Interviewing with Google – A Tough Decision

Google Cambridge
Google Cambridge

I was contacted by a Google recruiter, I will have my onsite interview on Friday and I will be absent.
Here is the story:

First Contact

I was first contacted in early September with a friendly “Hello from Google”. The recruiter was recruiting graduates for Software Engineering positions for 2015.
Since I will finish my studies in June 2015 I thought this would be a great opportunity. After I had sent my resume, he asked me a couple of things about my interests, skills etc. and I applied for a position in Mountain View and we scheduled a first phone call. I was really busy working at this time and the first call was scheduled for early October.
Then, the fist shock: On the day of our interview, I received a mail saying “I checked it … you would not be eligible for OPT after graduation..” – I had the wrong visa:
I have a J1 and not F1-status so the process was cancelled.

Technical Phone Interview

To make a long story really short: I got a handful of new recruiters, coordinators etc. and had my first technical phone interview for the same position in early December. Everything went well, I passed the first interview and got positive feedback a week before Christmas.

In case you are applying for a position and you are searching the Web for every advice you can get, here are some preparation tips that I have found useful but haven’t really seen so far on other websites:

  1. Think about which questions are likely in phone interviews and which are not:
    Should you spend a lot of time preparing for drawing a UML diagram, discussing Dijkstra SP, Red-Black tree rotations or A* in detail, questions that would need a lot of explaining or that can only be solved if you know a crazy trick and which have only one complex solution? Probably not.. Leaving this out saves you a lot of stress and time and if these questions happen, would a different training have made a huge difference?
  2. Change the font in Google Docs to Consolas to have at least a minimum of an IDE feeling
  3. Record yourself. For me as a non native speaker I have to deal with more than just the algorithmic problems and to learn from my own mistakes is crucial. Do it in your mock interviews and if you are allowed, record yourself in the actual interview. Or make short notes. When I discussed the next steps with my recruiter and I was able to tell him that in terms of speed I needed 7 minutes to solve the first problem and 10 minutes for the second and that we had discussed alternative solutions, testing and complexity in between he was impressed by this accurate analytic self reflection. You will also learn a lot about your own communication skills and vocabulary.

The Moment of Truth

After my technical phone interview, I got a new contact person and we scheduled a date for the onsite interview. In my case the onsite interview means going to Google Cambridge, which is just across the street (probably 2 mins) from my office at MIT [often they would fly you to a different city or even another country]. Then, having two interviews before lunch, lunch and additional two interviews after lunch.
The onsite interviews are said to be harder and designed to not only test your analytical thinking but also your communication (social) skills and how you perform under stress / a simulated “long” and hard working day.
I don’t know how many people cancel after the phone interview because they are already stressed, exhausted or intimidated, my guess would be it is not that many. It was no reason for me neither. Instead, I realized something really important

All the time I had the feeling that this was a once in a lifetime chance. But I realized it was not Google and it was not the chance to have a visa or a 100k salary, but instead it was the chance to stand up and use all my energy for something that really means a lot to me. To go a different way where most people would only see one option.

When you are reading all the books on how to prepare for interviews and you are working through 150 interview coding questions
or you are reading the introduction of a book that is saying:

Ideally, you would prepare for an interview by solving all the problems in EPI. This is doable over 12 months if you solve a problem a day, where solving entails writing a program and getting it to work on some test cases.

or you are reading “I am planning to quit my job and study algorithms full-time for one year.[for an interview]”
or you are reading one of the other thousands of questions on “Is it too late for a 25 year old M.Tech graduate from a tier-2 college to get into Google?”, “Is it too late to start programming at 14 if I want to work at Google?” and the like

you will have the feeling that there is a lot of pressure and a lot of people have fear about their future and eventually you will think for yourself that this is a really great chance and you should do everything to pursue it. This is insane!!

And then, one morning I woke up and had a completely different feeling. And I walked to my office, the sun was shining, but it was really cold (about -19°C), which probably helped me to keep a cool head. And I was realizing that I was just about to release a new software in our department and that a lot of people at MIT would start working with this. And I realized the impact that my work of the last 6 month had and how it would change the research completely in the future. I realized that the decisions I had to make would not only affect my own life and work but also the hard work and research of more people I initially thought of.

So I cancelled my interview.

And if you have ever asked yourself “How do I stop being a wantrepreneur?“, this is probably an answer.

In my opinion, Google is an amazing company and the products they build increase the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people today and in the future around the world. But it is wrong to yield to the pressure and to forget YOUR goals in life. If Google is THE goal then forget everything I have said, but if not think wisely if you are missing your once in a lifetime chance by signing a contract.

One thought on “Interviewing with Google – A Tough Decision

  1. Thumbs up for this post ! I think big companies are killing the talent with long lasting interviews and sometimes idiotic tasks.

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