Applying for the Google Sydney tech writing role? Some hints from me

Google currently has an open role for a technical writer in the Sydney office. See the job posting. Here are a few thoughts, from me as a tech writer at Google in Sydney, on how you can prepare to apply for the role.

A note up front: These hints come from me personally, as a tech writer at Google. I’m not the hiring manager for the open role, and following these hints won’t assure you of a successful application.

The advertised role is for a technical writer in the software engineering area. Let’s dive straight in!

Resume, samples, writing exercises

For a tech writing application, the resume is super important. Treat your resume as the first writing sample you’ll submit to Google. Make sure it’s clear and consistent. For example, it doesn’t matter whether you use US, British, or Australian spelling, provided you stick to your choice throughout the document. The same applies to punctuation of bullet items—just be consistent. Avoid unnecessary capital letters, check your spelling… you know the drill.

If your resume shows the skills and experience that suit the role, Google will ask you to submit some writing samples and complete a set of writing exercises.

For the writing samples, make sure you send in the work that demonstrates sound tech writing principles. If you have any code that you’ve written and that you can link to from your resume (for example, on GitHub), that’d be useful too. Even if the code is something you put together while learning a programming language or experimenting with an API, that’s good.

You may be asked to complete some specific writing exercises. Take your time in completing the writing exercises. Apply your tech writing soft skills as well as standard tech writing principles. A good tip is to sleep on it before you submit the exercises. Come back the next day to take a fresh look at what you’ve written. Focus on the intended audience for each sample. Include comments noting any extra information you’d ask for if you were writing the docs in a real work environment.

Interviews

Once your first interview has been scheduled, you’ll be able to chat to the Google hiring representatives and they’ll give you plenty of information about the interview process.

Usually there are a number of interviews, some by phone and some in person. You’ll speak to people in different roles, which may include tech writers, engineers, developer advocates, managers, and more.

A good hint for the interviews themselves is to remember you’re a tech writer, with the skills of a tech writer, and those skills are not the same as those of an engineer. Your interviewers may be tech writers, engineers, or managers. So, ask questions during the interview as if you were interviewing an engineer or a product manager. Make it clear to them that that’s what you’re doing.

You can find more tips to help you prepare on the Google Careers site.

General preparation

During the leadup to the interviews and throughout the process, read widely to keep programming terminology and concepts on the tip of your tongue. Read as much as you can about web programming and any other aspects of programming that interest you. Explore the world of APIs in full—be aware of Android and iOS APIs, JavaScript APIs, etc, as well as REST APIs.

It’s a good idea to become familiar with Google developer products, docs and style, to show your interest in the role. Be aware of the Google Developer Docs Style Guide, browse the Google Developer Docs site and the Google Cloud docs.

Coding

People often ask about the coding requirements for a tech writing role at Google. It’s a vexed question, and you’ll receive different replies depending on the role. This section of the post takes up a lot of space—arguably too much in proportion to its importance—but I’d like to give the best hints possible.

For this role the expectation is that you can comment on things like consistent and meaningful names for methods and classes, good use of code comments, and other aspects of code readability. In an interview, you should be able to ask the interviewer questions about a piece of code, as you would if you were planning to document it.

The job description mentions a few programming languages. It’s a good idea to focus on one (I’d recommend Python if you don’t already have a favourite) and do some studying in the leadup to the interview process. In fact, when I applied I continued studying throughout the process to keep the concepts and skills in focus. Life is busy, and it’s easy for some things to drop down into the less-easily accessible areas of our brains! This Python course is a good one.

To the best of my knowledge, you shouldn’t have to solve a problem in code during the interview. At most, you may be asked to write pseudo code. I’ve heard various reports about whether you need to do whiteboarding of simple code during an interview. I think it depends on the interviewer. I did have to do some whiteboard coding in one of my interviews, and I totally messed it up because I was extremely nervous. I still got the job. I did much better on the conceptual questions (what is a class, what is inheritance, what does “closure” mean to you, and so on).

For this particular role, we’re looking for someone who’s willing and able to continue learning about software and code. It’s not necessary to have in-depth coding skills. If during an interview you’re asked to do some coding that’s beyond your current skills, fall back to discussing the key technical concepts involved and to interviewing the interviewer about the requirements and goals of the application / system.

My top hints

Be passionate about tech writing. Let the interviewers see that you enjoy the role of tech writer, and be ready to tell them why. If you’re active in the tech writing community, let the interviewers know that. Mention any opportunities you’ve had to mentor other tech writers or students.

Be yourself. 🙂

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 3 January 2019, in Google, technical writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Hi Sarah, I’ve been reading and re-reading this particular entry of yours for the last few days. Thanks so much for giving these tips. I’ve just sent out writing samples for my application for the Technical Writer (Security and Privacy) role in Zurich. Do you think that would need less coding knowledge compared to this role in Sydney? I am mostly experienced in user documentation, and I’ve only just started experimenting with API documentation. Would love to hear your thoughts!

    • Hallo Andrea

      It’s exciting that you’re applying for that role. I don’t know anything about that role in particular, but looking at the job description it does seem that there’s less of a requirement for coding knowledge.

      That said, it’s best to wait until the hiring team contacts you, and then you should have a contact person who’ll be able to give you specific answers. A lot depends on the team that you’d be working with – sometimes it’s a good idea for a candidate to have some knowledge of code so that the person has more options to move around once they’re working at Google. I don’t know whether that’s the case or not for this particular role.

      All the best of luck with your application!

      Cheers
      Sarah

      • Thank you, Sarah. I have a few years of coding experience using the SAP ABAP language. It does make it easier for me to read and understand programming logic and syntax.

        I’m still waiting for feedback on the writing samples. Keeping my fingers crossed. 🙂 Thanks again for taking the time to reply. All the best!

  2. Hi Sarah, thank you for these tips! I have been reading this blog, especially the coding section, and was wondering what is the difficulty level of the codes/algorithms that we can expect in this?

    • Hallo Sneha

      The job posting for the role I was discussing in this post has been taken down, because the role was filled a while ago. It’s difficult to answer your question, because the coding requirements differ per role, and because the level of difficulty is somewhat subjective, depending on your own past experience with code.

      If the role description that you’re looking at does mention familiarity with code as a requirement, then I’d say that you should be able to understand or comment on the primary purpose of a code sample that is presented to you. For example, you should be able to pick out the method names and comment on what the method is probably doing, and you should know the basic syntax of the language. When you see the code, you might say something like, “I’d recommend a more meaningful name for that method or that field”. Or you might say, “It looks like this particular statement should be outside the for loop rather than inside the loop.” Or something like, “This code is rather dense and there are no comments. Please explain the primary purpose of this class.”

      Usually, when you are invited to an interview, you’re given the opportunity to choose one or two languages that you’re most comfortable with. You should be able to put together a short piece of code that does something simple, using that language. For example, set a variable, write a for loop, outline the structure of a class.

      I hope that helps!
      Cheers
      Sarah

  3. That definitely does help, Sarah.

    Thank you so much for a detailed response. 🙂

    Regards,
    Sneha

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