Why Work Through “Cracking the Coding Interview”?

Around 2014 the number of programmers was doubling about every five years. On average, therefore, half of all programmers has five or fewer years of experience. Yet some companies would promote them to senior positions, because on some teams the rest of the programmers had even less experience. It’s understandable, then, that the technical interview shifted from discovering how much a candidate knew to simply trying to find out if given programmer could even write code and use basic algorithms and data structures.

Have you ever heard of candidates for a software engineering post being selected for their ability to document their code?

Why am I reading and working my way through this book, when I find no evidence that these kinds of tests are effective ways to screen candidates? I’ve concluded that while my ideal is to refuse them and avoid interviewing at employers that require them, I believe that doing well on one is not difficult, just time-consuming.

My goal is to improve my performance in the coding interview, not necessarily to learn the stuff in the book for use on the job. My next step in my career would be Staff Engineer, so if I can progress through this, I’m pretty sure I can get there.

As a Staff+, I expect to be able continue as an individual contributor, but do more interesting work that is suitable to my experience and ability. I have no illusions that reading or working through this book will improve my actual job performance, because ability to clear the coding interview hurdle has not been shown to correlate with working skills. Relevant work samples are the best indicators of skill; new skills learned just to pass an interview step do not represent relevant work.

Am I Really Burnt Out?

Previously I mentioned that in making the decision to take a sabbatical I asked myself, “am I really burnt out enough to make taking time off the best choice for me?” and that it wasn’t an easy question to answer.

What precisely constitutes burnout?

You know you’re burned out when things that used to motivate you to get up early and work through lunch, or after quitting time, now feel like burdens. Not just work stuff, burnout starts affecting your life outside work, on things that you thought had nothing to do with work.

A challenging situation or over-stressed situation leading to burnout?

You’re challenged when, even if you don’t know how to get through it, you have in your mind a structure, a way of getting through it. You know you can figure it out, you just have to work it out, and the process of working through it energizes you. You’re over-stressed when you don’t see a way through, or when you see the way through but dread doing the necessary things. Serious burnout shows up as being unable to muster the mental and emotional energy or focus to even figure out a way through, even though you can remember dealing with similar situations in the past.

Different people have different tolerances for stress

Tolerance for stress depends, in part, on a person’s level of resilience: your ability to face reality exactly as it is, your sense that what you do will have some meaningful impact, and your self-confidence in your ability to handle the situation. You might remember a time when you were a kid and something you dealt with seemed like the end of the world, but now you look back and wonder what the big deal was. Your ability to manage stressful situations grew.

Some of the stressful things that had happened to me at my job were novel to me, and looking back now I can objectively see that I wasn’t ready to handle the challenge.

In short, when you’re burnt out, you’re tired even when you get enough sleep, you are reflexively cynical and critical of the work, and you begin to feel like problems you should be able to handle require extraordinary efforts. Those feelings happen now and then when you’re not burnt out, but if it becomes chronic, that’s burnout.

It’s now been a bit over a month since my last work day, and a good two months since I first started considering whether or not I needed to take a sabbatical. With hindsight I am certain I was burnt out. Now that I’ve stepped away, and my thinking is clearer, it’s easy to be sure. That’s the thing about burnout, though – it’s hard to realize it’s happening precisely because of the effects on the mind when it’s happening.

The After Times

Let’s not go back to normal.

Does anyone really think we’re going “back to normal” as the COVID-19 crises eases? Does anyone relish the old normal enough to take it back? Would we prefer to transform normal into something that incorporates our realizations and lessons from the past 15 months?

In The Grace Period Is Over (or Is It?) David Zahl contemplates “the dread specter of normality”  and the opportunity to acknowledge that everything we felt and all the ways we managed are just human, and we need to keep that humanity in the After Times.

I discovered, during the Inside Times, that my expectations and understanding of human nature, my own included, were confused and naive, and I needed to sort out how I acted towards myself and others. I needed to begin acknowledging that what my “little I” ego wants and expects was, and is, more in the forefront of my worldview than I’d realized.