Neel Mehta is a co-author of “Swipe to Unlock: The Non-Coder’s Guide to Technology and the Business Strategy Behind It” (via Amazon). At time of this interview Neel is a senior at Harvard, studying computer science, and has held internships at Microsoft, Khan Academy, and the U.S. census bureau.
One of Neel’s greatest passions is using technology for social good. He started by launching an education app with a quarter-million users while he was still in high school. More recently, he founded a civic technology nonprofit, Coding it Forward, empowering young coders to use their talents for good.
In our discussion, Neel shares what drew him to technology at a young age, how he landed his competitive internships in college, why it’s important to understand technology even for professionals not in tech roles, and more.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
Laurence Bradford 0:06
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In today's episode, I talk with Neel Mehta, who is super accomplished while still being a senior at college. We talk about his book that was recently published, what it's like interviewing at top tech companies and more. This interview may leave you feeling inspired to get your tech career started. But to do that, you have to get past a little thing called the technical interview. These interviews can be super tricky. That's why I want to make sure you know about Interview Cake. Interview Cake gives you over 50 hours of technical interview practice questions to help you ace your interview. The guides that Interview Cake are so confident they'll be able to help you land a job that if you use Interview Cake and don't get a job, they'll actually give you your money back. You either get a life changing job in tech or complete refund. Even better, I've managed to get a 20% off discount for Learning to Code With Me podcast listeners. To get that discount just go through my affiliate link which is learntocodewith.me/cake. The discount will be automatically apply when you go through that URL. And again, the URL is learntocodewith.me/cake. And don't forget to tell me when you land a new job. I'll be super excited to hear about it.
Laurence Bradford 2:39
Neel Mehta is the co-author of Swipe to Unlock: The Non-Coders Guide to Technology and the Business Strategy Behind It. He's a senior at Harvard studying computer science. He also has experience interning at Microsoft and Khan Academy. Even more, Neel founded a civic technology nonprofit coating it forward launch an education app with a quarter million users while still in high school. If you want to break into the tech industry, you can find out more about his book Swipe to Unlock at learntocodewith.me/swipe. Again, the URL to his book is learntocodewith.me/swipe.
Laurence Bradford 3:21
Hey, Neil, thank you so much for joining me today.
Neel Mehta 3:24
Hi Laurence, how you doing?
Laurence Bradford 3:25
I'm doing great. I'm so excited to talk to you because you're like this wunderkin you've so many accomplishments, and you're still in college. So that's really exciting. So glad to have you on the show.
Neel Mehta 3:35
It's very kind of you. I'm glad to be here.
Laurence Bradford 3:37
Yeah. So to get the ball rolling, though, how did you first get interested in technology?
Neel Mehta 3:42
You know, I, the the phrase I like to use is, you know, Necessity is the mother of invention. So back in high school, I realized that a lot of my friends were having an we're having trouble studying for our midterm. So you got to cram all this information in. And so I had bought a book in computer science on technology back in When I was visiting my grandparents in India just for fun just for fun of it, and I thought, you know, what if we made an app right to automate some of this studying, right, because making paper flashcards is really annoying. It takes a lot of time and I lost all mine. So I made this paper this like little app to digitize flashcards and share it with my friends and they loved it. And I thought, you know, this would be great. Why don't what if the whole world got into this? So the app is called cobre? flashcards, so branded like that, and released to the world. And, you know, over the next couple years, a lot of people around the world started picking it up. I think by the end of high school, we had a quarter million users we had in 190 countries. It was really exciting. So I got to the technology because it realized it could solve these really, really big problems for people, right, and education or other things as well. But it really was very much about this idea of helping it helping scale education and help people and helping people who don't necessarily have access to many educational tools. Get into it. That's what motivates me today, I'd say to keep doing technology.
Laurence Bradford 5:03
Yeah, that's really awesome. And how old were you exactly when you first built this app? I know you mentioned you were in high school, but like about what year?
Neel Mehta 5:10
I think I was 14. That was like when I was like, freshman year, I think.
Laurence Bradford 5:14
Wow. So were you taking any computer science classes at your high school at the time?
Neel Mehta 5:19
So I actually made this app before I took my first computer science class in high school. So a lot of was self taught. Instantly, the class that I that I took was use Java, which is the same language I used to build the app. So I kind of like self taught myself, through the app, everything that I needed for that computer science in the computer science course, which I took later.
Laurence Bradford 5:39
And when you built this app, were you doing it totally on your own, or did you have any friends helping you out?
Neel Mehta 5:45
Yeah, no, I was pretty much on my own. I mean, you know, when I first learned learn how to code, it was just like, I remember the first app I ever made was a whole was it. I think it's like a baseball game simulator and like job I was like sitting my parents, my grandparents apartment in India. I was like, learning how to Google and Stack Overflow things to make very simple apps. So I had to teach myself that eventually, once I got good enough, I made the app, the studying app. Yeah, it was pretty much all self taught. I didn't know anyone else who knew how to code. At that point. I wouldn't meet my computer science teacher for you know, for who knows how many months later afterwards? So thanks to the kindest people on the internet, I managed to piece it together. But no, it was very, very much self taught in that way.
Laurence Bradford 6:24
And you said that you had about a quarter million users on the app. Is that right? That's right. Yeah. Oh, wow. So is the app still exist today?
Neel Mehta 6:32
Yeah, you can get it. If you go to getcabra.com, CA-B-R-A to go there. You can get it. I want to down a little bit since high school, you know, crazy colleges. But you know, it still works.
Laurence Bradford 6:45
Yeah, that's really awesome. It's great that it's still available. So like you build something years ago, and it's still available in the in the App Store. So that's all very cool. And now after you built this app, and this was in high school, and it sounds like you're taking computer science classes After that, and then of course, you're in college now and you're studying computer science, what really motivated you to choose to study computer science in college?
Neel Mehta 7:09
Yeah, you know, the way I like to put it is, you know, I always been more interested in what technology can do for the world rather than the, you know, the, the nitty gritty, or the conceptual ideas behind it behind it. So, you know, I came to college, the, you know, I knew that, you know, with code technology, I could solve a lot of these really great problems, right, like education. Or, you know, we do my best to take a stab at it. So, I came to college thought, you know, what is the best way to warn more of these skills to be able to impact people's lives, and I thought technology was going to do it. And the way that, you know, education system works is that computer science is the, you know, that major, they'll give you the best technical skills or the best skills to, you know, to help solve people's problems with technology. So, it was a pretty easy choice to do computer science. You know, I knew that, you know, it would be the best way to work these skills that I would need to build these talk to people.
Laurence Bradford 8:00
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And I get I'm just looking at your LinkedIn before the show. And it's just so impressive how much how much you've done. And you're still in college you haven't graduated yet. I honestly believed that I wasn't sure if you were still in school or not. I thought you maybe had graduated already. And your LinkedIn just wasn't up to date. So I yeah, I'm just very, very impressed by you, but you interned at two different companies. So far in college, Microsoft and Khan Academy, obviously, I think most listeners know Microsoft, I would imagine even Khan Academy in case they don't, it's a really popular and well known online education platform. And it really focuses on I would say, like elementary, middle school, high school students. So how did you end up getting those internships and what? Yeah, sort of led you there?
Neel Mehta 8:49
Sure. Absolutely. So just just to make the chronology clear, so I started off freshman year, freshman summer, actually. So that was what 2015 I went to Khan Academy. As a software engineer, that was a product manager at Microsoft, and this last summer, I did something else I type of that later if you want, but it was, it was a government technology at the Census Bureau, but the first two at least, you know, the more conventional internships. So, as a Khan Academy, you know, one thing I realized very fast in college is even with technology, a lot of it is about meeting the right people. You know, skills are very important, obviously, but always meeting the right people. And so because my interest in kabra in the studying app, I was really interested in involved in the education technology space as I see you on AWS. So through that, I managed to meet a recruiter and data scientists from Khan Academy and you know, I was big fan proud Academy loved what they had done. So you know, thanks to having met them that helped me get into that the the internship or the interview process. And from that, you know, there's once you once you find those interviews, a lot of it is the, like traditional like software interview prep. Not that, you know, there's things like the Cracking the Coding, interview, and so on.
Neel Mehta 10:04
So, you know, the main thing I got from that was that a lot of it is about, you know, you know, how do you do know the right people, which, you know, unfortunately, that's just the way that the economy works, you know, for Microsoft, that at Khan Academy realized that coding was great, but I was more interested in you know, building products, thinking about users, rather than the nitty gritty of, of coding of, you know, sitting at a desk, or 40 hours a week. And putting the letters in a keyboard wasn't really my thing. It's over at Microsoft, I wanted to do product management, right, which is mockito kind of hybrid of business design technology and strategy stuff. And so for that, I think that was much more about understanding the bigger picture concepts of technology, right? So not not just like, you know, what are the zeros and ones do on my computer? But like, how do tech business tech businesses decide to, you know, start new products or enter new markets. Or how do different kinds of people interact technology in different ways? There's a lot of was this bigger picture thinking about how people adapt to technology and how the business behind technology works. And so a lot of that studying of my own is what helped me get get that job at Microsoft.
Laurence Bradford 11:16
Awesome. And I'm so sorry that I missed the most recent internship at the US Census Bureau. So yeah, you have this really wide range of experience from, of course, non government companies to now a government institution. And that's Yeah, that's great. So did you enjoy your most recent internship at the US Census Bureau? I feel like it's quite different from Khan Academy, and then Microsoft.
Neel Mehta 11:39
Yeah, yeah. So Khan Academy was the nonprofit and Microsoft was a for profit, obviously. And tenebrio was a public organization. So my friends like to joke that I've done the tech triple crown. I did the nonprofit I did the for profit. I did the public side. But yeah, I mean, the very different experiences but I definitely enjoyed all of them. Yeah, so to the About the the Census Bureau internship, I can tell you a bit about like, how I got into that if you want or like how the how that all stuff all started.
Laurence Bradford 12:06
Yeah, sure. Go into that real quick.
Neel Mehta 12:07
Yeah. So so you know, after the first couple a couple internships, you know, I really, really liked working Microsoft and stuff. Yeah. But I realized that public service is very important to me something that I definitely wanted to do while I was in college, because, you know, call it a real is a great time to experiment with things. So I looked and I looked, and I said, you know, what, I really want a public sector technology internship. You know, but I realized that, like, they didn't really exist, and I realized that when tech cover people think about technology, they think about, you know, Hey, can you install Microsoft Word 2003. And my computer's, you know, little, that's what some of the job descriptions were. So that was really disheartening. I thought, you know, if these tech interests to the government don't exist, you know, what if they did exist, so that led me to start the nonprofit which you mentioned earlier called coding forward, which had the goal of empowering inspiring Tech students to use their skills for public service and so good That nonprofit found some partners in the US Census Bureau who were really interested in this idea of bringing Tech students to work in the federal government for a summer.
Neel Mehta 13:09
And so with them, we spun up this internship program called the Civic digital fellowship in spring 2017. And so through that program, we brought 14 intern Tech students from around the country, myself included, to work at the Census Bureau for the summer. So personally, I did I did product management stuff on the marketing side for them. We also had data science people, we had software engineers, we had, designers stuff like that. So overall, is a lot of fun. You know, I think it was very, very rewarding to see how you know, technology can be used to serve the public and to make a government work better. Sorry, frustrating, sometimes all the bureaucracy But sir, it was a very enjoyable experience. You know, I really enjoyed the ability to get that nonprofit or profit and public sector experience. I think it really helps you understand how different people think of technology in business.
Laurence Bradford 14:00
Yeah, I mean, you're certainly very well rounded and something that you mentioned before that I think is great and I always try to remind people this when they're trying to get new careers in tech is it's who you know, not what you know, always and it sounds like a lot of the opportunities that came your way was through networking and making connections. And of course, you have the skills as well, but you were really able to use the to to your advantage, like the skills and your network.
Neel Mehta 14:25
Well, I'll tell you this, like, I don't think I've ever gotten a single job without having known someone on the inside. You know, and I think that's true for very many people who I know I say I see a lot of it is you know, for better for worse is for whoever is who you know, and that you know, that's God's own problems but that is that the truth of it? And yeah, this is the second part is you know, once you once you have your foot in the door, if you really want to succeed want to make sure you do well the job. You know, it's all about having that not only the technical like though the raw like nitty gritty skills, were also So the bigger picture thinking about how technology can influence the world, I think that's important to have.
Laurence Bradford 15:04
Yes. And I would love to turn our attention to a bit more present day and you have a book as well. So you have these internships you're studying at Harvard, it looks like you're really involved at Harvard, like in different extracurriculars and organizations on campus. And you wrote a book recently with two other authors called swipe to unlock the non coders guy to technology in the business strategy behind it. So could you talk a bit? Well, first about like, what the book is, but also just what led you to write it?
Neel Mehta 15:35
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So our book collection Lock, I wrote it with two of my, my friends, Microsoft. So the goal that the books goal is to explain the big picture about technology to people who don't have technical skills. So for example, you know, I personally don't think you need to know how to code in order to understand, you know, how does Big Data work? What does the internet you know, how does Facebook decide what to show in your newsfeed you know, why did my By, you know, a software startup like LinkedIn, you know, these questions about this bigger picture questions about technology and about business, I personally don't think that you need to know, computer science or coding in order to, in order to understand it. And so this kind of leads me into the impetus behind the book. So, you know, my friends and I, we were, we met at Microsoft, and we realized that, you know, so many people, like need to know, technology these days, right? I mean, yeah, maybe using your job, right? Maybe, you know, you know, maybe things like net neutrality, right, or the internet privacy laws and things like that. Maybe those are important to you. I think they're important. A lot of people, you know, who doesn't use Facebook, Google.
Neel Mehta 16:39
So I think it's really important people understand that. I think a lot of people just tend to throw their hands up and say, you know, I don't know how to code. I don't get this. I'm not a computer person. But you know, the way I've always thought that, you know, you don't need to know how to code in order to, to understand technology. I think it's really important people understand technology, and I don't want people's you know, lack of knowledge. on how to code, which, you know, of course is you know, it's not for everyone code is not for everyone, I'll say that. I don't want that, that lack of knowledge about code coding to hold people back from understanding the dictators about technology. So that what what led us to write this book. So in our book, we, we break down a lot of the big picture concepts about technology, and the business strategy behind it. Examples like the cloud, big data hardware, hacking, Technology Policy, the business of the tech sector, stuff like that, we break that down using real world examples. And we try to cut up all the jargon we can, you know, we try to give plain English definitions so that, you know, even like a 10 year old will be understand these these concepts, right, because they're not really that hard. I think people make them out to be harder than they are. But we try to break down these important tech concepts in ways that really anyone can understand because I think anyone can and should understand them.
Laurence Bradford 17:51
Yeah. How long did it take you to write the book?
Neel Mehta 17:54
Gosh. I think we started writing it. You certainly outlining and drafting it is Like last September, and I think the writing really kicked off in like May and I finished it in September. So, like 360 pages over four months, it's, it was a lot, but -
Laurence Bradford 18:12
Neel Mehta 18:13
- that was definitely a lot of fun to write it, you know definitely learned a lot as well in the process.
Laurence Bradford 18:18
We're taking a quick break from this interview to hear a word from our sponsors who helped make the learn to code me podcast a reality.
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Laurence Bradford 20:36
Yeah, I'm sure I've never written like a full fledge book. I've done little ebooks and whatnot, but nothing near How would you say 375 pages like that? Yeah. Oh, wow. So yeah, I'm sure you learned a ton doing that. And I know you've read it to other people were they or are they still a university as well?
Neel Mehta 20:56
No. So without my other authors, powerful naughty, they grow Graduated this may from Cornell, both of them. So Partha works at Facebook now. And it works that Microsoft has product managers. Well, it's got a really interesting background, actually, he so he never took a computer science class in college. And he still managed to get jobs like non tech jobs like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, like I think several others do. So I think that that just goes to show that you don't have to understand how to code in order to if you want, like work in a big tech company, or you know, tech is useful to you in other ways. You don't have to know how to code to do that. And so with, with the insights that we got from, you know, from our experiences, that kind of lead us to realize that you really don't need to know how to code to succeed in the tech space. As long as people want to break into the tech space and say, a non tech role, I think, you know, our book really tries to capture a lot of information that people like me it and part needed to really succeed in that space, even without any particular coding knowledge.
Laurence Bradford 21:57
Yeah, so this book is really ideal for someone who wants a career at a tech company or something like that, that may not be coding related per se, but this book kind of gives the background into these higher level concepts that somebody should be familiar with.
Neel Mehta 22:12
Right? You know, for example, if you want to, if you want to run a restaurant, right, you should know at least how like cooking in like, food works, you know, similarly, if you want to work into in, you know, get a job in the tech sector, which, by the way, is like one of the fastest growing sectors, because the five biggest companies in the world are tech companies. Now, if you want to get a job in one of these places, you know, it's important to understand technology, right? Like, you don't have to know how to code again, but, you know, you should always feel understand, you know, if you work at Google, for example, you should be understand, like, how to do they search the entire thing in like, half a second, right? How do they decide how to target ads, things like that. So people who want you know, they have marketing, finance, Product Management, right? Business Development, stuff like that people want those kind of jobs at tech companies. It's really important that you understand the big picture technology concepts and you know, We think that with our book will teach you a lot of really important things like a good, good baseline that help prepare you for careers like that.
Laurence Bradford 23:07
Yeah, I think you gave a few examples before of things that you talked about in the book, like, the cloud, big data. Was there anything else that you covered? That is an interesting topic that you could share?
Neel Mehta 23:18
Sure, yeah, I've sold a couple. So one, for example, and on the business side, is big if not aware. So Amazon offers prime, Amazon Prime, but they actually lose money. For every customer who uses prime, like they pay more for shipping than they do for like for the cost of prime? And the question you would lead to is like, why would they do that if it loses their money? And so what are buckbee breakdown? Like what are some of the business strategy concepts, business strategy, ideas that they had, that would lead them to, you know, do prime even though it seems to lose money on the surface, like what like, what is the reason behind that? So we break down on topics like that. On the more technical side, we break down things like, you know, one of my favorite sections was, did you know that I think well A couple years ago, a one programmer at Amazon made a single typo. And that took down 20% of the entire internet.
Laurence Bradford 24:07
That was maybe a year. It was like a year ago. And I only know that because I remember, well, where I work full time, or site. Oh, there you go. And a lot of Yeah, a lot of sites are down as a result of this. But Sorry, I go on with your example.
Neel Mehta 24:22
Yeah. So so you know, when you when you first think see that you might think that's like black magic or something like that. But really, we try to break down. You know, what exactly the steps that happened that made that happen? The gist of it is that it's because they all ran on this particular cloud platform. So we break down, you know, what is the cloud? Why do people do it? How do apps run in the cloud? And then finally, how did like how did this one typo, like how did that lead to a chain of events that led to this entire part of the internet going down? Let's go into other topics like on the policy side, you know, what is net neutrality? Why does it matter? Because I think a lot of times and you see it on TV, there's a lot of buzzwords but doesn't always do as well explaining We also cover a lot of cool emerging technology trends, like how do self driving cars work? How does how to Siri work? How does Siri actually understand what you're saying? Will robots take our jobs? You know, a lot of really interesting concepts like that. Happy to go into more if you want.
Laurence Bradford 25:16
I mean, I think that was all discrete examples. And one thing I'm doing this Season Season 4 of the show is trying to talk to different people in a lot of these different areas. So in the past, I would primarily focus on software engineering. This season, I'm trying to get into people who work in machine learning or artificial intelligence, in careers that relate to data science, and DevOps and a whole bunch of things. So this is really like is this book just sounds like a great high level way people can learn about a bunch of these different spaces and directions they can go to?
Neel Mehta 25:48
I think we cover I forgot to the list of all the chops off top my head, but we do operating system software development, the cloud, big data emerging technology, business strategy, technology, policy hardware. Once again, but I think we really think everything that you really need to know is is condensed in into our book.
Laurence Bradford 26:05
Yeah, I'm not sure if you had this intention when you start off writing this, but to me, it sounds like a really great book for someone who is getting into tech or wants to work in the tech sector. And they want to start interviewing at companies and reading this book could really give them a good background of a bunch of different issues and even potential like interview questions that could come up.
Neel Mehta 26:27
Yeah, I wouldn't say it's particular interview questions like the questions that we pose like no one ever asked you that, like, no one's ever gonna ask you. You know why, like, why did or why did Facebook by link like, what's that? Like? No, no route to that interview? No, no, no, I'm asking, for example, why did a wall street trader drill through the Allegheny Mountains to build a perfectly straight internet cable in Chicago? Like that's one of our topics like no one will ever ask you this kind of question. But the idea is that the concepts that you learn will be very useful to you, right? Like, for example, someone says, you know, oh, look To run a B tests and someone says, you know, we're gonna run AWS, we're going to run SAS, we're gonna, you know, gonna, we're gonna expect we're gonna get a CDN to run our MVP, oh my god, people throw in these technology terms you should understand you should understand what they mean. So you you don't feel like you are speaking a foreign language when you understanding they talk with technologists. So I think a lot of the important concepts and a lot of good good anecdotes are in there. It's not particularly directly interview questions, but things a lot of really good background information that will really help you with the job. And also in the interviews, like I know, when I was in, I've been interviewing like Microsoft, Facebook, Google, this this semester. It a lot of the topics that are covered. And a lot of the anecdotes that I learned from researching for the book, actually, I use those in my interviews, and you know, they've gone pretty well so far. So I think it's a great resource people I wouldn't say it's necessarily an interview and interview example question book. I think it's a great compliment and stuff like that.
Laurence Bradford 27:54
Got it. Got it. So I'm super curious. What is next for you? You're a senior your this year you have all this different kind of experience in internships from working in the public sector to the private sector, you have a book, you have a nonprofit even have an app from when you're in high school. So like, what direction do you want to head in? It sounds like to me, maybe I'm misinterpreting, but you don't really want to pursue the software engineering path. It looks like you're more interested in like, the business side of things with technology.
Neel Mehta 28:26
Yeah, that's fair. Uh, you know, I'm, I'm looking into product management stuff, right, which is, again, that that that really cool hybrid of business technology design and strategy. Right. So it definitely stop at that intersection. You know, I, you know, I still try to figure out what's next for me, to be honest. You know, I, one thing that I realized is that, you know, I think it's very easy to get complacent in the world technology, like the money tech obeys, they, they give you so many great perks that you often just want to stay there with your whole career. You know, and even like, it's so easy to get very specialized, one particular thing that you can spend A lot of time doing one very, very small thing. Yeah. And I think what I, what I realized as you, as you, as you just mentioned, is that I really like getting that that diversity of experiences and backgrounds and you know, it always learning new things, and always trying new stuff. So, you know, I see myself doing a variety of things, you know, currently trying to do Product Management at some major companies, maybe that might lead to, like public service some point and to entrepreneurship to future writing.
Neel Mehta 29:30
I don't know, one thing I know that I know, I get bored doing the same thing for, you know, 10-20 years at a stretch. So I'll probably keep, keep trying a bunch of very different things. I think the overall, I think the overall theme is going to be clear, probably it's going to be, you know, how do we use technology, which I think is like the most powerful modern tool known to humankind. How do we use that to improve people's lives? Right? It's a big question, right? Very big question writ large, but the overall theme is like how to use How can we use these concepts to, you know, to help people who really need it? Right, that's education, whether that's through it helping the public through public service, whether it's through educating people about, you know, how technology works to help improve their lives. Yeah, I think that threads gonna going to be in common throughout, you know, my career leads me because really what's been common so far, I think that's probably gonna continue.
Laurence Bradford 30:20
Awesome. And one last question I want to ask you just because you have interviewed at a ton of different tech companies and for various roles, and I know the larger company listeners are really interested in job hunting and job search related topics. Is there any advice you could give listeners about preparing for an interview at a tech company? Maybe it's something that you've done in the past that you felt like worked? Well, maybe it's a resource like a book or an online program that helped you?
Neel Mehta 30:49
Sure. Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think it varies a lot based on the role. But you know, if I break it down into a couple categories, the first part is if you want to get the get that interview, you know a lot of it I realize is as I mentioned before, It's knowing someone on the inside. So, you know, oftentimes I know like a friend or a friend of a friend who who works somewhere or, you know, based on what college he went to, you might even be able to find alumni through whatever network like program your school has to be able to find people inside somehow, you know, even like friends of friends are often very willing to help you get a foot in the door. So the first part is definitely try and get your foot in the door somehow, someway. If you get I try and talk to recruiter directly, that's even better. So that's that's advice for getting that interview. ever succeed in the interview, you know, I, I've, I've read like 10 interview prep books at this point, to be honest. And after a while, you realize that you know, there's only so much you can get out of it. I mean, definitely read the you know, all all the like, cracking or whatever interviews, definitely read those. But I realized that there's, you know, everyone reads those, everyone has the exact same mindset or the same framework to it, right? Like, I don't think it's enough to help you stand out and really succeed. Because whenever I've done these interviews, like, you know, I've done Facebook, Google Microsoft for the last like two weeks alone. Yeah, I realized that, you know, the questions are never As like straightforward or simple, or as like nicely packaged as you might get these interview prep books, but think was really important actually, is not really to, to just read as interview prep books, I think people will often just read those and call it a day. I think it's really important that you understand like, where the technology like industry is going. And what are some of the big interesting trends. Like, like, for example, I like red, red, white, the last like, two months of Microsoft news on the verge before I went to Microsoft, and like one of the one of the guys who I interviewed was actually worked on a particular feature that was in the news like two months ago.
Neel Mehta 32:35
And I mentioned that to him and really impressed them. Right. And we had a really great conversation digging into some of the details about it. So that was really important is if is to understand that technology, the technology industry very broadly and have a very strong broad knowledge base. I think that is just as important as these specific interview prep skills. Because, you know, at big companies, they realize everyone's read these books, they really want to see something else on top of that. So you know, hopefully, you know I think my book might be, you know, good, good resource for that. But really a lot of it is, is reading the read the tech news, reading everything from the New York Times and you know, Wall Street Journal to the wirebird, etc. It also just like playing around with what the kind of the company's products yourself, you know, try it, try them all out and see if you can develop some interesting opinions because I think if you have some really interesting opinions about what the company does, and you have a strong understanding of what's going on in the tech industry, the tech world board generally, I think you'll really impress a lot more than people who just like, memorize this one particular framework from a book that everyone else has no, the interviews have seen a million times. So you know, that's, that's my advice, take it for what it's worth. But just sum it up, I think it's really important. Doesn't that just tell people on the inside but also really have that strong, basic, basic knowledge of what's going on which no book would help with it also to, you know, to do your interview prep, but make sure you augment that with that understand basic understanding Some interesting opinions about what's going on right now.
Laurence Bradford 34:02
Yeah, I really like that advice. And I think you're so right. When you mention too, that everyone is reading the same books there. There's a range of books, but a lot of people are reading them, and especially these bigger companies, they know that people are reading them. And I loved what you said about using the product and forming opinions around that. As someone who interviews people at my current job, I, it always just says a lot when the person has used the product and asks interesting questions about the product. And as you said, has these opinions about the product and it just really shows that they care and they kind of went that extra step?
Laurence Bradford 34:38
Neel Mehta 34:38
Yeah. One more thing, actually, because I don't know a lot of the folks listening to this podcast are going to be interested in like more software engineering roles, but I haven't touched on as much I think for that, like it's always really really good to have built something yourself. You know, whatever it is, you know, just having built some kind of product yourself that gives you one something really cool to talk about an interview to great thing for your resume and Three, like really good understanding of how technology is actually made, which I think is much more valuable than just like, knowing algorithms requests like that. So device for I think everyone is like build your own things. One to the to some people to it's a lot of fun. Three, I think it's very valuable for, especially engineering and also stuff like product management roles.
Laurence Bradford 35:19
Yeah. And to take that one step further, because I know you built your own app, right in high school. And you not only built an app, you also got a ton of people to use it, which, like is, says even more, I don't know if you actually marketed it, or just kind of a word of mouth thing. But I think that's even more impressive when someone can build their own thing and then actually get like users in one way or another.
Neel Mehta 35:39
Yeah, absolutely. That's it's very, very well said.
Laurence Bradford 35:42
All right. Awesome. Neel, thank you so much for coming on the show again, and where can people find you online?
Neel Mehta 35:46
Sure. Yeah. So my screen name for most everything is Hathix, H-A-T-H-I-X. So if you go to eighthathix.com, H-A-T-H-I-X, you'll find me there. Also, you find me at that handle on on Twitter and on GitHub, also just look up like Neel Mehta, Harvard. You'll probably find me that way as well.
Laurence Bradford 36:05
All right, awesome, Neel, thank you again for coming on.
Neel Mehta 36:07
Thank you very much Laurence.
Laurence Bradford 36:14
Thanks for tuning in today. If you're interested in becoming a tech professional like the guests on this show, there are few things more powerful for landing a job than a standout LinkedIn profile. your LinkedIn profile can make or break your job hunt. To make sure your profile is up to speed, download my free LinkedIn profile completion checklist for in specifically with technical employment in mind. You can find it at learntocodewith.me/LinkedIn. It was great to have you with me today. Join me next week to hear from another successful techie or browse through the episode archives at learntocodewith.me/podcast. See you later.
- “It’s who you know” is true. A lot of getting ahead in tech and getting a foot in the door is about meeting the right people. Spend time networking.
- Think big; it’s important not just to have the nitty-gritty coding skills, but also an understanding of how the bigger picture works and how tech can influence the world.
- You don’t have to be a coder to understand tech concepts like how big data works, what the internet is, or why Microsoft bought LinkedIn.
- Reading tech interview prep books alone won’t be enough to stand out. What’s more important is to know and understand the company and trends in their industry. Read the tech news, play with the company’s products, and develop some interesting opinions.
- It’s always good to have built something yourself. It gives you something to talk about in the interview and something to put on the resume, it increases your understanding of how tech is actually made, and it’s fun!
Links and mentions from the episode:
- Interview Cake (I will receive a small commission if you buy using this link)
- Swipe to Unlock: The Non-Coder’s Guide to Technology and the Business Strategy Behind It (via Amazon)
- Khan Academy
- Coding it Forward
- Cabra Flashcards
- Stack Overflow
- Neel on LinkedIn
- Cracking the Coding Interview: 189 Programming Questions and Solutions (via Amazon)
- Civic Fellowship Internship
- Neel’s website
- Neel on Twitter @hathix
- Neel on GitHub – hathix
- LinkedIn Profile Completion Checklist
The books mentioned above are available from Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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