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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. ↩︎