Category Archives: Career

Book Review: Becoming a Better Programmer

Becoming a Better Programmer: A Handbook for People Who Care About Code Book Cover Becoming a Better Programmer: A Handbook for People Who Care About Code
Pete Goodliffe

This book may serve as your mentor in case you do not have a large network of successful and experienced ones.

It covers most of the topics you will experience in life of a professional software engineer: programming, testing, practicing, working with people and being more efficient at your job. I've found Part III Getting Personal and first chapter of Part IV Getting Things Done useful, but it just me. Your mileage may very - depending on your experience and time spent in the software industry,

Few important things are missing from this book: politics of large and small organizations, climbing corporate ladder & truly achieving amazing results as a software engineer.

But to get you started, this book will be good enough.

18 months in Xbox security team

Year and a half ago I accepted an offer from Xbox security team.

It is very important to reflect on your career at least every year and this post is not exception. That said, in the past 18 months I was fortunate to help ship Xbox One gaming console, my experience is detailed in this top answer on Quora.

Xbox One Controller

Overall, it was a great experience. Coming from mobile OS world it was both exciting and challenging time in which I learned to:

  • design & ship security services for millions of customers
  • build advanced security solutions
  • deploy and monitor Xbox Live services
  • investigate issues in production and deliver quick fixes
  • get used to being on call 24/7 for a week at a time (we use Pager Duty)

It is hard to imagine that I would move back to client development with long development cycles and at least a year before customers will see your work. Services is incredibly fast-moving part of the company and is like a drug: once you’re hooked you keep coming for more.

Another interesting aspect of my past 18 month was to observe well-oiled team of high-caliber developers delivering security solutions at a rapid pace. The amount of learning and productivity is multiplied and you have a feeling that anything can be solved. Now, It is indeed a very hard task to hire a great team and keep reports challenged and happy, but I will cover that in the future posts.

But it all just the beginning as we every day there are new challenges, new interesting things to work on so the learning continues.

9 months in Xbox Security Team

It’s been 9 months since I accepted and offer and joined Xbox Security Team.

It is important to acknowledge milestones in one’s career and now is an important developmental milestone in my career. Personally, I prefer to work on v1 projects and features and my choice was also largely influenced by an amazing product we recently announced – Xbox One.

Xbox-One-logo

Few things to mention about past nine months with Xbox:

  • security at Xbox is taken very seriously
  • people are very passionate about the product
  • team is highly professional about everything we do
  • there are a lot of hardcore gamers in their 20s and 30s
  • Xbox is the only team at Microsoft that has “Fun” in its mission statement and it is quite true – we get all new Xbox games upon release
  • Xbox team is moving really FAST!

Yes, we do move really fast and it’s especially true in Services team where I currently work. I also re-discovered SCRUM and can’t even think of moving back to shipping every one-two years. Running sprints can be challenging but much more rewarding. The feedback loop is just so much shorter and you see results right away and your features serve customers immediately. And yes, I did a lot of software design and coding in the past 9 months.

Go Xbox!

Programming Interview Preparation: Whiteboard

In a month you will have programming interview at elite Big Co or rocket-ship startup. You are reading CLRS, Programming Interviews Exposed and even coded 20 problems. You are confident and things are going well. But wait, aren’t you expected to solve programming tasks on a whiteboard?  

In a month in your interview loop not only will you meet sharpest engineers, A+ players who consistently want to raise the bar and have no mercy towards B and C players, but your code will be scrutinized, you need to deliver solution under pressure and on time. On a whiteboard.

Whiteboard coding isn’t programming per se, it’s a sport. Every second counts, every line of code is important and you are required to show your best. Get ready, read on and you will walk on water during your coding session.

Of course, you need to practice. Practice a lot. Not alone, but with a real interviewer.

Stage 1: Get Familiar with Whiteboard. If you are lucky enough to have a competent friend or mentor – ask him or her to interview you at least twice a week. Do a mock interview on a whiteboard as often as possible. You first goal is to get a feel what it is like to have several whiteboard coding sessions a day. At this stage you need to become absolutely comfortable to code on a whiteboard, it should be just as easy as typing on a computer.

Stage 2: Become Fast Whiteboard Coder. I mean really fast whiteboard coder. When an interviewer asks you to solve the task which involves binary tree, you don’t want to ask too many questions. 30 seconds and binary tree node should be on the whiteboard. Not only you saved 10-15 minutes of interviewing time that you will use towards solution, but you also impressed the interviewer since past 5 candidates just started to warm up at this point.

Stage 3: Become a Whiteboard Master. We are not going to talk how to solve your task here – you are a rock star engineer, why do you need any help with that? At this point you are polishing your skills:

  • Buy thin markers and use them during interview. They will help save expensive whiteboard space and your code will be much easier to read. Remember to bring several markers to the interview, you may forget to put it back in your pocket if the interview was very intense!
  • Use whiteboard space wisely. Practice and make sure that your solution is not stretched all over whiteboard.
  • Time yourself. Make sure you really know how long it takes you to implement data structures, loops, error handling and standard solutions such as traversing linked list.

You will be much better off even if you will practice in complete solitude, but best results are achieved with a ruthless interviewer. Practice, don’t rush and you will succeed.

Programming Interview Preparation: Books

I am frequently asked how to prepare for a technical interview at top software companies in the US. Having been on both sides of programming interviews, I can say that one of the keys to successful interview is to start preparation early and have focus.

Maintaining focus during preparation is difficult as there literally thousands of programming problems to solve. However, I will keep the list of must-read books short as they will prepare you for 99% of all programming interviews. Here are the books per area:

Programming Interviews

Algorithms

Computer Architecture

Software Design

Ideally you would read all of them and complete most tasks, but if you are on a really tight schedule, both books from Programming Interviews category will get you started and the rest can be used as a reference.

Good luck and raise the bar!

Interviewing your interviewer

| Software Developer: best job in America

By and large, it’s true. Every year job ratings are published and positions in the software industry are at the top. As software engineers, we became desensitized to issues that professionals in other industries have: high stress, immoral behavior, risk to life, etc.

We tend to live in a tech bubble and take for granted the following attributes of a job that other workers can only dream about:

  • interesting and challenging work
  • ability to learn and grow every day
  • smart colleagues
  • fast-growing industry and stable employment
  • great pay and benefits
  • flexible work hours

Us software engineers are spoiled due to a competition for talent, tech industry growth and opportunity to build the Next Big Thing. But how do you choose a proper team and the right opportunity?

First, you need to get a critical mass of interviews. When you have 5-6 teams or companies that would like to interview you, and you think you can work for them, that’s a good start.

Second, you need to prepare for the Technical Interview, including coding on whiteboard and the ability to create solid designs in a matter of minutes.

There are plenty of books that cover the first and second steps above. However, very rarely do you see another aspect of interviewing that’s just as important as the first two. Ready?

Third, you need to prepare to Interview your Interviewer.

Wait, aren’t you supposed to be answering all their questions and make a solid impression of the next Alan Turing or at least John Carmack? Yes, but in the 5-10 minutes that you have to ask questions you need to excel at getting insider information.

You need to come to the interview prepared with knowledge of the company/team. Personal connections, Linked and Glassdoor will help.

During the interview, when you are finally allowed to ask questions, you need to cut through new-hire brochure BS and, like a cold-blooded KGB agent, get all the information there is about position, team and company. You need to ask right questions and observe the behavior of the interviewer.

Good Signs:

  • interviewers look genuinely happy and you feel good vibe
  • interviewers are laughing
  • interviewer are asking smart questions and focus on the right things
  • interviewers are not afraid to answer your questions
  • interviewers are not afraid to say “I don’t know”
  • hiring manager is answering your questions without any fear or doubt and is generally confident

Red Flags:

  • hiring manager is not answering your questions and instead talks about something not related
  • hiring manager constantly interrupts you
  • you get the impression that interviewer is arrogant, and it is orders of magnitude worse if you feel that several interviewers were arrogant
  • hiring manager/interviewer is not enthusiastic about the project
  • team members don’t show excitement about the work

Very rarely have I seen teams with arrogant and/or incompatible people delivering great results. They maybe 2nd, 3rd but they will never be Number 1. Over time, personality conflicts will prevail. According to Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman, and author of the famous book “The Founder’s Dilemmas”, 65% of start-ups fail due to people factor and interpersonal relationships.

One last piece of advice If you are interviewing for a small company: make sure you interview all team members, especially if it’s a young company. Otherwise you may find yourself disagreeing with a co-founder who “was sick” on the day of your interview.

Good luck with interviews!