Ever since the beginning of the school year I’ve been applying for internships. From the odd 50+ applications I’ve submitted, I’ve been met with instant rejections or worse yet, no reply1. That all changed last week when Goldman Sachs invited me over to their New Jersey office for an interview for their Summer Technology Analyst Interview Experience.
How I Apply for Internships
There are a couple of ways I find internships;
- I find $cool_company’s internship application page, fill it in and hope something comes out of it,
- I attend career fairs, find the tech companies which accept international applicants and hope something comes out of it or,
- I go to hackathons, meet recruiters and hope something comes out of it,
- I browse Hacker New’s monthly “Who’s Hiring” threads, email the recruiter and hope something comes out of it
While it’s a diverse set of strategies, it hasn’t gotten me much. Ideally, I would have had access to a broad network of industry people allowing me to jump right to the interview without my resume drowning in the ocean of mediocrity (that I’m a part of), but we do what we can.
While browsing /r/cscareerquestions, arguably the college confidential of CS grads, I came across a job board called intern.supply tailored towards tech internships. Great, I thought. I’ve got another place to look for internships. I spent a couple of days applying to the companies listed, with the same futile results. Then I applied to Goldman Sachs on a Friday.
Before The Office Visit
The application form needed more information than the other companies I’ve applied to. Makes sense given the extra scrutiny they get as a multinational investment firm. I completed the form, marked it for their Chicago and New York offices and hit submit.
The next day, Saturday, I was given a HackerRank quiz2. The quiz had two questions. One on finding the second smallest element in an array and other was on finding a pair sum. The first question wasn’t too bad while the second one was hard to do efficiently.
The day after Saturday, Sunday, I got a link for a “video interview”. “video interview” since it was just them playing a video of an employee asking a question and me having to give a 60-second answer. It went pretty well, although I had trouble answering one question.
Three days later, Wednesday, I got an email from the recruiter saying they’ll let me know whether or not they’ll invite me for an interview on a “Superday” to be held on February 14. Curious as to what a Superday was, I asked my business professor. Turns out that a Superday is a big event where they fly in applicants for a day of interviews, a fancy dinner and networking sessions. She wished me the best and I spent the next two days waiting for the recruiter’s email.
Two days later, I got an email with the subject
I opened up the email and was told that I was selected to attend the Superday at their New Jersey office. All I had to do now was book my flights, wait for the hotel confirmation and prepare for the Superday. I contemplated whether I should fly in to JFK, LaGuardia or Newark. After much deliberation, I picked Newark since it was also in New Jersey and would let me get there quicker.
I got the hotel reservation and they put me in a hotel in Manhattan. Oh crap, that’s in a totally different state. Turns out that the hotel is a ferry ride away from their office.
After some small arrangements with the recruiter (who responded quickly), I was set.
The next few days were spent preparing for the interview. To prepare, I
- Watched a lot of YouTube videos on Goldman Sachs
- Read through (just one chapter of) the canonical guide to tech interviews, Cracking the Coding Interview
- Got a new shirt, which I had a big problem finding and
- Bought a really red tie. The email said Business Attire Only so I got just that.
I then did my homework and told my professors I would be out of class for the interview. At this point, I thought I got the internship and the money that comes along with it.
Getting to New York
Before I left for the airport, I changed my tie for a less dominating blue tie. Something about color and signaling. You’ll see later that attire was the least of my problems.
So, I got to the airport and my flight from Chicago to Newark gets canceled. Thankfully, I got put on another flight seconds after I went to complain about the cancellation. The flight to Chicago was uneventful.
Once I arrived, it turns out that the replacement flight got delayed, meaning that I’d only get into New York at around 11 pm instead of 9 pm as I planned. To get over it, I got a tea cappuccino on Goldman (travel reimbursement) which was really tasty. I knocked the cup violently and somehow it didn’t spill. Why aren’t all cups like that?
Anyway, I got onto the next flight which thankfully had in-flight entertainment and I got to New Jersey. Uber and Lyft were too expensive for me so I decided to take public transport which was just $3.75 vs $30.
getting lost in Manhattan appreciating the renovations done to the former World Trade Centre district and getting my face frozen off my head, I finally got to the hotel. After getting $100 charged to my credit card (more like a holding), I left my bags in my big room and got a big dinner at Shake Shack, courtesy of Goldman of course.
I got back to the room and God it was amazing. It was an entire suite complete with a really comfy bed, an amazing lounge, and a spacious shower. My mum was like whatevs since she gets to experience these all the time but I was blown away. Too bad couldn’t enjoy it as I had to rest before my interview the next day.
A Not So Super Day
I got up, got ready and checked out. Turns out I could get a free shoe shine, but I didn’t have much time. The guy doing the checkout was very helpful. He understood that I was an applicant and I was going in for a Superday. He gave me a newspaper and directions to the New Jersey offices, which were a walk, a ferry, and another walk away.
The newspaper had a piece on PewDePie and some off-color jokes he made. Having revised in July 2017, I can tell you that it became a huge story. I have many opinions on the subject which I won’t share for reasons… Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, ferry.
I got to the office and waited in the lobby for credentials as well as to be called up for the interview. In the lobby, I met two other applicants who were Indians studying for their Master’s Degree in Computer Science. We talked for a bit and got called upstairs.
Upstairs, I got to see the face of the recruiter, put my bags down and got debriefed on the Superday. It would consist of
- a technical interview,
- a behavioral interview and
- a chill networking session.
With that, I headed into the technical interview.
When I thought technical, I imagined whiteboard coding but it turned out to be more design oriented. For instance, the interviewer asked me what I would do if I got hit with a scaling issue. I tried the whole “turn it off and on trope” but it turns out he wanted something more descript, like analyzing bottlenecks and re-evaluating technology.
This was the prevailing idea I got from the interview since he expected something very specific but I was talking generalities. Feeling like a failure, I went into the behavioral interview which wasn’t much better.
This one had two interviewers. The first question they asked me was a diversity-oriented question with a scenario. The scenario was a female engineer was being harassed by a male coworker and I was asked how to deal with it. I suggested talking to the offender and the lady and referring the lady to HR only to be told by the interviewers that the lady already did that. At this point, I was stumped since I didn’t know what to do. Maybe this is why tech has issues since guys like me don’t know how to deal with stuff.
Anyway, the next question was about a personal project and how I would assure quality. I suggested unit testing and continuous integration but again, they wanted specifics.
The last question had to do with implementing a system. I forgot what it was but I remember suggesting quicksort only to be asked how it works and to blank out. I switched to merge sort thinking it would be easier to explain, but I blanked out again. At this point, the interviewers told me how the complexities worked. DOH!
There was still time left so I asked a few questions, specifically on the projects interns work on. They said it was team dependent but they usually work on software that helps main developers do their job. At this point, I was really defeated so I went to the networking session.
At the networking session, I met with two employees, a recent grad and an engineering manager. We talked about work at Goldman Sachs, life in general and whether they get harassed by Occupy Wall Street protesters. They seemed to like Goldman Sachs somewhat, particularly the gym perk which is all inclusive and the talks where they get global influencers, like Hilary Clinton, to talk on something like movies and public/private positions.
As for protestors, they don’t bother them too much and if they do, they’ll tell them off since they don’t really know their work (probably not killing economies on their own) and that Goldman does a lot of good community work (which they do, but that doesn’t necessarily absolve them from criticism, similar to PewDePie).
I forgot to mention this but the day didn’t feel as super as I expected. It wasn’t super crowded and didn’t feel as high stakes as a Superday for investment bankers. Man, this wasn’t a super day.
Getting Back To Campus
Time was up and I was really hungry. We said our goodbyes and I went for lunch at a nearby mall. For lunch, I had kale (which I liked) and chicken, which was surprisingly good. While waiting in line, I talked to some guys who I shared my crappy interview experience with who told me that I wouldn’t wanna work there because revolving doors and what Bernie Sanders said.
Politics aside, I got my food and sat on a table. As I finished, a group of four people were looking for a table, which I just so happened to have so I gave it to them to which they were very thankful. I explored a bit of the new World Trade Centre before I had to get to Newark for my flight.
Once I got there, there was a really long line at the security checkpoint. I remember a TSA agent shouting out
"use the trays, they’re free thanks to the taxpayers" to which I replied
I got on the flight and found a really interesting show called Vice Principals. It’s about two vice principals who try to get the principal position only for it to go to another person. I got to a point where the two vice principals managed to burn down their boss’s house and the in-flight entertainment stopped since it was landing. After that, I switched flights and got home
A week later, I got a phone call telling me I didn’t get the position. All it took was 20 seconds - no fluffy “thanks for applying”, just “Hi, it’s $recruiter, you didn’t get the positions-". I was really sad but did I expect.
I appreciate Goldman for giving me the chance to actually experience a tech interview first hand. While I didn’t do so well, hopefully, I’ll use it as a way to understand what to improve. Some things I’ll try are
- reviewing data structures and algorithms
- understanding how job interviews work
- getting a nice set of clothes for interviews even the casual tech companies and
- learning how to listen and get better at explaining things.
Probably it’s because I suck. I mean, if I wasn’t lazy I would have gone to a higher ranked university, worked on cooler projects, worked with more motivated people, networked with more industry people and have had a much better life in general. This would have been a longer footnote lamenting how displeased I am in myself, but it’ll probably be better if I focused on what I can change instead of lamenting what I did. ↩︎
HackerRank is a company focused on competitive programming challenges, usually for screening tech applicants. One aspect of the job application process in tech companies/positions is proving proficiency in programming. It’s a subject of much debate for many reasons such as their poor correlation to actual job performance, the time needed to prepare for the interviews, how it hinders people who don’t have the time to prepare for interviews from the industry, how absurd they are, how they insult a programmers intelligence (like this guy) etc. ↩︎