Reflecting on my first pair programming interview

For those who don’t know what is pair programming, it is basically a software development technique where two developers/software engineers work together on the same machine. At any one time, one would be doing the actual programming and the other would be reviewing the written code. In both cases, communication between the two developers/engineers is very important.

Pair programming is usually done at some companies who want shipped codes or software that has fewer defects. After all, defects on shipped code could mean higher cost in terms of quality checks and troubleshooting.

And for some companies pair programming is also done as one of the interview stages. One of the purpose is the interviewer to figure out if you are suitable for the position. Interviewees are judged on their soft skills such as communication, ability to problem solve, plan and think critically, and technical capabilities. Another purpose would be to determine if the interviewee is able to work with other developers in the company.

Pair programming interviews are also there for the interviewees to understand who they are working with and how they may have to work in the company. It’s a good chance to find out if he or she is suitable for the applied role.

For me, despite working as a software engineer for five years now, I have never done pair programming. Most of the time, I work alone or in a team. And when it comes to interviews, the toughest kind I get are those where you have to do technical quizzes, solve programming challenges or do whiteboard problem solving.

So having to do a pair programming interview for the first time is both exciting and scary. And sad to say, I didn’t pass the interview.

Towards the end of the interview, the interviewer gave some really honest and constructive feedbacks that are helpful for my personal growth. I thank him for that and for the time he spent on me.

At the same time, I feel really shitty about the interview failure, which is expected. But my mood is now about to fall off the cliff. For some context, I have been struggling with burnout for months, depression and forms of anxiety for the last four. My mood was only just stabilising after three weeks of anti-depressants.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for any sympathy nor trying to guilt trip anyone. I’m just sharing what I am feeling and have been through.

So what went wrong and could be better?

Low to average technical skills

My JavaScript fundamentals are weak. I was having issues with lambda and anonymous functions as well as some other fundamentals like passing of data. It prevented me from figuring out the solutions to some of the problems I encountered. The last time I did any decent amount of JavaScript was two years ago and even then, I only used the surface of what the language is capable of.

Making matters worse, I had to work with ReactJS, which is a JavaScript framework for developing UI. I also have to work with Redux, which is another JavaScript framework for state management. And it was no fault of the interviewer. I indicated that I want to do frontend development with ReactJS during the previous interview with one of the company’s employee.

At the end, a couple of hours spent every night for the past four days to learn ReactJS and Redux simply isn’t going to cut it.

But it doesn’t change anything. If I still want to be a frontend developer and be good with ReactJS/Redux, I have to keep learning and practice. And develop some apps using those frameworks along the way.

Failure to comprehend actual requirements

This is really on me. I was given the chance to read about the requirements and end goal of the exercise. The key focus areas were listed down in the document. But for some reason, I didn’t realise that I hadn’t really read and understand the whole thing before jumping in to come up with a solution. I could only attribute it to stress and anxiety.

Due to that, the solution I came up with was half-baked and caused major problems further down the development process.

Therefore, I really have to work on improving my resilience to stress and directing the brain to focus better. This is the only way for me to be able to understand future situations more clearly and come up with a better solution.

Overengineering

In software development, there are three principles that all developers should follow for higher productivity. They are:

  1. DRY => “Don’t repeat yourself”
  2. YAGNI => “You aren’t going to need it”
  3. KISS => “Keep it stupid simple or “keep it simple, stupid”

And because of my failure to comprehend the actual problem, my half-baked solutions caused me to violate principle 2 and 3. There were additional React components that I created that weren’t necessary and made the codebase more complex.

I’ll admit that I violated those two principles a lot of time during my five years of software development experience. It is because I like to provision for future uses. Breaking those principles served me well so far because I have experienced scope creep that requires components or functionalities that I thought of in advance and had implemented. That means, I didn’t need to spend extra effort to develop and refactor my code later.

Going forward, I really need to train myself on going for the simplest and fastest solution to any problem.

Took too long and prevented successful gauge of my skills

Because of overengineering, it took me more than twenty minutes to develop the application foundation. After which, I had to redo some of my codes in order to support certain functionalities that I have overlooked because of my failure to read and comprehend the requirements. More time was wasted.

Therefore, I was unable to implement the other features of the application that would have allowed the interviewer to determine my understanding of ReactJS and Redux.

Final thoughts

Self-awareness is actually a very important skill to have. With it, you might be able to determine if you are suitable for a given role or job.

In my case, the combination of my highly-sensitive nature, under-developed stress resilience, highly self-critical and low self-esteem meant that I hadn’t really been able to function at the level required for a so-called experienced software engineer who’s been at this job for at least five years. I’m simply not ready yet to take on roles that require me to be a consultant or a quick thinker.

The other thing that I figured out was that the number of years of experience isn’t really a good gauge of your skills. The interviewer did point out that despite my years of experience, I still wasn’t able to grasp ReactJS even after 24 hours (spread over four days) of reading and practice. He implied that he was able to pick up the framework within two days instead of four.

With that, it could mean that either my fundamentals are very weak or that I’m simply not smart enough to pick up something fast. Or maybe both. For the former, I could work on it by going to read and study the fundamentals again. For the latter, well, I can only work harder than most to achieve the same skill level.

Either way, I’m just glad that I’ve been through it and knows what’s out there. There are valuable lessons to be learnt here, which is all that matters.

Writing on a touchscreen is just…

Writing is still writing no matter the platform. It’s all about getting the words out, to give them a physical form be it on the screen or on paper. You can write on a piece of paper using a pen. You can write using your smartphone. You can write on your laptop or a desktop computer.

But what I have discovered is that writing on a touchscreen just feel weird and difficult. Some people no doubt won’t have any problems. It’s just not the thing for me.

I got the iPhone X. With its 5.8 inch, nearly edge-to-edge display, it’s way bigger than the iPhone 6s and 7 plus display I used in the past. That means with apps like iA Writer, I can see way more of the text with the keyboard below. The Super Retina HD display meant that text are sharp and clear. Writing on that device had been a joy.

Yet, whenever I tried to write long form, like a short story, my fingers do get really tired from attempting to hit the keys. My fingers are rather fat. Combine that with hyperhidrosis, it means either wrong keys are pressed and I need to hit delete or that the key presses aren’t registered like it should. It slows down my writing by a lot, which is irritating in a way if your thoughts is faster than the words appearing on the screen.

The other issue I have with typing on a touchscreen was the lack of tactile feedback. This is one of the reason why I prefer to write using a keyboard. The sound my finger hitting the keys and the clacky feel when you press the key just feels so good. I know you could enable haptic feedback on the phone such that every key pressed will give you a vibration. But that vibration is missing when you set the phone to silent mode via that switch. Not only that, vibration requires the motors in the phone to work hard and cause faster battery drainage. For the iPhone X, that vibration mode is no more and what you get is simulated keyboard clicks, something that you won’t hear if your phone is on permanent silent mode.

The third issue I have is having to deal with the weight of the device while typing. I know smartphones are small and consider rather light. After all you carry it in your pockets everyday. But it does become heavy when you are holding it in your hands for long period of time as you type. And that particular use case happens quite often if you are writing a long article, an essay or stories. Notes taking is fine actually because those are short burst action and probably won’t be doing it over 1 or 2 hours.

So those three reasons are why I will always prefer to write on a keyboard. And in order to do writings on the go, a portable typing machine is needed. Thus, I decided to reuse the 13inch MacBook Pro (2015) that was in storage. The 15inch MacBook Pro that I’m currently using is just a tad bigger and heavier than what I would like. You know what? Without the keyboard cover, typing on that classic chiclet keyboard is rather delightful. I could type equally fast on it.

And now I’m curious about what’s the primary device that you use to write everyday? And why.

Nintendo Switch follow-up review

A few days ago I got myself a Nintendo Switch, did a basic unboxing and gave my initial thoughts.

Since then, I’ve been playing Diablo 3 on it and with it, I can better determine the pros and cons of the device.

First is the audio. Even though the speakers are capable of producing stereo sounds, at three-quarter of volume setting, they still sound a little weak when it comes to the higher ranges and bass. They aren’t as crisp or punchy as I would like. Maybe it’s because I’m spoilt by the speakers found on the iPhone X and iPad Pro where playing music through those would make you want to move and dance along.

And if you are attempting to play games on the device in a rather noisy environment, chances are you won’t be able to enjoy the audio properly. But the good thing is that it has a 3.5 mm audio port for you to connect an earphone, headphone or maybe even speakers to it as you play. That way, you can use a sound-cancelling earphone or headphones when you in a noisy environment or when you don’t want to announce to the whole world you are gaming in public.

There is one good thing when you attempt to raise the volume higher than 3/4 of the way when an earphone is connected. The device will actually warn you about possible ear injury when it’s too loud. And it actually stop me from attempting to push the volume any higher to compensate for noise generated by the train as it moves.

The other thing I found problematic with the audio was its lack of support for bluetooth audio. I use AirPods with my iPhone whenever I’m outside to listen to music, take on phone calls, etc. There are times when I want to play games on the Switch but I found myself having to put the AirPods back into storage and pull out the 3.5 mm wired earphones from my back before I could start playing. To play Switch I need to switch my audio output device. Nice one. To me, it’s just a hassle. That means I could I only take out the Switch when I’m seated or in a less crowded area. And if I’m on the train, I would have a hard time pulling out the earphone from my bag since it would be pack with people especially during rush hour. It was during moments like this I just wish there’s support for Bluetooth audio. And yes, I’ve been spoilt by Apple’s seamless experience when it comes to their products.

Next is the display.

Although you won’t be able to see individual pixels when you play games due to the 237 pixels per inch 6.2inch display, it’s just not that bright. So when you play games in a bright environment, you may have to increase the brightness. In turn, it will drain the battery faster and reduce your overall play time. But I didn’t go that route so I have to find a corner that’s darker to play my games or squint my eyes.

But I definitely like the screen size. It’s the sweet spot. Come to think of it, the iPhone XS Max also features a 6.2 inch display that’s nearly edge to edge. But sadly, the notch just is too distracting especially if you are gaming on it. Besides, the iPhone doesn’t have games like Diablo 3, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 or even Doom on it. So that’s where the comparison ends.

The other issue was the lack of P3 colour gamut. Considering that we are now into 2018 and since then there has been various consumer-grade devices featuring P3 colour-gamut capable display starting with the iMac back in 2015, I don’t see why Nintendo didn’t put that in. It could have help to make Mario and friends look way more vibrant and colourful.

Lastly, it’s the bezel. It’s rather big by 2017 standard. Maybe Nintendo could find a way to reduce the bezel by another 10% or 20% and make use of those free space. When that happens, it would be more enjoyable.

The other thing I want to mention is the battery life. Even though it’s advertised that it can allow up to 6 hour of game time, when I was playing diablo 3, I find the device down to 15% of battery after about 4 hours. And that was spread across the whole day since I only play games while I’m on the train or when I get home. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I’m playing games like Doom (2016) on it.

But so far, I didn’t face the problem of running out battery when I’m on the go. Even then, I don’t really need to fear because I got myself a 20,000 mAh Power Bank that is more than capable of charging up a Nintendo Switch over USB-C. Based on the specification of the power bank, I can charge the device up to three times.

Now, despite all the so call flaws I mentioned, I still love the device because it is the only one so far that allow me to use conventional buttons to play serious games on the go. I just never quite like using touchscreen to play games because of the lack of tactile feedback. I want to know and feel that I have pressed a button. And it’s really satisfying when the game you play is all about button smashing. A touchscreen display can never give you that.

And if Sony Or Microsoft can develop and release their own version of the Switch with Xbox One X processing power that runs on battery in the same form factor, it could be really interesting. Imagine playing Horizon Zero Dawn on a handheld device without any graphical sacrifice.

Initial Review – Creative SoundBlaster Roar Pro

Introduction

Today I got myself the Creative Soundblaster Roar Pro after much consideration. I wanted a small speaker system that sound really good, support both bluetooth and wired connection so that I can use it with my PC and my Apple devices.

It’s selling at SG$349 in retail but that was not what I paid as it was on promotion and I got it for SG$199, which I thought was a steal.

Unboxing

On first look, the black on white box looks great.

But upon opening up the box, the first thing I felt was, “Oh, this thing look cheap.” The accessories weren’t packed as neatly as I would like. It is definitely not that ecologically friendly with the heavy use of plastic to pack the cables and the manuals. Then there is the eye sore of the product manuals. Red on white but the product box is black and the product is black. Where is that consistency?

I guess I’m spoilt by Apple since the internals of their boxes are always so well designed and done. Even their manuals, which I know most people don’t read, are at least consistent with the overall theme. Apple do make you feel like you are opening up a great product and that is important to the overall user experience.

The box came with a charging adapter, a USB cable for you to connect the speaker to a computer, a AUX cable to connect to another Roar Pro or audio device. The charging adapter also come with two different kind of plugs that you can swap depending on your power socket. In Singapore, we will use the three-pin plug.

And here is the actual product.

Other than the rows of buttons and switches at the back, the overall speaker is pretty clean and well-built. The black matches well with my desktop setup of mostly black and grey. On the top where the main function buttons are, I would prefer the use of touch buttons instead of physical button. Nonetheless, they don’t detract much from the overall design.

Performance and Experience

I’m no audiophile but I know enough about the various sound range and the type of sound I enjoy listening to. I can tell if there’s crackling caused by the driver’s inability to transform the input signal to sound, if certain sound is muffled, not crisp and clear or if there is an overlap.

I always prefer a good mid-range and bass. To test, I played a few songs like Monody by The Fat Rat, Fountain and Hunting for Pearls from the album BLUE by iamamiwhoami, and Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons. The Roar Pro with its 2.5 inch mid/bass driver located at the center and pointing up definitely delivers on that front. The mid range is crisp and the bass has enough dynamic range that it doesn’t sound muffled or too low. I suspect the two passive drivers on the side has been well-tuned to help with the bass reproduction.

The high range on the other hand seems rather ok but then I don’t listen to music that has a lot of that because how they hurt my ears and give me a headache. My predominant genre is electronic and pop. And they definitely have higher ratio of bass and mid-range compared to maybe classical music or symphony.

The pairing process with iPhone or Mac is pretty easy but not as easy as AirPods. You will have to power on the device, press and hold the bluetooth button for 3 seconds and see the LED light beside it flash. After that, go into the iPhone’s bluetooth setting or Mac OS’s bluetooth preferences and click connect.

It doesn’t take long for the connection to be established. Once it’s done, you can start playing music off it.

Conclusion

I have not start exploring playing games with it and when I do, I will update again. There are a few things that I have yet try. One of them is the use of the other functionality like playing music straight from an SD card. Another would be connecting it to another Roar Pro to via the AUX IN port for MegaStereo.

Yet, I really enjoy the sound coming out from this speaker and I couldn’t tell the difference from a SONOS Play 3 based on trial play in store. For the price of SG$199, I think it’s really good though the packaging could be better.

Friday Tech News Roundup #29

Below are 10 tech news that I found interesting and are related to topics I care about.

Microsoft advances several of its hosted artificial intelligence algorithms – Microsoft Cognitive Services is home to the company’s hosted artificial intelligence algorithms. Today, the company announced advances to several Cognitive Services tools including Microsoft Custom Vision Service, the Face API and Bing Entity Search. Techcrunch

UK and Australian governments now use Have I Been Pwned – Troy Hunt is turning Have I Been Pwned into an essential pwning monitoring service. The service monitors security breaches and password leaks so that you and your users remain secure. And now, the U.K. and Australian governments are monitoring their own domain names using the service. Techcrunch

Uber is the next big tech company getting into the healthcare business – Healthcare is big business, and tech companies don’t want to miss out just because they’re busy building smartphones, apps, and self-driving cars. Mashable

Skiers and snowboarders, the Apple Watch has a treat for you – Skiers and snowboarders, the Apple Watch is your new best friend. Mashable

Microsoft joins forces with Intel to beat Spectre – In a fresh move to further shore up security, Microsoft is providing Intel’s Spectre fix for PCs with Skylake processors running Windows 10 – with further patches to be delivered for older generation CPUs in the future. Techradar

Don’t get your hopes up about seeing Nvidia’s next-gen graphics cards this month – Previous speculation has pointed to Nvidia being set to launch its next-gen graphics cards later this month, but a new rumor is claiming that this won’t happen – and indeed we may not see a hard launch (i.e. products actually becoming available) until July, or possibly even later. Techradar

Alibaba Cloud Launches ‘Bare Metal,’ HPC Instances in Europe – Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, is taking a run at AWS in the global public cloud computing market with new offerings aimed at the surging demand for AI and HPC solutions among European enterprises. HPCWire

GitHub falls victim to largest DDoS attack ever recorded – GitHub was hit yesterday by what is reported to be the biggest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack ever. According to GitHub Engineering, the site was shut down by the attack from 17:21 to 17:26 UTC on February 28. Afterwards, the website maintained intermittent functionality between 17:26 and 17:30 before fully recovering. Techspot

Mobile upgrade cycles will stretch to 33 months by next year – Market saturation and disinterest due to slowed innovation are just a few of the many hurdles plaguing the smartphone industry. As The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted, slumping sales can also be attributed to the fact that older devices are remaining popular for longer than anticipated. Techspot

Microsoft’s Xbox spring update adds 1440p support and new Mixer features – Microsoft today detailed its upcoming Xbox spring update, which is available now for those who are part of the Xbox Insider’s “alpha ring” group. The most notable addition in the update is support for 1440p video output, which is a popular resolution choice for PC gamers who prefer to keep high frame rates instead of prioritizing 4K visuals. With 1440p support on Xbox One S and X, those with compatible monitors should be to make the most out of 2560 x 1440, or “QHD,” displays. The Verge