Microsoft

Clock didn’t tick for long since my first visit to US and I got a chance to visit Redmond again. Another high priority work, short deadline and huge expectations.

August 11, 2017

Hot summer evening and snacks break. A kind of perfect time to gossip about things around you. I was discussing entrepreneurship journey with my friend who was in Hyderabad for a startup conference. His zeal and passion to build something was making me go crazy and it hooked me in no time. Suddenly, my phone rang. It usually flashes name of the person at the other end only when something important comes up. Last time it did was when I had a trip to US and the second time, I got promoted.

“Hey Aashish! How are you doing man?”, my manager asked.

“It’s good”. While I was talking, another thread in my mind was trying to find clue on what might be the reason for this urgent meeting.

“Some urgent work has come up. We have to start on this immediately. Before I tell you the specifics, let me warn you that the timeline is quite aggressive and you have to be really efficient in delivering it. We have carefully chosen two engineers with strong debugging skills who can fix and unblock issues quickly.”, he explained the situation in one deep breathe.

“What is the ETA?”, I asked.

“YESTERDAY”, he smiled. “One thing that can be of your interest is that there is an opportunity to visit Redmond. I know that you love traveling. Based on the peer feedback and the work you have been doing, you have proven yourself to be the guy who gets the work done.”, he continued further.

“You can think over the weekend and tell me if you are interested in taking up this opportunity. I would like if you say yes”, he was done with talking.

Well, I didn’t know if I had a choice to press the NO button. Nevertheless, there were multiple reasons on why I wanted to work in that area. There was high visibility and sole ownership. I wanted to work on something new. Plus visiting Redmond was the icing on the cake. I didn’t need a weekend to make up my mind.

“I see it as a fantastic opportunity from the visibility perspective. I am in”, I was excited.

“Thanks man! I will let you know the dates”, he looked happy.

August 25, 2017

I wrapped up the work I was doing and started getting myself familiar with Applescript, a Mac automation language. 2 weeks later, I came to know the exact date to travel.

In my last visit to US, I missed shooting Seattle the way I wanted because of last minute ticket booking and not bringing the right gear.  Two things I did over the weekend. I started a mail thread in Microsoft Photography Club about the best places to shoot and if anyone wanted to accompany me. Second, I booked tickets in my favorite airlines, Emirates.

Technical bugs can snatch away your happiness. Just before 4 days of travel, I received mail from American Express Travel Agency saying my ticket in Emirates was not booked because of some technical glitch. The front end and back end were not in sync and there was a problem communicating my ticket booking request. What I received was the itinerary and not the flight tickets. They were in continuous talk with Emirates folks for 2 days. But no luck. I, finally booked tickets in British Airways.

Based on recommendations from my friends in company, I created a list of places to shoot in Seattle. The list topped with capturing Space Needle from different view points.

September 1, 2017

“Good morning, Mr Aashish!”, the gorgeous lady at the Checkin counter greeted. “Would you like a more luxurious and comfortable journey.”, she asked and explained the business class etiquette.

“Is it a free upgrade?”

“I’m sorry. But No”

“I think I will do just fine”, the happiness was gone in the split of a second.

The same lady was wandering around after an hour looking for me.

“May I see your boarding pass please”, she asked.

“Is there a problem?”, I asked and handed over my pass to her.

“Not if upgrading is an issue for you. Make sure you travel business next time by yourself”, she smiled.

I couldn’t believe it. Last evening I was reading some blog for free upgrade and their tips worked. This was first time I was traveling with British.

It didn’t feel any different until she asked, “Would you like to have some Champagne sir?”

Their menu never changes

I stayed in the same Marriott hotel I chose last time. I must say, they don’t like a change. Nothing had changed in 8 months. Same California grapes, juicy pineapple and waffles with chocolate chips.

My schedule in US was simple. Wake up at 4:30 in the morning, take hot water bath in bathtub, reach office by 8-8:30. Mornings are best when you want great productivity and efficiency. I got 5 free evenings dedicated to photography.

Day 1 – Kerry Park and Alki beach

I met Vijay, a Microsoft engineer and a wildlife photographer. We planned to shoot sunset at Kerry Park and skyline at Alki beach. It was a sunny day and there were chances to get good drama in sky and Mt Rainier in the behind.

The blue hour beauty

This is another picture from my Space Needle series captured in blue hour. 10 points to those who noticed Mt. Rainier in the background before reading this.You have to be really lucky to capture it from Kerry Park. The day has to be clear and sky has to be smoke free to frame the beauty of Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one postcard shot. When I was in Seattle, due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Mt. Rainier was visible on only 2 days.

Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Technique:
I took 3 pictures in different exposures when the sun was about to set. One, for the Space Needle, second for the Mt. Rainier, and third for the rest. I then blended these pictures in Photoshop to bring what I witnessed there.

PS: Did you know that Space Needle is the 8th most photographed subject in the world?

Lonely Space Needle under the moon

Kerry Park in Seattle is very famous among photographers for its postcard view of Space Needle. On a good lucky day when the sky is clear, part of Mt. Rainier can be seen too just behind the Space Needle. Vijay and I had planned for shooting sunset, blue hour and of course moon as we were shy of just 3 days from full moon. We reached Kerry 2 hours before sunset and found that there was some construction going on and it was making our frames look not as good as we planned. Making up early there came to our rescue as we were able to grab the best spot to avoid the cranes. We could feel the envy of fellow photographers.
The moon stood high above Space Needle at around 8:30 and I captured two pictures with different exposures, one with the moon in focus and the other with the Needle. I then blended those two pictures in Photoshop to get closer to what I witnessed there. Photography is about patience. We had to wait 4 hours for few good pictures.

Technique used: Exposure bracketing and blending

Day 2 – Waterfront Park

Serenity

This picture reminds me of the serene beauty, I oftentimes wish to visit. The place where there is a bridge and a big lake around. A fusion of man made and nature. Waterfront park in Seattle is quite pictureque and you can’t go wrong anytime in evening. I wanted to shoot sunset, but ended up capturing blue hour as the sky was not dramatic that day because of smoke.

Technique:
I shot two pictures at different exposures, one for the bridge and the railing on right and second for the rest. Due to dark, there was noise in picture which was corrected using longer exposure. I then blended those pictures in Photoshop.

Day 3: Columbia Skyview tower

The Great Wheel teleport

Seattle Great Wheel from 73rd floor of Columbia sky tower looked like a toy. I wondered what would it look like if it were to be teleported. I pulled out 35mm, slowed shutter to 13 seconds at f14 and pano’ed while capturing. It took 20 minutes and multiple shots to bring the wheel to perfection. The result was no less than what we get to see in sci-fi movies.

Technique: Single capture pano.

Day 4: Waterfront park

Waterfront Park was something I fell in love with. I visited there again to shoot the beautiful fountain.

Tomorrowland

Capturing this frame was like a dream come true. Ever since I owned a camera, I had this routine of checking famous photographers’ portfolio and their work. The smooth flow of waterfall and fountains always intimidated me. Their gigantic beauty and mesmerizing views has the power to render anyone spellbound and speechless.
The moment I set foot in Waterfront park in Seattle, I had this composition in mind where the fountain would be in foreground hiding part of Great Wheel in the back. I wanted to shoot sunset. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. The sunset was very dull and unfortunately there was no drama in the sky. There were two challenges in capturing this picture. One, the wheel rotates every now and then. Two, the wheel changes color thereby casting different color shade onto the fountain. I shot two pictures, one with 25s exposure to give smooth flowing feel to the water and brighten the foreground and the other with 10s exposure to lit the wheel. To make sure this blends in a perfect one picture, I waited for the right moment when wheel was not rotating and there was enough time to capture two pictures without the change in color of lights.
Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/

Day 5: Gasworks park

Guns in the air

Gasworks Park in Seattle is famous for its cylindrical structures. One can get one of the best views of Skyline there. A part of it looks like big guns pointed to the sky when shot during sunset. This is a composite picture. Birds have been added in Photoshop.

Love birds

Seattle is the most beautiful city I have visited so far. From magnificent skylines to gigantic mountains, from beautiful lake to green valley, from big shopping complexes to small huts, your eyes can never stop wandering. Sunset would make you wonder if this is real. I have just fallen in love with the city. I had plan for visiting Gasworks Park to shoot skyline and the large gas cylindrical structure. What I didn’t know was that it also offers a clean green valley where you can see a lot of couples roaming around. This looked like a perfect spot for photographers and love birds alike. When the sun was about to set and the sky changed its color, I saw this lovely couple holding hands and walking towards the sunset horizon. Although the park was full of people, I got lucky to frame only what I wanted.

The Piano Store

Being a Piano fanatic, I visited Classic Pianos in Bellevue. More than anything, I wanted to own a Piano since quite long. I tried many Pianos, ranging from 5k to 25k dollars. I really liked one from Yamaha and longing to get it.

Photography or Shopping?

Last day in US was annihilated in shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets. It was a tough decision as I wanted to visit the majestic Mt. Rainier and shoot the Paradise and Reflection view points. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Parts of Mt. Rainier were closed until the wildfire settled down. I heard that there was some view point which was open and I was desperate to go there. But my friend wanted to buy things for his family. Premium Outlets was 35 miles from our stay and we spent whole day shopping stuffs for our families.

I will visit Mt Rainier for sure in my next trip.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved. 
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If you haven’t read previous part, it’s right here –  US Diaries Part 2.

Why do we click pictures? To frame moments, walk down memory lanes and reminisce about events that once awestrucked us. This post is a living example of how pictures help you to relive memories that would have otherwise been lost.

Luckily, I was able to get 4 days of vacation to visit California. California is a beautiful city and my main interest was to wander in the streets of Disney Land and Universal Studios. A dream of decade to see Sleeping beauty castle and roam around in Harry Potter Park with a wizard wand in hand was about to be fulfilled.

Spirit Airlines sucks

Having spent a huge chunk of money in shopping and local traveling, I was reluctant to burn another big hole in my pocket. Though I make exceptions if it comes to my family or my hobbies or sometimes my friends too, being raised in middle class,  my brain is hardwired to see value for money. We got our tickets from Seattle to Los Angeles booked at cheaper rates. My plan looked something like:

One day in San Diego, Visit Disney Land and Universal Studios in LA.

Our plan screwed up when Spirit Airlines managed to fly late by 5 hours the same day I was to visit Disney Land. Spirit Airlines allows only 6 kgs cabin luggage, majority of which was occupied with my camera and its equipments. I managed to get one fine picture depicting bad weather of Seattle while roaming around impatiently at the airport.

Wonders of California

The first thing that comes to my mind when someone talks about California is that it is hotter. From Seattle’s chilling winter where you need layered wear to LA’s summer, the change was very noticeable. One fine evening in Seattle, on the pavement outside Cheesecake Factory, I was waiting for my friend and slightly bored as she was running late. That’s when I witnessed the second snow fall in my life. Seattle is said to be depressing in winters. Well, didn’t look like it to me.

One of the best thing in California I observed was all happy faces around. It makes me wonder, “How can so many happy people exist at one place?”.

Day 1: Disney Land, LA

We reached LA at ~4:00 PM. It was 4:55 when we reached Disney Land. We were very grateful to book tickets online. It had already started getting dark.

Dreams do come true

Sleeping beauty castle was always in my To visit list. And people there were as crazy as I was after witnessing this magnificent beauty. Even the huge crowd couldn’t dampen the excitement. Happiness was in the air.

The castle looked even more magnificent when it got dark. As magical and brightening it could be, its starking contrast had the power to stop you from taking your eyes off it.

Picturesque

Every part of the park is quite picturesque. If you love taking pictures, it would be hard to put camera down for a moment. The park was full of families and there were so many kids around. It was funny to know that there was a separate parking for strollers and it was full.

They celebrate Diwali each day

Isn’t it exciting that they celebrate Diwali every day? It was the kind of fireworks we get to see at the start of each of Disney’s movie. It was beautiful and kind of spell bounding.

“Sleeping beauty castle in fireworks”

One of the things I remember very well from my trip to Disney Land, LA is the park being lit up in fireworks for around half an hour. This is probably the best fireworks I’ve witnessed in my life so far. Due to the huge crowd, trying my best to grab the best spot and not owning a wide angle lens back then, this is the best shot I could get. As you might have observed, in the center, lies there the peak of very famous Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Electric Parade

They mark the end of day with an electric parade where you get to see almost every Disney character marching on the narrow roads with awestruck presentation.

The magical music

Disneyland seems particularly fond of Mozart. Being a classic music fanatic, it was pleasant to listen Mozart’s famous Allegro everywhere. It added flavors to the magical feeling. You can listen the music here.

It is really hard to imagine someone returning not happy after spending a day in the park. It was a very nice experience indeed for 100 USD.

Day 2 : Universal Studios Hollywood, LA

It wasn’t a difficult call to decide which one of the Theme Parks I wanted to spend 2 days in. I booked 2 days ticket for Universal Studios for 129 bucksI knew one day was not enough to quench my thirst for Harry Potter.

If you hail from India and happen to visit Ramoji film city in Hyderabad, Universal Studios is like Ramoji, just a thousand times better. It has theme parks and attractions of many famous characters. Minion Mayhem and the girl’s house, Transformers, Simpsons, Shrek, Walking dead, Mummy, Spongebob and the most important The wizarding world of Harry Potter.

The wizarding world of Harry Potter

If you are a No-Maj and are reading this, let me warn you muggle. What you are gonna read next is not everyone’s cup of tea. To feel the magic and connect with this fantabulastic world, it needs an exceptional level of imagination and a deep dive into the story. If not, bear no delusions, it would be just another story and another park for you. Chances are you may not understand Potterheads and their craziness.

Magical feeling

A magical experience is all I would say. Even 2 decades of Harry Potter universe hasn’t lessened the craziness, The crowd was ecstatic and delighted. Their glittering eyes were reflection of dreams coming true. Being a person who has grown up with Harry Potter waiting relentlessly, I felt like going back into childhood.

Hogwarts, Hogmeade, Platform 9 3/4, Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, Three Broomsticks minus Madame Rosemerta, Ollivanders, Hagrid’s hut, Honeydukes, Zonko’s joke shop, Hog’s Head, Butterbeer cart, Post office. The park has got everything in attention to detail. I couldn’t have imagined it any better. People rushing in the narrow streets of Diagon Alley was as if it came from book alive.

Hogwarts Express

The school of magic

I oftentimes wonder, how different life would be, how full of magic and fantastical beauty, if my Hogwarts letter would have arrived.

Ollivanders, makers of fine wand

Ollivanders, makers of fine wand since 382 BC, helping eleven years old getting their first wand. He very well portrayed the scene from the first movie where Harry gets his wand. It was as if I was teleported into the movie and watched it happen. As a matter of fact, wand chooses its master. When spell was read with wrong wand in hand, the shacks broke. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect.

I got The Elder Wand, magnificent and powerful.

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express about to leave from platform number 9 3/4.

Gringotts: The wizards’ bank

Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.

Gringotts. Wizards’ bank, run by Goblins. Gringotts is the safest place in the world for
anything you want to keep safe — ‘cept maybe Hogwarts.

A quick note on Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Hogwarts is a magic school where you learn magic and how to control it for greater good. Hogsmeade is a village near Hogwarts where Harry and his friends used to go to chillax after tiring and exhausting exams.

The three broomsticks and Butterbeer

Three broomsticks is a well known pub in Hogsmeade, particularly famous of its delicious signature drink Butterbeer and its beautiful owner Madam Rosmerta.

The three broomsticks – The great feast
Time for some magical food in the Hogsmeade village. It was probably one of the best days of my life so far. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, how could I miss “The three broomsticks”? The famous tavern in Hogsmeade had its own charm. The magnificent dark ambience was perfect for talking in plain sight. It is no surprise why wizards and witches choose this place to hear gossips. Even the place being full of muggles that day couldn’t suppress my goosebumps.

A pint of Butterbeer at Three Broomsticks.
As a fan of wizarding world of Harry Potter since my very childhood, I fantasized about having a taste of Butterbeer. I always thought it would be like magic flowing in my veins. As I grew up and got a chance to have it, I must say it tasted something like Butterscotch. The Butterbeer lived up to its expectations. I could literally find myself diving into the magical world and remembered one of the greatest friendship I have ever known, the friendship of Harry, Ronald and Hermione. Sad part was I had to drink this alone.
I hope someday I will visit there again with my Ronald and Hermione.

Do you remember the roasted chicken Harry used to crave for when he stayed at his Uncle’s place during summers? Or when he used to eat like a hungry beast after long Quidditch practice?
Well, I tried the “Lemon herb roast chicken platter” at Three broomsticks and it was worth all the rumor.

Hagrid’s hut

The second home of Harry, Ronald and Hermione where they used to spend their free evenings when not worrying about Quidditch practices and studies. This is where Norbert was born. The lantern hanging across the wooden door was often used by them in Forbidden forest.

Magic was in the air

A kid practicing trying to rotate cauldron using Wingardium Leviosa spell in Hogwarts. Two kinds of wands they were selling in Ollivanders – Interactive and non-interactive. Interactive ones were real magic and could be used to turn lights on/off, float objects, turn on the water in a fountain, make birds sing and many more such stuffs.

Butterbeer cart

To be continued… In the next post, I will talk more about Universal Studios and San Diego story.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

 

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If you are wondering how I ended up at Microsoft, well, it’s a long story and if you have got some time, you can read it here:

Journey of a boy from small town to Microsoft – An untold story Part 1

If you like to read about dreams and goals, you might like my journey. I won’t claim it to be inspiring and motivating. Neither would I claim it to be struggling and unique. I will leave it for you to decide. But everyone has a journey and a story to tell. And this my friend, is my journey.

July 15, 2013

Each year when I wake up in the morning and find Facebook reminding me of this very date, I can’t stop myself to feel happy and grateful. I thank god who has graced my life with all the opportunities & happiness and given me an ability to be good at what I do.

4 years it’s been since I joined Microsoft and it feels like it were only yesterday when I wandered the corridors of the humongous campus for the first time. Days bled off into years. I have seen people come. I have seen people leave. Life moves on. Everyone is replaceable.

Continue reading Life of a Microsoft Engineer

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If you haven’t read previous part, it’s right here –  US Diaries Part 1

US is a country of dreams. I could see it shining right through everyone’s eyes. I met one person in taxi who played piano and released his own music album. The other guy Chad writes pilots for TV series and is a good photographer. There was another guy who had done some coding. He knew what python and C++ is. He wanted to work at Amazon or Microsoft. Another guy was a lead manager in an MNC and drove Uber just for fun. They don’t care much about the social status. They do what they love to do.

A really nice country where people greet you and don’t expect anything in return. Everyone you meet is so much open to talk without holding any grudge. Believe me, I had some of the best conversations in just a span of 30 minutes or so.

Redmond = Microsoft

I had heard that Microsoft has humongous office in its headquarters, Redmond. Well, it was true. I was amazed by seeing the area in which it was spread. If I say Redmond is Microsoft, it won’t be wrong. 135 buildings.

Microsoft, US culture

Unlike India where people tend to stay late in offices, Redmond is just the opposite. People come early and leave early. You would hardly find anyone staring at work monitor after 6. People are punctual and highly efficient. Well, I could see where that efficiency comes from. They don’t talk much and confine their conversation to mainly professional stuffs. The hours they put in work are really productive. The culture is so well defined that if you stay late, you would have a feeling that you are working in a zombie village. I, personally liked this culture and I easily embraced it. I had free evenings where I could catch some friends over dinner in classy sounding restaurants.

The world is small

It really is a small world we live in. It is not very unusual that while dining or taking a walk in busy streets, I stumble upon someone who happens to know me. Well, it has happened many times in India. But when you face the same in US, you start thinking that the world is really small. I met an old friend while crossing a street in Redmond, stumbled upon another known face in Seattle while dining with a college friend and had a short chit chat with a guy on shuttle, I used to see in dance classes in Hyderabad.

Seattle diaries

One of the exciting thing about Seattle is incessant rains. Rainy season is something people either love or hate. You will hardly find anyone being neutral on it.

Space Needle

If you’re a Windows user, you must have noticed the tall tower with a big circular head on lock screen. What if I tell you, it is much more beautiful when you look it closely? Well, it is a marvelous piece of human architecture. Standing tall at a height of 184 meters, you can see the whole Seattle view from the top. I could manage to get some pics from my DSLR even though it was freezing cold. My finger nails had turned bluish.

The head of tower

The Seattle view point

Standing on the top of Space Needle and experiencing this view was a treat to eyes.

I always wanted to dine at Skycity Space Needle restaurant. Well, who won’t? After all, dining at such a height has a unique magical feeling. You are sitting and eating exquisite food while the restaurant rotates to show you every angle of the city. Sadly, I couldn’t get a booking. It had 2 weeks waiting time.

Chihuly garden and glass

You can’t miss Chihuly garden and glass if you love art while being in Seattle. This place is mainly famous for its exceptional glass arch, mostly attracted by photographers. I met many photographers there and got a chance to flaunt my skills. Visiting Chihuly wasn’t easy due to shortage of time. The place opens at 11 in the morning and I had return flight on the same day at 5. On the top of that, it was raining like crazy. Well then it’s Seattle. Rains are not supposed to crash the fun. Thanks to Hotel Marriott for making special arrangements.

This picture has its own story. Chihuly Garden and Glass attracts a lot of tourists due to its marvelous, eye popping glass arch. I had a chance to interact with many photographers there and it was fun discussing about various aspects of photography. I wanted to capture whole 25 feet long arch in one frame and for this, I had to wait 30 minutes to capture this due to the huge crowd. Funny to say, due to my corporate ID hanging out of my pocket, few of the tourists asked me if I worked there.

1/50s at f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 1000

North-Bend

Situated at a distance of 30 miles from Redmond, North-Bend is a bliss to eyes. No matter if you are a nature and mountains lover or love long driving on beautiful roads or a shopping spree, North-Bend has got a charm in its own. Built near mountains which are covered with snow in winter, there are many shops where you can enjoy buying stuffs.

The cheese mountain.
I clicked this amazing shot in North Bend, US. Seattle is a beautiful city. Incessant rains, chilly wind, snowy mountain and golden sunshine. A serene heaven for photographers.
It was a sudden plan. The moment I arrived there, the sun was about to set and its dusky golden rays falling on the snow over the top of mountain was giving a perception of molten golden cheese all around.

I am quite fond of keeping a collection of perfumes. When I saw Perfumania shop at the North-Bend, I got a chance to try out all the perfumes I had been researching for years. At the end, I got one of my favorites, one what everyone in US uses, and one which was the choice of the woman who sold me all this.

Heroes of my wardrobe  Recently I have got an urge to keep a collection of perfumes.

From left to right:
Caroline, Armani Gio, Invictus, Playboy, Calvin Klein

Chocolates

A trip to US is not complete until you get chocolates for your loved ones.

To be continued…

In the next part, I would be writing about my trip to Los Angeles and San Diego. Please stay tuned.

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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I am a CSE Graduate from KIIT University. I joined Microsoft straight out of college. Usually, Microsoft doesn’t visit there, but that year I got lucky.

2 written tests + 3 F2F technical interviews + 1 Skype technical interview

 

Written test 1 (Objective), 30 minutes

First written test was conducted by some third party company. It consisted of 15 objective questions from C, Sorting, Data Structures, Big O, compiler and state machine. We were given 30 minutes. Cut off was 12 out of 15 questions. 77 out of 400 students made it.

Written test 2 (Coding), 60 minutes

Three problems to be solved in 60 minutes with no use of compiler. One problem on Linked List, second on heap and third on array. I coded all problems from scratch including main method. I also wrote flexible methods that could work on any kind of inputs (instead of deleting nodes from 4 to 6, it would delete nodes between ‘M’ and ‘N’ ) and handle all corner cases. The result was announced after 20 days. 30 out of 77 made it.

F2F Interview #1, 60 minutes

We were interviewed in groups of 6. Each one of us in a group was given same problem to solve. I couldn’t code the perfect solution in an hour. All I had discussed 6 different ways to solve the problem. I was afraid that I might be rejected in first round. The interview lasted for 60 minutes.

14 out of 30 were selected.

Continue reading My interview experience at Microsoft

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My contribution on Quora on cracking technical interviews:

 

  1. What should I do in the next 6 months to get into a company like Amazon/Google?
  2. How do I go about preparing for interviews on GeeksforGeeks?
  3. What are the top 20 websites for interview preparation?
  4. What are some useful websites for a CS student?
  5. How does one become good at problem solving?
  6. Career Cup or GeeksforGeeks?
  7. Should I do competitive programming or learn GeeksforGeeks, from a placement point of view?
  8. Which is the best book to start learning algorithms?
  9. Which books should I refer for data structures in C?
  10. I suck in competitive programming but I wish to make a mark there. I’m improving my skills by practicing on GeeksforGeeks. Is this the right approach?
  11. Should I learn algorithms and data structures in my vacation or learn any other thing? See details.
  12. How many academic projects should be mentioned in the resume while appearing for big companies like Amazon, MS, Adobe by a fresher?
  13. What are your reviews of Data structures and Algorithm made easy by Narasimha Karumanchi? Should it be used and when?
  14. Is it neccessary to put subjects of interest in our resume, we dont get good job at big tech companies if not added?
  15. Do we have to mention our Data structures skills in our resume in subjects of interest part ?
  16. Does the bloggers get paid when they write article on geeksforgeeks?
  17. How can one contribute to GeeksforGeeks and become one of the moderators?
  18. Studying Algorithms and data structures cover similar topics in c,c++ and Java languages?
  19. What is the difference between dynamic programming and recursion?
  20. What is easiest approach to tackle Dynamic programming problems?
  21. How should I explain dynamic programming to a 4-year-old?

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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My interview with GeeksforGeeks: Geek on the top – Aashish Barnwal

My contribution on GeeksforGeeks over the years:

  1. How to prepare for top MNCs?
  2. Implementing Iterator pattern of a single Linked List
  3. Curiously recurring template pattern (CRTP)
  4. Opaque pointer
  5. Factory design pattern
  6. K Dimensional Tree | Set 1 (Search and Insert)
  7. Design an efficient data structure for given operations
  8. Ternary Search Tree
  9. Print unique rows in a given boolean matrix
  10. Implement LRU Cache
  11. Sort numbers stored on different machines
  12. Find the k most frequent words from a file
  13. Given a sequence of words, print all anagrams together | Set 1
  14. Given a sequence of words, print all anagrams together | Set 2
  15. Generate integer from 1 to 7 with equal probability
  16. Graph and its representations
  17. Median of two sorted arrays of different sizes
  18. Iterative Quick Sort
  19. Magic Square
  20. Comparator function of qsort() in C
  21. Copy elision in C++
  22. Playing with Destructors in C++
  23. Casting operators in C++ | Set 1 (const_cast)
  24. DFA based division
  25. Counting Sort
  26. Space and time efficient Binomial Coefficient
  27. Efficient program to calculate e^x
  28. Greedy Algorithms | Set 2 (Kruskal’s Minimum Spanning Tree Algorithm)
  29. Greedy Algorithms | Set 3 (Huffman Coding) – GeeksforGeeks
  30. Greedy Algorithms | Set 4 (Efficient Huffman Coding for Sorted Input)
  31. Greedy Algorithms | Set 6 (Prim’s MST for Adjacency List Representation)
  32. Dynamic Programming | Set 27 (Maximum sum rectangle in a 2D matrix)
  33. Dynamic Programming | Set 28 (Minimum insertions to form a palindrome)
  34. Dynamic Programming | Set 30 (Dice Throw)
  35. Dynamic Programming | Set 31 (Optimal Strategy for a Game)
  36. Dynamic Programming | Set 34 (Assembly Line Scheduling)
  37. Find minimum elements after considering all possible transformations – GeeksforGeeks
  38. Check whether a given graph is Bipartite or not
  39. Maximum of all subarrays of size k (Added a O(n) method)
  40. Linked complete binary tree & its creation
  41. Print all permutations in sorted (lexicographic) order
  42. Lexicographic rank of a string
  43. Union-Find Algorithm | Set 1 (Detect Cycle in a an Undirected Graph)
  44. Measure one litre using two vessels and infinite water supply
  45. Random number generator in arbitrary probability distribution fashion
  46. Iterative Postorder Traversal | Set 1 (Using Two Stacks)
  47. Iterative Postorder Traversal | Set 2 (Using One Stack)
  48. Boundary Traversal of binary tree
  49. An in-place algorithm for String Transformation
  50. Morris traversal for Preorder
  51. Construct Full Binary Tree from given preorder and postorder traversals
  52. Two nodes of a BST are swapped, correct the BST
  53. Check if each internal node of a BST has exactly one child
  54. Largest subarray with equal number of 0s and 1s
  55. Check if a number is Palindrome
  56. Given a number, find the next smallest palindrome
  57. Construct BST from given preorder traversal | Set 1
  58. Construct BST from given preorder traversal | Set 2
  59. Flattening a Linked List
  60. Find the largest multiple of 3
  61. Count numbers that don’t contain 3
  62. Check divisibility by 7
  63. To find sum of two numbers without using any operator
  64. Find a pair with the given difference
  65. Add two numbers represented by linked lists | Set 2
  66. Longest Palindromic Substring | Set 1
  67. Longest Palindromic Substring | Set 2
  68. Count the number of possible triangles
  69. Find the number of islands
  70. Pascal’s Triangle
  71. Stack | Set 1 (Introduction)
  72. Heap Sort

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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Every evening on the roof top of my hostel in Delhi, I used to see the shining airplanes going off into the thin air and wondered when I would get a chance to fly in one of these with my own capability. While that dream was fulfilled the moment I joined Microsoft, I started wondering to fly to United States in the best of airlines to feel how is it like to be in the most powerful country in the world..You can say that my dreams always get upgraded.

Being at Microsoft has its own benefits

I owned an important piece of project in Microsoft. There was a talk going on to fasten the velocity of work we were doing. Given the complexity of the project, its architecture was written in many layers few of which was coded by team at Redmond. Due to time zone difference and the critical timing, we had to act on it quickly to enhance quality of product. They decided to send me over to interact with people, understand different layers and their communication.

A sudden plan

I hardly remember traveling somewhere in such a big rush. It was 4 O’ clock in the evening when I was checking flight tickets and changing date in the calendar on the online portal to finalize which day to travel. 6 O’ clock, my friends found a flight that was to take off the next morning to Seattle and I spent next hour mentally preparing myself to fly so unprepared. It was just hard to believe that I would be traveling to US, one of my dream destinations without any preparation. My parents were asking me every other day if I bought winter apparels. I usually prefer to plan everything in advance and this time, without have a flight ticket in hand, I didn’t want. With support from my friends at Microsoft, I finally decided to give it a chance. There are few things in world for which you need not to be prepared. After all, traveling somewhere without much thinking has its own share of fun. And this was not somewhere. This was what I dreamed of long enough.

It all started with a joke. I was worried I was not getting any ticket in good airlines next week. I was tired, exhausted not a clue on what to do. “There is a flight next day at 4 in the morning. You can catch that.”

“Holy cow! This would be too early. How on earth would I be able to catch that?”

I knew they were serious when my manager said. “Actually, I think you can go.”

“But I haven’t done any shopping”, my forehead was shining with worry lines.

“It’s alright. What are the things you need? You can borrow them from me.”
My friends helped to prepare an itinerary. I literally got only 2 hours to dine and pack my bags. I usually never take more than 30 minutes to pack, but since this was my first trip to US, I didn’t want to take any chances.

It’s Emirates, baby

The moment I stepped into the flight, I got the answer why it has been coined as the best airlines in the world. The service, the infra and the experience was just amazing. It is very unlikely that you would be left unhappy after an Emirates travel. It was a 22 hours long journey with a 3 hours layover in Dubai. Being a movie buff and their huge collection of movies, I didn’t find it difficult to spend time.

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Hello from Redmond!

The flight was just on time. You might find it funny but the first thing I missed at Seattle airport was no taxi driver asking me where would I want to go. I didn’t have US Sim Card and it was freezing cold to stay for long in the open weather. There are two Marriott hotels in Redmond and I missed to mention which one I wanted to go to the local taxi. Even with a 50% chance of landing at the correct hotel didn’t work for me. Redmond is kinda a developed village. It’s hard to find anyone on the road. It was near difficult to ask someone for navigation. Luckily, the second Marriott was just a few blocks away.

Few of the pictures of the hotel:

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I learned that labor is costly in US. The gorgeous lady at the business center handed me over a map which had directions to follow my room. It’s very unlike in India that you would have to carry luggage to your room on your own in a decent hotel.

My first status update from Facebook on the arrival night.

It’s been only 11:00 PM here and I am done with sleep. It’s quite chilly outside and the roads are empty. A grave silence is there in the winds. Next couple of nights, I am gonna spend as a night crawler. I wonder if the new government would encourage vigilante. All of a sudden, I feel like I have all the time in the world and I have very less to do.
If I was not able to respond to your chats due to my busy schedule, Let’s catch up now

Being a hobby photographer, I found everything very interesting and screaming at me to be clicked.

The view outside my hotel room. As you can see, cars are parked in the open air. In the morning, the car windows are covered with a thick layer of ice.

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Just by the first look, I can say that discipline and patience flow in veins here. I never saw anyone rushing, everyone (well almost) greets you with a wide smile, cute children laughing on pavements and the most important thing – punctuality. People prefer to be on time. They dine by 8, sleep by 11 and woke up at 6.

Good morning Redmond

It is said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You don’t realize it until you skip dinner and have a heavy breakfast in Indian style dinner. Good morning Redmond!

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!JetLag

I was under impression that I won’t be getting sleep at usual time because of all the jet lag stories I heard. To my surprise, jet lag did magic to my schedule which I couldn’t follow even after trying for 10 years and many apps claiming to help you do so. I slept at 10, wake up at 6 and rushed to office by 8. It was just an amazing feeling. It was refreshing. I was way more productive. I never knew a good schedule can do miracles in your day to day life.

US Diaries – Part 2

 

Copyright © 2017, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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This post was residing in my draft for quite long. I finally got some time out of my busy schedule to refine it.

The first question quickly pops up on why am I writing this post at all. There are already tens of hundreds of similar compilations on web that talks about this.

Well, following reasons compelled me to do so:

  1. Being a GFG moderator, I’ve been getting many requests from readers through various social media (FB, LinkedIn, Quora, InstaGuide) and various mail clients asking for mentorship and guidance on how to prepare for top MNCs like Microsoft, Amazon, Google etc
  2. Having gone through similar journey and witnessing many of my friends succeeding, I feel knowledge should be shared. My experience might be useful for newer generations who happen to chase the same goal as once was mine

Please note that this article is purely a reflection of my learnings, what I followed through the years and my experience. This is NOT the only way to improvise on what is needed – your coding skills, strengthening DS & Algorithms and boosting problem solving skills. I repeat, this is NOT the only way. There are things I couldn’t follow because of time constraints or didn’t follow because I was just not aware. Please comment if I missed anything which is worth mentioning here.

Language

Language has been a topic of debate between aspirants since years. It’s always good to master one language, knowing ins and out of it rather than hopping from one language to other. Why?  Because sometimes it might happen to you that when you get a problem, you start wondering what language you should choose and your focus is compromised. When you should really concentrate on problem solving, Implementation comes later. Then while you are coding, you plan to change the language in between. This won’t serve you good in interviews. If you’re able to solve a problem in language ‘X’, eventually you will also solve it in language ‘Y’. Learning a new language is just a matter of time. A language might not be as widely used after 5 years as it is being used now. Your ability to solve a problem will what matter in the long run.

I usually switch between C and C++. If time is at its crunch, I prefer to use STL (standard library functions) instead of writing my own version of Linked List. If I want to develop a project, an android app for instance, I go for a managed language because it is easier. If I want to automate something to save my time, like replying and liking my birthday wishes, a python script is the saving grace. You got the point, right? Master one language and learn others as per requirements.

Data Structures and Algorithms

Data Structures and Algorithms is very important and serves as the backbone of problem solving.

For beginners, Fundamentals of Data Structures in C by Sahni Horowitz is good. After reading it, you should be able to understand basic Data Structures, how they are implemented and fewer examples where they can be used. Don’t expect to learn advanced DS through this. After your basic concepts are clear and you are comfortable implementing them in a language of your choice, you can work on learning algorithms and solving problems.

Many sites (including GeeksforGeeks) present problems in a very adhoc manner with no order of difficulty level. This makes things difficult for beginners because they don’t know the difficulty level of the problem they are attempting. Data Structures and Algorithms made easy by Narasimha Karumanchi is a good read after you are comfortable with the basics. It has pretty good collection of problems organized by difficulty level. Just make sure to try to solve problems on your own instead of rushing for the solution. Once you have a fair understanding of DS and have got some confidence in solving problems, jump to online portals and start solving problems from topic of your choice. GeeksforGeeks is good to start with.

For Algorithms, Introduction to Algorithms by Cormen is a must read.

Advanced Data Structures

Sometimes, basic DS don’t serve the purpose to solve problems and you need to know advanced DS. Day to day problems like implementing a prefix based search for a phone contact list to finding the dictionary word from a jumbled sequence of characters need special kind of DS. There are many of them – TST, Trie, Suffix tree, Suffix array, Fibonacci heap, Segment tree, Gap buffer, Rope, Skip list, K Dimensional tree and so on. While it is good to know the implementation of these DS, I would suggest to also know when to use one.

Problem solving

So you got a gun, understand how to use it, probably have used it before. If you are going to fight a war, you won’t like to rely upon your amateur experience. You would prefer to practice hard to save your ass. Now try to think it in perspective of problem solving. You know what DS are. But you also need to know when to use one. Welcome to the world of problem solving. You are given a problem and you are asked to solve it. That problem can be anything starting from a simple puzzle to implementing a user scenario. You must have noticed degree of connection feature in LinkedIn. How will you implement it? Does your approach take care of scalability? Will your code crumble when user base increases ten folds? This is the most important skill top MNCs usually look for. How do you approach a problem? How do  you divide it into modules? How do you solve each of them and then combine them?

Dynamic Programming

I separated out DP because it is one monster which is difficult to master upon. No matter how many problems did you solve in the past, a new DP problem can always surprise you. The more you will practice, higher the chances will be to find out patterns. Google is peculiar about DP. You should expect at least one DP problem per interview round  if you are preparing for Google. Practice DP section from:

Competitive Programming

Competitive Programming plays a very important role in boosting problem solving skills and ability to perform under time pressure. Do participate in various online portals like TopCoder, CodeChef, SPOJ. Here is a post on Getting started in sport of programming.

Design and testing

So you are good in DS and Algos. You are probably good in problem solving as well and you come up with different approaches with varying time and space complexity. The problem which you solve in Competitive Programming is well defined and has to work under an environment which nobody will probably use. What if you are asked to implement a user scenario. The problem statement is usually vague and you need to discuss a lot to resolve ambiguities. This is where design comes into picture. How will you design a redo-undo feature? What data structures will you use to store history in a web browser? How will you implement auto-complete feature in address bar? Let’s say Amazon wants to build a feature that would resume a video stored in cloud from any device. What data structures will you use? How will you scale up things? Does your design take care of concurrency issues? What about the performance? What if you and your girlfriend share the same cloud account and are trying to play the same video from different devices?

Now you have thought through the design well, have come up with different data structures to use with pros and cons in mind. While implementing, you must take care of corner cases. You must be aware about the integer overflow issue in Youtube video view count. While implementing, they never really thought that the view count can exceed what an integer variable can hold and BOOM, the view count cycled back to zero.

Before a feature goes live, it must be tested well. It is good to practice some test questions as well. How will you test a Insert image feature in MS Word? What about a cut-copy-paste feature? How will you test Temple Run game? Try to write all the possible test cases and how you are going to handle this in your code. Writing a robust code is very important. If you take care of these things at an earlier stage, you can avoid silly bugs (and boost your chances of getting selected in interviews).

What else?

Have a sound understanding of Operating System. The dinosaur book by Galvin is a good read. Know how networking works and have insights on DBMS.

Resume building

First impression is the best. Resume is the first thing that HR will use to decide whether to call you for interview or not. And they have got hundreds of them. So they will usually scan it for 20 seconds to 2 minutes. It should be clean, concise and elegant. Each word mentioned should worth the space it eats. The rule of thumb is if you have less than one year of experience, the size of resume should not exceed a page (with few exceptions).

Few points to note:

  • Maintain a header to fit info like name, email id, address and contact number
  • Mention level of expertise corresponding to each language. Example: Proficient in C and good at Java
  • If you are mentioning a project, write your key learning, impact in the team and . If this project is online (an app), don’t forget to include the link. This will show that you built something that is being used by people . Guess what, this is what companies do, building a product, stabilizing it as per user feedback, taking in new feature requests and so on.

Here are few useful tips from Gayle – What are common mistakes that applicants make when writing their resumes for tech companies?

How to apply for Microsoft?

I get many messages asking me for a favour to refer them. When I ask them how much comfortable they are with DS and Algos, they say good enough. Then I rephrase my question to how do they feel when they solve interview experiences at GeeksforGeeks. Either they haven’t heard of GeeksforGeeks or they never read. This is not a surprise. GeeksforGeeks is still growing. But when I ask them a problem on DS by tweaking already existing famous ones, all they say is they haven’t solved this problem before. Please do NOT do that. It’s one thing to yearn for something. But quite other to put efforts to make it a reality.

If you are not able to clear the interviews, you will have wait again for 6-12 months depending on the company policy before you can apply again. Now coming to the point,  you can apply for a position at Microsoft either through Careers page or through referral. Referral usually bumps chances of getting an interview call because your resume gets to the system through a person Microsoft trusts to be a good engineer. How do you ask for a referral? It’s simple. Forward your resume to someone you know working there. No one will say NO unless your resume is filled with something which doesn’t fit company requirements. Rule of thumb is we believe in solving problems and if you are good at it, we would love to see you here. Remember, everyone wants to work with a smart person. And this is usually true for any company, not just for Microsoft.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Practice, practice and practice
  • Make a habit of writing clean and readable code (avoid variables names like i, j)
  • Make sure to handle all corner cases
  • Use pen and paper to practice code. In interviews you have NO access to a compiler
  • Don’t mug up the solutions. Try to solve on your own
  • Think of different ways of solving a problem and thoughts on why one should be preferred over the other

Resources

I have answered few questions related to interview preparation on Quora. You might find some content missing here in blog and it is intentional to avoid the duplication of efforts. Please read my technical answers here.

Resources (which I haven’t talked about):

  • Cracking the coding interview by Gayle Laakmann: A must read once before interviews. It covers aspects like what interviewers expect from you, how to deal with behavioral questions and few interesting problems. It will change your thoughts about design and test problems for good
  • GeeksforGeeks: A bible of problems (with well explained solutions). Make sure you do NOT rush for solutions. Try to solve problems on your own no matter how much time does it take. With time and honest practice, you should get better
  • CareerCup: A huge collection of problems. Though you can’t rely upon solutions, it provides a rich community for discussing problems. I found it good for discussing design problems
  • Project Euler: A heaven for mathematics lovers. You solve the problems using some formulas on paper and then write code to get the final solution. Solve at least 40 problems from this site.

You might like following write ups:

PS: This blog is published on GeeksforGeeks.

Good luck!

Copyright © 2016, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.

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Ever since I penned my journey, the response has been quite positive. It seems like a 3 days extended weekend which I was thinking a waste wasn’t a waste at all.

If you haven’t read the second part, please read it here – Journey of a boy from small town to Microsoft – An untold story Part 2

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There were countless moments of mood swing. I already had an offer from Microsoft. I wondered if I should try for other biggies like Facebook or Google. Bottom-line was, I had fallen into procrastination trap. I was shy of 9 months to join Microsoft. I wanted to enjoy life. I wanted to take a break. My then friends at Google and Facebook had mixed suggestions.

“Dude, you should really give FB a try. I can refer you and interview would be scheduled in 2 weeks”.

“It’s time to explore. Once college is over, you are never gonna get it. This is the time to have some fun”.

Out of those precious 9 months, I spent 5 months at home doing almost nothing. Major chunk of my time was invested in only eating and chatting. When boredom seemed to kill me, I just used to compile an article on GeeksforGeeks. It was fun.

Sometimes even a simple mail gives you goosebumps. I had a message from Google recruiter mentioning my profile looked interesting and  if my interest was aligned, they could commence the interview process. With the mail was attached a video covering their expectations from a candidate in Google. I thought of giving a try to Google. But my practice was at a slower pace. Writing articles and solving problems were just to kill time and pure altruistic. Google is a big brand. I definitely wanted to try my luck there. It was just not the right time. It would be a pleasure to enjoy Microsoft etiquette for the time being.

July 13, 2013

The next phase begins

A long rest had finally come to an end. Nothing could make me happier than to see a person waiting at the airport holding a placard with my name imprinted on it. He directly drove us to Rejenta One. A month stay in a 5 star hotel, dedicated car, a driver, couple of good friends and new city. Whole world around me was screaming to explore it.

Life at Microsoft in a nutshell

Life of a Microsoft Engineer

 

GeeksforGeeks after Microsoft

I usually get messages like, Why my contribution to GFG has slowed down. Is it because of my busy schedule?
Seriously speaking, the passion which was ballooned inside me 3 years ago has faded. Coding is not the only thing that fuels me. In my college days, I used to code for fun. Whenever I found myself struck by the boredom lightning, solving a new problem or brainstorming a better solution was the saving grace. My contribution has been greatly compromised and now if I write, my focus is more on the quality rather than quantity. I must say, I am a slow writer.
Sometimes I ask myself, what do I know except coding? Is my life all about staring at the screen and writing geeky characters? A lot of things are there in the world and you won’t know what you would like the best until you give it a try. Life is made up of series of moments. It’s not the number of years we live that matters.

For the past few years, I had been wondering what my life is meant to be, what are the things out there which will render me with greatest pleasure, what is the secret ingredient of being happy.

The other side of my life which eats most of my time when I am not in office writing and debugging code, is as farthest from the geeky profile as it can be. This is a long story. And if you’ve got some free time, read What profession would I have chosen if each profession is equally valued and earns me equal salary?  on a boring day while sipping a cup of coffee. I am sure you would like it.

Geek on the top

A usual week day, a mail popped up asking for my interview. It’s really weird if someone asks questions about you and your life which is going to be published on a broad scale.

The interview is published here – Geek on the top – Aashish Barnwal | Make a habit of writing clean, readable, flexible and robust code

I am still learning. I am still exploring. It’s always fun to try out new things and most importantly, we must find happiness in whatever we do.

motivational-quote-on-value

Based on requests from many, I have documented the tips and tricks on cracking top MNCs. I hope you find it useful:

How to prepare for top MNCs?

 

Signing off for now. Hope you enjoyed reading this. Everyone has a journey. Well this is my journey.

Copyright © 2016, Aashish Barnwal,  All rights reserved.
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