Job Interviews & Imposter Syndrome

I was talking to my friend who has about 18 years of industry experience predominantly on and around Java stack. He has many certifications and is totally capable of building, running and maintaining a production level software project – working with a team of people.

He mentioned that he has been interviewing and was surprised that how even after all these years people ask him questions about syntax of writing code. It’s like they ignore all the experience he brings and over looks all the success he had with delivering projects – but get hung up on how well he can write a Java annotation example or the difference between abstract class and an interface.

He mentioned that most of the interviews he can coast easily but some of them end up make him feel real bad. Like put the insecurities back into him – which he worked on all these years. He was shocked after one interview, he felt totally useless about his work and had to take a break and think deeply about his career path.

I think software job interview process is broken. I think there are sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees. I understand how complicated the process is. It takes months to co-ordinate people and resources to get them in one place to make it happen. I believe we probably have better tools to solve dating than job interviewing.

And from my experience it feels like it all comes down to timing and luck! Which it totally shouldn’t be and it’s huge loss of time and energy for both sides. I have been to interviews where because of miscommunication, the person interviewed me for a completely different position and the HR realized it only after the fact.

The tech screens are horrific! Giving me a chance to prove myself everything I have done in my career and everything I can do in 30 mins on a coderpad boggles my mind. I have learned like my friend – to say no, to tech screens which basically assign the most easily available person in the company to screen (likely on a short notice) with an overly used tricky problem set (invert a tree, find a duplicate) and using those 30 mins to kinda yield a fake power over an anxious applicant.

Given how fast the technologies & tools change (remember Apache Storm? Lambda Architecture?) – it’s really impossible to keep up for any person in this field. But when we are being tested – it’s kinda assumed that the person who is applying should know everything about the subject, including the arcane stuff which he/she will never use on the job.

So, my discussion with my friend naturally went towards imposter syndrome. In Silicon valley, it feels like everyone is on the edge – playing the imposter game and ready to be stripped of the title, honor, dignity in any given job interview. It feels like, everyone is working hard to hide the fact that it’s literally impossible to keep up with the ever growing technology and are pretending to be know it all and playing safe, meekly walking around and scared of being found out as a fraud.

My friend pointed out that job interviews actually promote and perpetuate imposter syndrome. Which I think he has a point.

The things I am really good at it is – thinking in big pictures, connecting the dots and fast learning. But none of the tests they put me through in the job interviews test that. Once in a while I come across someone who is aware of the broken interview process and sees past me not being able to syntactically write something correct on a first attempt (That’s what an IDE is for).

As we talked more, we realized that it’s our own responsibility as an applicant to be honest and strive to keep our confidence when going through the interview process. Because at the end of the day both the applicant and the company are trying to see if they are fit for each other – but in this case, we are using wrong metrics to measure the fit.

Shrink Wrapped Me

I have learned something new in the past few months. It’s very critical for me and I am kinda obsessed with it. To put it in simple words – we all have 2 things going on. One, what we are doing (or what is . happening to us) and another – how we go about telling a story about it! It makes all the difference!

Yuval Harari is extremely right about how we humans use language to create fiction and weave stories and if I can extend on what he is saying – we fill our world with fiction stories and tell them repeatedly to people around us.

What I didn’t know was simple. I thought if I speak what feels true to me – I would be ok. But, to my dismay I am realizing more and more that people don’t want my true story – people love it when I package it in a nice bubble wrap. It’s fascinating to me, when I started to count the number of people who would rather have my true self and true stories – it literally came down to single digit number! I mean I have more people in my life, who would rather want me to wrap my thinking, vulnerability in a shrink wrap and give it to them than give them the real deal. Also, these are the same people who would talk around in circles and keep it safe.

I think it’s ok. I am not judging them. But what’s happening to me about that bubble wrap is that – these people mean less and less to me. I actually have started avoiding them. My work and what I do mean a lot to me – but it has been so unfortunate that predominantly my work is filled with people who would rather have me bubble wrapped than be talking about work, meaning etc

I am getting used to it. But on other hand – I am also building this core group of people I open up to and be who I am. It just means that some times it’s going to be lonely. I am ok with it – as I think it’s ok to be honest and vulnerable with few than be fake with many,