This week, with a group of University of Illinois computer science students, I visited Google’s Chicago office. The Chicago location was founded primarily to house Chicago-based engineering superstars Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman, both of whom joined us at Illinois for the ACM Reflections|Projections Conference last fall.
Today, the University of Illinois group was greeted by Jessie Chavez, an early-stage partner in the startup FeedBurner, which was acquired by Google in 2007. Prior to joining FeedBurner, Chavez worked as a software engineer with a major financial institution in Chicago. In his transition from working in finance to working with FeedBurner, Chavez says, “My pay went down by 20%, but I was so much happier with my work.” When FeedBurner became part of Google, Chavez also joined Google where he says, “salary was no longer much of an issue.”
In addition to discussing his Google experience and offering advice for seeking internships, Chavez suggested reading Getting That Job at Google by Steve Yegge. Yegge does a fantastic job of outlining key concepts for Google technical interviews, with a double-dose of humor thrown in as well. Top on Yegge’s list, is to, “Study a data-structures and algorithms book. Many interviewers are happy when you understand the broad class of question they’re asking without explanation. For instance, if they ask you about coloring U.S. states in different colors, you get major bonus points if you recognize it as a graph-coloring problem, even if you don’t actually remember exactly how graph-coloring works.”
While understanding of core computer science concepts is paramount to conquering the interview, programming syntax should not be entirely disregarded. According to Yegge, “some interviewers are really picky about syntax, and some will even silently mark you down for missing a semicolon or a curly brace, without telling you. I think of these interviewers as – well, it’s a technical term that rhymes with ‘bass soles.'”
Before our visit concluded, University of Illinois students enjoyed a video conference with Jeff Moore, who manages engineering talent identification for several offices in the midwest and eastern United States. Moore builds on Yegge’s assessment of the interview process, saying that interviews explore how, “smart people apply coding knowledge, passion, interest, and raw horsepower to real problems.”