From Academia to The Real World™

My CV – This only gets you the interview, you have to do the rest

It feels like yesterday, but it has now been 50 weeks since I graduated from The University of Hull. I know this because its my Birthday in 2 weeks — and theres the small matter of Charlotte graduating (Well done!). The ever-accelerating passage of time has meant that in recent months I have turned my attentions to planning out what I intend to do once my MSc is over.

This blog is primarily written for me to look back on in a few years and hopefully say “look how far I’ve come” or quite possibly ask where it all went wrong from here. However, it may include some useful tidbits of information for future graduates looking for jobs.

My job hunt started when a company well known for their search engine approached me offering me an interview for a Graduate Software Engineering position in either Mountain View or London. This was exciting. I was invited for a final interview having completed a telephone interview with an software engineer/team leader. At this point I had to decide if I wanted to work in either London or Moutain View — opting to work in Moutain View meant that my interview had to take place within a week due to certain visa requirements — in retrospect I should have waited and gone for the London job with more time to prepare, however the draw of a Californian life-style was too much! I can’t actually write about what I was asked in the interview, however I can say that it was a fantastic learning experience. Anyone who gets a chance to interview at a large tech firm certainly should, even if its only for the chance to better their skills.

In the end I wasn’t offered the job. I was dissapointed but the lady from HR told me I was close to getting it and should reapply in a year or two once I had more experience under my belt. This was both reassuring and something nice to work towards.

Around the same time as that interview I was engadged in a process alongside Dr. Dan Franks to apply for funding for a PhD program, in which I would work on an Evolutionary Computation project dealing with issues of crowd behaviour in evolved systems and comparisons to the real-world. This was an awesome project and I appreciate the work Dr. Franks put into my application with me. I also appreciate his honesty when it came to discussing whether doing a PhD was right for me at this time in my life — in the end I came to the decision it wasn’t. Whilst I love research and doing new and exciting things I was more interested in getting my teeth into some real-world software engineering projects and improving my skills in that area. I hope that a PhD is something that I come back to at some point later in life. I was offered the PhD on a full stipend and fees paid, but turned it down after a lot of reflection.

A few months passed as I knuckled down on the last few modules of the taught portion of my course but now, as I wrote previously, I am in the research semester of my Masters Degree — whilst this is in some ways no less busy than the taught portion of the course it does have the advantange of being a period of time in which I don’t have to be physically located in York for anything other than a weekly supervisor meeting — this has given me the oppertunity to go job seeking again.

Without enumerating over each interview process I’ve gone through over the last 3 weeks, because there been rather a few, I want to make the following observations:

  • You will probably recieve a few emails thanking you for your time but informing you that the company doesn’t wish to move ahead with your application. A few rejections in a row can get you a bit down, but…
  • There are many reasons for not being offered a job. As many, if not more, than there are to be offered one. It could be something as simple as not being as enthusiastic about their technical platform as you are about say, Node.js. So don’t take anything personally and behave professionally, don’t take it to heart.
  • Doing interviews will undoutedly make you a better Software Engineer. After a few weeks of Data Structure, Algorithm and Software Architecture questions coming at you in a high pressure environment you’ll notice how much your thought processes have changed and how much you’ve improved.
  • Attending interviews is a great way to discover if you think you could handle commuting every day. In the past 2 weeks I’ve travlled over 3,000 miles doing interviews (York to London return is 431 and a half miles). I came to the conclusion I could, quite happily, travel a (shorter) distance each day
  • You will know if you would work for a company within an hour of being there. I remember one interview in particular where I knew very quickly there was no way I would want to work there (the best thing to do in this situation is continue as normal and be professional). Other times you’ll experience what you percieve to be your dream work environment. Remember, you’re interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you. You’ll be spending 8 hours a day there, 5 days a week for the foresable future. There are plenty of CS jobs avaliable so make sure you get one which is good for you. If you like a job that also means you’ll work better for them, so its good for them too if you turn down a job you wouldn’t love.
  • Every company interviews in a slightly different way. I personally found a mixture of programming on a PC as well as ‘whiteboarding’ data structure and algorithms gave me the best environment in which I could show what I percieve to be my skills. Some companies only do one, or the other, which is a shame.
  • You should read “Code Complete” and “Programming Interviews Exposed” and brush up on your Data Structures and Algorithms before going to any interviews (I wish I’d done this before going to that search engine company), you’ll thank yourself for it.
  • Companies love enthusiasm. Proving you’re enthusiastic about Computer Science is quite easy, especially if you have a blog like this one, however as quite a stoic person I found it hard at times to show enthusiasm for a companies product — especially if that product was not public facing and therefore I’d never had a chance to use it. I’m not really sure what to say or do to help these situations.
  • You will be asked about anything, no matter how minor it is, that is on your CV. Fortunately everything on my CV is true so it wasn’t too bad, I can only imagine how hard it is if it isn’t.
  • There are some questions you will be asked by every company. You should work on refining your answers over time. The two I got asked everywhere were “Why don’t you have an A-Level in Maths?” and “Why did you decide to do a masters degree at York?”.

Just yesterday I formally accepted one of the 4 job offers I had received in this process at a fantastic company, for whom I’m very excited to be working for. I’ll write more about that in my next blog post!


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