Understanding “Startup Tech-Interviews” feat Kunal, Product Engineer at Udaan

Kunal Bhagawati, Product Engineer at Udaan talks to Masai students about “Understanding startup interviews”, where he shares his experiences of being rejected multiple times, his learnings from those experiences, and some tips our students at Masai School can use to crack their placements.  

Kunal is a seasoned engineer with over a decade of experience working with companies like Udaan, Zomato, Gojek, and Myra Medicines, and in this blog, we will summarise our learnings from Kunal’s session on “Understanding Startup Interviews” hosted exclusively for the students of Masai School

Understanding Startup tech Interviews with Kunal, Product Engineer at Udaan - Masai School

What does a startup look for? 

Well, it depends on startup to startup, stage to stage, but some of the common traits that every startup looks for is – 

  1. Accountability & Ownership – High levels of accountability is required when you’re working at a startup. If you commit to a task/deadline, you cannot back off from it, and in startups, it’s not just about the tasks, it’s about your ability to take ownership of what’s expected from you and deliver your best in it.
  2. Fundamentals & Pre-requisite Knowledge – Skills are important when you want to add value to a team. Early-stage startups don’t look for specialists, rather people with clear fundamentals, and the ability to figure out things on their own.
  3. Ability to connect the Dots – The best part about working with startups is the number of opportunities that you get to connect work from different dimensions. So if you’re someone who can think laterally, and solve problems, then it can give you an edge over others.
  4. Passion – We’ve hired people who couldn’t code but had a deep passion for technology, and that can take you a long way. 

Why do companies give coding assignments? 

Let’s say a company gives a candidate to build a “Parking lot” or “clone of a certain app like Instagram”. Why do they do this? What are they looking for? 

Companies check for curiosity and your approach towards solving a problem rather than your technical skills. There are so many ways in which you can build the same project. 

When giving projects, they look for 2  things – 

  1. Fundamentals – Do you have enough knowledge? If you’re not clear with your fundamentals, then completing the project will be a hard task for you.
  2. Questions – Do you ask questions? What quality of questions are you asking? When you’re given a project, you can’t just go on to write code without asking questions to develop a deeper understanding of what is to be built? 

For example – Let’s take a scenario where the interviewer asks you to build an app to manage the “Parking lot” for a shopping mall. You may want to ask questions such as – 

  • Can trucks be parked in the parking lot? – If yes, the width and height of the parking lots will affect the capacity overall
  • Will the parking be paid for? If yes, what’s the fees? Is it per hour or a one-time fee? The answers to this question will help you decide if you need to code for parking fees, or not? 

Your interviewer will not evaluate you based on just one metric – “Your code”, but also your ability to ask questions, communicate with them during the process, and the quality of your overall presentation. 

So treat these coding assignments as a virtual project that you’re working on with the interviewer as a team-mate, and always be curious. 

What category of tech questions do Engineers ask? 

The kind of questions that a company asks would depend on what stage of hiring are they at. For instance, if they’re looking to hire their first set of engineers, in such cases they look out for a wide range of technical skills, agility, and the ability to adapt as you go. 

The interviewer isn’t looking to check just your skills, they want to understand your thought process, and for that, they will ask you questions that may not have 1 straight answer. 

Do’s and Don’ts of an Interview 

I have seen this happen so many times. Whenever a student is asked a question, the candidate is ready to jump to the answer, without thinking much about the problem, and that is one of the biggest reasons for rejections that I’ve seen in my career so far. 

  • Whenever you’re given a question, try to think about it first, and then approach the question. It’s a good idea to think out loud so that the interviewer can understand your thoughts, and help you when needed. 
  • Another thing to take into account would be – “Not wanting to create a perfect solution”. I have been rejected because of my desire to perfect a small part of my code which ended up costing me time. When you’re writing code, your code is bound to evolve, so don’t wait to write the perfect code.
  • Don’t be overconfident. No matter how good you are, the idea is to be humble and approach each question with humility, and patience.
  • Don’t be over formal with your interviewer. They too are human beings, and if you end up being over formal with them, they may not hire you. Be professional, polite, but not over formal. 

What are Interviewers not looking for?

As we mentioned before, interviewers aren’t looking for people who know everything. They’re looking for people who have the curiosity to learn, and the willingness to solve problems, that’s it. 

When preparing for interviews don’t focus on perfecting everything, rather focus on your “Fundamentals”, and apart from that if you have specific skills then it’s a killer combo. Take for example – At Udaan, we don’t have Product Managers, instead of that we engineers communicate amongst each other, and that’s about it. 

Now, this kind of collaboration is possible only when we hire people who can write more than just code, and have the curiosity to adapt and evolve. 

What are the hiring standards of startups at different stages?

The different kinds of startups – 

  • Early Stage Startups – With very small and lean teams with limited resources, these startups are often in experimentation stages where the scope of work is wide, and so is the growth. The scope for engineers to become leaders in startups is very good.
  • Series A – Series B-C – Startups in these stages are looking to scale, therefore the teams are lean, and very cohesive working closely with each other. In this case the roles get a little specialized, and if you’re a fresher then you’d be expected to solve problems on your own. In startups at this stage, you get to experiment rapidly, at the same time progress rapidly towards landing a specialised role.
  • Late Stage Startups – These are Unicorns already, or are about to become Unicorns soon. In these startups the roles are more differentiated, i.e specific people to take up specific roles. 

Different startups hire differently, and one should ideally first research about the startup, and try to understand their requirements – “What are they looking for?”, “How can you help them?”, etc, and based on this research one can create a roadmap to prepare for their interviews.

At Masai School, we train you to become Full Stack Developers in 30 weeks which will land you a job with a minimum package of 5LPA at top companies like Capgemini, PayTm, Sharechat, Ajio, Global Logic, etc!

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