Software Engineer Interview Tips

Say you don’t know the answer when you don’t know the answer. (Footnote 1)

 

Footnote 1 From Reddit:

I hire quite a bit and my biggest red flag is people who profess to know the answer to every question and never admit to not knowing something. I have a couple of really-too-advanced-for-the-role technical questions that I keep in my back pocket and use almost entirely to see what people will say when they DON’T know the answer. Being able to tell me how you find out information you don’t know (and showing me that you don’t mind admitting not being perfect/asking questions) is WAY more valuable than “acing” an interview quiz.

(This is also one of the most valuable traits of an employee – if you don’t know something/screw up, admitting it will win you WAY more points than you trying to hide it/cover your tracks. Coming clean about a screwup – assuming it’s not a habit, obviously – shows me you are both honest and confident.)

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The Importance of Environment and other thoughts

The environment you live in affects who you are, so choose your environment carefully.

Environment can mean the language you speak. From this TED Talk video, I liked how language reflects attitude when it comes to helping one another. Here’s the quote:

I want you to look in your email in-box, and I want you to look at the last time you asked somebody for a favor. And I want you to look at the language that you used. Did you say things like, “Oh, you’re a great resource,” or “I owe you one,” “I’m obligated to you.” All of this language represents a metaphor. It’s a metaphor of economics, of a balance sheet, of accounting, of transactions. And when we think about human relations in a transactional way, it is fundamentally uncomfortable to us as human beings. We must think about human relations and reaching out to people in more humane ways.
Here’s an idea as to how to do so. Look at words like “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome” in other languages. Look at the literal translation of these words. Each of these words is a word that helps us impose upon other people in our social networks. And so, the word “thank you,” if you look at it in Spanish, Italian, French, “gracias,” “grazie,” “merci” in French. Each of them are “grace” and “mercy.” They are godly words. There’s nothing economic or transactional about those words. The word “you’re welcome” is interesting. The great persuasion theorist Robert Cialdini says we’ve got to get our favors back. So we need to emphasize the transaction a little bit more. He says, “Let’s not say ‘You’re welcome.’ Instead say, ‘I know you’d do the same for me.’” But sometimes it may be helpful to not think in transactional ways, to eliminate the transaction, to make it a little bit more invisible. And in fact, if you look in Chinese, the word “bú kè qì” in Chinese, “You’re welcome,” means, “Don’t be formal; we’re family. We don’t need to go through those formalities.” And “kembali” in Indonesian is “Come back to me.” When you say “You’re welcome” next time, think about how you can maybe eliminate the transaction and instead strengthen that social tie. Maybe “It’s great to collaborate,” or “That’s what friends are for.”

 

Environment can mean the expectations of the society and culture you live in.

In life you’re going to run into a lot of filters. Growing up, your parents will promote certain behaviors over others like studying for school, and punishing you for the behaviors they don’t want like breaking lights in the house. That’s a filter on who you are.  Then the education system, legal system, and community will judge you and treat you well for being one way and treat you bad for being another way. An example filter in one environment might be: stealing is bad, honesty is good.  In a different environment the filter might be: bribery is normal, and dishonesty is common. That is yet another filter on who you are.  Finally your job, career, yourself, and the people you choose to have a relationship with will further filter who you are: to like a certain band in order to fit in and be cool, or to not like a certain person in order to fit in and be accepted.
Through all these filters, it’s highly likely that you are compromising or losing who you are in the process. Be careful of this and remove the filters you do not want as much as you can.  Pick the filters you want to have. Pick the environment you want to live in.

 

Environment can also mean the attitude you bring to life. The perspective you choose to take. The emotions you focus on. The thoughts you allow yourself to have.

I was hanging out with friends recently and complaining a lot, and someone pointed out that nearly everything I talked about could be described as “thinking about something you don’t have.”  My friends then encouraged me to not think about things I don’t have because that kind of thinking was making me sad, so I took their advice and tried to stop.  Boy was I surprised. For the next 24 hours I literally could not say anything out loud to them because every thought I had, everything I wanted to say, I realized was me thinking about something I don’t have.  I was suffering deeply from a sickness of the environment of my mind.  So be careful what thoughts you allow to survive in the environment of your mind.

 

OK, here are 5 additional thoughts I had on life that I’d like to share

1)   The problem with being intelligent is no one knows you’re intelligent because they aren’t intelligent enough to know.  As a result, a key requirement to effective intelligence is effective communication of your intelligence to others who do not have it.

2) The problem with testing your partner in a relationship to determine whether you want to be in a relationship with that person is that for the test to be real the expectations can’t be communicated. At the same time, we know that communication is the single most important key to a healthy and successful relationship.  So by testing your partner while not communicating that you are testing them, you are acting in a way that sabotages  the relationship.
At the same time, if you clearly communicate the test and the answer key to your partner, then the test’s results are invalid because they would likely pass since they know the answer key.  But wait, passing means you guys both agreed on the expectations together and then achieved it together. This sounds like a good relationship. Why not do this instead of testing at all?

3) Here’s a simple exercise to train yourself to be more empathetic: ask yourself how many different reasons you can think of to explain someone’s behavior.
For example, someone bumps into you on the street.  Or a stranger smiles at you when you make eye contact.  Or a major dream comes true or doesn’t come true.  How many reasons can you think of to explain why that same outcome might happen?  Try to come up with at least 5 reasons ranging from the most obvious to the least obvious.  Most obvious would be: the person bumps into you on the street because they didn’t see you and it was an accident.  Least obvious would be: the person saw a bird and then was reminded of a childhood memory involving birds at a lake and the lake reminded the person of a really large puddle in the rain that was on this street earlier this year so the person instinctively stepped to the left away from the puddle and bumped into you.

4) The problem with how society treats people in need is that it breeds sociopaths.
If you’re in a bad mood and you show it, then in public you’ll get bad service because of your demeanor.  In order to get good service you’ll have to fake being in a good mood. This basically teaches people to ignore their true feelings and instead to emotionally manipulate themselves in order to emotionally manipulate others for personal benefit.  Basically society today is teaching people to be sociopaths.
If you are in a bad mood and you show it then you are then going to be mistreated by people who say you deserve to be punished for your bad behavior, making you more sad and putting you into a worse mood.  This is really sad because if you are in a bad mood what you really need is to be given help, love, and care.  But what society does instead is demand that you change yourself to be ‘proper’ before you will be given help. What society does instead is say society doesn’t care about your sadness, society only cares about how you treat society.  It’s cruel to be so coldly ignored by society, to have your feelings invalidated and ignored and your needs not met.  It’s no wonder so many people hate society, and so many others who succeed in society care so little for others: because the society we live in is an environment that promotes uncaring behavior.

5) Expanding on point 4, the way you can create a better environment for yourself and others is to respond to someone’s bad demeanor by trying to understand what’s going on. Use the exercise from point 3 and then have a conversation with the person to give your empathy and love and care to heal them and help them get to a better place.  Don’t be like other people where their immediate response is to say “calm down and change your emotional state to mine because I’m afraid of yours and I don’t want to understand your emotional state.”  Be a loving person and try to understand them and help them the way they need to be helped. Don’t help them the way you feel like helping. Serve them, not yourself.

 

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Crazy Rich Asians and Their Crazy Old Ways

Today’s post is inspired by the recent movie Crazy Rich Asians. However, I will explore more themes than were presented in the movie.

The first topic I want to discuss is Filial Piety.  The idea that it is the child’s responsibility to care for the elders’ in their old age.  This is wrong today, in 2018, because it is outdated.  Hundreds or thousands of years ago, capitalism and division and specialization of labor did not exist. As such, everyone learned life skills like farming, hunting, labor, and mercantilism.  Therefore, they are directly in contact with the activities that provide basic life necessities.  So to plant an extra plant or share spare meat for the elders was efficient and therefore logical to do.  As time went on and division of labor took shape, the profit that the children could make per hour in relation to the value that profit could provide was sufficient to supply the family with fortune and health because 1. life expectancy was low, so you didn’t have to keep everyone alive for 80 years like you do now, 2. people had many kids, so that the family income was exponentially increasing at a high rate, and 3. people had kids very early, so the family size was enormous.  For example, if each family has 5 children ( conservative number )  and they start having kids at 16 (also conservative number ) then when the grandparents are 44 years old, they have 5 children which each have 5 grand children, so 25 grand children + 10 aunts and uncles = 35 people to earn money and support the 2 grand parents.  In the modern day, the numbers are more like: parents have 1 or 2 kids at age 30. So by age 44 the kid is only 14 and unable to support the parents. Then when the parents are 54 the kid is 24 and when the child gets married and has kids at 30, they have to support a new born baby and two aging retiring parents at 60.  Meaning that the 2 parents have to support 4 grandparents and 1-2 newborn children.
As you can clearly see, the ratio of 35 working people supporting 2 elders has become 2 working people supporting 4 elders.  This alone makes filial piety very difficult to achieve circa 1900s.
Now let’s talk about the 2000s.  It’s EVEN WORSE now because in modern times, most of wealth is achieved through investment income.  You will never become wealthy working 40 hours a week. You will only become wealthy through business and investment ventures.  In particular, when you’re talking about long term capital gains and retirement savings, due to the power of compound interest, money saved in your 20s is 3x more important than money saved in your 30s (if you use average stock market returns of 11% per year over 10 years 1.11^10 = ~3).  Furthermore, money saved in your 20s is 9x more important than money saved in your 40s, and 3x more important than money saved in your 30s. Which means if you spend your 20s paying off your student loans and then having some fun, then your 30s paying for parents and new born, then in your 40s you will be sooooo worse off from an investment standpoint.
But it gets worse.  In the 2000s, real estate has exploded and rent has skyrocketed and so have mortgage downpayment requirements. As a result, if your parents don’t jumpstart you on a mortgage, then you’ll end up paying rent for yourself and for your parents which is money you never get back.  This compounded with your lack of investments means that your net worth stays near to 0 your whole life if you pursue filial piety.
In summary, it made sense to have filial piety in ancient times due to math, but today the math does not work out.

The second topic is taken from the movie Crazy Rich Asians and it’s about the importance of passing down the family’s business, inheritance and wealth to the children.  This again is an outdated practice. Today we have lawyers and financial institutions you can hire to manage your business and prevent the managers of your business from running away with your property.  Hundreds of years ago you could only hold onto your property if you can prove it and defend it personally. Under those circumstances, of course the responsibility would fall on the shoulders of the strongest male in the family as they were most likely to be able to defend the family.  Then when division of labor took place, it was a matter of intelligence and connections. Thus, the father would teach the son said intelligence and introduce said son to the exclusive connections that will keep the family ahead of the curve.
However, as more people got rich, they pooled their resources and more efficiently taught the next generation through private schools.  And then they built institutions the further utilize capitalism and division of labor to create systems to support and preserve their wealth and power.  Fast forward to modern day and the government’s legal arm, property laws, and the well developed and highly regulated financial industry and economic system that powers the world today, and if a parent wants to pass fortune to children they can hire professionals to do that. The professionals can then hire professionals to establish the family dynasty through trust funds and private wealth management and etc.  The system is resilient enough to preserve wealth through the dumb generations, which historically lose all the family’s wealth through their stupidity.
In summary, it made sense to force children to take on the mantle of running the family business from generation to generation in the past, but not today.

The third topic I want to address from the movie Crazy Rich Asians is the idea that the wife needs to compromise and give up everything to become the matriarch for the family.  Again, very very outdated. Makes perfect sense back in the hunter gatherer social-economic structure of families hundreds of years ago, but not today.  Today women are more educated than ever before in history, and they are entering the work force and building careers for themselves as well. It is now a two career household rather than a one career household.

Stemming from the growing independence of women we come to the fourth topic which is romantic love and its place in the family.  The older generation was all about: you’re married now, deal with it the best you can, but no matter what preserve the family. As a result you find a lot of the older generation of asian parents today hating each other and only staying together for the purpose of the family and children. Then they pass down this unfortunate world view and expectation to their children: get married by this age, plop out children by this next age, deal with your problems rather than consider that you should get a divorce, or not get married and instead keep searching to find the right one and develop yourself in the meantime.  What you should do is grow yourself and wait for the right one. Better to be alone than in a terrible relationship. The good thing about today is that there’s so many people, you will find someone right for you if you keep looking.

A fallacy from the movie is the idea that (spoilers ahead, stop reading if you don’t want to know the plot) the lead character Nick is emotionally mature and ready for a marriage or relationship.  He spent a year running away from his problems, and in the end it was his wife Rachel who solves them. Which means that if Rachel is the intelligent independent confident woman that the movie makes her out to be, she will realize at some point that Nick is an immature boy and she deserves better.  The movie gives no indication that Nick has grown in any way, meaning his ability to actually take on the family business is highly suspect. Also, where is Nick’s dad in this movie?
Another fallacy from the movie is the idea that Nick would NOT think it’s a BIG deal that his girlfriend doesn’t know he’s rich.  He’s probably been thinking his whole life about how to introduce his future lover to his wealth, especially since he sees how the marriages of his family and friends turn out when immense wealth marries less immense wealth. Equally so a fallacy is the idea that Rachel would have never googled Nick to find out his history.
Also…where is Nicks dad in all of this? Why is not involved at all in family affairs?
And finally, in all seriousness, wrapping dumplings is hard.

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