My Lessons From 3 Failed Interviews As A Developer

Learn from my mistakes and experience

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2019.

The year I started learning how to code with a free eBook I downloaded from the web. Since then a lot of things have happened.

One of them is failing my interview for web developer roles three times. It's not all gloomy though, I have learnt a lot from those experience.

In this post, I'll share my experience with you all.

  • My First Experience

    I was a young developer. While I was (admittedly) a decent up-and-coming web developer, I was very inexperienced when it came to interviews. As a matter of fact, it was going to be my first. The article that booked me my first interview session was a post series I created on my DEV blog. The series was about SQL. It was aptly titled “Master your SQL Commands”.

Dashboard-DEV-Community-👩_💻👨_💻.png

For those of you who don’t what SQL is, it stands for Structured Query Language. SQL is a computer language for storing, manipulating and retrieving data stored in a relational database

The flagship article gained a bit of traction and some people were impressed with it. One of them even reached out and offered me some payment in exchange for me publishing the two remaining articles on their platform. He wanted to vet my programming/writing skills; hence he scheduled an interview with me. I was nervous, not because I didn’t think I’ll make it, but because I didn’t know what to expect.

We initially agreed that the interview will be held in Zoom, but the notoriously poor internet connection we have here in my country (Nigeria) didn’t let that eventualize. Ultimately, we had to settle for a WhatsApp call.

The session began fine, albeit some intermittent disconnections and reconnections. He asked about my past experience and portfolio. I replied that I had no portfolio, but a bit of working experience. I went on to describe my previous developer role I had to him. Next, he asked me about my familiarity with Databases. This made sense since the whole thing started with my article on the topic. I informed him my knowledge of SQL, MySQL and PostgreSQL.

At that point, I could hear the slight hesitance in his voice. Then he asked about my writing skills. I replied a bit boastfully that I was a good, or at least a decent writer. I even listed the previous writing roles I had for various sites and how I developed an interest for writing at a very young age.

After what lasted for about 25 minutes in total, we then concluded the call. He assured me that he’ll get back via email letter that evening yet nothing happened. Ouch, I know. Luckily, I am not the kind of person who took things personally. However, I did learn something. Here it is:

If you’re looking for a job as a developer, always have a portfolio. As a writer, you should have enough sample copies of your previous works present and ready to be shown.

My writing skill obviously wasn’t the issue, since It was the thing that interested him in the first place. The issue, however, was my lack of credentials. Not having a portfolio. Never forget this.

  • My Second Experience

    My second experience was even more painful, but I am very excited to share it to you all.

I am primarily a JavaScript developer. After learning HTML and CSS, I delved into JavaScript and instantly got hooked to it. Being an active part of the developer community on Twitter, I get a lot of direct messages. However, this time, I got one from a start-up founder who offered me a contract-based role if I was able to scale past the interview. His project was written primarily in typescript, so I was going to be working with JavaScript after all!

I was excited and nervous at the same time. This is a language that I loved. The interview was also just my second so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was quite busy with School so I really didn’t have the time to prepare as well. In fact, I am going to say that I got complacent. I overestimated my knowledge of JavaScript and that would ultimately backfire at me, as you are going to find out soon.

The day of the interview arrived and boy I was nervous. I set up my laptop and braced myself for the onslaught of poor internet connection. My interviewee was African so he was very aware of the network issue we had. As a result, we decided it was going to be done over at WhatsApp. We connected through to each other and he gave me a link to the platform for the live interview, which was CoderPad.

He gave me an initial test, I fumbled. Then he gave me a second test, and I failed yet again. At that point, I knew what the grim outcome will be. He courteously thanked me for my time and tried boosting my morale. While that did work a bit, here are some things I learnt from this debacle:

As a developer, practise is very important. Even 3 days of no coding can make you forget a lot. Practise boosts your memory and internalizes a lot of programming concepts in your mind.

I made the mistake of not practising my JavaScript for over a week and I paid the price. Don’t be complacent.

  • My Third Experience

My third experience was somewhat recent, yet still doomed. I got contacted once again though my Twitter DMs. He asked me if I was up for a role and replied positive. We discussed on the nature of languages to be used, as well as the number of workdays per week. My intended role revolved around Gatsby and React. This time I was wary of complacency. I prepared for the interview amidst other daily tasks I had.

N/B: For those of you looking to learn React, HTML to React is a brilliant course to go from knowing just HTML to knowing React.

It got delayed by hour but eventually we got seated and set. Our initial attempt was once again hampered by the terrible network connection. Video calling with Zoom and WhatsApp was not viable. We ultimately had to settle for a WhatsApp audio call instead.

The interview started okay, better than I expected. He asked me a couple of things about JavaScript, then React. Everything was going on smooth and fine. However, things began to go sour as we progressed. He asked me some question about React hooks and I fidgeted and stammered. Thing got progressively worst for me from that point onwards. After that, he courteously informed me that I didn’t make the test, not before praising me for how much I have learned in just under two years as a web developer. While it sucked, I learnt something important:

Experience matters. The longer you are in the industry, the more you know and understand. Especially if you build complex and professional websites very often.

This, admittedly, isn’t something I have done a lot. Being a seasoned and experienced developer, he was able to identify this no matter how good/savvy I was.

After this latest disappointment, I dedicated at least one hour everyday to building websites as side projects. Implementation is hard because of time constraints, unstable electricity and other challenges but I am committed to it.

In summary, I failed those three interviews because

  • I was a newbie
  • I had no portfolio
  • I had little working experience
  • I was complacent
  • I stopped practising and getting better
  • I was inexperienced

If you want to ace and interview, you need to avoid all of the mistakes I made. You should go from being a newbie to properly understanding the basics. In fact, I recently created a Web Development Beginners Guide eBook which will guide on all you need to know as an absolute beginner. You can get it here:

Web Development - The Beginners Guide

Secondly, you must have a portfolio. This should show all your previous projects, big and small. You should make your portfolio stand out as much as possible.

Also, never be complacent. Always underestimate your abilities, yet remain confident. Keep practising and building stuff. You’ll get better and better at it. And most importantly, you’ll become more experienced in it.

Thank you.

P/S: I share my coding experiences on this blog. If you want to follow my journey, follow my blog and subscribe to newsletters to stay updated.

Favourite Jome's photo

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences, I've taken note of them.

Kieran Roberts's photo

Thanks for sharing Kingsley Ubah, that was a fun read and it's good to see you learned from your experiences!

Kingsley Ubah's photo

Thank you Kieran!

Edidiong Asikpo's photo

Very interesting perspective Kingsley Ubah. Thanks for sharing your story.

Kingsley Ubah's photo

You're very welcome!

Abdulkareem's photo

Thanks a lot for sharing

Goodness Olawoore's photo

Thank you for sharing your experience Kingsley Ubah!