Interviewing at a FAANG in the Midst of COVID

This is a guest post from an anonymous FAANG engineer. Enjoy.

Dear New Developer,

In 2020, one question lurks in all of our minds: What the hell is going on? And yet, for many of us, life not only goes on, it presents exciting new opportunities. Towards the end of 2019, after six years of working as a software developer, I felt it was time to leave my second job. The familiar faces were rapidly disappearing, and I just wasn’t finding the work fulfilling anymore. I entertained a couple calls from FAANG recruiters, but I wasn’t particularly excited about any of them. I assumed I was going to find The Perfect Startup™ at which to spend the next phase of my career. I was complacent. I had endless excuses for why this wasn’t a good time and why my job wasn’t so bad. I could spend another year there.

Little did I know that the “another year” in question was going to be the craziest year the world had ever seen.

For personal reasons, I did not interview at all for the first month and a half of 2020. I even scheduled a phone screen with a FAANG, but due to a family emergency I rescheduled it and then forgot about it until the night before. Oof. I pride myself on my algorithm skills, but three years without interviewing is enough to make anyone rusty. I didn’t fail the phone screen, but I didn’t pass it either – instead, I was asked to try again. That was a wake-up call, and it made me really want to succeed at the interviews that I had previously not cared about.

My first tip, for anyone interviewing in 2020 or any other year: Grind LeetCode. I cannot understate how important it is to build muscle memory for the coding portion of your interviews. You don’t want to spend fifteen minutes thinking about whether you should use a Queue or a List (as I did), you want to spend that time solving the actual problem. Anyway, after that experience, I practiced every night (and some days) and easily passed all of my phone screens.

Less than a week later, COVID struck and my office asked me to work from home until further notice. All good, this should just make it easier for me to spend time on interviews, right? I assumed it would just be a temporary exercise for the next two weeks. Little did I know, all the companies, FAANG and other, which I was interviewing at would soon close their doors as well. I started panicking – what was to come of my on-site interviews? Well, some of the smaller companies didn’t feel comfortably hiring remotely, so those processes were dead in the water. All the FAANG companies assured me that I would get the full on-site interview experience through the magic of videoconferencing. I was not happy about this at all. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to connect with other people, so I feared that this would be lost over video. I shouldn’t have worried. All my interviewers made an extra effort to connect with me due to the circumstances, and I actually felt more comfortable than I ever had for an in-person interview. Thus, my second tip: Relax. Yes, times are extremely weird right now, but they’re weird for everyone. Have fun and enjoy the process.

I went into the interview process with a pretty good idea of which FAANG I wanted to work at. Based on what I knew of the internal culture, the company’s impact on the world, and my expected daily happiness, I had already decided where I wanted to be. However, if I didn’t receive an offer from that one, I was more than happy to work for any of the others I was interviewing at. Thus, I treated them both as practice interviews and as high-stakes challenges. Ultimately, I aced all of the interviews, received offers from all the companies, and immediately accepted the one I had been thinking about. I could not have been more thrilled. I attribute my success to two things, preparation and routine. Preparation was already mentioned in my first tip – grind those practice problems. I did over 100 problems on LeetCode in the month leading up to my interviews, and I even wrote up solutions on that website as a way to practice my ability to explain to others.

As for routine, my final tip is this: Build a stable routine. This is something we software developers struggle with even in years that are not 2020. When the lockdown first started, I felt lost. I worked until midnight because there was no reason to stop. My diet and exercise slipped. However, once I turned that around, I felt the ability to compartmentalize and plan. I set a regular bedtime and waketime. I started cooking myself meals at regular times to replace the ones from the office. I ordered a pull-up bar for my doorframe so that I could exercise any time I passed through it during the day. Once my life and health were in order, it was easy for my brain to focus on the fun part: passing those interviews.

— Anonymous