3 tips to prep for video job interviews

I do a lot of video interviews and meetings. I’m the CEO of Fizzmint, an employee task administration and compliance management tech startup here in Seattle, and many of our team are remote. I’ve conducted about 300 video interviews at this point, and I’d like to share my three best tips for preparing to do well. Hopefully, this will help you figure out how to give a great first impression over video for your future employers!

First off: the background matters. In a phone call, the only thing the interviewer can assess you with is the sound of your voice. In a video call, the only visual information you can convey is your face and whatever the interviewer sees behind you. This means that they’ll be looking hard for any clues about your personality and who you are from the choices you make about your backdrop. I did in fact just say “choices”. Whether you know it or not, you’ve chosen to present yourself a certain way, and if you don’t think about what your interviewer sees behind you, you might be in trouble.

I recently interviewed a programmer from a different city than Seattle. He clicked his video on, and like every other techie. I started asking him questions. About two minutes into the interview, I started looking behind him. He had several extremely explicit drawings, sculptures, and images of nude women in various poses on the office walls behind him. They were obviously artistic, but I question his judgment in having them as his professional backdrop. I can’t remember his name or his skillset now, but I remember with icy and perfect clarity the two labias that were framing his head.

If you don’t know what backdrop to have, just put you and your camera opposite a plain wall. A corollary to this is that you should make sure your sleepy roommate doesn’t parade around behind you wearing boxers and not much else. I’ve seen that one too…and my eyes are still burning.

Second, check your tech a full two days before the interview. I use Google Hangouts by preference since it allows me to share screens and add people easily to the hangout…crucial if I want to do a video round where I call in a few people at a time. This usually doesn’t present any problem, but you do have to install a browser plugin and have a Google or Gmail account. Most people are fine with it, and/or can get it set up in about 15 minutes. I don’t like Skype, since it costs extra to do video conferencing the way I like, and I’m unenthused about the fact that Microsoft is unashamedly parsing my voice data for ads and targeting.

About 1 out of every 4 interviews I do, someone hasn’t checked to make sure they can do Google Hangout video — and this is after I tell them specifically that we’ll be using it. So recently that it actually inspired this post, a developer didn’t show up in the pre-created video link at the specified time. He didn’t show up when I invited him specifically again. He didn’t show up when I cancelled that hangout and tried inviting him personally to a new one. He emailed to say that he was waiting on me. I told him to call me himself. He didn’t. He emailed again (15 minutes late, telling me he hadn’t even installed the browser plugin before our meeting) to tell me that he guessed the plugin didn’t work for him, and he’d try something else. 20 minutes after he was supposed to be impressing me, I told him I was moving on.

Sure, sometimes there are real technical difficulties. However, the difference between someone who was prepared and is having troubles, and someone who didn’t bother to check in advance that a technology they’d never used before would work for them is that 15-minute timespan. If someone’s having actual troubles, I get an email from them one minute after the meeting has started telling me that something is wrong. If someone didn’t know they’d have to install that browser plugin, meaning they did not prepare, they email me 15 minutes after the meeting starts. Check your tech and the equipment you’ll be using and do a live test with a friend.

Hell, I don’t know why I’m even telling you this. It’s actually a very good check to make sure that someone is the kind of person who prepares ahead before I spend time interviewing them.

Third, dress for the video interview (at least from the waist up) as you would for the actual interview. I’m wearing a perfectly proper button down shirt now (with yoga pants and Chewbacca house shoes that my cat likes to cuddle with), but everything showing on video is all buttoned-up, as it were.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve seen people show up in their pyjamas, tshirts, robes, and in one spectacular instance, what was clearly the top half of a bikini with a ratted hoodie tossed over it. How we dress conveys a world of information to people, and if you’re not dressed like you take this conversation with me seriously, it doesn’t matter how awesome you are as a marketer or programmer or administrator. In addition, there’s lots of research out there discussing how our clothing choices affect our posture and speech patterns. People wearing better clothing do better on tests objectively, and people who feel like they’re well-turned-out project a greater air of confidence and competence.

If you have Star Trek or Buffy action figures, I strongly suggest you hang them on the wall behind you. That is all; good day.

[cross-posted to Medium]

Transitioning To Tech: Sept 15-18 Live 4-Night Seminar For Underemployed

Are you stuck in a job that doesn’t fulfill you or looking for work?

I’m teaching a 4 night seminar on how to transition into technology as a career field. I know how to help you get jobs as web testers, quality assurance testers, and more.

We’ll be meeting from 7-9PM September 15-18th at St James Cathedral at 804 9th Ave in Seattle. This workshop is free, but requires registration in advance. Limited to 30 people. If you’re inclined to donate, we’ll collect for the Solanus Casey Center, a homeless men’s shelter. We’re meeting at a church center, but we’re open to all faiths and persuasions. No one will be turned away (as long as you’re registered!)

I’ll help you:

  1. Believe that you belong in tech and show you that the skills you already have will transition well into a tech career
  2. Teach you how to teach yourself tech skills from information readily available on the internet, and how to turn those into a skilled and standout resume
  3. Explain why people skills matter more than anything and how to demonstrate that you’ll be a great teammate
  4. Get you started on your personal network of mentors and colleagues to help you grow, keep you learning, and give you motivation and support

Here’s the flyer; please spread it around.

Here’s the link to the flyer at the St James website. (Scroll down to page 12)

Companies Lie About Their Proportion of Female Engineers

Companies tend to inflate the numbers of women in their ranks holding ‘technical’ positions. No corporation wants to admit that their company has little to no female engineers; instead, they create an overarching category of people on technical teams, and then divide by gender.

The statistics a company publishes concerning the number of women hires are often very misleading. Companies often say that women in graphic design or project management are ‘technical’ in nature; they are not typically regarded as so by most engineers. They are artists or human resource and task specialists who schedule, track, and motivate the developers. However, it is convenient to use them to showcase high numbers of women in technical positions in any organization. I wrote a now defunct blog post on my experience asking Klout.com about this, which was chronicled in Huffington Post.

Here’s the original data I compiled on Klout’s proportion of women in tech at the time. It’s just an infograph (don’t mock my nonexistent graphic design skills), but it illustrates the situation quite well. Click the thumbnail to embiggen.

Klout by the numbers-Large

As a result, most people are not aware of the true nature of the difficulties women face being hired to work in development and programming teams. These are tiny, overwhelmingly masculine pockets of an often quite egalitarian overall corporate culture.

The way to determine the real number of women in technical positions is to ask how many female engineers are on board. That is not a number which can be inflated; ask to meet with one or two in order to find out how women are treated in the organization. If you are concerned with how that might appear, contact the women via social media. You should be able to reach at least one or two…if they exist.

It’s very tough to tell how many companies are inflating their numbers. I know of two large companies at a minimum in the Seattle area which count project managers and graphic designers as “technical” employees, when in reality it is a rare event indeed for a woman to be employed as a software engineer or web developer. Be cautious when companies tout their high integration stats; the truth is that unless the CEO, CTO, COO, and VP Engineering are all female, I would never believe offhand any company that tells me that “42% of our technical workforce is female.”

If you know a company that is seeking female engineers and which would be a great place to work, even if the proportion of technical women in the company is low, leave it in the comments. I can think of several places with low ratios that are great workplaces.  It’s merely the vicissitudes of hiring which have left them low on women, though they work hard on diversity.

A small disclaimer: if you are a project manager or graphic designer and you consider yourself to be technical, I believe you. I am speaking only of the corporate habit of trying to make female engineers believe that they will be on a team consisting of a gender split like unto that which the company publishes as its official gender ration for technical positions.

Parts of this post adapted from “Technical Interviews for Technical Women” © 2011 Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack

Your private ssh keys do not copy over with a sudo dolphin! You must use bash in Kubuntu.

I’m glad I keep good backups. When backing up your Kubuntu box, do not just drag and drop one home folder from a hard disk to another hard disk.

Your ssh keys will not be copied over, even though you may have opened the Dolphin file manager over with the command

sudo dolphin

To ensure you have admin privileges over the copy procedure.

Instead, you should use a full copy command like this to ensure that you get everything, including files with 0400 permissions and all hidden files and folders (anything with a dot in front of it like this: ‘.ssh’).

sudo cp -R /home /your/backup/location/home

I’d normally cite some links to help you see more about this problem, but I discovered this one the hard way myself.

New clients for Red Queen Technologies now accepted; big web development for small companies

Our web development company, Red Queen Technologies, is now accepting a few new clients for site design and hosting services.

We run a very special, niche service for Northwest small businesses and charities. Specifically, we help very small businesses (even one-man shops) look very big on the web. Sometimes, you need to appear to be a much larger company than you are in order to credibly get business and make the contacts you need. Often you need people to talk about you on social media services and have that be readily apparent to casual visitors to your site.

In addition, today’s web has so many tools for e-commerce and business shaping that you may have no idea how best to leverage them to grow your company. We are experts in knowing which tools matter and which are time-wasters; we set you up with the best and train you to use them.

We specialize in providing face-to-face
service and will meet with you in person to design or redesign your site, give you the best advice possible, train you in how to easily manage your site, and serve you long-term. Even our most basic hosting comes with 1 hour/month of free site upgrades, training for you, and content updates.

Because our business is 70% referral and we do not accept clients without being able to provide the best possible service, we only open a few spots at a time for new design and hosting with Red Queen Technologies. Right now, we have 4 spots open. Please also be aware that if you refer a new client to us, we provide you with two months free hosting!

You can email us at info@redqueentech.com.

The new resume lesson

Here’s something I didn’t think I’d be saying today:

My resume isn’t perfect.

There are three companies I’ve been dealing with over the last five weeks who were all based in multiple countries. I never thought to add my multiple language proficiencies to my resume; I have a hard time keeping my resume under four pages as it is, and that’s with leaving off references and most of my educational qualifications.

However, I’m near-fluent in French, quite good in German, and have a serious background in Mandarin, Spanish, Greek, and a smattering of a half-dozen other languages. I was coaching a female neurontin gabapentin online developer three weeks ago who was applying to a company with multiple locations worldwide–including Latin America, and never thought to tell her that her proficiency in Spanish should certainly come up during her interview.

As companies start to expand and acquire, you may find that your four years of German (no matter how
rusty) can pay off. If you’re proficient in an Asian language, make sure it shows up on your resume in the skills section. If you speak Klingon, email me. I need a translation of Jabberwocky for an ongoing joke I have with my father.

Oh, wait.

Preparing for technical interviews

Ladies, before I go any further, be aware that I have an instructional DVD up at:

Tech Interview Help

So, this isn’t an entirely disinterested post, but I do want to add some information for you.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for interviews is to actually dev with the SDK and API that the company produces. I am in the Seattle area, and if I had an interview with Amazon S3, the first thing I’d be doing is setting up a bucket (not that I haven’t already done fifteen of these for various storage reasons) and transferring data to learn their system. I’d know the transfer protocols, the encryption levels, the likely physical network structure, and JFS if at all possible–at a BARE minimum.

If you have an interview with Microsoft’s IE10 team, you’d better be in front of IE6, 7, 8, and 9, knowing what major updates occurred between browser versions,
which HTML versions were implemented where, security holes and how to plug them, and what cross-browser issues remain to be addressed, and that’s not even the bare minimum.

public tip
//Use the code of the team with which you're interviewing before you walk in the door.


What an amazing panel! Today, I, Liz Dahlstrom, and Qian Yi did a panel on “A Career As A Lady Coder.”

We had a great time; the young ladies who asked questions were thoughtful, imaginative, and genuinely interested in careers as programmers. We hope that we encouraged you, challenged you, and mentored you, as we ourselves were mentored by the ladies who inspired us.

Best of luck!

For those of you looking for more help with technical interviews, head to Tech Interview Help.

Excitement and awesomeness to come!

Part of the maze of legal knowledge programmers are expected to understand and integrate into their work involves intellectual property and the rights surrounding the creation of code and processes.

A friend of mine who created Girl Gamer, Esq. is an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and a fellow chick nerd. Anne-Marie is going to be guest-posting http://onhealthy.net/product-category/mental-disorders/ here at The Cowgirl Coder to you coder types, and I’ll be pontificating vociferously over on her soapbox to her law geek friends. Our occasionally overlapping subjects of attention make us ideal for cross-posting, and you should see some great comment threads come out of this collaboration. Next post by Anne-Marie Marra, an honorary Cowgirl Coder!