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Magazine: Letter from the editors
Forget about blenders

Forget about blenders

By ,

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Tags: Computing occupations, Document types

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We've been interviewing here at XRDS. As a student publication, our editors invariably graduate at some point, and along with their lab mates and thesis research they leave behind editing XRDS. Saying goodbye to a graduating editor is not easy; for starters, it always comes as a surprise: "What! X is already graduating?" (Of course, at this point X's graduation date has only been known for the past five years.) Then slight panic arises: "How are we ever going to find someone as good as X?"

There's also a personal attachment—you know the amount of thought and effort X put into making XRDS a great magazine. You owe her for that one time she came to your rescue right before the deadline. And there was the time the both of you shared a couple of beers and some good laughs during the last face-to-face meeting in New York (and maybe you even almost got arrested together ... long story). In short, X has become an organic part of the team and you're really sorry to see her go. Then along comes new editor Y, and while he's not quite X, he brings fantastic new ideas and a fresh perspective. What seems like a mere couple of issues flash by and then, what? Y's graduation is next year already? How did we ever manage without him?

The interview process at XRDS is relatively straightforward, involving initial screening based on a candidate's CV and online material (personal webpage, etc.), an interview to check whether there's a good mutual match, and then a written edit test and evaluation. We try to recruit students from diverse backgrounds, and it's very important to us to get the team right—as anyone who's worked as part of a team knows, a single unproductive member can result in everybody dragging their feet. Luckily, the other side happens too: One enthusiastic and energetic member can drive the rest forward. To a large extent, it's all about motivation.

At smaller companies, given that you have the right skills and background, passing an interview can sometimes be a matter of chemistry with whoever is interviewing you (we know of at least one case where an interviewee was accepted after bonding with his interviewer over a shared appreciation for a certain book, after spending most of the interview talking about it). This is not the case when interviewing with any of the Silicon Valley giants. At large companies like Google, Apple, or Facebook, the recruiting process is much more complex.

In this issue we have a fascinating insider's look at what a Google interview is all about. This is a process you cannot charm your way through or rely on your quick wit or luck—in fact it's designed to avoid precisely that. While you definitely will need all of the above to some extent, at least at Google and other large companies it's more like taking the SAT. Forget about blenders, you need to study, prepare, and relentlessly practice.1

Tech startups, however tend to take a different approach to the interview process. Referrals from current employees are vitally important. Even for the best candidates, it can be tough to get an interview with an exciting startup without knowing someone who's working with the existing team. One of the very best ways to set yourself apart from the rest is to build something relevant to the company before you submit your application, and point it out as quickly as you can in that first email or submission. Having code on github helps, even if it's not widely used. It gives the engineers an opportunity to evaluate your skill set without having you jump through hoops. The best startups will also be on the look out for a strong fit with their culture. Being able to get along well with your coworkers is a lot more important at a company of 10 or 15 than it is at a place with 3,000 where you could conceivably just transfer to another team.

Although the Web is full of very good advice on how to prepare for interviews, here's one tip that's maybe less common: Try taking the other side of the table. When faced with the need to decide among a few candidates in a limited amount of time, you realize the crucial things to get right during an interview. If you don't have an opportunity to take part in conducting a real interview, do a mock one with friends, taking turns as interviewer/interviewee. You can also do this during an actual interview, though it requires some delicacy and care. Ensuring the position and the company are a strong fit for you is just as important as the other side of the equation.

One enthusiastic and energetic member can drive the rest forward. To a large extent, it's all about motivation.

If the thought of all that work preparing for industry interviews (whether for an internship or full-time position) has not been stressful enough already, Chand John's recent blog post for the Chronicle of Higher Education is a must-read for graduate students. His discussion on the Ph.D. industry gap is a good reminder to get industry experience early on—if possible—for those considering moving on to industry after graduation.

We'd like to take this opportunity to send a warm farewell and good luck wishes to graduating XRDianS: Hannah (who masterfully led the issue you're holding), Debarka, John, and Luigi. Please accept our heartfelt thanks for your invaluable contributions; and a warm welcome to new members of the team—Hanieh, Virginie, Apoorvaa, and Bryan.

—Inbal Talgam-Cohen and Peter Kinnaird

P.S. This will be my last issue as co-EIC of XRDS. After mulling things over for at least a year, I decided to leave academia to join a startup called Crowdtilt after five and a half years of post-graduate training. Working with Inbal and the rest of the XRDS team has been an incredible opportunity. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to XRDS, authors and editorial staff alike. We've made a great magazine together!


P.P.S. I'd like to add special thanks to Peter, who has led and shaped this magazine as co-editor-in-chief for the past two years. Your passion, creativity and leadership will be greatly missed. Good luck!


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1. Google famously posed the following question to interviewees: "You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?" You can read the entire aritcle, "How to Ace a Google Interview" by William Poundstone, which ran in The Wall Street Journal..

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