My Experience with Pramp

Shlinkedin is still more useful than LinkedIn

About two weeks ago I had my first experience with Pramp, and it went almost as poorly as it could have: We didn’t have the mock interview because the system did not work. For the record, I am not sure why this happened — maybe my connection was bad, maybe his connection was bad, or maybe the system was messed up on their end. In any case, the interview did not work, but it was just functioning well enough that we wasted 15 minutes trying to figure out how to troubleshoot it.

Pramp did not penalize either of us, in fact it gave us free interview vouchers (technically they are already free to begin with, but you can earn more by receiving positive mock interview feedback. It’s like in-game currency sort of), but the experience brings up an obvious downside: In my experience, interviewers at real companies very rarely have phone/computer issues like this. Yes, sometimes an email gets sent to the spam folder, or the phone quality is bad, or the code editor works so poorly that we have to screen share repl.it…but I almost never have an experience like this in a real interview. Also, with few exceptions, interviewers at real companies either call on time or send a note first. This is anecdotal, of course, but it tracks — companies in real interviews have a monetary incentive to ensure that whatever technology they are using for said interview works, lest they waste company time. Pramp is a free service, and its mock interviewers are just regular people like me and (maybe) you.

The experience that followed, a system design mock interview, was much more positive. The tl;dr of this post: Pramp is a free service that has you pair up with random people, interview them with coding or system design, and then get interviewed in return. The most obvious benefit is that it is a free service, but the benefits of simply gaining experience by actually interviewing should not be overlooked.

That was kind of a long-winded way of saying, “Why would you pay $100 for rent-a-boyfriend when you can download Tinder for free?”

How It Works

How the heck did Joshua Fluke get this guy? I imagine it was someone he knew beforehand, as “friend pairing” is another feature of Pramp. Finding this guy on Pramp would be like matching with your soulmate on Tinder in your first try.

They have very mixed opinions of Pramp on Reddit and Blind…I found a Blind post complaining that Pramp questions are way too easy, which does not make sense to me. I was asked to interview someone with a problem similar to Edit Distance, and that is a LeetCode hard.

You pick a time slot. You pick the type of interview you want, and if it is a coding interview you specify what programming language you will use. At the assigned time, you get a link to click on and then some serious Chess.com vibes.

Not familiar with chess.com?

We’re glad you joined!

We’re finding you the perfect match.

Your session will start any moment now. Make sure to keep this browser window open.

Average wait time: 57 seconds

Maximum wait time: 8:34
— (The text Pramp displays)

The above is from a loading screen — once your time arrives, you have to wait x seconds to get your “perfect match.” If the Pramp PR team is reading this, I want to ask you: Why do you do it this way? If you are just going to find a match at the exact time of the event, why not have a “find match” button and do away with scheduling a time slot? Losing one interview to a technical issue was discouraging.

I am also curious: What would happen if you cancelled an interview? Had your match been carefully vetted and pre-selected, this would be an issue. Since they are not, I doubt you would be penalized for cancelling an interview five minutes before.

The System Design Interview

I have talked about system design interviews before, but only in bits and pieces. This is because I have done dozens of coding/technical interviews, but only one system design interview. I even had a company ask if I wanted to split a final-round four-part interview across two days, and I said yes, and I really regret doing this because they cancelled the system design interview because of my performance on the coding ones (and, in my opinion, they were asking a pretty hard coding question).

I won’t sugar-coat it: I did terribly in the Pramp system design interview. I said to use Cassandra, but did not really justify why or elaborate on how it would work, and the interviewer noted that I did not talk about the CAP Theorem at all. Though system design interviews are open-ended discussions, there is typically a certain cadence to them. For example, he said, he would talk about functional and non-functional requirements, do back-of-the-envelope calculations, and THEN draw some block diagram. He would not just jump into a diagram like I had tried to.

I have a friend whom I refer to as my FAANG friend, not because she is the only one I know who has landed FAANG offers, but because she is the only one I am comfortable talking to ABOUT her FAANG offers. She follows a few practices that I would consider somewhat…sketchy…but only a little bit. Some of them are so intelligent that I am inclined to think that anyone who does NOT follow them is at a disadvantage:

  • Before she interviews with a company, she looks them up on Glassdoor. She pays close attention to what coding/system design interview question they will ask. For any non-FAANG, this is extremely effective…at a FAANG, though, there will be an enormous set of possible questions
  • She uses lots of free resources, some of which blatantly rip off paid resources like LeetCode Premium
  • She never reacts to questions she has seen before. She simply pretends to figure things out on the spot; in her own time, she studies a lot to the test by working through whatever problems Glassdoor has listed

PragmaticEngineer points to System Design Primer, which is pretty much where everyone else points…but his belief is that the resource is simply too broad. “System Design Primer” kind of makes it sound like something you would expect to knock out in a weekend.

I think Educative could be worth the money, and I find it pretty telling that so many people are willing to pay the extra money just to have something similar to System Design Primer that you can navigate and bookmark easily. One of the Grokking cofounders, who runs InterviewNoodle, reached out to me and recommended I apply for an affiliate link. Though I do not think affiliate links are unethical, I felt conflicted about this…I paid for Educative myself, but I think this would be a little bit like advertising an SAT resource before actually taking the SAT. I will gladly link the resource when I am a tech lead at Google, make 1 million dollars a year, and have a ridiculously popular YouTube channel that consistently pumps out controversial content.

The Pramp interviewer agreed that System Design Primer is a great resource; he also pointed out that there’s tons of great content on YouTube. This was useful coming from him, as he was extremely competent.

Closing Thoughts

I hear quite a bit of talk about privilege, and it is not something I want to talk to in depth with this particular blog. Topics generally include race, gender, and socioeconomic status…I even wanted to do a quick tangent on this YouTube shorts user.

She has received tons of criticism, mainly because of a few videos she made complaining about the advantages of her “rich friends,” when many viewers believe SHE is rich. For the most part, I did not find anything she said to be that offensive. If nothing else, I think her channel is a good example of why you might want to think twice about discussing deep economic/philosophical topics in 60 seconds.

All of this to say: I write from a place of some privilege. If you have been working as a software engineer for x years, you are probably going to have an easier time getting real interviews than someone who is fresh out of college or a coding bootcamp. This is where Pramp could be an ideal choice.

If you DO have an easier time getting real interviews, then the advantage of Pramp is that you can instantly skip the HR calls/research logistics and go straight into the meat of what most candidates struggle with. This is where I would challenge my previous assumptions: Pramp is worse than the real thing in the sense that the interviewer does not have a monetary incentive to conduct a good interview and use the best equipment available. For coding, you may really be better off just working on LeetCode alone with a timer.

Finally, not everyone who is preparing for coding/system design interviews has access to a huge amount of resources. So we write blog posts without paywall block stars. We contribute to Github pages. The real heroes, the ones with the greatest talent, start their own YouTube channels and work on projects like FreeCodeCamp. At this point in time, I still have yet to find an educational platform that compares to Educative.

If you have the money, you can buy a mock interview with prepfully or interviewing.io. The former looks to be about half the price…maybe in a future post I will tell you why.

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