Posted by Admin on 5/7/2007 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

I was a man of 20, 21 again. I had somehow tapped into this previously unknown vigor within me. I felt like I was in college again, my mind buzzing, steeped in that final exams mentality. I skipped meals, stayed home on Fridays, woke up early on Saturdays. I hit the coffee shops, the book stores, and read sections of my old dusty textbooks before I went to bed. Why would I be doing this? It could mean only one thing: my interview with Google was coming soon - and to a software guy it was a dream come true, but also a terrible nightmare ready to happen. The bliss of working with the number one technology company in the world was also mixed with the terror of that infamous interview process. While most people are used to 1 or 2 interviews with a company, the Google interview (which I will now refer to as "The Gauntlet") consists of difficult phone screens and campus interviews including one at the fearful Mountain View office if you get that far.

My career definitely isn't that long (just a few years), but I've experienced a decent breadth of technology and work culture so far. From the rigid, process driven aerospace industry, to the fast paced world of consulting, to the laid back, organic atmosphere of a startup-- I've experienced a nice mix. As I was thinking about looking for something new, an opportunity for an interview came up. In the last 1-2 years there was somewhat of an exodus of people on my program moving on and getting hired at Google in Irvine. As I began pondering things, I realized two career factors have become really important for me:

People: I'm a software guy, so engineers are the people I gravitate to. There is definitely a camaraderie among us. I respect a really strong software person who can solve problems, design great solutions, and stay on top of ever changing technology. Google seemingly was this big software house with those kind of bright technologically minded people. It seemed to be organized for the engineer and around the engineer.

Products: I think in human nature we all have this desire to create, to put something masterfully together for the world to see and use, and for me it would be software. As an engineer, my main focus is building products for the user that is on the outside, usable, pleasing to the eyes and satisfying to use, and on the inside, well engineered, efficient, maintainable. Google, with its myriad of services and software has proven to be on the forefront of software products.

There was so much buzz about this company, its culture, its perks, its technology, that working there at this point would almost be like career nirvana. So I asked for the referral and sent in my resume. A few days later I received an e-mail from a recruiter with a questionnaire with about 10 or so general work experience questions. These questions seemed to flesh out a potential hire more than what a resume could do. I took a night to recount some of my work and project history and various other info and sent it back. With the questionnaire, the recruiter said she could direct me to the appropriate interviewer. We talked on the phone for a short bit and explained what the interview process would entail. She said it would start off with a phone screen, or multiple phone screens from which the interviewer would glean 'data points' which to me seemed like a reference to the 'hiring algorithm' that I had read about before. If the phone screens went well, I would go out to the actual campus for a day of interviews and finally if I managed to stay alive through that, I'd go to Mountain View for the last leg of 'The Gauntlet'. We set a date for the first interview and from that point on my whole mode was changed. I began reacquainting myself with the old fundamentals - of trees and tables, of searching and all that other stuff I thought I'd left behind in college. The algorithms books, the data structure books, they all brought back memories. Who knew I'd be breaking out that old AP Computer Science book. For the most part, things were pretty familiar, though I started to freak out during the "dynamic programming" section. I was hoping I wouldn't be asked that. At the coffee shops it was non-stop studying and note taking, my ipod even had a 'study mix' playlist. At home I'd be at the computer surfing to the ends of the internet, queueing up blogs and articles about other people's experiences with a Google interview. A really difficult challenge was on its way so I wanted to be as prepared as I could.

The day of the phone screen was pretty nerve-wracking. I came into work hardly able to concentrate, and by 11:30AM I went back to my place to prepare for the 1PM Gauntlet. After a quick lunch, I pulled out a few blank sheets of paper, a trusty pen and laid them out on my coffee table. I brought out my phone charger as well so that my phone wouldn't die in this 45 minute death march. I anxiously flipped through the channels on my TV until I got the call. The interview started out really casual. The interviewer gave me a short description of what to expect for the next 45 minutes and seemed to make sure I was comfortable before we began. He said he'd give me about 40 minutes of technical interviewing and would leave 5 minutes for me to ask him questions in the end. Before the technical grilling began, he did ask me one question though, which was kind of interesting. He asked if I wanted a 'systems question' or an 'algorithm' question. I interpreted it as him asking if I wanted a 'real world question' or more of a low level 'algorithmic/data structures' question. At this point I had been cramming in a lot of algorithmic so I asked for an algorthmic question. I will not go into detail of what questions he asked me exactly, but the first question was related to a data structure which he defined. He started off small, asking a few easy questions and then he pushed the envelope asking a straight up coding question centered around this structure. During the interview I tried my best to keep talking and convey any thoughts or ideas going through my head out loud. This was helpful because it gave the interviewer an idea of my thought process and gave him a chance to steer me in the right direction. So we were able to get through the first 'algorithm' question and after that he threw out another question. This question was a bit more of a real world question pertaining to error detection codes. It took me me some time to jog through all of my ideas and finally come to my solution. After that he threw in a slight twist to the problem, which I then answered and then he asked me to walk through some of my reasoning of why the error detection algorithm worked and when it wouldn't work. The interview concluded with a short time for me to ask him some questions about Google and shortly after I allowed myself the chance to rest my head. I went back to work feeling 'GWNED', my shorthand for being 'OWNED' by Google and its interview process. I felt I took too long to answer my questions, that I lacked confidence and ease while talking, that my interviewer helped me too much through the questions, that I would have to be real lucky to get word back. The next few days were pretty nerve-wracking too, because that single e-mail would determine if I could go on or not. For a few days, every time my browser title bar read 'Gmail inbox (1)', a burst of adrenaline rushed through my blood and I would quickly check it, only to receive some random junk mail from a friend. Thankfully, about three days later I received another email from the recruiter asking me when I could hold the second phone screen. The relief was again mixed with nervousness as I knew what was coming, but I definitely felt good that I (in video game terms) got a 1 up.

So I milked out a few extra days for my next phone screen, since I wanted to do some more studying. I was back in that mode again, hitting the coffee shops, banging through problems, coding up solutions in my moleskine. I knew the Gauntlet was not going to get any easier so I was preparing myself. The next interview had a different flavor from the first one. While the first one centered around 2 pretty big problems, this interview was more of a potpourri. I was asked a few personal non-technical questions, such as 'What could I bring to Google' (I don't think that was exactly it, but you get the idea). He glanced through my resume and asked a few short answer Java questions. He saw that I had done some web services and he asked a really fundamental question in that arena. After that he asked a question about HTTP and then went on to a question about memory allocation. He then moved to asking about process execution. After this series of questions we went into problem solving questions starting with sorting, on a basic level and then with the added twist. The final question was a 'real world' question which I really struggled with. After walking through this one and fumbling through some faulty solutions, I had made a start which the interviewer seemed satisfied with but at this point my interview was already at the 50 minute mark and was put to a close. I left this interview feeling like I got my butt kicked. So again the waiting game started anew. When my browser said 'Gmail Inbox (1)' I would freak out for a moment, but after a week I realized it was probably not going to happen. After two weeks I completely lost all hope. Shortly after the 2 or 3 week mark I received an e-mail from the recruiter saying that they could not find a strong match for me. Of course I was disappointed, but in the end I knew that it wasn't meant to be. I did ask my recruiter that as my career progresses and I pick up new skills, when would be a good time to re-apply and she graciously told me that it would be good to wait between 6 months to a year. The Google interview was a wild ride while it lasted: I fought the good fight but unfortunately I joined rank with the rest of the 995,000 (supposedly 1,000,000 resumes were sent to Google but only 5,000 were actually hired last year).

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