Quicksort: Intuit Vice President Says He Loves Live Coding Exercises (Plus Other Insights About Technical Interviews)

J.D. Mullin is a Vice President of Product Management at Intuit, where he also brings 15+ years of engineering leadership. He’s always excited to bring on great technical talent to amplify his powerhouse team. J.D. shares more about what he’s looking for in a technical interview below.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME, TITLE AND CURRENT COMPANY?

J.D. Mullin, Vice President of Product Management, Time Tracking, Intuit. I oversee software engineering, product management, business intelligence, research, data, design and usability. I was mostly on the eng side for the bulk of my career, including several engineering leadership roles.

IT’S MY FIRST TIME DOING A TECHNICAL INTERVIEW WITH YOUR COMPANY. BEST PIECE OF ADVICE?

First, be yourself! The team wants to get to know YOU just as much as they want an understanding of your technical capabilities. Beyond that, make every attempt possible to avoid single-word “yes” or “no” answers. Elaborate! Don’t drone on and on, of course, but find a good middle ground.

Talk the interviewers through what you’re thinking when working out solutions, and don’t be afraid to “off road.” If the question is rooted in an area where you’re not experienced, it’s a-ok in my book to call out something tangential and explain a bit about your experience over there.

WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST TECHNICAL INTERVIEW PET PEEVE?

My absolute biggest pet peeve is actually with interviewers, not candidates.

I’m not a fan of interviewers who talk more than they listen. There’s a time in an interview for the host to go into “sales mode.” Until that moment, however, they should be highly focused on asking questions, listening, and uncovering capabilities that even the candidate hadn’t thought to mention. The interviewer must check their ego at the door and focus one hundred percent on the candidate.

FAVORITE LANGUAGES TO USE DURING INTERVIEWS?

Whenever possible, we want to use whatever language the candidate is the most comfortable with. There are some roles where this is not always possible, but for web and mobile developers it almost always works out.

SPILL IT: THE CONCEPTS YOU LOVE TO TEST FOR IN LIVE CODING EXERCISES

Debugging skills, including the debugging toolchain the candidate likes to use and how proficient they are with it. Great engineers tackle the “impossible” problems, the intermittent problems that are difficult to track down. They are wizards with debuggers and know how to get the most out of their toolchain. But they don’t solely use debugging tools when there is a problem. They constantly step through new code as they’re writing it, using many components of that same debugging tool chain.

WHAT’S ONE “HOLY S***, THAT’S COOL” THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR COMPANY/DIVISION?

Many hiring managers at Intuit are now removing names, colleges, and other information from candidate resumes that could bias the interview team. This drives teams to focus on the skills required to do the job, and helps eliminate any unconscious bias. I love that.

TAKE-HOMES VERSUS LIVE CODING EXERCISES? PICK ONE + WHY

I can absolutely see value in both, and the needs of different companies vary based on the quantity of interviews being conducted, etc. Personally, I’m a big fan of live coding exercises as I want to ask questions in real time. If I see the candidate do something cool, I want to ask them about it. If I see them struggle and then figure something out, I want to dig into that. If they are struggling, I want to give them hints and push them through so they can finish as much of the task as possible and I can get a complete picture of their skillset.

A large part of a software engineer’s job includes team interaction and the ability to communicate clearly about what you’re doing and the issues you’re encountering. I love testing that in person, even as early as in the technical phone screen phase, where we often work through coding exercises via video chat and screen sharing.

Interested in a job with Intuit? Check out the possibilities here.