Drumroll, Please: Make Your Portfolio Projects Fun and Prepare for the Following Questions

Drumroll, Please: Make Your Portfolio Projects Fun and Prepare for the Following Questions

πŸŽ™ About the episode

Meet Stevie Gill πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§! Stevie was a scientist, a medical writer and an editor, and then he wrote about video games. Eventually, he moved countries and changed careers. Nowadays, Stevie lives in Toronto, Canada, and works as a full-time front-end developer at Kijiji. Β In this episode, he shares his story and everything he learned along the way that can help you land your first developer job!

You'll hear how Stevie learned to code, how he prepared for the interviews, and that LinkedIn can be useful even if you only have a handful of connections. He reveals how he took a generic portfolio project and made it his own - and why you should do the same. Stevie and Alex discuss Stevie's interview process in depth (be warned: there are some witty HR people out there) and also answer the question of whether you should be dreading the gaps on your resume.

πŸ”— Connect with Stevie

⏰ Timestamps

  • Stevie's journey into coding (02:01)
  • How moving countries helped Stevie switch careers... and discover Scrimba in the process (05:27)
  • Is LinkedIn that important, and how can you stack the deck in your favor (07:56)
  • A hiring manager discovered Stevie's LinkedIn. How? (13:40)
  • Can you have seven years of React experience and still be a junior? (15:39)
  • Are there any hidden perks of generic messages from recruiters? (16:44)
  • What do recruiters want to know when they're getting to know you as a candidate? (18:40)
  • Taylor Desseyn on how to spot a good recruiter on LinkedIn (19:48)
  • How to deal with a gap on your resume when you're changing careers (20:51)
  • How to stand out from other job candidates (23:14)
  • Stevie's four job interviews: deep dive (24:19)
  • Fun HR questions in a soft skills interview: how to answer them and why are they there (24:30)
  • How to prepare for a tech interview + how Stevie impressed an interviewer (27:59)
  • Stevie's final interview, and how he made an app that became a major talking point (33:56)
  • How to make a fun portfolio project and impress your interviewers (35:40)
  • Don't do this! (39:02)
  • How Stevie got a job offer... with a drumroll! (39:41)

🧰 Resources Mentioned

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You can also Tweet Alex from Scrimba at @bookercodes and tell them what lessons you learned from the episode so they can thank you personally for tuning in πŸ™

πŸ’¬ Transcript

Stevie Gill (00:00):
In fact, the hiring manager for the job I got, he saw me on LinkedIn and contacted me. Got a certificate at the end of doing the Scrimba front end career path. I posted that on LinkedIn and he just messaged me saying, oh, this is really interesting. I think it was literally three days later, I was getting interviewed.

Alex Booker (00:18):
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 dev job. I'm Alex and today I'm joined by Stevie Gill. Originally a scientist and freelance writer from England, Stevie moved to Toronto, where he was just hired as a junior React developer. In this episode, you will learn exactly how he did it.
I'm super excited for you to meet Stevie and learn about his success, but it wasn't exactly smooth sailing because for a long time, he felt like his skills were too basic to get a job. That led him to feel a bit paralyzed about what to do next. Luckily around that time, he discovered Scrimba, both our curriculum and I'm a little bit proud to say the Scrimba podcast. Stevie was putting some of the advice that he learned in this very podcast to use and using those resources, he got back on track and eventually recruiters started reaching out to him.
This was a little bit surprising to me actually, because at the time of the recording, Stevie had only 34 connections. It's going to be very interesting to learn then how recruiters discovered Stevie in the first place and what made them want to reach out to him. By the way, you can find Stevie's LinkedIn in the show notes, so make sure to connect with him and see if we can get that number a little bit. As always, you are listening to the Scrimba podcast. Let get into it.

Stevie Gill (01:46):
I did learn some coding at school, but this was back in the eighties. They taught us basic on a BBC micro. I used to do a little bit of making really rubbish text games on my ZX Spectrum at home.

Alex Booker (02:00):
That's really old school.

Stevie Gill (02:01):
Yeah, it is. Yeah, coding's something I've always been interested in, but for whatever reason, never really got round to learning. I used to have an Amiga in the nineties and I always had this idea I was going to learn to code and make games, but I think I just spent more time actually playing games. Yeah, something I always wanted to do. In 2017, I used to work as an editor on a medical journal and I'd been doing that for I think eight years and I just needed to do something different. I had this crazy idea and I quit my job and I decided I was going to become a professional video game writer.

Alex Booker (02:37):
That's a sick ambition. How did that go?

Stevie Gill (02:40):
Yeah, not that great. I did it for about 18 months and I wrote for a bunch of different publications for free because it's this kind of like, we can't pay you, but we'll give you exposure kind of thing. I did get a lot of free video games. I also got some free books and stuff. Got all these books now on video games history and culture. They used to always send them to me to review. I did get some cool stuff out of it and a bunch of free games.
After about 18 months, I was just not making any progress to landing a paid role. I started having to rethink this unsustainable long term. I started looking at applying for editorial jobs again, but because I had a lot of spare time on my hands, I came across Free Code Camp. I can't remember how or why. I started working my way through. They have these web development modules on there so I started working my way through them and I got quite into it for a bit and seemed to be making progress, building very simple apps as part of their curriculum. Then I ended up getting an editorial job and that got put on the back burner and basically forgotten about.

Alex Booker (03:44):
This experience of writing and editing, where did that start? Is it something you studied at university perhaps?

Stevie Gill (03:49):
Indirectly. I actually was a scientist. I did a degree in genetics at Leeds University and then I did a PhD in Sussex University, which is just outside of Brighton. That's how I ended up in Brighton for 20 years. I moved there to do the PhD and then just stayed there because I really liked it. I worked in a genetics lab for years and then decided it wasn't really for me. I ended up getting a job at John Wylie's. It's an American company, but they have a biggish office in Chichester. I ended up working, editing these medical journals, the kind of things aimed at GPs and stuff like that. I did that for eight years and then that's when I moved on to try my hand up being a video games writer.

Alex Booker (04:30):
I see, taking some of that writing experience but channeling it into something about which you're passionate, which sounds like video games, by the way.

Stevie Gill (04:37):
I wasted you playing video games.

Alex Booker (04:40):
I'm always quite impressed by what video games can teach us as adults. Something like coins earned are valued more than coins won kind of thing. I also feel like it teaches you a little bit about teamwork and if you're in a clan or something. Maybe I'm stretching and justifying my wasted youth playing video games, but I like to believe there's something there.

Stevie Gill (04:59):
Map reading skills.

Alex Booker (05:00):
Yeah, yeah, precisely.

Stevie Gill (05:01):
I was in a clan. I used to help run a clan for a few years, like a battlefield clan. Yeah, we used to organize team events and clan wars and stuff like that. Yeah, there is that kind of side to it as well.

Alex Booker (05:16):
Take us back to the coding part. You're on Free Code Camp dabbling with it. Did you have an ambition to become a professional developer or were you just enjoying it, doing it as a hobby almost?

Stevie Gill (05:27):
I did that for a bit. It was probably six months or something and I built a few small projects, which I was just kind of publishing on code pen. I was just seeing where it would go because I didn't know if I would be any good at it or whether I'd have the right skill set mentality to do it. Like I say, I ended up getting in the editorial job and I just didn't find the time to keep doing it. Then in 2019, my partner got offered a role in Toronto. They were going to start out the visas and pay for the move. Yeah, what the heck. We'll move to Canada. It took a while to get settled down there and then suddenly had all this spare time on my hands and it was like, do I start applying for jobs? If I do, what am I going to look for? Then I just decided just to go full in and start learning to code. That's what I kind of developed the ambition. It's like, ah, I'm going to become a web developer.
I went back to the Free Code Camp curriculum, but it completely changed since when I'd started before. They kind of completely reworked the curriculum so I just decided just to start again from the beginning because it'd be a good refresher. They had new certificates to earn and different projects to build. I worked my way through the first three certificates, which are all related to web design. I think there's responsive web design, JavaScript, algorithms and data structures, and front end libraries where they kind of taught you React and Redux. I think they taught you a bit of SCSS.
I got to the end of that and I'd done these free certificates. Then I was like, am I ready to apply for jobs? I didn't feel like that. I just felt like my skills were too basic. I don't know. I didn't have a lot of confidence. I ended up getting stuck in some sort of direction-less tutorial hell for a while and not really making much progress. This is how I ended up discovering Scrimba. I think pair via Free Code Camp, you published these tutorials on CSS, Flexbox and grid.
I got playing around with Scrimba because I kind of liked the novelty of the platform, which is quite cool where you're doing these screencasts where the teacher is kind of typing code in what seems like real time. Then you can just stop it and start playing with it and break it and fix it. That's really cool. Then I saw you were doing the front end career path. I like the fact that it was focused on not just teaching you how to code, but also how to actually get a job. I started that and worked my way through that to the end.

Alex Booker (07:56):
I noticed when you posted in the Scrimba discord community about your success, getting a job, you specifically mentioned, I think at the time it was module 13, it might be module 15 today, the getting hired module and how you really valued that and how it helped you succeed in getting the job.

Stevie Gill (08:11):
Yeah, it was actually really helpful. It was a combination of that and then watching some of your videos or podcasts and I think it's on Wednesdays, isn't it, where Leanne does live streams and she has various guests on. I think Danny Thompson was quite useful for learning about how to set up LinkedIn. She's had a few different tech recruiters on and other people who kind of did career changes and taught themselves how to code and then went on to get a job. That really helped because basically it's cause of LinkedIn that I ended up getting a job, but I've always kind of hated LinkedIn and I'm not really very into social media. I think I've always been very wary of LinkedIn because I think it was about 10 years ago or so. I think there was this thing they were doing, where if you joined up to LinkedIn and you gave them access to your contacts, they would just email every single one of your contacts and say you should come and join LinkedIn.

Alex Booker (09:06):
No way. Was that a thing? Really?

Stevie Gill (09:08):
Yeah. I used to get all these spam emails and I'm like, I couldn't work out. Are these phishing emails or something?

Alex Booker (09:13):
Yeah. It sounds like such a growth hack, doesn't it, from back in the days of trying to grow a quick start up. I can totally imagine that happening now you mention it.

Stevie Gill (09:20):
Yeah. I think they got into trouble for it because it was a bit of a dark pattern because they didn't make it clear that they were going to do this. Yeah, I was always a bit suspicious, but then from listening to Danny Thompson and some of those other guests that Leanne had on, it was very clear. LinkedIn is pretty crucial for getting your foot in the door in the soft tech industry.

Alex Booker (09:42):
I think as a new developer that is especially true. You do need to stack the deck in your favor, especially when you don't have a computer science degree. At the beginning, your objective is just to get a seat at the table to do an interview. The really amazing thing about LinkedIn is that unlike a resume that only works for you while you're applying, on LinkedIn, it works for you while you sleep. Somebody can see a post, they can find you in the search results. I also like how you described it as a social network because for some reason in my head, I don't compare Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok and these apps to LinkedIn. I see LinkedIn more like a sort of careers website than a social network, I guess, but you are absolutely right because what happens on LinkedIn through the social network is that you open yourself up to serendipity. Just the chance encounters, things that might never otherwise happen. That's really powerful.

Stevie Gill (10:35):
Yeah. I think one of the things as well about being self-taught is you've got to get past HR. If you can actually jump the HR and make contact with the hiring manager, I think that really improves your chances. That's basically what happened to me. In fact, the hiring manager for the job I got, which was at Kijiji, he saw me on LinkedIn and contacted me. I got a certificate at the end of doing the Scrimba front end career path and I posted that on LinkedIn. Then my manager saw that and he just messaged me saying, oh, this is really interesting. Your coding journey seems really cool. Do you want to chat? We had a phone call and that seemed to go well. Then he encouraged me to apply for the job and then I think it was literally three days later I was getting interviewed.

Alex Booker (11:26):
Coming up on the Scrimba podcast. How Stevie offended off a recruiter, looking for a junior with seven years React experience. I mean, come on.

Stevie Gill (15:57):
I think at that time React had only been out for about eight years. That's kind of a big ask.

Alex Booker (16:00):
We will be right back to the interview with Stevie, but first Jan, the producer, and I wanted to ask if you would please consider subscribing to the screamer podcast and sharing this episode.

Jan Arsenovic (16:00):
Hi, enjoying the show? Well, what are you waiting for? If you subscribe, you'll never miss an episode. If you really find this podcast valuable and you want to make sure we can keep making it, the best way to support us is word of mouth. We will be super grateful if you could either share this episode with someone be it on socials, on Discord, or in person, or if you could leave us a five star review on Spotify or on Apple podcasts, you give us social proof and we give you more insightful and uplifting interviews just like this one. This is a weekly show and next week, we have a real treat for you. Remember how Stevie started learning to code on Free Code Camp? Well, next week we're talking to the founder of Free Code Camp, Quincy Larson.

Quincy Larson (16:00):
I didn't start coding until I was 31 years old. I was a school director and I just wanted to make our school more efficient so I tried to learn a little bit, get dangerous enough with a few tools like Excel macros, and this tool called AutoHotkey, where you can programmatically click on different government forms. I was able to figure out ways to automate a lot of the compliance aspects of running a school with international students' visas and things like that and free our teachers up so they could spend more time with the students and less time doing back office workflows. I had this friend and he told me, "You should learn Python," and so I spent a ton of time doing project oiler problems using Python. Stanford had a JavaScript course that I took. I took the Stanford relational database course. Then I took a bunch of other courses and tutorials.

Jan Arsenovic (16:00):
That is next Tuesday on the Scrimba podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts. Now, back to the interview with Stevie.

Alex Booker (16:00):
Do you have some impression as to how they discovered your LinkedIn post? It's a social network, right? The amount of connections you have can almost affect your reach. I happen to notice on LinkedIn, you have just, I think 35 connections or something. I'm really curious how that post possibly made its way to the hiring manager's eyes in this case. Do you have any sort of gut feeling or hypothesis about how that happened?

Stevie Gill (16:00):
I'm not sure. I might have to ask him. I did have a few tech recruiters reach out to me before that. I think maybe just because keywords like React, Toronto.

Alex Booker (16:02):
That is such an interesting point as well. You are in Toronto and you specifically want to work in Toronto or at least that's how it turned out. I wonder if a lot of recruiters, when they search... If you just search React developer, you're going to get hundreds of thousands of results. Maybe not that many, but tens of thousands of results probably across the globe. It's really difficult to narrow down. But if you're like, "Hey, my objective is to find a React developer in Toronto," that's a narrow enough pool that even if you're not heavily, heavily invested in LinkedIn in terms of your connections... Although I should note, you're right, your keywords and your bio and your profile are very, very good. It means you've got a good chance of being discovered regardless. That's a really key learning for me.

Stevie Gill (16:02):
I think I'm kind of lucky as well because Toronto's a huge tech city. There's a lot of big tech companies here. I think Microsoft have a massive office here as well. There is a big tech presence downtown. I put myself as being available to do remote work as well. I think I put things down to make it look like I was fairly flexible. Maybe that helps as well.

Alex Booker (16:02):
This interview that you got or you're encouraged to apply after that quick phone call, is that the first interview you had and is that the job you ended up doing as well?

Stevie Gill (16:02):
Yeah, that was the funny thing about it. I was thinking, ah, it's going to take me maybe six months or more to get a job. I'd spoken to a few tech recruiters who got in touch with me and it didn't go anywhere.

Alex Booker (16:02):
You had a story that you shared on the Scrimba Discord about a LinkedIn recruiter reaching out to you saying that you're a great match for the job. Then when they called you, they told you to your face, you needed seven plus years of experience, which obviously as a new developer, you don't have.

Stevie Gill (16:03):
There are two funny things about that. It's like seven plus years of experience in React. I think at that time, React had only been out for about eight years. I think that's kind of a big ask, but it was clear he hadn't read my profile despite going, "Oh your profile looks like you're a great match." What I didn't get about it is he was just wasting both of our time by not taking a few seconds to just run through my profile. As soon as I said that I didn't have that experience, I could tell that he wasn't interested despite him continuing the conversation for a few minutes.

Alex Booker (16:25):
Oh, that's such a waste of time. I completely agree.

Stevie Gill (16:27):
Yeah. I got messaged by a few other tech recruiters. I think a lot of them, what they'll do is they just will send out a blanket message to everyone who's got maybe React and Toronto in their profile and then just see what they get back from that response.

Alex Booker (16:44):
It's funny because these days, I can recognize a generic message 10 miles away. I think a lot of hiring managers and recruiters can as well, if you are considering reaching out, but as a new developer or someone who's maybe newer to putting yourself out there, it's a bit harder to discern the generic messages from the sincere ones, which I think is a shame. I'm not sure what they're really accomplishing there. I think they're putting the sort of onus on you as a candidate to count yourself out or say I don't meet these requirements. They're just saying, hey, come here. They're broadcasting their job description when they're sending out an email blast or a message blast like that. I don't think it's the coolest thing ever, but it's a good experience to learn from in something.
Equally speaking to a recruiter is never the worst thing. You never know the outcome of a five minute conversation. Maybe it's a complete dud, like in your case, but equally I can imagine another scenario where the recruiter says, "Oh my mistake, but as you mention it, we have this other role that's more junior focused" or "I have another client who is gearing up to hire for a new team and a new project. Can I keep you in mind when that comes about?" I think whenever you're connecting with other developers or recruiters, you need to really think about getting that conversation started and making it clear what you're available for and maybe even poking a bit as to what they have coming up. Even if you don't get the result immediately, as you said, Stevie, you anticipated taking a few months to apply to all these jobs and things. After four or five weeks, maybe the recruits are the person you connected with is in a much different position and you can help each other out.

Stevie Gill (18:10):
Yeah, for sure. I also looked at as... I was kind of annoyed that he couldn't take a few seconds to just look through my profile, but I was quite philosophical about it. I had a conversation with a few of others as well, which didn't go anyway. I just saw that as experience and practice for finding out what kind of things that they were looking for and maybe trying to get feedback on what I need to do or what I need to improve to become a stronger candidate.

Alex Booker (18:40):
How did that work out on the end? Did you get an impression of the questions that recruiters wanted to know the answers to?

Stevie Gill (18:46):
What I ended up doing was writing down the kinds of questions that were coming up and preparing answers for them. I think the main questions were just about talking about what experience you have in terms of what projects have you built, being able to talk through those projects. It's mostly just around experience, flexibility, salary expectations, those kind of things. I went and did a bit of research to find out what the kind of going rate for a junior developer job is in Toronto and then working an answer to that. I remember coming up with some, it's probably quite a cheesy answer, like saying, oh, I can be flexible on salary, but I know the going rate for this kind of role is 40 to 70K or whatever it was.

Alex Booker (19:35):
Perfect. Perfect answer. You don't want to ask for something ridiculous obviously just pulled out a thin air. Employers pay the market rates plus or minus a little bit depending on their circumstances and other perks of the job, right?

Stevie Gill (19:48):
I guess not really related to that, but before talking to these people, I would look them up on LinkedIn to see who they worked for, what their experience was. I can't remember who it was, one of Leanne's guests, who was saying if a tech recruit is constantly changing jobs, it's not a good sign that they're good at their job.

Jan Arsenovic (20:11):
Me again. This was Taylor Desseyn on the Scrimba podcast when he said...

Taylor Desseyn (20:14):
Most recruiters bounce around every 18 months to two years. If you find a recruiter who's been at the same company for more than two years, they're probably pretty good, who are heavily commissioned. Most of my compensation is based off commission. If a recruiter is not really good at their job, they have to bounce around to make the base raise.

Jan Arsenovic (20:31):
This episode number 27 and its title is How To Work With Recruiters According To Senior Recruiter, Taylor Desseyn. If you feel like listening to an insightful and opinionated interview about recruiting, when you finish with this one, of course, I'm linking it in the show notes. Sorry for the interruption. Here's more of Stevie and Alex.

Alex Booker (20:51):
I noticed on your LinkedIn profile, and I think you've explained it a bit here, which is that you left to change countries basically. Then the pandemic hit and all the rest of it, but there was a fairly significant career gap in your sort of resume in LinkedIn profile. Around July, 2019, you left your previous job and packed your bags. You've only fairly recently been hired in May, 2022. There was almost a three year gap there in between the opportunities. I'm curious if that was something you were aware of and maybe anticipated employers asking about.

Stevie Gill (21:23):
Yeah. I was very conscious of that and kind of worried that would play against me. That was one of those other questions that I kind of formulated an answer for and came up with a story and try and put a positive spin on it.

Alex Booker (21:38):
Did it come up in the end?

Stevie Gill (21:39):
Not directly. They kind of want to know a bit of your backstory so you kind of give them that, your career history. I was kind of surprised that I was never really asked directly about that, but it was always a huge concern of mine. I was always very self-conscious about it. I was always like, am I ready to start applying for a job? Then I was kind of like, but the longer I leave it, maybe the worse it's going to look on my CV.

Alex Booker (22:04):
I struggle with that a little bit because I don't see why an employer should necessarily care. I do think there are some amber and red flags on someone's LinkedIn or resume where, if they change jobs every eight to 14 months or something, that's not ideal because most employees, they hit their stride after a year. Then just as they're getting ready to ramp up, they might be leaving the company. I totally get that.
I think if you're at a more mid or senior level role and then you take a three year break, maybe the industry's moved on a little bit and it's hard to assure yourself as an employer that they will have stayed up to date with their skills or they're warmed up necessarily to hit the ground running.
All that said, I don't think that applies to a new developer actually. I think that when you have a fairly logical reasonable story, such as the fact that you change countries and you decided to retrain to do a new career, I find it really hard to imagine why somebody would logically be against that. I also struggle a little bit to see where the bias could be in that case, I think through the logical steps, but we're also emotional people. I do recognize that sometimes logic has nothing to do with it. Anyway, I can't really see the emotional case there, why somebody would have a problem with it either.

Stevie Gill (23:14):
Yeah, no, I think that's a good point. They took me on at Kijiji knowing that I would have a lot of learning to do. It's almost like they're training me, but I think HR look at these things differently. If you have to go through some HR screening first, I think that they're just kind of like, no, no. They're kind of just ticking boxes. I think again, that's why it's important to actually speak to someone who can get you past HR. I think that's what happened with me was my manager was... Yeah, let's interview this guy

Alex Booker (23:45):
When you apply, you are essentially one of a few hundred maybe, but if you can somehow find a way to stand out, if you connect with someone of the company, not only do you stand out, you're an individual in their mind now, not just a number, you don't run the risk of being glanced over because of a small detail.

Stevie Gill (24:01):
Yeah. I think I was just very lucky that my manager, Jason, saw me and then seemed interested in my story. It's the first job I interviewed for. Again, I didn't expect to get the job because there was a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I ended up doing four interviews, which I think is the most interviews I've ever done for a job. I think I've never done more than two.

Alex Booker (24:19):
Do you remember the details? What were the four steps in those four interviews?

Stevie Gill (24:22):
I guess it is kind of four and a half really. I did an informal chat with my manager.

Alex Booker (24:27):
Oh, that didn't even count as one of the four. Okay.

Stevie Gill (24:30):
No, no. It was just because I think we only talked for 15 minutes and then he was like, oh I think you should send your CV. The first interview was with someone from HR. That was more of I guess a soft skills interview and getting to know me and finding out whether I'd be a good fit for the company. One of the questions he asked me was what is a non-digital device that you use and why.

Alex Booker (24:55):
What did you answer to that?

Stevie Gill (24:56):
I said books.

Alex Booker (24:57):
Oh, that's a good answer.

Stevie Gill (24:58):
I explained it's because I like going to libraries. I read stuff on mobile devices, but I still like to have a book. It's probably some romantic notion attached to that. Also, they don't need batteries, do they?

Alex Booker (25:11):
I don't know, I'm a bit of a team Kindle type of person over here because I just find it physically more comfortable and portable and stuff.

Stevie Gill (25:18):
It's very convenient, isn't it? Books can be heavy, where Kindle's pretty light.

Alex Booker (25:24):
Do you ever think recruiters just get a bit bored? They interview hundreds and hundreds of people. They probably try and keep things interesting for themselves by asking these slightly quirky questions about what is an analog thing you enjoy.

Stevie Gill (25:36):
Yeah. I think that as well. I think these are just kind of questions to catch you off guard and get a glimpse into your real personality. I did an interview a few years ago where in the same interview he asked me what my thoughts on Abba were, do I kale, as in the vegetable, and what is my idea of hell?

Alex Booker (25:54):
Okay. Now I'm starting to feel a bit suspicious. What on earth has that got to do with your ability to work as a developer?

Stevie Gill (26:01):
That wasn't the developer job. That was for an editorial job, but I think those questions were all to see how I'd fit in with the office culture.

Alex Booker (26:08):
That's a very good point. There was a company called Push where I used to work. Now I think about it, we had this form where you could apply and the questions were like, what's your CV, blah, blah, blah, blah. Then one of them was like, would you rather fight a hundred duck sized horses or one horse sized duck or something ridiculous like that. I think it was just inviting people to express a bit of their personality. I think it's more pleasant for everybody. It's fun to read. It's a little bit fun to write and it just helps show some personality, whether you might be a good fit. Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss those kind of questions.

Stevie Gill (26:40):
Yeah. I think it helps relax you a little bit as well because interviews are... For me, at least, I find them very stressful. I get very nervous during interviews. I think it makes you look at the interviewers as being more human. You know in your interview and it's almost like you're in front of the school headmaster or something. This is kind of weird disconnect in a way, because you turn up and you're in a suit and this kind of weird formality to it all.

Alex Booker (27:05):
I hope you didn't wear a suit to a technical interview by the way.

Stevie Gill (27:08):
It was all done by video because at the time they hadn't reopened the office. They were all video interviews so I just kind of wore a smartish shirt so I didn't look too scruffy and tidied up the background.

Alex Booker (27:22):
I was slightly suspicious that someone listening might be like, wait, I need to wear suits in my coding interview? No, don't do that. If anything, that's a bad thing to do because you'll certainly be the only person wearing a suit. Also, I completely get your point about making it more human. Everything up until the point you're actually doing the job, it can feel very transactional. Hey, here are the services I can render. Okay. Here are some questions, but once you start the job, it's anything but transactional. You start to build relationships with your coworkers and your manager. You're thinking about the purpose of the product and all these things. Anyway, we got to step one, I think, which was the HR interview. 1.5, I suppose. What came next, Stevie.

Stevie Gill (27:59):
The next interview, that was with Jason again, my manager, and that was kind of a mixture of soft skill questions and going through my background again. There was a few questions on React. It's funny as well because I was going about module 13. I can't remember if it was Dylan or Cassidy. I think it was Dylan, does the JavaScript stuff that you might get asked in an interview and Cassidy did the React stuff. Some of the questions that Cassidy prepared you for definitely came up, like being able to explain state, being able to explain the virtual dom. I'd actually had answers prepared for those, so that was very useful.

Alex Booker (28:42):
Was that a nice feeling by the way, probably taking you back many, many years when you lost a sort of school test or something? You know when you opened the paper and it's like, oh my God, it's the question I was hoping for and you know the answer?

Stevie Gill (28:53):
Yeah, it was like that, but then it was lots of questions like, do you know type script? Do you know how to configure a web pack? What's the difference between a rest API and GraphQL. At the time, I didn't really know what GraphQL was. Yeah, I didn't know type script either, so I thought, ah, there's no way I'm going to get this job. I only know the absolute basics of configuring web pack. Most of the stuff I've done is just using React app, which kind of does all web pack legwork for you. Sometimes you need to go in and tweak a few options, but that was the kind of extent of my knowledge of configuring.

Alex Booker (29:30):
What was the third step of the interview?

Stevie Gill (29:32):
That was basically a full on technical interview. You hear these stories and I don't know that they definitely happen of you getting these crazy algorithm challenges. I did do some preparation for that. I spent think it's code wars. I started working my way through some of the JavaScript challenges on that.

Alex Booker (29:49):
Leet code as well, I think you mentioned on Discord.

Stevie Gill (29:51):
Yeah. Those ones are hard. I ended going on code wars because then if you're doing challenges and you can't do them, it just makes you feel really bad. Whereas if you do some challenges and they challenge you but you eventually get to a solution, then at least you feel like, oh, I'm learning something. I can work my way through some of these problems. In the end, the technical interview was relatively straightforward. There was lots of questions about how much I understood accessibility. I was given a web page and it was like, what are the accessibility issues in this? I think I got all but one of them. I was quite happy with that.
I was annoyed with the one that I missed. There was a couple of buttons and they just had a plus symbol and a minus symbol. Obviously you're supposed to put an area label in that so that screen readers know what those buttons do rather than just being a symbol. The other test was basically a React component, but it was more testing us like, do you know how to use map, reduce and filter? I was able to do that. She seemed impressed because I started working out the solution and then I realized that it wasn't going to work properly. I went straight to reduce and she said she was impressed because she thought she would have to go, and is there a better way of doing this? But she said, I already went to the better way of doing it.

Alex Booker (31:07):
Nice. No seriously, that's really good. Aggregating and reducing, that's a pretty intermediate skill because most new developers would use a fall loop and keep building up an array for example, whereas yeah, you nailed that.

Stevie Gill (31:20):
It was one of those things that you could do with a combination, a loop and then doing filter. Then I think she would work up with how could you refactor that? I kind of already refactored it. I worked out there was a slight issue with the implementation. I was happy I was able to do that. She just asked me some more React questions again. Yeah, and this is another question that Cassidy Williams, said that would come up, which is can you explain the difference between state in a functional component compared to a class component? Yeah. That was useful to have done some research and prepped for that.

Alex Booker (31:55):
It's amazing to hear. The objective of the career path is to take you from not knowing much code. Of course you'd done a bit of Free Code Camp before, but ultimately by the time you graduate, you should be at that level where you can build projects independently, but also succeed at an entry level job interview. In my mind, that's a place where they realize you can contribute and bring value to the business. You also need some room for growth, but they see your potential and how much dedication and intelligence you've applied to get to that point. It's really exciting things to hear that your experience happened to match almost one on one, with what we provided in the career path, almost to the point where the questions they asked... They could have literally created a list of questions from Cassidy's module, for example. That would've been a very fortunate thing.

Stevie Gill (32:39):
Some of Dylan's questions came up as well, because it was like the question, what's the difference between loose equality and strict equality in JavaScript. I got asked several times about agile, which is something that Dylan prepared you for. I think one of the interviewers said they were actually really impressed by my answer for agile because he said considering I've never had any direct experience of it, I seemed to have a good understanding of it. Again, I did some reading on it and prepped a potential answer for that. It helps a lot having an idea of what's going to come up and how you're going to answer those questions.

Alex Booker (33:13):
Definitely. What was the fourth and I guess final step of the interview process, Stevie?

Stevie Gill (33:18):
Was mostly soft skills. Again, questions about teamwork. There were different people for each interview, so the first one was with just a HR guy. The second one was with my manager. Third one was with a woman called Daniella, who's one of the senior developers and she... We don't really have a scrum master, but she kind of fills in for that role because we're divided into sub teams. She kind of does that, but she's kind of also mentors me I guess. We do a one-to-one every week for me to ask her questions and her to give me feedback and help.
The fourth interview is with one of the product managers and with another guy who works on my team. Again, he's a senior developer. Their questions are more teamwork questions, experience questions, I think. Yeah. What was your biggest failure and then questions, like how have you dealt with when things have gone wrong or what's the biggest problem you've solved, that kind of stuff. How do you approach that thing? Then talking a little bit about, do you do documentation when you're coding?
We talked through one of my apps as well. I think he removed it from the front end module, but you did this one where you build a Netflix app and I did the Netflix app. I'll be honest. I didn't think it was a very good module because it wasn't very interactive like most of the other modules are. I think most of it wasn't that different from watching a YouTube video. You're just kind of watching this guy code this Netflix app. That was surprising because I think most of the modules are very interactive. Right now, you're going to code this bit or I built this component and you are going to build the next component.

Alex Booker (35:05):
I'll tell you the sort of story here, which is the Scrimba has always had that interactive editor. That was always the reason, the Atra, the Scrimba, that's why Per and Cindra and a little bit later, Frodo, went down this path of making yet another sort of courses website. It was different and there was a novelty there. Occasionally it was the best way to learn, especially if it was visual. Even if the teacher wasn't especially conscious of inviting the student to get their hands on the keyboard, if you're learning something like Flexbox or CSS grid, it's still really cool to get to fiddle with it and see it evolve.
Over the years, really, the thing that's changed is not the platform fundamentally. It's still very much the same, but we have a completely new pedagogy and approach to teaching where every single module we make now, it's so deliberately taking advantage of the editor to encourage you to do exactly as you described, Stevie. Code your own component, fill in the blanks, that kind of thing. I think the module you're describing was before this pedagogy and it's since been replaced actually to sort be more hands on. Point is, it's very legitimate feedback and it's something that we got before and addressed and yeah, that's all.

Stevie Gill (36:15):
Yeah, so I did that. I didn't feel like I'd learned that much from it. I was like, right, I'm just going to go and rebuild this whole thing from scratch and take on board some of the stuff that I had learned. It wasn't that I hadn't learned anything, but I think there was a lot of stuff. You didn't fully understand why things were done in a certain way and that kind of thing. I just went and rebuilt the whole thing from scratch, but then added a whole bunch of other features. I went out on a limb to try and make it look and behave much more like Netflix, but then I completely customized it as well. I kind of changed all the text. I put in lots of tongue in cheek text in there. I made the layout behave much more closely to Netflix. I actually kind of spent a lot of time on the Netflix website, almost reverse engineering their layout and their logic, just using developer tools and stuff like that.

Alex Booker (37:11):
It's on your portfolio, isn't it, called Retroflix. People can check it out.

Stevie Gill (37:15):
Yeah. Matt, who's one of the guys who interviewed me, he was really impressed by it and he liked the humor in it as well. I think that helped. Also they liked that I'd put a fair bit of effort into accessibility as well. I tried to mimic the carousel as best as I could. That was something that went through several iterations. It's still not the same as the actual Netflix carousel, but I thought I did a decent job with it. I didn't want to spend forever going through it. I put a lot of effort into making sure that you could navigate that with the keyboard. That was quite a challenge doing that, but they liked that I'd gone to that effort of adding in the accessibility stuff and it just created a good talking point as well.

Alex Booker (37:58):
I'm reading the FAQ and it's like, how do I cancel Retroflix? It's just like Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Stevie Gill (38:07):
All the content's based on stuff that I like so there's lots of eighties movies and TV shows in there and just silly references. It's lots of in jokes that probably I only get. I think when you're building an app as well, I think it's so important to enjoy it and to kind of do some things that will motivate you so you don't just get bored halfway through it. I had a lot of fun making that and I made a lot of the graphics myself just messing around in Photoshop and editing pictures and stuff. I had fun curating all the content for it, all the movies and shows. I think that helps a lot actually when you're building projects. Obviously you need to have some projects on your portfolio to make up for not having previous job experience and if you can do stuff that you enjoy doing or something you want to make, it kind of helps drive you a bit more. I think it helps you kind of add stretch goals to the project, if that makes sense.

Alex Booker (39:02):
I think you approached it in exactly the right way. Presenting a tutorial version that other people have done, it is okay, but it's definitely not a good talking point and you definitely want to throw in a bit of spice, a bit of personality, just something to get the conversation going. Yeah, we'll link this in the show notes for people to check out so they know exactly the sort of bar that they need to meet.

Stevie Gill (39:23):
I saw someone else, they did that Netflix tutorial and then they just went and I think the guy who made it, he also had it on a repo in GitHub. I saw someone, they just went and fucked that repo and then hosted it and then put that on their portfolio. It's like, you can't do that. It's not your app.

Alex Booker (39:41):
That's ridiculous. Tell us about getting the job offer. How did the offer come to you and oh my God, you must have been so excited.

Stevie Gill (39:50):
To be honest, I didn't think I would get it because I thought there were just too many gaps there. They use type script, they use GraphQL, they use next JS. I didn't have any experience with them. There was definitely some questions that I couldn't answer in the interview. There was a few that I thought that I didn't answer well or I just ended up waffling through. I didn't think I would get it, but I was kind of very philosophical about it because thinking, it's a great experience and I know now the kind of questions I'm going to get asked and I can better prepare for them. I can maybe go away and learn basics of type script or learn more about GraphQL, that kind of thing.
Getting the job offer was funny because I got an email saying to have... I can't remember. It was a debrief or something weird like that. An interview debrief, again with the HR guy. I went into that thinking, I'm not going to get the job, but they're going to give me some helpful feedback. He didn't tell me I'd got the job until 20 minutes into the interview. It was like, yeah, I think he's funny, this guy. He's got a strong sense of humor.

Alex Booker (41:04):
What did you talk about for the first 20 minutes then?

Stevie Gill (41:06):
He was kind of asking me how I thought that I did in the interview and stuff like that. Then he was giving me feedback from what people had said. Then yeah, 20 minutes in, he made the job offer. He did this whole thing. He goes, so would you want the job if we offered it to you? I was like, yeah, of course.

Alex Booker (41:26):
Oh my goodness. Talk about dangling a carrot or something.

Stevie Gill (41:31):
It was very tense. I was very surprised, but I was also incredibly happy because I just didn't think that I would get it on my first interview. I don't have a lot of experience of doing interviews even though I'm 42 now. I've not actually done that many interviews in my life, so I get incredibly nervous during them. I do tend to waffle and sometimes do that thing where... I don't know if you've ever done this interview. I'll be answering a question and then halfway through my answer, I can't remember what the question is. Then I just end up waffling because I don't want to let them know that I can't remember what the question was.

Alex Booker (42:07):
I can relate a little bit in the early days. I think the Scrimba podcast has given me super powers when it comes to remembering talking points and things, but I totally get what you mean.

Stevie Gill (42:17):
Yeah. It was a weird experience, but, yeah, I got the job. The other thing that surprised me was that he did a drum roll for telling me how much they were going to offer me in terms of salary and benefits.

Alex Booker (42:32):
A physical drum roll, he was tapping with desk?

Stevie Gill (42:35):
Yeah. I can't remember if he was tapping the desk or he just did it verbally, but he did a drum roll and then, yeah. They offered me a really good salary, which I was very surprised with. It was above the kind of range that's typical for a junior role. I was really surprised with that, but obviously very happy.

Alex Booker (42:53):
Oh my goodness, Stevie. That's incredible, man. I'm so happy for you. Massive congratulations and thank you so much for joining me on the podcast to share your exact story. I don't think we've ever gone into such depth, I guess, about the individual steps. Four and a half in your case. I know for a fact, people are going to find it super useful. Stevie Gill, thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba podcast.

Stevie Gill (43:15):
No worries. It's a pleasure. It's nice to kind of, I guess, finally meet you. I've listened to you at the town hall meetings and seen some of your videos and stuff, so it's kind of a bit surreal to actually be talking to you.

Alex Booker (43:27):
Oh, that's crazy.

Jan Arsenovic (43:30):
All right. That was Stevie. Well, this was a fun one. We need more drum rolls in real life I think. Make sure to check out the show notes. The resources mentioned in this episode will be there along Stevie's links and that podcast episode with Taylor Desseyn. If you made it this far, consider subscribing. Next week, we'll have the founder of Free Code Camp. The Scrimba podcast is hosted by Alex Booker. Make sure to mention him on Twitter if you're sharing what you've learned from the pod. You'll find his Twitter handle in the show notes and produced by me. I'm Jan Arsenovic and we will see you next week.