Am I ready to apply to Codesmith? Do I need to have programming experience? What happens if I fail the technical interview? How do I improve my “technical communication?” Will Adamowicz just graduated from Codesmith’s 12-week Academy and spills the details about the application process (he’s now a Codesmith Fellow, so he knows the ins and outs). From basic steps to interview questions to preparation tips, Will answers all of your questions!
What are the steps of the Codesmith Application?
How long does the Codesmith application process typically take? How long did it take you?
From the moment you apply to the moment you complete your non-technical and technical interviews can be as short as a one week. This is rare, though. Most students will plan several weeks – if not months – ahead to apply. In my case, I had a particular start date in mind and planned about two months ahead of that start date.
Codesmith accepts students on a rolling basis, though the process tends to depend on how much demand there is for a particular cohort. You’re definitely welcome to apply to a cohort several months in advance and you can also defer an acceptance up to three months.
What goes into the written application? Does Codesmith require a video submission?
The written application is fairly straightforward, just logistical info, a few essays about your background and passion for technology, and an optional coding challenge. There is no video submission required.
Can you give us a sample question from the non-technical interview?
One of the questions in my non-technical interview was: “What are your long term goals in software engineering? What do you want to do with it down the line?”
Is Codesmith looking for a specific technical background? What types of backgrounds have successful Codesmith students had?
About 50% of students at Codesmith come from engineering backgrounds and 50% come from non-technical backgrounds. Codesmith doesn’t look for any particular kind of background. I’ve seen everything from actors, school teachers, grad students, hotel managers, EMTs, and the list goes on. Having a technical background can help, of course, but there are so many factors that go into being a good engineer that it is not really a significant indicator of how successful you’ll be.
I had no coding background but studied logic and mathematics which definitely helped me in the admission process. Since I didn’t know anything about programming, I prepared for about three months before applying to Codesmith, doing three to four hours of study every single day. I had just come out of grad school writing long papers about analytic philosophy so I got accustomed to working alone and staying disciplined, but if this were a few years earlier I would have definitely signed myself up for a prep course to have some kind of accountability while studying.
Does every applicant get a Technical Interview?
Some candidates may not be a good fit for the program – in that case, they won’t get a technical interview. As a Codesmith Fellow, I interview candidates, and we generally look for excellent communicators who are also driven and passionate about wanting to become software engineers. We also want to accept team players. You’ll end up working very closely with a small team, so being able to work well with others is one of the biggest indicators of whether you’ll be a good candidate for Codesmith.
What can an applicant expect from the technical interview? Is there a coding challenge?
The technical interview involves answering a series of increasingly harder coding challenges. There is an endless list of challenges, so the goal is not to simply race through and try to get to the (imaginary) end. Much more important are things like technical communication and how you approach a problem that you don’t know how to do.
The engineer conducting the interview will stop after one hour and then send their notes off to the admissions team.
Can you give us a sample question from that technical interview?
Can I apply more than once if I fail the technical interview?
I think the current Codesmith acceptance is about 5% – I rarely see someone pass the technical interview on the first try. You can do the technical interview up to three times (if you fail the first and second). If you don’t pass, then the admissions team will give you feedback and resources to help get you up to speed. They’ll recommend a number of weeks for you to prepare until your next interview but you’re welcome to reinterview whenever you’re ready.
Most people fail the first interview, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t pass. Many people who fail their technical interview have even gone on to become Codesmith Fellows. More commonly than not, you’ll need to work on technical communication, so pair programming is one of the best ways to learn to talk through your ideas as you code them.
How do I get better at “technical communication?”
One thing that worked really well for me was recording myself doing algorithms and rewatching my problem solving. It was definitely painful at first but it helped me learn how to discuss a higher level strategy and talk about my implementation while going through a problem, which is an entirely separate skillset from the analytical thinking involved in solving a problem.
What resources do you suggest applicants use to really ace the technical interview?
The CSX platform (Codesmith’s online learning platform with instructional videos and coding challenges) is very good for preparing you to get in. Go to the Hard Parts weekly workshops or attend online – that’s one of the best ways to start working on technical communication. There is also a paid two week part-time online course called CS Prep that focuses on everything tested on the Codesmith technical interview and other qualities the admissions team looks for.
I would also recommend using websites like FreeCodeCamp or Codecademy to get the basics down, and to practice algorithms on coding challenge websites (Codewars, Leetcode, HackerRank). I’m also a big fan of this website, ReactiveX, for getting more accustomed to using higher order functions. It’s just a single tutorial but I found it very helpful in preparing me for the interview.
When do you think a Bootcamp Prep program is worth it?
Getting experience with pair programming is super helpful, so I would definitely recommend going to a prep program like Hard Parts or CS Prep if you think you’d have trouble sticking to a daily routine and want a little more guidance on the kinds of materials to study.
I was working in a kitchen in Kyoto in Japan when I started studying to get into Codesmith and soon realized I couldn’t get any productive work done after my shift, so I was getting up at 4:30am every day and practicing algorithms for a few hours every morning. I actually got my first opportunity to pair program by attending Hard Parts online and ended up being roommates during the program with my first pair programming partner. He was in China at the time while I was in Japan and next thing you know we were both in Venice, Los Angeles in the same cohort.
As a Codesmith Fellow, do you take part in the interviews? How do you evaluate an applicant’s future potential? What qualities are you looking for?
Does Codesmith accept international students? Do international students get student visas/tourist visas to do the program?
Yes, there have been several international students who have gone through the program with tourist/student visas.