Category Archives: Personal

Applying for Software Engineering Jobs in the U.S.

I am in the process of applying to some tech companies for the next summer (contact me if you have an open position hehe). Here are some things I experienced and also some tips for the ones also applying.

From Germany I was used to a very easy-going process. Companies highly valued credentials (degrees, courses taken, references, ...) for the technical skills. Interviews were then focused on soft skills and assessing at which team/project I could apply my strength best. Interviews were always directly with a representative from the team/group I was applying to. Soft skills would be assessed through team exercises (not technical) in so-called "assessment centers", role plays, experience questions (like"can you tell me about a situation where it was difficult to work with other people?") and other questions like "what do you think is important for good time management?". Then, for the rest of the interview they would explain different projects they are hiring for and try to see how I could fit into them. The whole process would usually only involve an initial phone call to discuss logistics and then one on-site interview. Most German companies value etiquette highly. Your writing better be flawless and the cover letter is probably the most important part of the application. It is really important to make a good point about why this company excites you.

My experience in the U.S. is very different. The initial contact is very focused on the "résumé". Recruiters at job fairs will sometimes just ask you for your résumé and that's it. Students will sometimes come to tech talks just to give their résumé to the recruiter and won't even stay for the talk. Also there are companies whose entire application process just consists of uploading a résumé. So are applications in the US very credential based? I can't say either, because most companies haven't even asked me for transcripts or reference letters. And many emphasize that they recruit people with all sorts of education paths. Weird. Instead, I would say that recruiting is less credential based than in Germany, because the U.S. companies all want to assess technical skills themselves through a series of technical phone interviews. And only if you pass through them you get an onsite interview. I honestly have my doubts on how good this process is as the sample size the company gets from two or three 45 minute technical phone interviews is rather small. Further, at some companies the interviews are with random software engineers in the company, who don't know about you, and have little incentive to make a good phone interview. But maybe degrees from U.S. universities don't say much, many applicants went through a different education or many applicants are from foreign countries with uncertainty about the significance of their degrees.

Anyways. To be successful, one needs to specifically prepare for this kind of interview. I recommend skimming the book Cracking the Coding Interview to get gist of why companies think they do these interviews, what they are looking for, what to expect, as well as some general strategies for answering questions. The book also contains sufficient review material to quickly freshen up your basic programming skills if needed. Then there is also a section of typical interview problems. But there are websites that provide the same and also let you write and test the code on the website directly. I can recommend CodeLab and LeetCode. Topcoder is another site that many recommend, but it's much more blown up. The book, on the other hand has very good solutions to the problems and also a good system of giving you hints if you're stuck. But don't be fooled. The interview questions I was asked in the actual interviews were sometimes much tougher than the ones in the book or online.

Another recommendation I have is Triplebyte (a Y Combinator company). The concept is that you do the first round of technical interviews with them (first online and then over the phone). If you are successful, you can then directly go to the onsite interviews of their partners. And they have a lot of very interesting partner companies. They save you a lot of stress. Otherwise you would have pretty much the same interview round with all the companies you apply for. That's not only cost for you, it's also cost for the companies. So by saving this cost, Triplebyte is able to invest more into optimizing their interview process. They also have a nice philosophy: Very data-driven, they don't look at credentials at all, and they focus on the applicants strength instead of weaknesses. So I highly recommend checking them out if you are applying for interviews/jobs in the space: Triplebyte.

 

Von Niehl in die Welt

This German article appears in the anniversary magazine of my high-school, the Erich Kästner-Gymnasium, Köln Niehl.

Hallo liebe Mitmenschen, die ihr noch im Käfig „Schulsystem“ gefangen seid und sehnsüchtig auf den Tag wartet, an dem Ihr einen Zettel mit der Überschrift “Abitur” überreicht bekommt, der euch endlich erlaubt in die schöne Welt hinaus zu gehen und eure Träume zu verwirklichen. Ich habe den Sprung geschafft. Ich promoviere aktuell an der UC Berkeley bei bestem kalifornischen Wetter und in Gesellschaft mit einigen der klügsten und interessantesten Menschen, die diese Welt zu bieten hat.

Auch wenn ich ausgesprochen ungern in die Schule gegangen bin, muss ich fairerweise sagen, dass das EKG noch ein ertragbarer Käfig war. Die Offenheit der Schule für neue Initiativen und die gute Beziehung zu ein paar Lehrern waren ein wichtiger Baustein für meine Karriere.

Das EKG ermöglichte mir mit verschiedenen Angeboten, mich neben dem normalen Unterricht meinem eigenen Tempo entsprechend zu entwickeln. Es war kein Problem, fachspezifisch den Unterricht eines höheren Jahrganges zu besuchen. Und ein sehr engagierter Herr Müller-Alander, hatte sich dem Projekt Schülerfirma verschrieben, das uns die Möglichkeit gab einen gewissen “entrepreneurial spirit” zu entwickeln. Am wichtigsten aber war das Projekt “Schüler an der Universität”. Das hieß für mich: Schulfrei und stattdessen spannende Vorlesungen an der Uni. Zwei Wochen Mathestudium an der Uni entsprechen im Umfang gut und gerne zwei Jahren Mathe LK. Erstaunlich, was man erreichen kann, wenn man nicht mehr an die Geschwindigkeit des Lehrers gebunden ist. Also: Auch wenn das Schulsystem sehr einschränkend wirkt, es gibt Möglichkeiten, seinen eigenen Weg zu gehen, auch schon vor dem Abitur.

„If you can dream it, you can do it“ (Walt Disney) und „Spaß ist nicht gleich Freude“ (Norman Mellein).

Joining UC Berkeley in Fall 2015

Today I have got wonderful news to share: I just accepted an offer from UC Berkeley to start a Computer Science PhD program there in fall his year. Reading the admission e-mail some days ago was a sheer breathtaking moment in my life. I'm absolutely thrilled to be working with the great researchers at Berkeley and my motivation just reached the next level.

The TOEFL

Yesterday, I got my results from the TOEFL iBT, but first things first. TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and is administered by the Educational Testing Service. iBT stands for Internet based Test: answers are submitted to ETS via the Internet and are not evaluated at the test center.

I had to take the quite expensive ($240) test that wants to measure my academic English language skills, because it is mandatory for my applications to US PhD programs. The test consists of three parts: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. In my opinion, the test is well created and fairly well suited to evaluate one's English skills within the limitations that a computer-based test has. One can earn up to 30 points in each section and thus the total score (the sum) is on a 0-120 scale. Continue reading