Interviewing pro-tip: your time has value

Here’s something I’ve learned from having been on both sides of an interview:

Don’t waste the time you’re spending on the interview

Take every interview seriously, even if it’s just the sort of interview you periodicially undertake just so that you don’t forget how to interview. Even if you don’t get the job (assuming it was ultimately one you actually wanted), you can still gain something from the process. Try to have a conversation with the people interviewing you — ask about the work they’d want you to do, the problems that they want you to solve, and the struggles that they’re currently coping with. Maybe they’ve already solved a problem you’ve personally encountered, but they did so differently. Maybe they’re going to turn you on to a whole new tool, technology, or perspective that you didn’t already have. There’s almost always some nugget of experience or a new trick that you’ll pick up out of even the most informal interview if you engage the interviewer as an industry peer.

That’s how I found htop. During an interview for a job that I didn’t want, at a company that I don’t want to work for, the interviewer began asking me really bizarre 101-level questions like:

Have you used ps?
Have you ever used top?
Do you know what htop is?
Are you familiar with ‘vee’?1

In another interview, I was sent a list of questions by the interviewer that were simultaneously thoughtful, relevant, and difficult. They may not all be applicable to the work I do every day, but I’m stealing at least one of them for the next round of interviews I have to give at The Day Job:

Automating mounts

You’re mounting a new volume at /some/path and need to move a large amount
of data from the existing /some/path directory on the root volume to
this new volume. How would you approach moving the data? Keep in mind that symlinks
need to be preserved. Also note that this will be run by an automated process
— not manually by a human being.

So is every interview going to be a slam dunk? Obviously not. But it stands to reason that you’re interviewing with companies who are doing work that you find interesting and engaging, and they’re probably proud of it. When people are proud of their work, they want to talk about it. And some of the most interesting things come from listening to people when they talk about something that they’re proud of.


  1. He totally meant vi, but he pronounced it silly; we had a little talk about the differences between vi and vim and how virtually nothing actually uses vi anymore. I also pointed out that yes, I can use it but that I’m not a modal-editor guy. I’ll work in vim when I have to, but it’s not my bread and butter. 

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