A technical interviewer, or technically an interviewer.
I was interviewed quite a few times since I set of to join the networking crowd, 12 years ago. I also had opportunity to sit on the opposite side, and interviewed people on multiple occasions.
Some of my fondest memories of working for my current employer are connected to interviewing recent university graduates from places across Europe a couple of years ago. There’s nothing like talking to people wide-eyed about the magnificent world of data networking.
Because of my background, I was mostly performing technical interviews.
Both from interviewers and interviewees, I saw the best, and the worst. Interviewers who were plainly rude, interviewees forgetting what company they were applying to today, but also people coming up with ideas worth a startup, or inventing extensions of NetFlow on the fly.
What this post is hoping to accomplish is to give both interviewers and interviewees a couple of pointers. There are multiple posts already around this topic already on packetpushers.net and elsewhere – Ethan’s blog post https://packetpushers.net/four-interview-questions-i-have-asked-network-engineering-candidates/ , as well as things written from interviewer’s perspective by John Harrington https://packetpushers.net/five-selfish-reasons-to-interview/. I’m hoping to give my perspective and share some observations on the matter.
To people preparing for interviews.
Interviews work both ways
It’s an opportunity to find out about the job and your potential future colleagues and managers. It’s OK to say “Thanks, but no thanks”, especially if you don’t like what you’re hearing or how you’re being treated.
Don’t stretch the truth.
This point cannot be stressed enough.
Clear your CV, remove the things you worked with, change them to technologies you’re familiar with. It’s also very often that you will be challenged on things you put in your CV or claim to know.
When asked about something, it’s OK to say, “It’s not really my forte” or “It’s been ages, since I worked with it”.
In an interview conducted not so long ago a candidate claimed to know Catalyst 2960 platform, unfortunately so did my fellow interviewer. And it has to be said, working with is not the same as knowing or even understanding a platform.
Show passion for networking
When asked about what got you into networking, it’s OK to mention that time, when you were 15 and you installed coaxial cable to run ARCnet and NetWare to play Duke Nukem 3d with friends.
Share the projects you’re working on, if you can. You just installed 5 different monitoring solutions to check what works best for you? If you were thrilled to do it we will be thrilled to hear about it.
You have a blog about networking? Share it!
Prepare to be challenged…
As an interviewer, my favorite tactic is to ask the candidate to pick a topic they feel comfortable with. We’ll talk about that technical aspects eventually running into some area which they might not be the most knowledgeable about. It’s OK not to know. But prepare yourself to answer questions like “How would you do it if you were implementing/designing it today?”, “How could we extend it to do X?”, or “Why do you think it was prudent they did it the way they did in 2002?”.
I’m not expecting a brilliant solution to all the problems, not even expecting that it’s particularly smart way to do something, what I’m expecting is engineering.
Being able to engineer something on the spot shows not only understanding but a level or technical prowess.
…but also to challenge
Ask questions about the job, ask what people in prospective team are doing to develop themselves and how their job changed. Ask what makes a person successful in this job. Ask!
When at the end of interview a candidate does not have any questions for me, I feel like I failed, either to create an environment open to discussion or they were pushed too far.
Interviews work both ways
As an interviewer, you are representing your company, but also yourself.
Leave your ego at the door. And remember that on the opposite side of that table or a phone line sits another human being with their own experiences and expectations.
That’s something a lot of technical interviewers forget, you are there to evaluate not to judge.
Enough with the trivia!
It’s something Ethan mentioned in his post, trivia questions are a poor way to evaluate anything but person’s memory. Being able to memorize things is important, but as an engineer you’re supposed to … engineer.
While a “Tell me about LSA types” is a perfectly good question maybe it’s time to follow it up with “Why are there new types of LSAs in OSPFv3, what are they solving?”. Test understanding not only knowledge.
Move with the times
It’s the century of the fruit bat, for heaven’s sake (yes, a Terry Pratchett reference). Still asking same old questions about IPv4 and OSPFv2? You may be doing it wrong. You can have a meaningful technical conversation about IPv6 and Software Defined X, at least you know that the interviewee is doing some studying of their own.
How to succeed in an interview
Yes, I firmly believe you can be successful as an interviewer in an job discussion. You know it’s been time well spent, when you had opportunity to chat about the job, have a meaningful back and forth on a technical topic, go over time and still get questions from the candidate. I hope most technical interviewers know the feeling and realize they are facilitators for such experiences.
To all the interviews to come
Ultimately both sides (candidates and interviewers) will have a verity of experiences and people work on their own style entire careers. It’s OK to fail as long as you learn your lesson from it, stand up and do a better job next time.
To both sides, best of luck in your technical interviews!