Volunteering with Tech City Stars
14 October 2015, by David Simons
The tech community as a whole is not as diverse as society. Thousands, if not millions of words have been written about it trying to explain and rectify this problem. Every one of those words is worth reading, so I’m sorry for throwing yet more in to the mix!
One thing I’ve seen is that people with exposure to technology and programming in their family life or education are more likely to consider careers in the tech sector. There’s no surprise there: it’s hard for people to aspire to something they haven’t seen. My Dad worked in IT, and I always knew it was an option. When I applied for programming jobs, he had advice about CVs and interviews. I’m aware that these all gave me an implicit advantage that many people may not have had.
There’s a lot of thoughts about how to undermine these systematic issues, but one way that we can begin to challenge these effects is introducing themes around careers in tech to many people that may not otherwise see it.
To that end, we’re proud to have been working with Tech City Stars for the last few years.
Tech City Stars work with young people from areas that have higher rates of youth unemployment – the eponymous stars. They run ‘reboot camps’ that introduce relevant skills and ideas to the young people before hooking them up with a range of employees to enter apprenticeships. This is tackling the heart of the issue: taking young, motivated people and making sure their background doesn’t hold them back.
Although we’ve not yet had the opportunity to take an apprentice, we’ve worked with them to ensure that their camps and syllabuses accurately reflect the real experience a person may face when entering the technical world.
One area in particular that we find surprise people who aren’t used to the tech sector is analytical questions at interviews. We use these sorts of questions, that look at candidates’ thought processes when faced with an unfamiliar problem, to give us an idea of a candidate’s ability rather than hearing many rehearsed answers.
This is exactly where exposure to our practises can start to undermine a difference in privilege between candidates. Although no candidates will have seen the exact problems we use, having an appreciation of the types of questions that get asked by software companies prevents unnecessary stress in an interview situation and allows candidates to perform at their best.
Now, there’s a chance that you’ve stumbled upon this blog post wondering about interview questions that tech firms do actually ask! Naturally, we can’t give away all of our interview problems over the internet – candidates will give us polished answers tomorrow! – but through examination of other companies process, and through aggregation and recruitment sites, we noticed a trend for a number of questions. (Note that we don’t necessarily endorse these questions – but if they get asked often enough, we felt it our duty to teach them.)
We’ve included a few types of questions below, so that anybody can start to think about and prepare for any application – but be warned that this list is not exclusive. The only thing that these sorts of questions will have in common is the need for clear, analytical thought. The advice we give to all the Tech City Stars is to explain your reasoning, keep a clear head, and use logic to break the problem down into smaller steps. Although a programmer’s gut instinct is an important tool in the long run, it’s not going to be impressive to an interviewer if you try and wing every question!
Sample Questions Types
Long-form ‘open’ question: What is the hardest thing that the developers had to, in order to get Siri to work?
Mathematical/Logic question: You have a cube that is made of 64 smaller, identical cubes in a 4 by 4 by 4 arrangement. I paint the outside using paint. How many of the smaller cubes have 0 faces painted? How many have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 painted?
Estimation question: How many words are there in total in all seven of the Harry Potter books?