What it takes to interview with a FAANG (Looking for Opportunities!)

They say when life gives you lemons make lemonade.

This is going to be fairly honest post so you will have to bear with me.

Before I begin my post I'd like to say I'm forever grateful for the patience and support I have received from my partner, daughter and close family. It's so critical to have your people close to you when you have to make and take tough decisions and sometimes just need that extra bit of understanding.

TL;DR I applied to a Big Tech company (read on to fill the blanks!), took some time out of work to practise and spent 4 months preparing for my interview and I made lots of sacrifices. A week before I was due to interview unfortunately there was a hiring freeze for an indeterminate amount of time. Partially because of Ukraine War and partially because of the state of the world economy. Can't complain though, as I've learned a lot and will only come back stronger. Nothing ventured nothing gained!

I am open to short contracts (3-6 months initial), software engineering manager and software architect type roles so please get in touch if you feel I have something to offer your client or business.

Back in January I was approached by a recruiter, for what I considered to be a dream role at a top Big Tech company based in the UK. Prior to the covid pandemic, many of the roles at top tech companies were simply out of reach, most required that you commute to London and as an active father of a wonderful 9-year old daughter, I found the balance that remote working brought to my life a god-send. I could be there to drop off my daughter and pick her up when she needed and play an active role in ensuring her needs are always well cared for even during times of a pandemic when working from home became the norm.

So when Meta (Facebook) reached out with a remote role, a company I've long admired, it was such a huge opportunity I couldn't pass it up and as people know me, sometimes I struggle to just say no. I must say the recruiters have been absolutely excellent with me and walked me through each step in the process. Whenever I've had a query they've answered quickly it and been a reassuring guide through what I initially considered to be one of the toughest interview processes I will likely face.

FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) Interviews as they are commonly called, are notorious in the tech industry as offering the toughest challenge any aspiring software developer will face. When I embarked on my journey nearly 4 months ago, I realised it was going to take a lot of work. If you aren't well versed in answering algorithm questions you will absolutely need to practise.

To approach the FAANG tech interview process there are generally a few stages:

  • A 45-minute initial tech screen which will involve solving two medium to hard problems in 35-minutes plus a pitch about yourself
  • Possibly a further 45 minute technical interview
  • A system design interview;
  • Behavioural interview

The whole process can take at least 13 weeks (yes you read that right) to prepare, so this is a serious time commitment to get it right and be properly prepared for what's to come. Many great software engineers and managers turn up to the process unprepared and this is their biggest problem, not that they aren't capable.

At the start of the process, I drafted a 13-week plan that would take me up to my first technical interview. I also knew that plan needed to be flexible covering language basics for my language of choice, re-learning data structures and algorithms in depth, and attempting many hundreds of questions and algorithm exercises.

At the time I was contracting with my contract finishing in April, I saw that as the perfect time to begin winding up my contract as we were coming to end of the first stage of a long project at the time. As luck would have it, my current client Vodafone (who equally have been brilliant) were interested in retaining my services during a handover period, so I opted to work part-time two days a week whilst cramming for Meta interviews. I can't fault either company in the patience, time and flexibility they've allowed to help me through this process. However, a week before my first interview was due, I was contacted by Meta (Facebook) to inform me that hiring had been frozen due to company reporting worse quarterly revenue results expected by the markets than had been anticipated.

Absolutely no-one is at fault for this. All of these circumstances are outside of everyone's control. Sometimes life throws you lemons...

This has left me in a bit of a situation. When I applied for the role I put a lot of things on hold. My hobbies were first to go, I'm an avid chess player and my aim was to make International Master by the time I turned 40, something I never actually achieved despite being considered talented as a youngster and having won many titles from a young age.

I also love to paint and collect miniatures (think Henry Cavill's hobby!). I really do miss doing those things. Hobbies are certainly a way to soothe the heart as I'm sure you all agree!

Sometimes though, tough times call for tough sacrifices and whilst it's been difficult making those sacrifices the other side of the process has been thoroughly rewarding and I feel I'm a better engineer and better prepared for future interviews.

Life sometimes finds you at a crossroads and I feel like I'm at that point where I need to consider the direction I need to go. I guess we all reach that point at some time.

When I was at Booking.com I managed to work from a senior engineer to a technical lead of a team. The sweet spot between managing and being technical. Unfortunately after three short years I left and did so because I realised that I loved to code, but I also loved to manage but I couldn't do both with Booking and that was a huge shame because it really was another great place to work, lots of variety with some great people! However, for me I'd reached that point where I really enjoyed working on lots of new products and jumping from team to team gathering as much experience as possible. Contracting presented that opportunity.

Having spent several years, some of which working with Equal Experts (an excellent consultancy) as an Associate, I was privileged to be granted the opportunity to work on various different projects ranging from Python and Django at COOP Digital to Scala with HMRC working with some more fantastic people I've learned a lot from. Picking up two brand new languages to me have really helped widen my view of the programming world, the differences between these languages and how they can be used to solve each problem.

After several years contracting I am finding the extra admin (management of a business and accounts) taking its toll. Whilst it's been another amazing learning and growth opportunity I'd really love to just dive back in and build products for the right company and just focus on the stuff that really matters. Delivering valuable and products, to people!

I realise this has been a somewhat rambling, if not honest account but if you'd like to work with me or have any questions about the FAANG process itself please let me know in the comments below or DM me and I'll more than happily answer any questions you might have.

I have a few irons in the fire and may take this week to mull over things but please feel free to reach out to me with any job offers or opportunities you think might be of interest. The can be contract or full time permanent roles.

I'm primarily a Java, Scala engineer with management, leadership and architecture experience to bring to the table having been involved with numerous large multinationals over my career. Please feel free to browse my profile to get an idea of what I might offer you or your client.

I hope you're all doing well and remember if life offers you lemons, make lemonade!

James Murphy

Java dev by day, entrepreneur by night. James has 10+ years experience working with some of the largest UK businesses ranging from the BBC, to The Hut Group finally finding a home at Rentalcars.

Manchester, UK
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