Overcoming interview nerves - how this Scrimba student recovered from failure to become a Junior Developer

Overcoming interview nerves  - how this Scrimba student recovered from failure to become a Junior Developer

Scrimba student Serhan almost canceled his interview at Microsoft because he was nervous. Even though it turned out to be an unsuccessful interview, overcoming that initial hurdle set everything into motion for Serhan. The worse thing that could happen had already happened. Turns out, being rejected from a company wasn't that bad.

After that, Serhan was much calmer in interviews now and was offered a job much sooner than he expected! We think the same could happen to you if you adapt Serhan's mindset when teaching yourself to code and applying for Junior Developer jobs.


Timestamps

  • Introduction (00:00)
  • Serhan's transition from Economics to code (01:07)
  • How Serhan taught himself to code (01:59)
  • The most frustrating thing about learning to code (03:14)
  • The importance of community when learning to code (05:41)
  • How Serhan got an interview at Microsoft (06:42)
  • Recovering from a rejection by Microsoft 😪 (10:16)
  • Serhan started doing interviews to get used to hearing "no" (10:36)
  • How Serhan ensured a constant pipeline of job interviews (15:14)
  • What Serhan learned from a consultation with a recruiter (19:19)
  • Serhan got two job offers and finally found success 🎉 (22:32)

Transcript

Alex Booker (00:01):
Hello, and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. Here, we like to bring you a balance of guests who are experts as well as guests who are learners that recently found a job. My guest today, Serhan, from Turkey is one of those successful learners.

Serhan (00:25):
The worst nightmare is that you have absolutely no one to ask anything. And I know from my past experience that some of these problems, when I see it in coding for the first time, some of these problems, I know that this is a matter of minutes and it's been days and I don't know the answer. And you have to ask around and so on.

Alex Booker (00:43):
I am willing to bet that Serhan was recently in the same or a similar position to you. Now after many interviews, including an unsuccessful one at Microsoft, Serhan managed to crack the coding interview and transition from an economics graduate and project manager at his family's jewelry business to a developer. Let's find out exactly how Serhan did it and how you could too.

Serhan (01:07):
I'm from Istanbul, Turkey, and I studied economics in university. After that, I went to work in my family company, which was a jewelry store. I was doing mainly marketing and project management there. I ended up doing this ERP software for my company because everybody was offline and it was bugging me. So it was creating big problems and then I just ended up researching some user-friendly tools to help me build some applications and then I found one which included its own coding language. I remember wishing for a good time to start the learning, the actual thing like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. And approximately a year later, I was lucky enough to find a job and now I am a software engineer at a big company and I'm a member of a team of four developers. That's pretty much my story.

Alex Booker (01:59):
That's awesome, man. One year is not that long to go from being pretty new to coding to getting a job at not just any company, but what sounds like a really exciting one to work at. When you decided you wanted to dig into HTML, CSS, and learn all the conventional technologies, where did you go to learn those things and how did you structure your learning, being a self-taught developer?

Serhan (02:21):
You get lost easily. Luckily, I had an experience with self teaching before with music production, and that was for years and that was also a similar process. So I knew at least the mentality of it all, like the psychology and the ups and downs and so on.

Alex Booker (02:36):
What is the mentality of it?

Serhan (02:38):
The worst nightmare is that you have absolutely no one to ask anything. And I know from my past experience that some of these problems, when I see it in coding for the first time, some of these problems, I know that this is a matter of minutes and it's been days and I don't know the answer and you have to ask around and so on. I used to think of it as the exercise to grow patience to debug certain issues, because you have to be patient. You can't force it, especially with developing debugging, that kind of stuff. I used to be very impatient and that was making things more difficult. And so I taught myself that, it took some time, but towards the end I was able to do that.

Alex Booker (03:14):
It is frustrating, isn't it, when you have a problem and you just can't shake the feeling that you could solve it quicker? And you're like, "Oh, I've been doing this for weeks, months. I should be able to solve this quicker."

Serhan (03:24):
It's like you found out some cool feature and then you've learned it and you're trying it out and it works. And then you want to keep at it, you want to go on building new stuff on top of it. And one small, tiny bug is stopping the whole thing and then you can't do anything else. At those times, I felt like giving up. The closest to giving up I felt at those times were because of this definitely, because you don't know, you don't even know if you're going to be able to find someone to help you out. I tried to find some tutors, some teachers or something, but later on, I found out that everybody who's good enough to be a teacher, they're already working in development, so they don't have time for me.

Alex Booker (04:02):
And how did you structure your learning? What platforms did you use?

Serhan (04:06):
Well, basic crash courses from YouTube as a start for HTML and CSS and JavaScript. And then I found out that tutorials are good and everything, but when it comes to the actual thing, they can't really be so comprehensive. And I needed better tutorials actually, because as a beginner, I got confused very easily. So some of the tutorials were not for me, let's say, most of them actually. I tried a bunch of them and I wouldn't understand what I'm reading from stack overflow most of the time, so that wasn't really helpful in the beginning. So I went for always the beginner courses and then I discovered Scrimba, which fixed all of these issues actually. I could understand everything very simply and then I got into JavaScript, because by the time I found out about Scrimba, HTML and CSS was okay, not so good, but JavaScript were nowhere near. That helped, really good, the Scrimba tutorials.
And then I finished quite a bunch of them and then once I felt comfortable with all of those, I joined a group in Discord, a group of five people or something. And they were meeting every now and then to discuss. There was one senior there and he wanted to teach us some React stuff. I knew that I wanted to do React. So I joined them, I had a few classes let's say, and I was going good, but it wasn't so frequent. So then I thought, let's find other groups. So I went to Telegram and found as many groups as possible, but Telegram groups are disconnected from each other. You don't always get answers or interactions from them.

Alex Booker (05:41):
But you found that sense of being around people and community very helpful and motivating?

Serhan (05:47):
Yeah, definitely. The most motivation came from Scrimba communities, because Scrimba communities get together three, four times a week and the content is beautiful. You get to talk, see recruiters talk or people who had just found jobs or professionals, influencers. Most of the influencers that were there, I was watching them from YouTube and I was admiring them, their work, and you get to watch them live and what more do you want for motivation?

Alex Booker (06:15):
Thanks, man. That's really motivating to hear. And I remember you and I actually met at one of these community events. We don't do it anymore. It was like a kind of experiment to see how it would go, but the event was called Give Help, Get Help, and the idea was that if you had a coding problem or something, you could join the Zoom call with teachers from Scrimba and maybe more experienced students and we would all try and connect with each other and help each other where we could. You had a pretty interesting problem I felt like.

Serhan (06:42):
Yeah, I was nervous about my Microsoft interview. I remember actually, I was nervous about the interview and I was going crazy a little bit and then I saw what it's about, that meeting, and I said, "Right, that's a sign from universe. So let's try it out." And then it was very helpful actually. It was helpful in the sense that you guys helped me out a little bit about the anxiousness that I had with Microsoft, the most you can of course, but then I really liked how it felt to talk to people who are trying to do the same thing. That stuck with me. So whenever I was feeling off a bit or had free time or something, I just went straight to Scrimba communities and that was very helpful.

Alex Booker (07:23):
Our listeners won't forgive me if I just glance over the fact that you had an interview at Microsoft. I have to ask, how did that come about and I'm just wondering, did that opportunity come about as your first opportunity to interview at a company or did it happen while you were looking for jobs elsewhere?

Serhan (07:40):
Actually, it was almost the first. It was a coincidence a little bit because my brother happened to meet the recruiter from Microsoft and he mentioned about me. The recruiter said that they're actually hiring and trying to expand a team in Prague. So he'd like to talk to me and that's how it came about and they decided to give me a shot and they did. And I decided to give it a shot and I did. I was so nervous. I didn't know much actually. One of the questions I had from there was, I was doing freelance projects for my cousin and for people, they didn't need user interaction. The only thing they needed was to just present their company or their portfolio. So I didn't really make any async requests or fetch requests or something. I didn't know. I know how they work, I memorized, but I don't know the logic behind.
And they asked me in Microsoft interview to do a fetch request only without the fetch method, the actual thing, and explain them the logic of everything and how it works. And so they really wanted to see that I know what I'm doing with what happens there. And I didn't. That was a failure. And they were really great too, they're really great people, friendly, and they try hard to make you feel comfortable and so on, but I was just so nervous. So I just went down hill from there on and I couldn't see really basic stuff that they were asking me because I was nervous and I was realizing that I was watching myself fail.

Alex Booker (09:07):
I get that feeling. You're on tilt, you just overthink things. It's not comfortable, is it?

Serhan (09:12):
Yeah, it's five hours interview too.

Alex Booker (09:14):
That's crazy.

Serhan (09:15):
The first hour is about introduction and me introducing myself and then a few questions, basic questions about coding, testing React. The second one was Q&A for architecture, but not coding. The third one was this that I mentioned, the fetch request thing, and the fourth one was about data structures and algorithms. And I didn't know any data structures or algorithms or something like that. That's why I was very nervous actually, because the study material is huge. I was sure that they were going to ask not so easy questions because it's huge, turns out that they ask very, very simple, basic algorithm questions at interview, and I could do a little bit of them with some help. I didn't do a terrible job at the fourth one, but I don't know why I didn't get that job because I didn't get a reply or anything.

Alex Booker (10:04):
What I'm imagining is that even though you weren't successful at this interview, it probably was a great experience. It probably helped you a lot succeed a little bit later at this new company, but they didn't give you any specific feedback, they just kind of ghosted you it sounds like. That's pretty bad.

Serhan (10:21):
I wish I knew why I failed. At what point? Was I right in my assumptions?

Alex Booker (10:26):
Have you attempted to reach out to them and ask what happened?

Serhan (10:28):
I did actually. No response.

Alex Booker (10:30):
Oh man.

Serhan (10:31):
I guess they have tons of interviews or something like that, but I couldn't manage to get a response from them.

Alex Booker (10:37):
That sucks. Where did you go from there, Serhan? What happened between then and you getting this job?

Serhan (10:42):
You know what? Actually, I was so close to canceling the Microsoft interview because I was so sure that I wasn't going to get it, then I thought, I asked a couple of people around and I convinced myself that it's going to be an experience, even if I don't get it, I just did it for the experience sake. And that's what happened. And I liked that I did it very much, even though I failed and I wanted to get into more interviews.
I felt improved a little bit. I saw myself and how I did during interview process and I saw that I wasn't very good, but I saw also that I could be very good, much better let's say. I had a lot of things to improve and actually how I felt the next interview was very good, because it wasn't five hours, it wasn't Microsoft, it was more my speed. And the things that I knew, they asked about React. They only cared about React, so I was comfortable at it and they gave me a test of a marketplace page, like, "Code this for us and then we'll review your code basically." It's not a live coding thing. I did that and I loved it and I sent it, I didn't get the job though, but they gave me feedback. They said the code had duplications. It wasn't at a level that they were looking for, and that was good enough.
Then I think by doing more and more interviews, I got calmer and calmer during interview processes and that helped tremendously. The way I talked changed and I was very comfortable about the things that I didn't know. I was also comfortable about facing challenges during live coding. If I didn't know, I didn't know. I'm not good with this, but let's see how far I can go. That made me even more calm. And then I did a lot of interviews after that. Some of them were coding tests, live. Some of them were just 20 minutes talks about who am I and so on. Most of them, no replies, and yeah, a bunch of interviews. And then I got to the point where I met these guys, the company that I work for right now.

Alex Booker (12:37):
If you are enjoying this episode of the weekly Scrimba Podcast, please do us a favor and share it with your friends on social media. Word of mouth is the single best way to support a podcast that you like. So thanks in advance.
Next week, I'm talking with Dan Moore, author of Letters to a New Developer, a very pleasant and helpful book in which Dan includes short lessons he wished he knew as a new developer.

Dan Moore (13:04):
What I want to do is catalog some of the things that I thought were true that weren't in a way that was easy to consume. And I've had good feedback from people who've read it and people who've read the blog will help illustrate aspects of a new job as a developer that aren't really obvious from outside. There were just so many people coming to meet up groups I was going to and that I was talking to who were coming out of boot camps or other programs and just having a really hard time finding a job and I just wanted to help them as best I could.

Alex Booker (13:36):
He joins us on the podcast to retell some of his stories, as well as answer questions about finding your first job. That is next week on the weekly Scrimba Podcast. So please, make sure you subscribe in your podcast app of choice, be that Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcast, or anything else, and hopefully I'll see you there. Back to the interview with Serhan.
Most people think of failure or success as very binary or Boolean, I should say, you either fail or you succeed. But to be honest when you fail, we know there can be an upside. For one thing, we might get feedback that helps us improve the next time. But deeper than that, when you fail, it's a bit of a uncomfortable feeling, but once you get past that after an afternoon or a day and you're in the quietness of your house, you reflect on it and you're like, "Huh? That wasn't so bad." And it fundamentally shifts you, it makes you have a totally different approach towards failing. As long as it's the same thing, right? And I think in your experience, you realize that, "Well, they said no." I mean you probably had heard that before you went to the interview, but the worst they can say is no, but it's not until you really experience it that you internalize it.

Serhan (14:45):
You know what? I was really doing some interviews for the sake of getting used to hearing no.

Alex Booker (14:50):
Nice.

Serhan (14:51):
I knew I wasn't going to get it, but I just went there. I know that they're not going to hire me, but I'm just like, "This is just as an exercise for me. I'm going to just go through it and see how I feel afterwards." I was thinking to myself, "It's probably going to be like 50 nos before a yes, so I might as well get through these really fast."

Alex Booker (15:09):
Yeah. It's a good mindset. It was probably a lot less nos than you were expecting, right?

Serhan (15:13):
Yeah.

Alex Booker (15:14):
It sounds like you didn't have much trouble getting the interviews. What do you attribute that to? What was your approach to finding these interviews and why do you think you got invited for so many?

Serhan (15:24):
I was under the impression that it's because IT. I was under the impression that the demand for developers is huge and that's why I'm getting all of these invitations, but if it's not the same case with every guy who's in the same situation as me, it might be due to the fact that I'm located in Prague. And I keep hearing from people that Prague is very, very attractive to all of the companies around the world to open an office and create a developer team. There's a bunch of other companies here starting up here or basically locating their development team in Prague while they're outside. So maybe that was one of the reasons why, but I used to get, still do, but I used to get a couple of messages every two days from recruiters.

Alex Booker (16:04):
Through LinkedIn, really?

Serhan (16:05):
Yeah. I was applying to jobs as well, but then I started to get messages from LinkedIn from recruiters about different projects and so on. But they were all looking for mid-level developers. I was too junior for all of them. I even got a chance to talk with one of them over the phone actually and he told me that I'm too junior, which wasn't surprising. So a lot of nos in a row and then I said to myself, "Okay, it's probably going to be a couple of, I don't know, five, six months before I can get a job." That actually calmed me a little bit. You close that window and then actually when Accolade, my current company, called me up and they offered me an interview, I remember thinking, "It's probably not going to happen." And then I got into the interview and it got to the next level and the next level and I said, "Wow, such a surprise."

Alex Booker (16:55):
It's a good mindset trick, isn't it? If you lower your expectations so much, you can't be disappointed, you can only be pleasantly surprised.

Serhan (17:03):
Exactly. It was such a surprise really.

Alex Booker (17:06):
I want to just dig into that point about being in a source city like Prague. I just want to challenge you a little bit and ask if you think that there were things about your LinkedIn profile that stood out to recruiters? I mean, I'm looking at your profile now. I don't know what's changed since you got this job, but you've obviously got quite a detailed about section that talks about your path and the technologies you know. I remember when we met, which was before you got this job, this was before even you interviewed at Microsoft, you had a private yacht charter project that was, I think, responsive and looked very pro and you'd been doing some freelancing. I'm just wondering, maybe these have more to do with you getting the requests from recruiters than just being in Prague, probably a combination, right? But what's your take?

Serhan (17:51):
You're right actually. I don't know why I didn't pay attention to that, but I was working on my portfolio very hard. I didn't know how to write a good introduction about myself. I had no idea and I was working my family company straight from university, so I didn't really go through this process before. I remember I found this guy from United States, I guess, and a couple of other guys that are developers, newly acquired. I would find them from not even friends actually, from people that I met on Discord and I used to connect with them on LinkedIn and then jump on other people and then read all of their introductions.
Mostly Americans actually, or English people. They are much better at communicating than I am and so I was getting inspired from all of those guys' introductions about themselves and their portfolios and so on. And I remember that improving my portfolio a lot, that presentation of yourself is very, very important I would say, because I could distinguish those who put the effort from those who didn't and those who didn't are not low in number actually. In the industry, it makes a difference. They're high in number. It makes a difference if you just read a sentence, "Yeah. I'm a coder and a front-end developer. I do coding." And that's it about me, and then you go to the other guy and then you see a complete introduction, a paragraph or something and that makes a difference because recruiters get tons of emails, tons of applications, they have to filter it out somehow.

Alex Booker (19:19):
It is remarkable, isn't it? How it doesn't seem like that big of a deal writing an about section or having one project, but the truth is, if you do that, you're in the 1% of people who do and it makes a huge difference.

Serhan (19:31):
You're absolutely right. I actually remember that, I just met a lead developer in Prague who's at a different company, but I text him and I said like, "I want to meet. Can we have coffee?" And he was a standup guy so he said yes and then we met up and then I asked him a couple of questions because, "I'm just starting this new job, so maybe you can give me some information," and so on. And he turned out to be interviewing juniors.
So he told me, which was surprising to me because I didn't understand it at the time, but it's actually pretty logical. He told me that when people put, you know how you put hobbies in your CV? And he told me that it's disappointing to see people put, "I like reading books and I like doing sports," or these kind of things in their hobbies when they're applying for the jobs when they're actually in a position to make a sales pitch for themselves. That's what he told me.
And I remember I was not doing so good of a job in my hobbies actually, and then he gave me a couple of examples that he was impressed by. And then I understood, yes, that would make a huge difference. If I was a recruiter, I would totally go for that guy, but not for the guy who just put like, "I read books," or I don't know, watch Netflix or something like that like tons of other people.

Alex Booker (20:42):
What did he recommend that you do instead of putting things like hobbies?

Serhan (20:47):
I remember him saying, meeting a guy who was publishing articles, which is a difficult thing to have as a hobby actually. I would simplify that into writing short stories or doing podcasts really. I would do these things just to put in my portfolio or I would realize the things that I was already doing that could be put in the hobby section actually. I wasn't thinking this way at all. I was thinking, "Yeah, they're asking me for my hobbies, really personal stuff." It came as a surprise to me when actually professional things can be put there too, even they're not-

Alex Booker (21:20):
Sounds like a pretty cool tip actually. If you are active in the technology Twitter community or helping other developers, participating in meet ups, listening to coding podcasts, probably you have 10 other hobbies, like reading or cooking or whatever, but they're not really going to help you get your foot in the door.
I do know the counter argument. Some people say that it's nice to show a bit of personality, but probably your resume isn't the place to do that. You just have to get your foot in the door, well you both want to test each other to see if you're a good culture fit. It's not like the job description says, "Our teammates like cooking." So why would you do it when you send a resume?

Serhan (21:59):
Yeah. Yeah. I never thought that way. And I think I put cooking when I was doing podcasts actually, when I was writing stories. I didn't think of those things actually. Then I thought, "Wow, I could have done a much better job." I could have at least researched it.

Alex Booker (22:14):
It's easier said than done. There aren't enough resources on these kind of things, and when there are resources, they're not always easy to find. I think that's one of the best reasons to subscribe to the Scrimba Podcast, because you never know what you might pick up when you listen to an episode. So Serhan, the company you ended up working for is called Accolade.

Serhan (22:32):
Yes.

Alex Booker (22:33):
How did this all come to an end? Did they reach out to you for this opportunity or did you apply?

Serhan (22:37):
I made an application from LinkedIn. And a few weeks later, I think they reached out to me and asked me for an interview and we met with the HR recruiter and then he told me that there's going to be a second level of the interview. And then there was live coding where my current team was asking me questions and watching me code. That went well. It was simple questions about algorithms. A couple of other questions about React. And the interview, I mean they were amazing really. They were made me feel very comfortable, friendly environment. That went well.
And then they told me that they wanted me to meet the team. That week I was in communication with another company from Prague, but that was sort of outside of Prague and they have made me an offer as well. Really it was so surprising and I wasn't expecting that at all. I think they needed to expand their team for some reason, I wasn't really familiar with their technology that much and so on, but anyway, they made me an offer too.
So I had to tell these guys, "Forgive me if I'm assuming, but me meeting the team sounds like that I'm going to get an offer. Is that right?" And they told me, "Yes, you're going to get an offer." And I told them about the other offer, but I want this very much, especially after meeting the team and seeing the offices and finding out more about the company. And so by the end, they've made me an offer too, the offer was very nice, so I took the job. And then two months later, I started. September 1st I started my first week.

Alex Booker (24:13):
That's amazing. The fact that they both happened at the same time and from the sound of it, you handled it very well. You were very respectful and obviously you need to do what's best for you, you don't want to ignore their offer if this isn't going anywhere. And I wouldn't be surprised, I doubt it was your intention, but I wouldn't be surprised that them knowing you have another job offer just made them want to hire you more.

Serhan (24:34):
That may be possible. I don't know for sure. I mean this is all new to me, to be honest with you. It was like in a week I got two offers. I was like, me and my friend were very shocked.

Alex Booker (24:46):
Congrats, man. That's awesome.

Serhan (24:48):
Thank you.

Alex Booker (24:49):
Serhan, thanks man. Thanks so much for joining me on the Scrimba Podcast. I'll make sure to link your Discord in the show notes so people can maybe shoot you some questions if they want to learn more.

Serhan (24:58):
Definitely. Yeah, anytime. Thank you for reminding me.

Alex Booker (25:02):
That was Serhan, a Scrimba student and new developer from Turkey. Remember to please subscribe to the Scrimba Podcast, both to see interviews with inspiring guests like Serhan in your feed, but also to support the show. This episode was edited by Jan Osinović, and I am your host, Alex Booker. You can follow me on Twitter @bookercodes where I share highlights from the podcast and other news by Scrimba. And lately, I've been participating in a few Twitter spaces about finding your first developer job, so look out for those. See you next week.