathon of 1-hour interviews. (Plus jangled nerves)

Internal Employee Referral – cold

You contact your friend at Company X but her group isn’t hiring right now. It’s still OK to go into the pool of general applicants. This isn’t as effective because it could be a while before you hear back from anyone. Effectively you become the same as any other non-referral applicant but at least you’re in the system and maybe down the road your friend will get a referral bonus because you got hired through her efforts to get you into the system.

Internal recruiter cold-email reach out

A recruiter sends you an email or a LinkedIn InMail. Respond to it and you’ll at least get to an informational phone call. That is useful because at least you can reach out to the recruiter later to confirm that you were seen and acknowledged as a human being. You do exist and your resume had something worthy of attention!

LinkedIn network status update

People say they are hiring all the time these days. DM your LinkedIn connection and ask them to refer you into their recruiting system. They can leave notes about you and it will put your resume toward the top of the list. It doesn’t mean you will get called back but it increases the likelihood that your resume will have been seen and reviewed at least for 4 or 5 seconds. Which is better than the methods below.

Direct application on Careers section of website

Surprisingly, I find myself sending people to the careers page of places I’ve worked many times. At startups, the CVs do get reviewed by people internally. Larger companies are less effective

3rd party recruiter cold-email reach out or cold call

Very often these recruiters have very poor information on the job. GuruJobs or Robert Hat. It does not appear that they have a direct connection with the hiring manager. Unclear to me how effective a job hunt will be through these sources.

Big Job Board job application (LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, HotJobs, Dice, Craigslist)

By far job boards are probably the worst way to find a job. I don’t care what all the commercials say. Don’t waste your time crafting a personal statement or cover letter on these job boards it’s basically pointless. Go directly to a company’s website and submit your resume there instead.

Phase 2: figure out which company is the most interesting

If you can get past the resume screen, companies will start with an informational 30-minute call with a sourcer/recruiter responsible for filling the position. Recruiters are friendly professionals that specialize in talking to other people. They are usually not subject matter experts in engineering, marketing, or whatever your field of work may be.

They are experts at identifying sifting out legitimate experience and from bullshit. In the informational call the recruiter’s job is to describe to you the responsibilities of the role and gauge your interest in the position. Then they sniff out whether you correctly speak the jargon and match the profile of the type of candidate that the hiring manager wants (years of experience, projects worked, interests).

Recruiters will tell you about the company’s mission and culture. They won’t know the company’s five-year product roadmap. They won’t typically know the specifics of the day-to-day of your role. They will be able to tell you is the manager is looking for a specialist or a jack-of-all-trades? How big is the team? Do they prefer Ivy League graduates? You still need to do homework about the company so that you don’t ask blatantly un-researched questions about the company.

Phase 3: Interviewing

After you have talked with the recruiter and sufficiently proven that you are interested in the role, the company, and the department within the company you are ready for some interviews. This is my knowledge of Silicon Valley-style tech interview process.

First, you will have the phone screen interview. Recently interviews have moved off of the phone and into Zoom with screen shares and social coding platforms. The phone screen should last 30-60 minutes and administered either on phone or Zoom where you’ll talk to a fellow engineer who may be a member of the team that wants to hire you. Usually the interviewer has pulled a pre-determined problem pulled from a bank of questions that the team has agreed to use. You will be asked to solve the problem within that 30-60 minute period. You do need to be able to finish the interview within the allotted time because the interviewer probably has another meeting right after your call. Phone interviews are supposed to be “easier.” After many years of dealing with this interview pattern, I know that if I find myself barely getting through the phone interview I know that the on-site is definitely going to be a waste of time for everyone involved.

I think I’ve been asked these “basic” items than a few times on a first-round phone interview:

  • What is a closure?
  • How do you reverse a list?
  • Code a basic HTML/CSS page that can do X,Y,Z

The “on-site” interview (should change the name now that Zoom has become prevalent) is where you line up a day’s worth of interviews and teams grill with 4+ different exercises in varying subjects. For example you might get the abstract puzzle interview, followed by SQL exercise, followed by an algorithm test, followed by a system design discussion. Having failed at literally dozens of these interviews it’s hard to believe I actually ever was able to survive in Silicon Valley for 15 years as an engineer. I do know why I never made it to FAANG because I am pretty horrible at all of these types of interviews and really can only pass the hands-on “let’s build something practical together” type of interview. I don’t have any tips on how to pass these interviews. However, expect to see something like

  • Traverse a graph to do something
  • System design something for millions of people. Web servers and load balancers and calculations of throughput will likely be involved. (I wouldn’t know because I don’t pass these tests)
  • Do something recursive, probably with sorting. It definitely needs to run better than O(n^2) or O(n!)

Phase 4: Results

Now this is the shitty part. Sometimes you might do pretty good and pass all the technical aspects of your interviews. Even if you pass all the tests, you may only have 5% of landing the job because you are competing against 20 other candidates just like you who also passed the tests. This is especially true at a hot startup or a FAANG company.

After your interview all the people you met with will convene in a meeting to decide your fate. The more people you interviewed with during the process, the more chances there are for one of those interviewers to say “no.” That’s not a death sentence but it does hurt you a lot. You would never know it but that’s what goes on after the interviews are over. I have been on hiring panels of 6 people. Sometimes 5 people say “medium yes” and 1 says “strong no” you’re toast. But if you get 5 “strong yes” and 1 “medium no” you still have a chance — that “no” can be swayed.

This is just me, but receiving a “Thank you” note from a candidate does nothing to sway me in any direction for or against you. Experts suggest you to do it but, honestly, the second you walked out of the door or hung up the Zoom I already know if I’m going to vote for you or against you. An after-interview email is meaningless and chances are I probably won’t see it at all because I don’t read email. All of my work in JIRA and Slack.

At the end of the day, if you get rejected from a job application know that it’s not necessarily something about you. There are infinite factors during an interview that are outside of your control that have nothing to do with you. Just be as authentic as you can be. Answer questions as honestly as you can. Be “right” or “correct” on factual questions as much as you can be. Then be prepared to do at least 10+ full interviews (phases 1,2,3,4) before you receive an offer.

Delete old iOS backups to reclaim disk space

Just yesterday Apple released a critical patch that fixes a major security flaw. That Mac OS update required 3GB free on my machine.  That’s trouble! I have an older MacBook Air with a 128GB hard drive so I’ve been hovering with under 2GB of available disk space for a long time.

Even after some aggressive spring cleaning of Applications and old file attachments I still did not have enough disk space for the Mac OS update. At this point it dawned on me that I had recently  used iTunes to setup a new iPad that I bought and all the apps autmatically synchronized onto the new iPad without downloading anything. All that data must be stored somewhere.

So, I had to find out where iTunes keeps its backups. A cursory Google search found Apple iOS Backups which reveals that iOS backup files are housed in ~/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup for Macs. Sure enough, my mobile backup folder had 4 subfolders hogging up 20GB(!) of disk space. Since we only have 2 iOS devices in the house it was clear that iTunes still had backups for an old iPhone 3GS that I had given to my mom.

The folders contain encrypted iOS backups so I didn’t know which folder corresponded to each of my devices. Consequently, you have to delete your unwanted iOS backups using iTunes. The instructions “Deleting a Backup in iTunes” show that you can delete backups in iTunes >Preferenes > Devices.

Clearing out the old iOS backups gave me back 10GB of hard drive space! I haven’t had this much free disk space since I bought this laptop 3 years ago.


Interactive Fiction as Tutorial?

I don’t play interactive fiction but I was thinking about writing a tutorial-like website that could benefit from the – Nice HTML based IF builder. – Create Z-code IF games – Publish z-code IF games to the web – Build web-based IF

HP Photosmart C4480 incompatible print cartridge

Long-story short: Buy a new printer if you have this error.

My mother-in-law has an older color printer that she got with her iMac in 2009.

HP Photosmart C4480 says “incompatible print cartridge” on its screen and will not do anything at all. Nothing will resolve this problem permanently so don’t bother buying new cartridges (waste of $50) nor cleaning the printer contacts.

Here are some steps to force the printer out of that mode.

  1. Press X power at the same time
  2. Press BLUE, GREEN, GRAY
  3. Press BLUE until you see “INFORMATION MENU”
  4. Press OK
  5. Press Blue until you see “CHECKSUM FOR RELOCK DATA INPUT” (about 10 times)
  6. OK
  7. Press X until you exit all menus
  8. When prompted for aliement cancel it with X. It should bypass the error

This works for our printer for only as long as the printer is On. If you power the printer off you will have to follow the procedure again. At this point that means that this printer is worthless and we will need to buy a new one.

HP Forum

US Passport Photo Maker

a.k.a. How to make Passport Photos with a Mac

a.k.a How to make Passport Photos with a PC

The US Department of state has a Flash tool to properly size and crop a passport photo. Since it’s Flash and works in your desktop browser Mac and PC users can easily make their own Passport photos for the US. It doesn’t get any easier than this. No need for Photoshop or rulers. The visual guides shows you where to put the person’s face and then you click save. Boom — a passport photo ready to rock and roll for the next 10 years. So simple!

MacWorld 2013

Cool notables from MacWorld 2013

Izik by blekko. A search engine user experience designed specifically for use on a tablet.

iPole is an iPhone/iPod-holding retracting stick for taking self portraits. Fully collapsed the iPole mini is about 18-inches long. The key component is the spring-loaded vice grip that holds your iPhone in place. You can connect the device to a standard tripod. The booth was also selling a walking stick for use with the vice grip that will come in handy for hiking.

Olloclip fisheye/macro/wide lens for iphone camera. Nice form factor.

Peculiar things at MacWorld 2013

A bird watching app… How did they afford a booth? I understand that bird-watching is a serious endeavor but this booth was seriously tricked out with some nice HD displays and lights.

Non-dairy grilled cheese. The first thing I happened across upon entering the expo hall was a giant grilled cheese booth giving out samples of non-dairy cream cheese. I have to say it was actually quite enjoyable.

ReadyNAS – Time Machine completed a verification of your backups

Time Machine completed a verification of your backups. To improve reliability, Time Machine must create a new backup for you.

Fix using the instructions: Fix Time Machine Sparsebundle NAS Based Backup Errors

[NOTE] Although the instructions above do indeed work to fix a TM backup, the problem has continued to occur where TM would report the corrupted data and I would have to fix it again every 2-3 weeks. It simply wasn’t worth the trouble so I switched back to my wired USB backup drive.

Net10, Tracfone, or Straight Talk Customers try the third SIM chip.

Have an iPhone but can’t use your data because you’re using Net10, Tracfone, or Straight Talk? Try swapping the Net 10 SIM.

When I bought my Net 10 SIM activation kit it came with 3 SIM chips: 1 micro SIM (for iPhone 4 or newer), 1 regular SIM for GSM networks, and 1 regular size pink SIM card designated for T-Mobile phones specifically.  I know that putting the T-mobile-specific SIM  gave me the “Cellular Data” settings when I put it in the iPhone while trying to perform the SIM swaps.

In the weeks I spent battling with my iPhone’s APN settings I never thought to try to actually activate my phone through the Net10/T-Mobile SIM. By activate I mean putting the Net10/T-mo SIM into my phone, calling Net10 customer service, and having them switch my service over to the EIN number for the Net10/T-mo chip. Since my iPhone can use native T-Mobile airwaves using a T-Mobile SIM, it would seem reasonable to be able to use T-Mobile airwaves via a Net 10 SIM designed for the T-Mobile network.

If you happen to have an iPhone 4 or later you still have options. You can shave down the regular sized SIM card to fit into a micro SIM slot. I did it with an xacto knife in about 20 minutes and does not need to be a perfect replica of a real micro SIM.

Disclaimer: I gave up trying to use my iPhone 4 on Net 10. Since there are no contracts I simply switched to T-Mobile monthly no-contract plans. T-Mobile is network pretty horrendous in my area but I don’t talk on the phone much. With T-Mobile I can use iMessage, MMS, and 2g/3G web — the stuff that matters to me.