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I hate whiteboarding

(Definition: solving a problem or writing code in an interview, in front of people, under time pressure. Video/online counts as well.)

I'm not sure I've gotten much better at this in the past year. It's one thing if the problem is one I already know and I just have to write code; I think I regurgitate under pressure fairly well. But if I have to really think about the problem then it feels like my IQ drops 20+ points under stress and being stared at. And when I come up with one idea for a solution, it's hard to try to think of others that might be better in some sense -- after all, the clock is ticking, and I have to start writing code! Not to mention the fun of having to write correct code without backup documentation or a compiler -- my memory prioritizes the stuff that's hard to look up, like What You Shouldn't Do, or Where Information Is, over the stuff that's trivial to look up at need.

As for actually being creative, that goes a lot better when I have time to relax, or step away from the problem and not consciously think about it. A lot of my best solutions just come to me when doing something else, or musing in bed or the shower, or walking.

Post prompted by Thursday's experience, where I was asked to construct a relative path between two directories, and I saw it as a tree problem and hared down making C++ trees with nodes and everything. At the end I asked how I'd done, and was told "well, this works, or would work with a bit more polishing of the code, but there's a simpler way with just lists." One minute after leaving the building I saw what that would be, and at home it took me 18 minutes to code and debug, which I e-mailed in, but apparently got no credit for that.

I did better Monday, with some basic linked list questions; that rejection was "you did well and seem a fine technologist, but not commercially experienced enough". Which is back to the Catch-22 of not being able to get experience because I'm not experienced enough.

On the flip side, Wednesday had a video interview where I had no idea how I did, but they want me to go to NYC for an onsite next week. So yay, progress... of course, that'll probably be more whiteboarding.

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Damien Sullivan

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December 2018


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