I've failed more interviews than I passed': Facebook engineer talks about getting tech-based career

Sep 28, 2018

“If you’re saying you want an interview, be prepared and expected to code,” Facebook software engineer and Allendale native Semmy Purewal said. (Panther photo by Semoria Mosley)


With every seat filled, Facebook Executive and Software Engineer Semmy Purewal told Claflin University students about pursuing a career in the tech industry.

Purewal was in Orangeburg Sept. 24 as part of the Claflin Distinguished Lecture Series. Before giving the scoop on Facebook and his employment, he gave students a synopsis of his journey.

The Allendale native said he began pursuing an undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina in the field of journalism. Shortly after, he dropped out, took a break and graduated from College of Charleston.

“From USC I learned I wasn’t quite cut out for journalism. I then started making music in Charleston, South Carolina, and learned that wasn’t it either. So I enrolled in Trident Technical College to then transfer to and graduate from College of Charleston,” Purewal said.

In 2002 he graduated with a degree in mathematics and computer science. In 2007, he obtained a doctorate from University of Georgia. From there Purewal taught in cities in the Southeastern United States.

In August 2013, he became a software engineer for Netflix for four years. And now, for a little over a year, he has been employed as a software engineer at Facebook.

He asked the audience, “How many of you are computer science majors?” A majority in the room raised their hands.

With a presentation ready, he transitioned into what it takes to land any job in the tech industry.

“If you’re not computer science, things may get confusing. This presentation is solely tech related but some of this information can be applicable to all students trying to get a job in their field,” Purewal said.

He directed students' attention to his PowerPoint with the slides reading, “How do I prepare for the interview?” and “Path to an offer.” He stressed to students the importance of knowing the company, the interview process and how to communicate.

“If you’re saying you want an interview, be prepared and expected to code,” Purewal said. “You can be the best coder in the world. You can figure out every problem but if you can’t communicate and explain to others how you reached that solution, you’ll never get the job.”

He engaged with the students by asking how many have experienced an interview before. Only a few raised their hands.

Those students all agreed that tech interviews are hard and can leave you puzzled. Purewal responded with, “Interview questions are purposefully hard to reach the limits of your knowledge. How far can you go?”

He placed sample interview questions on the board to probe the students. Through interaction he and the students solved coding equations.

“It’s not about how many questions you get right, it’s about how hard you try. I’ve failed more interviews than I’ve passed,” Purewal said.

He advised students to network. He provided examples such as attending tech talks, participating in hackathons or coding competitions, and creating a college programming team.

“Competitions are a great means to networking. Netflix found me through my blog because I would write about the competitions. My blog led to my employment,” Purewal said.

While everyone in attendance wasn’t a coder, other students took a lesson from what he had to say.

Tamera Jones, a senior and biochemistry major said, “Woah, computer science is way different than what I’ve been studying. Even though I was confused during the equation portion of the lecture, I learned something. Employers want you to know about the company and the way they do things.”

Computer science major and freshman Robert Campbell said, “This was one of the coolest and most interesting events at Claflin. I learned what it takes to be successful and rock the interview.”



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