Monday, February 23, 2009

Yahoo! Interview

I realize this write up is a bit late, seeing that I already work for Microsoft, but I wanted my interview collection to be complete, so I want to add this one and the interview with Google. Realize, that it has been six or so months since I interviewed with Yahoo!, so my memory has faded a bit. However, I'll go over what I remember.

After my interview with Google, I didn't think I would interview with Yahoo! because it was in the same area of the country - an area I was not impressed with. However, a friend of mine, who works for Yahoo! talked me into interviewing. He said that he could show me around so that I would enjoy the area. I wasn't convinced of that, but at the least it was a free trip to see an old friend, so I decided to take him up on it. In hindsight, I'm very glad I did. First, because getting the Yahoo! offer allowed me to get other offers, but, more importantly, because my friend would passed away in December of last year and it was to be the last time I saw him.

My friend, Nathan, submitted my resume to two groups in Yahoo! The group that contacted me was the Pig group. This was fortunate, because I had just begun using Pig and Hadoop at work. I had also begun interacting with the Pig group through their mailing list. Therefore, I was familiar with the product and could talk about it in our very first call.

I was actually impressed with the phone screenings for Pig. We talked about things relevant to the product, such as how to handle large memory footprints with Java and various join algorithms for large data sets. We also discussed some more trivial things such as some of the differences between C++ and Java and what a virtual function is. I actually got confused at this point and described how compilers typically implemented a virtual function instead of what they did, but we eventually sorted things out.

After the first phone interview, I was fairly confident that things went well. This was mostly due to the fact that the interviewer told me that things went well :) She was the only phone screener to be that blunt. The next phone screener discussed process with me. We talked about TDD, documentation, program management and other things similar to that. It went well and they invited me to Silicon Valley to interview in person.

In retrospect, the best part about going to the Yahoo! interview was getting to see Nathan again. It was the last time I was to see him before the motorcycle accident that led to his death. He took me around the coast and we picked up some strawberries and cherries at a roadside stand. He also took me for a "backstage" view of the Yahoo! scene. It appeared rather normal, other than the guy who had a mini-bar in his cube.

Back to the interview. Like the Amazon interview, all of the Yahoo! interviews took place in the same room. The interviews varied in style, some were more puzzling (how do you find a loop in a linked list), some were more practical (tell everything you would do to design a highly available high throughput web server).

Throughout the interview, I felt I needed far too many hints. I think I did well on the design portions, but the algorithm sections were my weak point. I ended up getting the answers, but hints were necessary. Toward the end, I was just being self-deprecating. I remember one question they asked about how many people I had recommended for hiring (not many about 3) and how many I had interviewed (lots). I made the comment that for my previous company we didn't get Stanford grads and I qualified it by saying that not even I could be a Stanford grad, I just wasn't that good. This interview plus the Google interview plus Microsoft interviews from years before had beaten me down. I was now completely convinced I was useless.

In the end, though, I came away with the impression that the people were very intelligent and would have been great to work with. They talked about the "architect" path that I could take so that I didn't have to become a "people manager" (which sounded good). They seemed to have a great company and it would have been loads of fun. However, I didn't expect an offer.

Surprisingly, they called not too long after the interview with an offer. By this time, I had an interview scheduled with Amazon.com and so I asked to make my decision after that point.

As you know, I didn't choose to go to Yahoo!, but that interview and offer gave me the confidence going into the Amazon.com and Microsoft interviews. Had I not gone to the Yahoo! interview I don't know how I would have done in the other interviews. I know I would not have been as confident and that could have prevented me from getting the position I have now. For that, I'm thankful to both Yahoo! and Nathan.

Thanks Nathan, I'll miss you, prophet!

2 comments:

Hapi said...

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Frank McCown said...

I was real sad to hear about Nathan. Glad you were able to spend some time with him.

When Yahoo called me to check on you, I told them you didn't know your virtual functions from virtual reality. Guess they weren't listening to me. ;-)

I'm very pleased to see you doing so well, muscling into the search engine gig with all those Standford grads.