I’m not an idiot… I promise!

I hate new jobs. I like getting to work on new projects, I like learning new things and I like meeting new people, but I hate the actual “new job” stuff. I don’t like looking for jobs, I don’t like interviewing, I don’t like being the new guy who doesn’t know anything. Due to circumstances related to the recent economic turmoil, I decided that regardless of my aversion, it would be a good idea to start searching for new employment.

I started looking and, on one of my first phone interviews, was asked, “What is an interface?”

I know what an interface is. I’ve written new interfaces; I can create a class that implements IComparable, IDisposable and IMakeMillionsFromCrazyIdeas without breaking a sweat. I can talk at length about why multiple-inheritance is pure evil and how single-inheritance, combined with interfaces, will solve every problem known to man. If you would prefer, I can argue the inverse. But, when asked, “What is an interface?” I babble like an idiot:

Oh, an interface is a thing that classes have and they start with an ‘I’ in C# anyway but it’s by convention not a requirement and they come after the class name and a colon and they help us to do things so that when other classes want to do something they know that our class can be used to do that thing because our class implements the interface.

I’s a rel gud programur. I got teh 1337 h@X0r skillz. yeah…

I knew the answer, but on the spot, I couldn’t figure out how to intelligently convey that knowledge. I hadn’t been asked to verbalize that knowledge for a long time. Since I don’t like feeling like an idiot, I spent some time googling “interview questions.” I don’t remember which site recommended the book, but I ended up buying Programming Interviews Exposed: Secrets to Landing Your Next Job, 2nd Edition.

Programming Interviews Exposed was a good purchase. If you you’re not already familiar with some basic concepts of computer science I doubt this book would be very useful. But for me it was a great refresher on concepts I use regularly, but hadn’t consciously thought about for a while. Who thinks about the nuts and bolts of programming when you’re in the zone, and it’s just flowing?

As you would expect from a job hunting book, there are chapters on the basics of job hunting: how to decide what companies you want to work for, how to find job opportunities, how to work with headhunters, how to negotiate offers, etc. I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself an interview-pro but, many of these tips just seemed like common sense.

The book describes methods for solving riddles and how to answer questions. It doesn’t just provide a bunch answers to memorize but discusses ways to convey your knowledge and experience to the interviewer (hint: keep talking and explain what you are thinking). The chapters that I found most useful were the computer science topics: linked lists, trees and graphs, arrays and strings, concurrency, etc. The book gives questions that might be presented in an interview then explains the answers.

To date, I haven’t been asked any of the questions presented in Programming Interviews Exposed. Reading examples of various ways to traverse trees and reverse strings was useful. The interviewer does not want return new string (Array.Reverse ("xyzzy".ToCharArray()));. It was useful enough that, when asked to calculate the weight of tree nodes and return a specific node in O(n) time, I felt confident in my answer.

Programming Interviews Exposed will most likely benefit those who are already familiar with basic computer science concepts. It’s a quick read and quite effective. Good luck with your next interview!