by Anthony Sistilli

What a former Google software engineer has to say about landing a developer job

A couple of weeks ago, I got to interview former Google engineer Peter Locke for my website www.theforge.ca.

The interview itself was two hours long, however Peter’s answers were unlike any I’ve heard before.

After answering more general questions about what recruiters look for on résumés and how he landed his job, he went in depth into something I think a lot of young engineers don’t currently think about enough:

Mindset.

I decided to make a highlight video of my five favorite answers. And in this article, I hope to convey the interesting and unorthodox answers he gave to my questions.

His Background

Peter Locke was a software engineer at Google for a year on the Machine Perception team.

Before working at Google, he interned at Twitter and studied Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto.

“I’m a firm believer that mindset has a really big role to play…” - Peter Locke

How he landed his interview at Google and what the recruitment process was like

Getting the interview

Peter took a pretty traditional route to land an interview at Google.

He was working at Twitter as an intern, and his friend had a job at Google. They both exchanged referrals and that’s how he got his foot in the door.

The Process

“I had two phone interviews, after which I was invited to the matching stage where you get matched with a team. I didn’t have to do any onsite interviews yet, since I was originally coming on as an intern”.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the “matching stage,” it’s pretty much where Google adds you to a shortlist of pre-approved applicants. Then their teams can choose whom they want to join them.

“I had interviews with different teams, and the team I liked best was the machine learning team. I told my recruiter I wanted to work on that team, and it was a match.
There’s basically two steps to the Google process. The beginning is getting into the matching pool, and then once you’re there, you get matched into a team and then you actually start working. So there’s two sets of interviews.”

Peter started as an intern and was later converted to a full time employee, so he didn’t have to complete any onsite interviews before getting into the matching stage.

However, for a full time position, there’s a round of phone and onsite interviews before you get to the matching stage.

Some quick DOs & DON’Ts on a résumé

As Peter mentioned, this does depend on what company you’re applying to.

However, he answered the question as if it were a Google recruiter looking at your résumé. So here’s what you should and shouldn’t include:

DOs:

  • You’re a competitive programmer (programming competitions)
  • You have work experience
  • You put in an honest effort to showcase work and projects you’ve done

DON’Ts:

  • Saying you’re “proficient at Javascript and pretty good at C++” — just write down the languages you know and don’t rate yourself
  • Trying to over embellish your résumé with projects that weren't’ really projects. Instead of doing four different projects to make your résumé look really good, do one really good project and have a link to it on your résumé so that a recruiter can easily check it out.

The one thing that’s REALLY good to have on your résumé

That one thing is work experience, Peter said with a laugh.

He understands that, a lot of the time, new grads and students face a ‘catch-22’ when it comes to getting work experience without work experience.

However, Peter went on to quote his hiring manager at Twitter.

“Actually, my hiring manager at Twitter… What he found on my résumé that he was really impressed by and really stood out, was the fact that I had done a project with a team… And that it was working and running.
It shows not only am I’m able to deliver a project and keep it running and keep it live while having a user base, but that you can work with a team and resolve arguments while coming out successful. That’s literally what you have to do day in and day out when you’re working with these companies. So if you can show that, it will come off as amazing.
That was also the only project, or one of the two projects that I had on my resume.”

Addressing limiting beliefs that students and new grads have about getting a job at a top company

This is where my favorite part starts.

“There are a lot of limiting beliefs. One, that I’m not going to address first, is needing work experience beforehand. Maybe someone didn’t have the opportunity to do an internship, and that makes them discouraged on their ability to get a job.”

While he doesn’t go into the details, this is an objection that comes up a lot, especially for new graduates who never landed an internship.

While in California, I met a lot of people who’s first ever job was a full time position at a top 4 tech company.

Didn’t get an internship this summer? Create your own mini internship. Do projects that interest you. Contribute to open source work on GitHub. There are a lot of ways to gain experience that doesn’t involve working for a company.

“I think a big limiting belief that just comes to mind now, is the ‘I’m not smart’ mentality, and not everyone fits into this category, but…
I do know quite a few people that go into the world and they have the belief in their head that they’re just not good enough and they’re not mentally smart.
And they think ‘because I’m not smart enough, I have to work really hard or I need some sort of edge to get a good and lucrative job’… And at the end of the day, this ‘not being smart or naturally gifted’ is just a belief.
Spit on that belief. Dismiss it.
There’s nothing different between you and someone who is ‘smart’ except the fact that you’re telling yourself that you’re not smart and that you’re behaving in line with that belief.
Stop telling yourself that and do things that really great people do.”

This is huge.

Peter makes the assertion that believing in something eventually makes it true.

This isn’t a new theory by any means.

In fact, multiple successful entrepreneurs and millionaires commonly talk about the power of beliefs.

Peter also discusses the idea of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ which has seemingly taken Silicon Valley by surprise.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” - Wikipedia

As Peter continues:

“They end up getting this really great job, but then they struggle to move ahead and struggle to be a really stellar employee. I think all of this is rooted in the idea that ‘I’m just not smart’ or ‘I’m just not brilliant’.
You’re all brilliant. Dismiss the idea that you’re not.”

The importance of mindset

“I’m a firm believer that mindset has a really big role to play.”

Peter explains that in order to achieve the job of your dreams, you have to squash your limiting beliefs.

Here’s his take on how to find those limiting beliefs in the first place:

“So a good way to find limiting beliefs in someone is this. Let’s say you tell your friend about someone who just landed at Google. If they start saying things like ‘Oh, but they had a high GPA’ or ‘Oh they had a lot of really good work experience’ then, you know what their limiting beliefs are.”

In essence Peter is talking about the ‘but’ rule.

I like to use this rule a lot to learn more about my limiting beliefs and what might be holding me back.

It works like this:

Think about achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself. Now think of all the reasons you might not achieve it.

Let’s take getting a job at Google for example. Your list might look like this:

  • But my GPA is too low
  • But I don’t have any work experience
  • But I’m not smart enough to work at Google
  • But I’m not good enough at coding
  • But I didn’t graduate from a top school

You can then start to work on breaking those beliefs one by one. Some beliefs you can break through pure logic, like understanding that you don’t need prior work experience to get a job at Google.

Other beliefs might require a boost in confidence that comes from hard work, like working on your coding skills so you believe you’re a good coder.

“There are so many beliefs, and the truth is they’re all false. If you dismiss all those beliefs and don’t believe them anymore, then there’s nothing stopping you from getting the job anymore. You end up getting the job because you end up seeing the opportunities and the path that’s right for you to get the job.
Maybe you do get a competitive edge if you’re coming from a top tier school. That doesn’t mean you need to be at a top tier school to get the job.
The belief just puts a cloud around your head that leads to self sabotaging behavior as opposed to prevalent behavior.
I didn’t go to a top tier school, I didn’t have a PhD in machine learning to get this job.
I had every excuse to not get this job.
People kind of need to examine their beliefs and find a way to figure out why they’re not true, and go down that path.”

Final Words

I asked Peter if he had any final advice for anyone who wants to land a job at a top company.

Here’s his response:

“Don’t really think that much about doing things, and stop trying to figure out exactly what you need to do… Start doing, and let your act of doing teach you what you need to know.
To be honest, no one person knew about all the best resources when they were starting out.
There are people that had many good, and even great resources available to them, but no one had the absolute perfect portfolio or best resources that led them to success.
They were successful because they went out and did something.
Just start moving in the direction you want to be in, and then course correct along the way.”

I hope you found some value from Peter’s insights, because I know I did!

I interview engineers from top companies semi-regularly, and this was by far one of the most unique interviews I’ve had.

If you want to see more interviews like this one, or you’re trying to brush up on your coding skills in order to land a job, sign up at theForge.ca, an initiative I started to give back and help students bridge the gap between what they learn in school, and what employers are looking for.

Thanks for reading and leave your favourite part in the comments below!