When I Realized I Was Not That Guy

A discussion about a design question on the DevCongress slack today brought back a very funny but revealing period in my life so I decided to write about it! So earlier in 2022, I had just started diving into the world of low level engineering. Fascinated by all these talks made by engineers who had done crazy things in the CS world, I could not wait to get my hands dirty. At the time I was building Remixify, which did not really do so well, because there was zero promo for it and just when I was about to release it, Heroku took away the free tier and I said flip it. It’s rotting on my GitHub somewhere at the moment. At this point, I was tired of building Remixify, I felt it was not stimulating enough, at the time. Or I was just bored, cause I asked myself, why would anyone want remixed versions of songs on their Spotify playlists in the first place? Maybe a handful, but was not encouraging enough to continue. I tweeted on my account for project ideas, and a friend of mine, Ahornam, sent me a link where someone was trying to build something similar to sqlite, with a well laid out approach and everything. It was written in C, and I barely know C, so I set out to build something similar in Go. I can’t even lie, it was a fun experience. I encountered so many problems when I was trying to port the solution to Go, and also trying to understand what exactly was going on in the tutorial.

Luckily, I found someone who was interested in collaborating somewhere on Reddit so we set out to try it. He abandoned me along the line, and I had no idea who this guy was, not even a face or an address so I could pull up on him, just a random dude on the internet who was willing to help LOL. Whilst building, if I remember correctly, the concept of pages (this is a term used in low level memory management, but has its own meaning in DBMS design) used to confuse me a lot. Like most of us, with a lot of shame, Reddit(anonymity!) was my go-to guy. Luckily, I found a subreddit with people just like me, not in terms of experience of course, but people who were fully invested in database internals. So one day, naïvely, I posted on the subreddit asking if any companies were fully invested in building database engines, as I was willing to be employed in one! This was after trying to follow through someone’s tutorial on building databases, and I had not even reached halfway of that tutorial, but I was so full of hope and delusion of grandeur. Weirdly, I got a lot of positive responses and one database guru, I am not going to mention his name but he maintains one of the most widely used document databases currently, replied with the name of his company and told me to send my resume to a particular email, and boy was I gassed. I was going to work at such a cool company, and I didnt even have to formally apply. I was getting a whole interview just off a Reddit post? My head was in the clouds. This was the easiest path I had ever had into an interview, and I was so confident too lol!

At the time, I was doing my National Service so interview scheduling was a problem, and I think the interviewer (the database maintainer) was only available at 8AM GMT+3. Finally, we scheduled this interview, at 5:15 AM - 6 AM on one beautiful Wednesday, or at least it was beautiful when I woke up! So I woke up quite early, I had not prepared at all, because why should I? To be frank, I didn’t even know what to prepare for. Stupid me should have asked what kind of interview it was going to be. Joined the meeting, and two people were waiting for me, beaming with smiles. I felt loose in the beginning. Then the first question dropped. I am not going to mention what the questions were, for obvious reasons, but they were questions that required some level of data structures knowledge, and it was not your regular coding challenge, it was a real world problem. I fumbled crazy. I legit had no clue how to even start and how to end. The beaming smile on my interviewer’s face was quickly fading, as we moved to the second question, and the third question.. with no concrete answer from me, yet. He gave me a bonus question at the end, pretty simple, so I was able to answer and that gave me some confidence, at least. Man, I was so lost after the first, second and third question, and it was 6 AM, cmon! I had dressed up already for work, ready to run for the next trotro so I could make it to work early, right after the interview, but this 45 minute interview was never ending, gosh.

What broke me completely was the utter disappointment on their faces at the end of the call. After time had elapsed, one of the interviewers said to me, and I quote, “I hope you know this did not go well, right?”. I nodded, fighting back the urge to ask for another chance. That statement really stuck with me though, till date. It still rings in my head, every now and then. That broke me. I wanted to call in sick at work at that point, but I had to chase my trotro and make it early to work, else that was going to be another issue I was not ready for.

That interview did so much for me. It could have meant the role was just too big for me to fill at the time, but it also made me realize I really do not know anything, and I probably never will. It’s been a year and some change, since that episode. I have gone on to excel at some interviews, and I have failed a couple also, but it’s all good. I really just wanted to share one of the pivotal moments in my career, so I could also come back to it and laugh later. Hopefully, none of you go through this because it actually hurts, and self doubt is very draining, but just know that we’re all winging this. Just compare yourself against your previous self, everytime. I might fail that interview today, again, but I am much better off than I was in 2022 and you should be proud of your growth too <3

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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