Gayle Laakmann McDowell is a familiar name to anyone who has ever studied for a coding interview. McDowell is the author of the best-selling book “Cracking the Coding Interview,”a coding interview preparation manual. I have personally used this book to study for my coding interviews, it definitely prepared me for my technical interviews last fall!
Coding interviews are much different than most other types of interviews. While other engineers may be asked big-picture conceptual questions related to their area of study or projects they have completed, software engineers have to code for their interviewers on the spot, on a white board (or in extreme cases, a shared google doc). These problems can vary in complexity, and interviewers oftentimes intentionally make their questions vague in order to evaluate if the job candidate knows the right kind of clarification questions to ask. If this interview process sounds awful, let me assure you it is! McDowell’s book includes practice interview questions as well as interview strategies to make the process somewhat less awful.
McDowell’s expertise in coding interview prep comes straight from experience. She received her bachelor’s and master’s in computer science from the University of Pennsylvania. During college, she interned at Microsoft and Apple, and worked at Google after she graduated. McDowell got bored with large tech companies, however, and wanted to try something new, so she joined a startup and got an MBA in Entrepreneurship from the Wharton School (“Gayle McDowell LinkedIn Profile”). Then, she started her own company, CareerCup.com, to help software engineers prepare for technical interviews.
McDowell never viewed her gender as an inhibitor to her success. Rather, she used it to her advantage. She claims, “since there aren’t many women [in tech], people are more likely to remember you. You don’t blend in, and that can make it much easier to build a strong network” (Hess). McDowell especially emphasizes the importance of helpfulness in networking, because if you want help from others “you need to be willing to help others too” (Hess).
McDowell also emphasizes the importance of strong communication in progressing in one’s technical career. She advises “communication skills will set you apart from the pack…It will allow you to effectively advocate on behalf of yourself, your team, or your company” (Hess).
In addition to being an extremely cool tech lady, McDowell is also a mother of two boys and an avid baker. Check out this cool Lego cake she made for her son’s birthday!
I will leave you with a piece of advice from McDowell I think is relevant to students of all fields:
“You can’t be afraid of going into an area that you don’t know much about – you have to be comfortable getting up to speed quickly in new and potentially intimidating areas. You need to be a consummate and life-long learner. The key is to ask questions, be curious and learn from your team.”
-McDowell, Gayle Laakmann, Cracking the PM Interview
“Gayle McDowell LinkedIn Profile.” LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/gaylemcd/.
McDowell, Gayle Laakmann, and Jackie Bavaro. Cracking the Pm Interview: How to Land a Product Manager Job in Technology. CareerCup, LLC, 2014.
Hess, Ken. “Women in Tech: Gayle Laakmann McDowell Excels beyond the Stereotypes.” ZDNet, ZDNet, 9 Feb. 2012, www.zdnet.com/article/women-in-tech-gayle-laakmann-mcdowell-excels-beyond-the-stereotypes/.