Under The Hoodie is a weekly series where we talk to people about their journey into tech. It focuses on the intersection between life and career. UTH Week 1.
Just two months ago, Chidera Olibie celebrated finishing her NYSC. Today, she's a 23-year-old software engineer working with the Web on Android team at Google. We talked with her about her journey into tech and how she landed the role at Google.
How does it feel to be a new employee at Google?
Frankly, it's actually shocking.
How long ago did you graduate from the university?
I finished in 2019 November.
So 2020, if we are being real, right?
Haha. Yes. With the convocation and clearance, we officially finished in 2020.
What did you study in school?
I studied Electronics and Computer Engineering at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik)
So you were already on the tech path…
Well, Computer Engineering focuses on the hardware part of computing. So we did a lot of hardware work in school. The coding knowledge I have is from personal learning.
How long have you been coding?
Officially, I would say, the December of 2019, but I started learning in 2017. I was in school, so I didn’t take it seriously in 2017. I also had an internship with a software company in 2018. For most of 2019, I did nothing related to coding because I was trying to finish my final year project. I got my first official job at the end of December, and that’s when I can say I started coding.
So, before 2019 December, you weren’t coding professionally. But you could do it pretty well by then, right?
What is pretty well?
I don’t know. You’re supposed to tell me.
Haha. “Pretty well” sounds like I was already an expert. Before then, I was at an internship level, quite like a beginner junior.
So, how did you grow from a beginner junior in late 2019 to working for Google in 2021?
I got my first job while I was writing my final year papers. It was a gaming platform—Kierian Technologies. The job exposed me to a lot of things in website development. I learnt about Kubernetes, Docker, and some other DevOps concepts.
But my getting into google was more a result of my knowledge of data structures and algorithms than my web building abilities.
Where did you learn data structures and algorithms?
I started learning on my own in 2017. As I said, I wasn’t really serious about it. Every week, I would pick a question on HackerRank and learn how to solve it. The event that prompted me to take it seriously happened during my 2018 internship.
I was invited to a meeting, but I found out it was a Code Jam when I got there. We had to solve some problems within a limited timeframe. I got there late, approximately 10 minutes after they had started. When I saw what they were working on, I decided to join them since it was stuff I had been practicing.
I was the only lady in the competition, and I came second. I was impressed with myself since I had not been taking it seriously and achieved that. That event spurred my interest in data structures and algorithms. After that, I started applying for more competitions. I applied for Google Kickstart, Google Hashcode, and a lot of other Google competitions. I didn’t always have great scores in the competitions, but I kept applying.
I learnt by participating in those contests and solving questions on HackerRank. If I didn’t understand a concept, I would study it online until I did.
Your profile says you also worked at SheCode Africa. Did that have any influence on your getting into Google?
I volunteered at SheCode Africa as a mentor, and I still do that. I do a lot more giving than learning at SheCode Africa. However, I think my experience helped with the behavioural interviews. It gave me leadership and volunteer activities that I could talk about.
Interesting. So, how did the Google job happen? Did you apply?
No, I didn’t apply to Google. Because of all those competitions I was attempting, my email had gotten into their database. In the recruiter’s email, she said she saw that I had taken part in many Google competitions and she'd checked my LinkedIn before reaching out to me.
Wow. So, you’re sitting in your house one day, and you see an email from a recruiter at Google. How did that feel?
It was one hot afternoon. I was pressing my phone like every other person when the email came in from someone at Google. She said she had seen my email and wanted to know if I was interested in a role with Google. She left her calendar and asked me to schedule a call to talk about the position. I did.
Oh. Was there an interview?
Yes, there was an interview. The only thing her reaching out did for me was help me skip the application phase. It was more like an invitation to interview.
Interesting. What was the interview process like?
The interview was a long process. I was determined not to rush the process. Google wasn’t on my radar at that time, and I was still applying to Flutterwave and Paystack.
Because I was unprepared and I was still doing my NYSC, I told the interviewer I wasn’t ready. She said it was okay and gave me her email and preparation materials. It took more than four months to prepare for the interview. When I was done preparing, I sent her an email saying I was ready for my interview. That was in September.
The first stage is a coding interview that you do on a google doc-type platform. You don’t get any of the fancy IDE stuff that corrects your code or tells you about errors. You have to learn how to write the code yourself. Typically, it is a call where the interviewer explains the question to you. You’ll also have to explain your solutions as you type them into the document. I had to wait a week or so after this first stage to get feedback. When they called me to tell me I had passed in flying colors, I was so happy. It meant my preparation was worth it.
Stage Two is supposed to be an onsite interview. Pre-covid, I should have traveled to the country I was being interviewed from. But due to Covid, I had to do the onsite interview in my room with my crappy internet.
Did your network go out during the interview?
Yes. The interviewer stopped hearing me for about five minutes during the onsite interview.
The interviewer said it was fine, and it wouldn’t affect anything, but you know when that happens, you naturally get disoriented.
Anyway, because I pushed my interview to September, the role she had reached out to me for had been filled up. So, they said I had to wait until this year to do the onsite. It was until January that Google reached out to me to schedule the onsite interview.
The onsite interview has five stages— four technical interviews and one behavioural interview. The four interviews were on data structure and algorithms. Unlike the phone interview, which has easy questions, the onsite technical interviews contain medium to hard questions. It’s where a lot of people typically fail.
I used Leetcode when preparing for the interviews. It is a website where people post questions from their interviews.
During my onsite interview, I got questions similar to the ones I had seen on Leetcode. You have to think out loud during the interview, so the interviewer can hear how you are going about solving the problem. The interviewer will give hints if you’re not going about solving the problem the right way.
The behavioural interview is similar to any other one. Once you’re done with everything, it’s left for the hiring committee to decide if you’re a good fit.
So, when did you get your offer?
I completed the onsite interview sometime in February, went through team matching and Hiring Committee—these are the people who officially hire you. The offer letter came in the first week of March.
How did it feel to get the job at Google?
I no fit shout. It felt surreal. I mean, I was going to be working at Google—one of the biggest tech companies in the world, not even Nigeria. I could feel my mum giving me a tight hug and saying she’s very proud of me.
One last question that many of our readers will be interested in: does Google pay well?
Haha. Yes, they do.
Chidera has penned her Getting into Google story, complete with all the tools and resources that helped her get there.