How to Prepare for an Engineering Interview at The New York Times

Illustration by Luyi Wang

By Jason Cornelio and Jeff Louden

Over the last couple of years, we’ve written about how we’ve changed our application and hiring processes for software engineering candidates at The New York Times Company. To ensure all candidates are being evaluated consistently, we consolidated multiple job postings into one listing, as our colleague Brian Hamman wrote in 2018. And last year, a group of volunteers from our Technology and Talent & Inclusion departments redesigned our hiring process to check for bias and give candidates a chance to showcase their strengths. We are now sharing what candidates can expect from the interview process and how they can best prepare.

There are a few stages of the interview process, which include a phone call with a tech recruiter, a remote code evaluation and a day of interview panels with the team (this could be on-site or remote).

You got an interview! Now what?

Many of the interviews included in our hiring process are designed to help us understand how you might approach common scenarios that developers encounter at The Times. However, you’re not being tested for your knowledge of The Times, and you’ll always have the opportunity to ask us questions about anything you don’t understand. Here are some tips before you start the process:

Familiarize yourself with The Times
Please be sure to visit NYT Open and The New York Times Technology Careers page for more information about our engineering community. These pages will give you more information about what we do, our company culture and our hiring process.

It’s not bragging if it’s true
Be prepared to talk about some of the recent projects you enjoyed building. Examples of past experiences and projects will come up during the interview conversations and often it’s easiest to draw upon a few vetted examples instead of coming up with something on the spot. Please don’t discuss anything that your previous or current employers would consider confidential.

Rest up
Be well-rested and ready to think on your feet, as some of the interviews will require you to solve problems in real-time.

Think of your goals
Consider what’s important to you in a job, what you’d like to see in a work environment, and how you partner with colleagues and managers. Take some time to carefully review the job description. Feel free to ask for more details about the role or about our company goals and values, how we’re organized, how we work together or about anything else on your mind.

The phone call

The first step in our interview process is a scheduled phone call with a recruiter. The phone call typically lasts for 15 to 30 minutes and consists of an overview of the teams here, a review of your professional background and a few quick logistical questions. Think of this discussion not as an interview, but as an opportunity to open up about your technical background and your interest in The Times. At the end of the call, your recruiter will open the discussion for any questions you have about the company or our process.

The technical assessment

Our interview process varies depending on whether you’re interviewing for a native mobile developer or software engineering job. If you’re a native mobile developer, please skip the following section and read “Technical Interview for mobile developers,” below. Otherwise, read on.

Technical interview for software engineers

For software engineering roles, our team will schedule a 45 to 60-minute remote technical assessment over Google Hangout with a Times Software Engineer or Engineering Manager. This gives us an opportunity to assess your ability to build software, and to understand how you learn and teach. We know that connecting to the internet can be flaky sometimes. If you happen to be having a problem with your connection on the day of your technical interview, you can let the interviewer know that you need to reschedule for another time.

As you navigate through the technical interview, we want you to feel comfortable discussing your professional background and showcasing your technical knowledge. Your interviewer will dive technically into your favorite or most recent projects, guide you through a short coding exercise and open up the floor for any questions that you have about being an engineer at The Times. Again, please don’t discuss anything that your previous or current employers would consider confidential.

The following is a typical interview format:

Introductions — five minutes
Introductions give you and the interviewer an opportunity to share a little bit about who you are, what your current role is and how your day is going.

Diving into favorite projects or most recent work — 15 to 30 minutes
This section of the interview helps us learn about your direct experience in a more meaningful way than a high-level overview. Your description can illustrate what projects you’ve worked on, how you collaborate with others and how you think about tough engineering choices. You can also share certain lessons you’ve learned within your career.

Coding Exercise — 15 to 25 minutes
The goal of the exercise is to get a baseline signal on your ability to design an algorithm, translate it to code, and discuss their solution. Our coding exercise adds variety to the interview, leveling the playing field for candidates who may not be as strong talking about their background. Please feel free to let the interviewer know what language you prefer working with.

Question and Answer — 10 minutes
This portion of the interview will be held for any questions that you may have for the interviewer.

Technical Interview for Mobile Developers

If you’re an Android or iOS developer, your recruiter will send you a technical challenge that will form the basis for an interview with the team. As you complete the challenge on your own time, it’s important for you to use this time to showcase your engineering prowess.

We understand that it can be difficult to find time to do take-home assignments, so there is no deadline or timeframe for the completion of this exercise. Let your recruiter know when you think you’ll be able to complete it, and please feel free to communicate any updates.

Once you’ve completed the technical challenge, your recruiter will schedule a remote, one-hour interview for you with two Times engineers; the engineers will review the code you’ve submitted prior to your meeting. This conversation will be a chance for the engineers to talk with you about the choices you made in the code, problems you encountered and where you would go next. It can be a great chance to clarify your intention, exchange points of view and talk shop with potential colleagues.

After this part of the interview process, the paths converge again and the rest of the article applies to all engineers.

The final round of interview panels

Conversations

Once you have completed the technical challenge, our recruitment team will contact you to schedule a day interview panels with members of our teams — this is the final round of our process. By this time, you will know which teams have expressed interest in your profile and who will be part of your interview panels.

Your day here will consist of one or two technical interviews and two non-technical interviews, as well as an interview with the hiring manager and a conversation with your recruiter. Software engineering technical interviews will focus on subject types such as algorithms and data structures, or architecture and system design. Mobile development interviews will focus on foundational programming concepts required for mobile development, as well as platform-specific SDK knowledge.

During the non-technical interview, we’ll ask questions to better understand how your values and our company values align. We also want to get a sense of how you work collaboratively on a team, and how you learn and teach.

In these interview panels, you’ll be asked about your experience and interests, your thoughts about the position or positions you are being considered for, and what you think of The Times. These interviews also give you an opportunity to ask about anything else that might be on your mind related to this position or the company.

While some candidates may have a shorter day with us, it’s best to expect the day to last four to five hours. If you have any time constraints, please be sure to let your recruiter or recruiting coordinator know. We also understand that not all candidates will be on-site, but we offer candidates the opportunity to interview remotely for their final-round interviews.

Breaks

We will do our best to provide a 45-minute break during your time, especially if your interview day is scheduled to last more than three hours. We are happy to accommodate additional or fewer breaks depending on your preferences; just let us know what works best for you.

During your break, you’ll be free to relax, use the restroom, check your messages and stretch your legs. If you are on-site and want to step outside of the building, please let the last person you interviewed with know so they can escort you to the elevators.

Additional on-site notes and accommodations

  • Our office is wheelchair accessible and the 40th Street entrance to the Times building is wheelchair accessible.
  • Our office provides gender-neutral bathrooms.
  • Please feel free to bring your service dog along to your interviews, we will happily welcome them. Unfortunately, no other animals are allowed in our office.
  • We are committed to the full inclusion of all qualified candidates. As part of this commitment, we will ensure that people with disabilities are provided reasonable accommodations. Please let us know if a reasonable accommodation is needed for you to participate in the job application or interview process, to perform essential job functions or to receive other benefits and privileges of employment. We will do our best to make sure your interview is as seamless as possible.

What to wear

We recommend simply wearing what you’re most accustomed to wearing, and we promise no one will judge you for it. While some Times employees wear business clothing, many people come to work in casual clothing, such as jeans and a T-shirt, or a button-down or blouse.

We hope that this step-by-step process on what it’s like to interview here at The Times will help engineering candidates navigate and best prepare for success in every interview they go through.

If you haven’t yet, check out our open roles at https://www.nytco.com/careers/.

Jason Cornelio is Associate Manager of Talent Acquisition who works on Technical Recruitment at The New York Times.

Jeff Louden is currently based in Seattle, Washington. He was most recently the Director of Engineering at NYT Cooking.

Jason and Jeff would like to thank the Technology Hiring Group and Talent & Inclusion team at The Times for their support on this piece and their non-stop work on improving every step of the engineering hiring process.


How to Prepare for an Engineering Interview at The New York Times was originally published in NYT Open on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: New York Times