Ace Your Technical Interview

It’s a great time to be a software engineer: salaries are high, benefits are sexy, and you have the opportunity to grow your toolkit and own what you build. Whether you are in the market looking for a greener pasture or just want a change of pace, there is still a nerve-racking technical interview that stands in between you and your future dream job.

Here at Ivy Softworks, we have conducted enough technical interviews to know that both sides have unique challenges to overcome during the interview.  We approach every candidate interaction with enthusiasm and curiosity, and we promise to give honest, valuable feedback, while making you feel like part of the Ivy family.  We genuinely want every candidate to be successful and have an excellent experience with us, so here are a few tips that will help you put your best foot forward:

Know Yourself

Changing jobs is a significant investment of time and energy, so it makes sense to first ask yourself, “what do I ACTUALLY want?”.  You could say that a higher salary and better benefits are the draw, but since you will be spending 40+ hours a week working, the work needs to be meaningful and fulfilling.

Here are some helpful questions you should be asking  yourself when starting your job search:

    1. What areas within your industry excite you most?
    2. What kind of role are you looking to grow into next?
    3. What type of environments and teams do you enjoy most?
    4. What are the essential things you need to be successful and productive in the workplace?

Once you have answered those questions for yourself, then you can start looking for a job that not only pays the bills, but ultimately feels rewarding.

Know Your Dream Job

Now that you know more about yourself, it is time to find your dream job.

In addition to reading the job description, spend time digging deeper into it to uncover the real story behind that job opening.  Find out more about the company’s industry landscape by checking out their website and reading the company blogs. This can give you an inside perspective on what it’s like inside the company, and also help you identify potential questions that you can ask in your interview.


The next step is to stand out amongst the other candidates, so be sure to introduce yourself as an “experienced X” or a “highly skilled Y”, that has technological breadth and depth.  Take this opportunity to showcase your work and your attitude, because today’s start-ups are looking for culture fit as much as they are skill set.

Draw in the interviewer’s attention by talking about unique and concrete things you have developed.  You could say something like, “Remember that feature improvement?  I designed that!  Here is why I decided to do it this way.”  If your work has been less visible, achievements like, “I scaled system X to Y million users and here is how I did it.”, will leave the interviewer wanting to know more.  It’s okay to talk about failures, as long as you say what you learned and how you would do it differently.  Showing your ability to learn from mistakes exhibits resiliency.

What truly separates the chaff from the wheat is the capacity to master.  In addition to being a kick-ass engineer, you should also have a personal passion that you continue to cultivate - this could be brewing beer, mountaineering, building robots, or parenting.  Start-ups need folks that can wear multiple hats, adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and inspire those around them.  Be the wheat!

Practice Makes Perfect

In any technical interview, there are the obligatory “programming problems”. Fortunately, practice and preparation can help. Familiarizing yourself with the company’s preferred technologies is a great first step (hint: check the job descriptions to figure out what they are using across the stack).

Your technical interview may start with 1 or 2 “ice breaker” questions. These are usually basic questions about topics like computation complexity or linked lists. They are designed to get you into the “coding mode”. These will normally be followed by a handful of more complex (and probably company relevant) problems that the interview will ask you to walk through.

Have No Clue? Think Aloud!

You’ve read interview horror stories that make it seem like someone in the engineering department is trying to outsmart interviewees with an impossible mind-twisting problem.  For these types of questions, it’s less about having the right answer and more about your ability to problem solve on the spot. Don’t panic if you have no idea how to solve it, pick a starting place and start talking your way through the parts you understand.  If you don’t know something, say that you don’t know.  Chances are, your interviewer is trying to get a sense of your critical thinking skills and wants to know how you break down problems into solvable pieces.

It often helps to work through the problem aloud, so that the interviewer can best understand your approach.  Do your best, and remember to communicate frequently when solving the problem at hand.

Keep Perspective

Regardless of the outcome, each interview is an opportunity to learn something new and meet people in your industry, so enjoy the process!

We wish you the best of luck in your job search and future interviews. If you’re currently looking for your next exciting thing, be sure to check out our open positions here. We look forward to hearing from you!