Carolyn Van Slyck

Interview Brain Dump

Fry: Not sure if I'm calm because I studied enough or because I don't give a shit anymore
My Interview Technique

Last year I spent a silly amount of time interviewing for remote senior Go developer positions working on upstream Kubernetes. I’m not sure if I landed my current position on the Azure Containers team at Microsoft because of my interviewing skills. In fact it may have more to do with my cluster decorating to be quite honest, but I’m not so cool that I won’t take all help that I can get!

I had hoped to write up some inspiring, insightful post on how to go about the interview process but after circulating this advice in gist form for a few months, I’m going to simply admit defeat, fix some spelling mistakes, and turn that gist into a proper blog post. 😉

Stuff I have been asked in my most recent senior developer interviews

  • Kubernetes architecture and how take to take advantage of it to solve problems. Understanding the market, the problems that we are trying to solve with k8s, what still needs to happen. Of course I also think it’s pretty useful to have a feel for the various groups of k8s users and what they are looking for.
  • Docker architecture and understanding of how it is implemented: cgroups, namespaces, security options, alternative runtimes, volumes, persistence… Essentially, what’s really going on after unpacking the higher level abstractions.
  • Go mastery, particularly how Go’s concurrency works and how to leverage various patterns. I recommend reading Concurrency in Go and watching Kavya’s GopherCon talk.
  • Cultural fit, mostly focused on how well I would do in a completely distributed team.
    • Do I like to collaborate?
    • How do I approach dealing with conflicting personalities in the workplace, and in open source?
  • Making sure that the things that make me happy in a job are satisfied, and that my career goals align.
  • Since I wanted to do 100% OSS, we talked a lot about politics, the realities of how things get done in OSS, the frustrations, how I deal with them, how I deal with conflict, tricks for getting stuff done with a PR is rejected, or not merged for months, etc.

I found it impossible and demoralizing to try to prep for algorithm / data structure questions, since the set of possible questions is large and there’s only so much that one can study. Mine was about identifying disjoint sets in a directed cyclic graph, and I struggled with it since I graduated from university over 14 years ago. If you really do want to go down that route, memorize Cracking the Code and have fun interviewing at Google. 👋

Preparation Ideas

  • Draw the kubernetes architecture:
    • What’s on the master, the workers, what are the communication flows, how can it be secured.
    • What are some of the types of resources such as replica sets, jobs and how/when would you use them.
    • I had a diagram piece of paper while interviewing so that it was easier for me to talk about it over the phone with someone, because I like to point at things and gesture wildly.
  • Decide which language you want to interview in (e.g. Go), and make sure that you aren’t rusty on key stuff that maybe you are comfortable reading and understanding, but may not be great at typing out into a blank editor: various for-loop syntaxes, variable declaration, type casting and switching, anonymous functions, defining a struct/interface, defining a method on a struct, and fmt.Println vs Printf, vs Sprintf, etc.
  • Be ready to speak to what recent/upcoming features are you excited about:
    • What areas of k8s or just problems in general (like infra) are you excited to solve?
    • What is a bug or lack of feature that you wish you could fix?
    • What’s your opinion on upcoming Go features, like dependency management.
  • If you have side projects that you are excited to talk about, they are great to bring up. I made sure to mention my pony cluster, and it made people laugh and demonstrated that I really do enjoy this stuff. It’s okay if you don’t have something like that to point to, just saying that it’s okay to bring up things if they don’t ask about them.
  • Practice answering a question like “Describe all the things that happen between someone typing docker run... or kubectl run ... and the command completing successfully”. It is a similar question to the “Tell me what happens when you type an address into the web browser and the page is loaded”.

The intent of the question is to see where you have deep knowledge and how broad your knowledge is. For example do you go off and talk about networking, dns, api call flows, or system/kernel stuff. Are you only able to talk about what happens, e.g. “a pod is deployed” or can you go deeper into how it happens, such as walking through the lower level components (kubectl, the api server, kubelet, docker, the kernel) and the actions they perform.

  • Seriously, read that concurrency book and watch Kavya’s talk. In all of my interviews the only thing consistent was that everyone asked about concurrency, how channels work, how they are implemented (such as “Is every goroutine on a separate thread” Are they OS threads?“), etc.
  • Reflect on some of your most recent projects, pick 1-2 and be ready to answer a variety of questions about them. Practice your answer, write down key points and keep that handy for a phone interview.

Common questions are:

  • Explain the project at a high level in 30 seconds.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to debug something really hard, how did you go about figuring out what was wrong?
  • Tell me about a time when you had an interpersonal conflict on a project and how you resolved it?
  • Tell me about a project that you really enjoyed, and be ready to talk about the architecture of the project, what your role was, did you support it in production, what would you do differently, etc.
  • Keeping it to a few recent projects, and especially projects that you enjoy talking about will make it easier to be prepared, easier for the interviewer to follow your answers, and show them that you enjoy your work.
  • Make sure that you understand what you are looking for in a job/career:

    • Do you want to work on a tight knit team? Or are you okay with being on a “team of one”?
    • Do you prefer to independently work and then sync up with people? Or do you thrive on collective brainstorming?
    • Do you enjoy collaborating on a design, or do you prefer to think about it first and then share when you feel prepared?
    • What types of problems do you want to be solving? (for example I am very focused on developer experience, others care about working on new features)
    • Are you comfortable talking to customers/users or do you prefer to leave that to others?
    • What areas do you want to learn more about or grow your skills in?
    • What are some things that would make you unhappy and think of questions to spot them.

Performance Art Problem Solving

When you are asked to solve any problem (algorithm or something more high level) in front of people, here my some tips:

  • It matters more how you approach solving the problem than having the right answer.
  • Speak out loud as you think. It’s okay to be quiet for a few seconds while you collect your thoughts, especially at the beginning but let the person know what you are thinking. For example:
    • “Let me think about that for a second”
    • “Hmm, here are some concerns that I would have and want to verify”
    • “I am stuck on this part, here’s what I think but maybe I am missing something related to X”
  • Focus on solving the problem iteratively. It’s perfectly ok to start with a brute force or bad solution, identify its problems, and then make another pass and improving your solution. That is much better than focusing immediately on the optimal solution and then not finishing.
  • It’s okay to say what you are stuck on, and then say that you will come back to it later. Or that you know the category of problem and what you would research. For example when asked an algorithm question that I had trouble solving perfectly, the fact that I could identify the problem (disjoint set identification), indicated to them that I was familiar with it, and that I was capable of finding a solution with additional time and resources (read: Mr. Google).
  • Don’t give up and practice talking out loud as you think through how you would approach the problem, what are potential problems, what are things that should be tested even if you don’t write tests for them.
  • Keep a piece of paper and draw, write lists, write down the problem after they say it so that you don’t forget things or get lost/confused.
  • It’s okay and expected that you will ask questions and collaborate with the interviewer to solve the problem.
  • One good way to get practice is find a friend, and hop on a Video call with them. Share your screen, open up an editor (not an IDE!) and try to write Go app from scratch. For example: Print out all the even numbers from 0-10. Your friend doesn’t need to even know Go for this to work. It just gets you comfortable with typing in blank file while someone is watching you.

Let me know if you found this helpful while interviewing! If you are in Women Who Go or K8s Women, and would like someone to chat with about your interview adventures and mishaps, feel free to DM me on Slack!