A Day in the Life of a (Future) Software Engineer

What exactly do I mean by future software engineer? No, I’m not from the future. I am currently working towards becoming a software engineer. I originally developed software as a contractor before I took a role in marketing. Now I’m trying to get back to my roots and get a software engineering position. Not just any development position, though. I want one that is challenging and one that will give me reputable experience.

Because of this, I am preparing for the types of interviews given at the big name software companies (Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, Netflix, etc). I documented and recorded my experience for an entire day. The video is at the end.

Because I work full time, I only get so much time to work on my development skills. This is challenging because I feel it takes me a very long time to get anywhere, but it’s good because it’s teaching me not to waste time. 

This blog showcases what you would expect on a typical day for me as a social strategist in a tech company looking to switch roles to a development position.

First, I Do My Daily Work.

First thing in the morning I get to work. 

I work 7AM to 4PM in the office about four days a week, and the office is quite the drive. Friday I am fortunate enough to work from home which always helps my creative juices to flow. 

On a typical week day, I get home pretty late and don’t have much energy left, but I’ll occasionally be able to give an hour or two to coding. Friday and the weekend is where the magic happens, though. 

For the sake of this blog, we’re going to look at a typical Friday.

Fridays are special right now because we have something called summer Fridays. This is a season of time where we can use Friday to focus on catching up, finishing certain projects, brain storming, career development training, or on occasion leaving early for a longer Friday evening away from work. When studying development, I do my best to take advantage of this time. This means that I try to finish my required Friday work within the first half of the day to designate the second to these other tasks.

I start work around 7, and try to finish by 11 or 12. 

Then, I Focus Solely on Development

Once 12PM hit, I joined my scheduled interview on Pramp.

For those of you who don’t know, Pramp is an extremely helpful website that puts you through mock interviews with your peers. These interviews are awesome because they allow you to work on problems given in real software engineering or software development interviews at the big name companies. The first half of the Pramp session I interview a peer (which also helps me grow my skills), and then in the second half the peer interviews me. We both work on distinct problems.

I love Pramp because It’s free and allows you to do unlimited interviews with peers in a manner that fits your schedule. Once you get enough experience you can interview with real companies through Pramp. Sweet!

This specific experience on Pramp was a rough one. The interviewer was great but I was given a very challenging question (a regex parser) that suggests a recursive solution. This question required me to spend time after my session to study. Questions can range from beginner to expert and you are able to tell Pramp how difficult you would like the questions to be.

Lunch Break!

Directly after my Pramp session I went out to lunch to Chipotle.

My spouse and I love chipotle because it’s reasonably priced, yet you get a large amount of quality food. We tend to do this on the weekends as we are usually both pretty worn out from the week. We enjoy the opportunity to skip cooking and go have a date with one another. This is the perfect break from coding. I even treated myself to some frozen custard.

Back to Work…

Upon returning from lunch, I spent a bit more time working on my Pramp solution. After enough time I decided to switch gears to a different medium of practice, reading. I started reading Cracking the Coding Interview (CtCi).

There is a lot of controversy with this book. A lot of people believe that the manner in which software interviews are done is unreasonable and doesn’t directly translate to a candidate being efficient at the job and a good employee.

That being said, a lot of companies are using resources like CtCi to define their interviewing processes. Because of this, I have decided to use this book because I am confident it is another resource that will help me train to be ahead of the competition in interviews and potentially even in the job itself.

The Structure of Cracking the Coding Interview

This book essentially has a topic and then a bunch of practice built around that topic. This is what you experience when you get into some of the more meatier chapters past chapter five. The first 5 chapters are more general and talk about general advice to doing well on an interview. These are the chapters that I read as this was my first time using this book. 

I think I’ll go through most of the beginner exercises in this book, but I’m not going to have time to go through it all. My technical interview is in a few weeks and I only get so much time to work on code (I have other responsibilities like my job, YouTube, family, dog, etc).

My recommendation would be to read the first five chapters in one sitting. The content is fairly non-technical. That being said, the action plans may take longer than one sitting. These chapters force you to think about some of the most common questions and requests given in interviews.

The reason I recommend doing this all in one sitting is because it enables you to see interviewing from the big picture. I believe sometimes I get caught up in the detail. When I read through all of these chapters in one sitting relatively quickly, I felt like I understood the technical interview and would be able to go into one with the same thoughts as the interviewer.

I put each question I found in the first chapters into a document and wrote down my answers (like my biggest weakness, etc). This allowed me to think through my responses prior to jumping into an interview and embarrassing myself. I was able to go through this material fairly quickly because I have done similar exercises for previous positions I interviewed for. 

Upon finishing this section, I was at the chapter on Big O. At this point, my brain was totally fried. I put in over a days work and it was now 7PM. In addition to it already being 7PM, I still had a video I had to record for work. I had to stop studying.

Dealing with Anxiety

Part of my challenge is that it is very hard for me to let things go. I will obsess over something, get overwhelmed, crash, and then avoid it like the plague. This happens in cycles. Because of this, I often find myself studying for an entire day, quitting, and then going a few days without studying at all. When I am obsessing, I find myself thinking about coding even when I’m not coding or when my brain should be focused elsewhere (like on sleeping or family time). This is obviously not a sustainable approach to learning and living.

To address this problem, I try to pair productive times with stress reducing and mind relieving activities. After my crazy Friday, I took a long walk outside and then I went to the movies to see Mission: Impossible at 10:30PM. 

I didn’t make it to bed until after 2AM that night, but it was well worth it as the time at the theaters allowed me to get my mind off of coding. After the movie, my mind was brought back to reality and I was able to go into studying again in a balanced manner the following week. 

What Does a Typical Day Hold? 

Although this blog is set on the particular Friday I decided to record my activities on, there is another activity that would usually be part of my day. Source control. Huh? Yeah, you heard me. I try to take extra time to take my code and commit it into GitHub or BitBucket. I see this as the journal of success. Even if I fail my interview, I’ll have all the effort recorded in an organized manner that I can refer back to when I need to refresh my brain or when I need to see how I solved a particular problem.

In addition to being a record of practice, it can show your experience. How could someone say I don’t have experience in C++ when I have an entire repository of numerous solutions to various computer science problems (well, I’m working on the numerous part)?

I basically assume that my brain will forget everything within a year, so I make sure to use source control to my advantage.

The result

I believe this day was a massive success. It may have been that part of this success was fueled by the fact that I was sharing my day with the entire world on YouTube. In fact, that was probably a huge motivator. But even when not broadcasting my life, I am able to make progress towards my goals when I know there will be a reward for my effort.

Even on the weekends I find myself able to get up early (like, no earlier than 8AM, of course) because I know that I have a goal I’m working towards and I don’t want to be defeated. I’m even writing this blog right now on a Saturday afternoon after editing my day in the life video. It sucks, but the result is worth it. 

I feel very similar about my software engineering prep. Although it is hard to see the reward when I give up an entire day to reading or watching tutorials, I can persevere because I know that each day is contributing a piece to the larger puzzle. If I skip out or fail to put the effort forth, I’m going to end up with an incomplete puzzle.

This specific position may or may not be the final picture displayed when I put together my puzzle. And that’s OK. If I do my best and act myself, then I’ll leave the rest to God. What I can control is putting the pieces where they need to go and putting forth the work needed to better my future for me and my family. If the reward’s not at this job interview, it may be at the next. 

Enjoy this content? I’d encourage you to follow my same pattern.  Give Pramp a try and start reading Cracking the Coding Interview! You can also check out my blog on getting your first coding job (coming soon). 

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