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Technical interview tip: Be like Dr Karl

Steve Gilles
Sep 1
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During a technical job interview, one of the best strategies you can employ is to explain your train of thought aloud. This approach not only showcases your problem-solving and troubleshooting skills but also allows you to further elaborate on your experience. More often than not, you'll find yourself edging closer to the correct answer, or even receiving helpful nudges from the interviewer.

Take inspiration from Dr. Karl's approach on his Triple J radio show. When faced with a science question, he often starts with a humble "I’m not sure..." and then takes the audience on a journey through his thought process, ending with a well-reasoned answer.

Even if the answer isn't complete, the path to get there is enlightening. This method is particularly effective in technical interviews, especially when confronted with technical trivia - often considered the most challenging questions.

Imagine you're a software engineer in an interview, and you're asked a question like, "How would you optimise a database that's running slow due to high read and write operations?" Instead of panicking or admitting defeat if you don’t know the answer immediately, start by calmly stating, "I’m not sure, but let's think this through."

Begin by verbalising your thought process: "First, I'd consider indexing. Indexing can speed up read operations significantly. However, it can slow down write operations due to the overhead of maintaining the index. So, it's about finding a balance. Perhaps implementing a partial index or using index hints could be beneficial."

Continue by relating to past experiences: "In my previous role, we faced a similar issue. We optimised performance by fine-tuning our queries and restructured some of our database schemas. This involved analysing query patterns and identifying bottlenecks."

Conclude with an approximation: "Based on this, my initial approach would be to analyse the specific queries causing the slowdown and optimise them. For the long term, I'd look into implementing more efficient data handling practices, like database sharding or archiving old data."

This approach demonstrates your logical thinking, practical experience, and ability to tackle tricky technical questions that might stump others. It's not just about knowing the answer but showing how you arrive at it, which is invaluable in a tech environment that values problem-solving and innovation.

Be a little more like Dr. Karl.

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