Amazon.com, Phone Interviews, and Failure

March 25, 2007

Not such a winning combination

I had my third and final phone interview with Amazon.com last week sometime, and I am just now getting around to posting about it. This was the interview I tanked, and it is now why I hold a deep hatred for technical interviews over the phone. The phone interview consisted of one question.

One long question.

And I completely tanked it.

The question was “Given a string of digits, write a method that would return all possible combinations of strings that could be created using the phone number-digit thing”. I may have abridged the question a little; I forget the exact phrasing of the question. This wouldn’t have been such a huge deal.

Except I had to code over the phone.

This is something I’ve never experienced before, and is why I no longer like over-the-phone technical interviews. I probably wouldn’t like an in-person technical interview, but that’s besides the point. All programmers have their own little style to how they code. I, personally, like laying out a basic skeleton for the program or method I am going to write, and begin coding, adding variables and adjusting my algorithms as needed. This has always treated me well; and I find it a fairly acceptable way to program.

This style of coding, however, does not lend itself well to coding over the phone. I was told to talk the interviewer through my algorithm, which I did, and that is what brought to light the problems in my coding style. I kept finding things I should change or add, and I’m pretty sure I drove the interviewer near-insane. It didn’t really help that I was unable to find a solution to the problem. I was getting to a solution, but I ran out of time.

I’m not blaming the interviewer or Amazon or the interview process. I know that the responsibility for passing that interview fell squarely on my shoulders, and pass or fail, I was taking whatever was given to me. While I’m not blaming anyone, I feel I’m in the right to express my displeasure in the system. If anyone has any tips for phone interviews and coding over the phone, feel free to talk with me. I would greatly appreciate the chance to improve my interviewing skills.

Job fair is on Wednesday anyway. Plenty of fish in the ocean.

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3 Responses to “Amazon.com, Phone Interviews, and Failure”

  1. George Says:

    Hey,
    Thanks for your link to Yegge’s website. I have a final round technical phone interview with Amazon.com in 4 days.

    My first round was at a job fair. I was asked to code a fibonacci method (recursively and iteratively) and a method that returned prime numbers less than or equal to N.

    My second question had to do with implementing the BigInt class … arbitrarily long integers.

    From my current googling so far … it looks like Amazon job interviews are really tough. I already have one job offer so I’ll be going into this interview a bit relaxed but i’ll prepare like hell for it.

    Thanks again for your post,

    (Do you know of any other websites like yours with Amazon.com interview information?)

    George.

  2. Shriram Says:

    I will have my 2nd round of interview next week.
    I didn’t know there’s another round of phone interview after that.

    Thanks for posting your feedback.

  3. Shriram Says:

    One long question. I guess it was designed/asked to test the thought process more than reaching a perfect solution.


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