When I moved to Seattle to work at Microsoft, I had one goal in mind – to be the best software engineer I could be.
I was born and raised in New York City, and it was no secret that I really missed the city. Before joining Microsoft full-time, I had previously interviewed at Google NYC in August 2016. It was a no-go.
But I had a job offer I was really excited about, as a software engineer on the Microsoft Excel team. I knew moving to Washington would be a difficult adjustment for me, but I’m a goal-oriented guy.
So, I moved to Washington to start my adult life.
Seattle really is a beautiful city, but I don’t think I was ever fully happy there.
Still, I felt incredibly fortunate and grateful that I was given the privilege to work on the Microsoft Excel team. I threw myself head-on into my career, working hard during the workday and studying more software engineering at night.
If I was going to be alone in a new city to be a software engineer, then I'd better be damn good at my job.
The Google Search that changed my life
Sometime in August 2017, I was studying up on good software engineering principles and writing clean code. It was a late night in my apartment in Kirkland, and I searched up, “dependency injection”.
The search result screen started to warp, and a little message popped up:
“You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?”
I’ve heard of this mythical Google FooBar challenge before. Hm. I’ve been turned down at Google before, and at the time, the rumor was that Google NYC was already filled to capacity anyway. (This rumor was later confirmed)
But I’m always down for a good coding challenge.
The Google FooBar challenge is supported by an in-browser text editor and terminal. It supports Linux-style commands that allow you to perform basic actions like retrieving a challenge, opening the code editor, testing your code, and submitting your solution.
When you retrieve a coding challenge, a timer begins and it’s time to code. There’s a fun little backstory about a fictional problem that needs to be solved with code and algorithms.
“Oh no, Liuetenant Pumpkins has fallen overboard, and the space troops need to find the fastest way to save him! Given a 2D array representing the ocean and obstacles, what is the shortest path from the boat to Lieutenant Pumpkins?”
Just to be clear, I made that prompt up. But the backstories were always something cute among those lines.
In Google Foobar, you code up an algorithm to solve the problem, run it through a few test cases, and see if your code passes. If your code outputs the correct solution but does so in suboptimal time (AKA it’s inefficient), the solution is considered incorrect.
Once you’re comfortable with your passing solution, you can submit it. You’ll go through multiple levels of challenges, with each level requiring deeper algorithmic skills than the previous – but also allotting a more lenient time restriction.
After completing a couple levels, you’ll be asked if you would like a recruiter to reach out to you.
“The code is strong with this one. Share solutions with a Google recruiter?"
I checked my email constantly over the next two months. No response.
I did some searching and found rumors online that Google had stopped hiring from FooBar. I accepted this could be the case – besides, I had already interviewed at Google and failed once before, and Google NYC was supposed to be filled to capacity. Oh well, the coding challenge was kinda fun anyway.
Seven months later, in March 2018, I woke up, checked my inbox, and saw an email from a recruiter.
“Congratulations, you bested level 3 within Google's coding challenge! Keep playing!
During the game, you selected that you would like to hear from a recruiter at Google, and we're excited you did."
I still had some work that I wanted to see to completion on the Excel team, so I asked for my phone interview to be in June 2018. The recruiter happily obliged.
I got a call the day after my phone interview, and I made it to onsites. In July 2018, I interviewed onsite at Google NYC. Aside from the secret coding challenge, it was a pretty normal interview process.
To make a long story short, I start at Google NYC on October 1, 2018! I am very excited to move back to New York City and to work at my new team.
Looking back, it’s crazy to think that a Google search triggered a secret coding challenge that allowed me to move back to the city I loved, with an amazing job. Seriously, that’s a weird sentence to type.
· I’ve always believed that if you’re a hard worker and you're kind to those around you, the right person will eventually notice, and good things will happen. In this case, an algorithm noticed and triggered Google Foobar – but it was still the intense daily studying that precipitated this chain of events.
· I was previously told by friends at Google who were also trying to move to the NYC office, that it was already filled to capacity. So, I assumed that I would never be able to get a job there. But the world is constantly changing - earlier this year, Google started expanding its NYC office.
· During the first phone call with my recruiter, I was upfront about my previous interview at Google two years ago. He reassured me that a large percentage of current Google employees didn’t get the job the first time around. I'm happy to be part of that group now - if at first, you don't succeed...