In the middle of March 2022, I began my job search. I had been dreading this. I always managed to find an excuse to delay it. “I want to do research.” “I should apply to a Ph.D. program.” “I need to improve my technical skills before I start job hunting.” These were some thoughts that plagued my mind and helped me procrastinate. I was set to graduate from my program in 3 months, and I had nothing planned out for the future. It was time to take action!
A bit of context on my reason for dreading the job hunt. My program is a master in Computer Science specializing in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Machine Learning (ML) is my forte. I have been doing active research in it for the last 4 years. I consider myself pretty good in both ML’s theoretical and practical coding elements. However, an essential step of job interviews for ML jobs is the Data Structure and Algorithm (DSA) rounds. These are coding puzzles that test problem-solving and coding abilities. These rounds are what I dread the most. I was so focussed on ML that I never really cared for this. The annoying part is that even if you are an ML genius (not saying that I am), you still need to clear the DSA rounds.
With so little time remaining, I decided to suck it up and start practicing for the DSA rounds. After practicing for 1-2 weeks, I started applying for jobs. Pinterest was one of the first companies I applied to, and I was immediately sent an online test to complete. At this point, I was still not very confident in my DSA skills, so I delayed taking the test until the deadline and kept practicing in the meantime. Ironically the test was all ML questions!
By the time I gave the online test for Pinterest, I had already given many interviews with other companies. I was close to the final rounds with some companies, while I had only just begun with others. I told my Pinterest recruiter this and expressed my desire to speed up my interview timeline. Fortunately, Pinterest agreed, and I had my final virtual onsite interviews scheduled for the following week. I was going to have 2 back-to-back DSA rounds in one day and 2 back-to-back ML rounds the next day.
During the days leading up to my onsite, I read every single blog and article Pinterest had published on their website. I brushed up on basic ML concepts. Sometimes you get so deep into something that you forget the fundamentals. I didn’t want that to be my Achilles heel during the interviews. Most importantly, I practiced DSA questions – a lot of DSA questions. I asked my friends to hold mock interviews, help me prioritize what topics to focus on, and be the outlet for my stress rants!
Finally, the moment of truth comes. The interviewer is telling me about themselves and what they do. I give my little intro – perfected by now after countless interviews. The only thought going through my head is what type of question I will get and, more importantly, “will I be able to solve it?” The first interview ends, and the second one begins promptly. Two hours fly by in a blink. We say our goodbyes and wish each other a “good rest of the day.” I close my laptop. Get up. Pour myself a glass of water. “Finally!”, I breathe a sigh of relief. “DSA rounds done!” I exclaimed, “I managed to solve both questions!”. After a little victory dance, I return to studying for the ML interviews. The second day rolls in, and I confidently start the interviews. I was never worried about the ML rounds. Two hours swim by fast, and the final technical interview ends. I was done! Now it was a patient wait.
Surprisingly my recruiter got back to me the next day telling me that my technical interviews went well and the next step would be to speak to the hiring manager. I thought this was it! The hard part is already done. This should be easy. Right?
The talk with the manager goes well, and I felt confident. I was expecting an offer to come within a few days. Two days pass, and I receive no communication. The recruiter had told me that they would get back by now. I sent an email asking for any updates and was told they would decide by the end of the week. Dread crept in me. “Rejection” kept circling inside my mind. Friday crept up excruciatingly slow, and I got an email from my recruiter asking me when I was available for a quick chat. My heart sank. “If I was going to get an offer, I would have already gotten an email about it. The call was just to reject me in a way it does not make me feel bad”, is what I thought. I hope onto the call, and sure enough, I was told Pinterest had decided to not go along with me.
Hearing this rejection after going through those intense interviews was a big blow. I felt sad. I expressed my sorrow after hearing the news. I asked the recruiter to keep me updated in case a manager from another team would be interested in me. Of course, I was not expecting another team to reach out to me, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. I already had a pending job offer I needed to decide on by Wednesday next week. So I was not wholly rock bottom.
Next week on Tuesday, I happen to check my emails while eating lunch. I noticed a new email from my Pinterest recruiter asking me if I am available for a quick call. I hop onto the call, and I get told that another team is interested in me. I mention my current offer deadline for Wednesday evening. My interview with the new team manager gets scheduled for Wednesday morning. I was not expecting anything technical during this and was surprised when I was asked some technical ML questions. I thought it went well even though I said some silly things due to nervousness. Within a few hours, I get a call from my recruiter congratulating me and giving me a verbal confirmation of an offer. By late afternoon I had also received a formal offer letter.
This marked the end of my first-ever job hunt! It was challenging, exhausting, and stressful, but I learned much. I learned how to build a great resume, how to sell myself and my achievements, and most importantly, how to solve problems under a time crunch with someone watching my every step.
There are two people I want to express my gratitude to on this journey. First is my college best friend and dormitory neighbor, Samarth Joshi. Samarth is a fantastic coder. He’s so good; we used to refer to him as a “god” on campus. He helped me navigate my way through practicing DSA problems out of the plethora of resources available and even helped me with mock interviews. We live halfway across the world from each other, and he was ready to help, even if it was early morning or late night for him. The second is my Pinterest recruiter, Savanah Mendoza. She was transparent about what was happening during the interviews. If there was a delay, she would immediately communicate that with me. She was fast in responding back to any queries and would gladly jump into a phone call if I needed some more clarifications. This helped alleviate the stressful guessing game that usually comes with job interviews, and I am really grateful for that!