(For louder volume, put on your headphone).
Interview with Ben Lai – Senior Software Engineer at LinkedIn
It is a pleasure to be interviewing Ben. He is passionate individual who has built a well-respected career in tech after obtaining a Mastering degree in Computer Science from Stanford. Not only Ben spends his days solving complex engineering problems at LinkedIn, he still finds time to mentor young engineers, publish a book, and host Tech events.
I love this interview with Ben because he gave so much powerful and practice advice. Below is a summary of the key points. For a full and energetic talk, please see the video above.
Question: What career advice do you have for your 22-years old self?
Ben: When you are young, you have the benefit of time on your side and much less life responsibilities. This is the time to take risks and try new thing. My advice for my 22 years-old self is to take risks. For example, I did not start writing blogs and a book until much later on in my life. And it turned out I really love writing. I delayed writing because I was scared of being vulnerable and putting myself out there for the world to view my most inner thoughts.
Lily: I totally agree on this. The message on for job-seekers is to don’t be scared to show off your authentic self. For example, during your job interview, you might focus talking about technical skills. You might not want to talk about your beliefs, your passions, your stories because you don’t want to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. When you do, the interviewer will either love your story/vision and think you are awesome. Or if the interview does not like your story/vision then perhaps this is not the right company for you.
Question: What are the 2 most important traits you are looking for when you are hiring someone?
Ben: I look for curiosity and perseverance (or grit). Curiosity because that is what will keep the person engaged in the project and working beyond a 9-5 job. How I test for curiosity is that I like to ask what they do in their spare time. If they say they read, involve in projects, build their own data farms, then I know they like to keep their mind active and challenged. A great example of this that my former boss was 15 years younger than me. He got promoted so fast because he identified the most difficult projects and asked to work on those. He was very curious about solving complex problems. I aslo look for perseverance because when the job gets tough, these candidates stick around. How I test for this skill is I like to ask: “What do you do when face a difficult problem?”and see how long they stick it out in solving complex problems.
Question: Job seekers often face many rejections, what steps can they take to improve their skills in your industry?
One way to “cheat” and get real life engineering experience is to join an open source project. For example, LinkedIn has an open-source project. The benefit of joining these projects is that you will get hand-on experience that you can draw on during your interview. You will also appear to be very proactive.
Lily: I love this practical advice. You will also learn about what you like and what you don’t like. If you like the project, then you should apply for jobs covering these types of work. If you don’t like the project, then stay clear for the future (or until you get great mentorship guiding you). Also, if you are fresh-grad, this is an amazing advice on how to get ahead and stand out from other candidates.
I am going to add another practical advice here that you can stand out by publishing a LinkedIn post. For example, see Ben’s post
. When you publish a post, you are establishing creditblity and building new network with the people who read your post. I got to know Ben because I published a post and he read it and reached out to me. I would have missed making this new friend without writing the post.
Question: For job-seekers that want to build industry knowledge, what resources in term of books/podcasts/blogs/news you suggest they read on a weekly basis?
Ben: I take a well-rounded approach. I suggest that engineers read both engineering books and also books on general life skills.
Books on life and productivity:
Books on programming:
Question: In your industry, what kind of roles do you find the most exciting? Why?
Ben: The most exciting roles might not be the right role for you. Instead, dig deep and think about what you want. Some people like to solve massive world-changing problems. Some people like to work on projects that are fast-moving and high-productivity. For me, I like to work on projects that are helpful for people, which has a direct impact on improving people’s live.
When he was a kid, he first fell in love with computer programming after watched the original “Tron” movie. He decided to be a video game designer and programmer, so he taught himself BASIC by reading a book from the library. He would go into the local Kmart and spent all day writing write programs on the TRS-80 computers on display.To him, programming was the most powerful invention ever, because you could create so many different things with code—there was almost no limitation. It was only later that he came to appreciate that software engineering is a real craft, one that you can improve upon throughout your entire life, and one that never stops challenging you.The most challenging part of his job is having enough time to pursue all of the different fun things he wants to do: hosting Tech Talks, being an Engineering Blog editor, mentor junior engineers, and participating in the Craftsmanship Initiative, and being a writer.
LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/benlainw