My Experience With Interview Kickstart

Justin Rich
10 min readJul 1, 2019

Update Sept. 2020:

Since it has been a year since I wrote this I decided to go back to IK and see how things have changed. If you don’t have time here’s a broad overview on what’s changed:


  • IK has a brand new prep website
  • Interview question interface is cleaner and more efficient
  • Video content has been refreshed and is better organized inline with interview practice questions
  • IK has a strong career coaching program (IMO this is their best value prop)
  • Coaching focuses on creating a tailored strategy for your job search
  • conclusion: IK has improved program and is good solution for those seeking an interview prep framework and especially career search coaching

Why I’m writing an update

I strongly believe that there should be a better way to prepare for technical interviews and thus really want there to be an effective prep program. IK’s leadership reached out to me and over the past few months I’ve spent time reviewing their current prep offerings. In reviewing IK’s current program I was impressed to see they’ve taken my initial feedback to heart and revamped their program. To best drive home this point I’ve added an **UPDATE 2020** section to each part of my review to reflect IK’s current offerings.

Begin 2019 Article:

The startup I worked for ran out of funding and I found myself looking for another dev gig. I have a Masters in Information Systems, but I sometimes struggled with technical interviews because I don’t regularly have to determine if two words are anagrams or design topological sorts. As much as I combed through the CS concepts on GeekForGeeks or Cracking The Coding Interview I still agonized over questions on platforms like HackerRank or LeetCode and in real interviews. Clearly there was a disconnect and I needed more help. I decided to take a page out of my high school days with the SAT and see if there was an effective service to coach me and help improve my performance.

Enter Paid Interview Prep

Since I wanted 1:1 coaching I ignored the automated videos like Udemy and Coursera and instead focused on finding services that provided direct coaching. After a precursory Google search I found OutCo and Interview Kickstart. Both courses offered a structured curriculum on interview topics (sorting, link lists, etc), 1:1 coaching, and career services like resume reviews and mock interviews. I decided to go with Interview Kickstart (or IK) because the founder had been involved with designing tech recruiting processes Dropbox and their program appeared to have some really good outcomes for its alumni. Like SAT prep, I hoped the instructors would be able to teach me effective strategies for approaching technical interview problems and through coaching help me identify and strengthen my weaknesses.

IK, What It’s Really Like (2019)

I had an informational session with Soham Mehta. He talked me through the program at a high level. From what I understood, half of the program was classes on CS concepts and the second half was individual coaching tailored to help me land a role at one of my target companies. I paid a $500 deposit to hold my spot and spend a week or two completing all of the pre-work.

I ended up having a change of plans and did not start the program as planned. A few months later, I decided to take the course for real and inquired about my initial deposit. After a week of back and forth they decided they could not refund my deposit and I paid the $500 again.

I attended one week before having to pay the remainder of the balance (or the first installment depending on what you choose.) All in, the tuition was $5,000, not counting my wasted deposit. I figured it would be a good investment if they could teach me how to jump through the hoops employers put up. Of course, they also boasted that the negotiation coaching alone would easily cover the cost. The program ended up consisting of: video lessons, classes, practice problems, technical coaching, systems design instruction, career services.

Video Lessons (2019)

Each week I got two videos on the topic of the week to prepare for class. I was surprised by how bad the video quality was. They were choppy and some were out of order and unrelated to the subject it was classified under. Maybe I was spoiled by Udemy or any of the other MOOCs out there, but expected, for the money I paid, that the course content would be logically and clearly organized. While some of the content does a good job teaching the concepts, it is about comparable to what you can get for free on YouTube via GeekForGeeks. (Some of the pre-work videos, before the program started, were actually from YouTube and not proprietary to IK.)

**UPDATE 2020**

IK has re-recorded all of their videos which are lectures from previous classes. Lecture topics are clearly communicated along with well organized powerpoint slides to visualize the topics being discussed. Videos are organized by topic with relevant coursework. This makes for a much better study experience.

Classes (2019)

The classes do try to cover the concepts for the topic of the week by collectively working through problems. However, the quality of the class content differed depending on who was teaching it. Some weeks we got a patient instructor who was very good at teaching, but more often than not it felt like the instructors weren’t well prepared and weren’t particularly good at explaining the subject matter.

Some students were on-site in SF, and others, including me, joined remotely There was one class on Tuesday (6PM-10PM), timed practice problems, and a review on Saturday (9AM-11AM).

**UPDATE 2020**

The class content is revamped and I feel that they do a lot better job explaining concepts. They have weekly homework review sessions in which tutors do a good job reinforcing the concepts in class. This is a good solution for people who have been out of school for a while and need a refresher on CS basics.

Practice Problems (2019)

After class I was then left to “practice” the concepts. Some of the questions were very good, however other questions were written in a way which is difficult to understand. The coding platform IK provides is like HackerRank or LeetCode, but unlike these platforms the input/output of all the test cases was not legible unless I dug through the problem’s source code. The provided solutions were long, convoluted and in C++, which can be difficult as a Javascript web dev like me. The saving grace was that they let us see top submissions for each question by programming language so I could tease out a good solution. Unfortunately, I was two-thirds through the class before I found this feature in the course UI.

**UPDATE 2020**

IK has improved the problem interface so it’s easier to input code for your solution. Previously the different test cases were hard to read but now they’ve done a much better job visualizing each test case and pointing out how your code’s output differs from what was expected. Additionally, their coding environment does a great job timing your responses for each question. This feature really helps you to monitor your progress and work towards answering questions quickly and efficiently. It’s also nice that they call out the space/time complexity of each test case for an answer.

Technical Coaching (2019)

I was looking forward to this component of the program the most, mainly because I wanted feedback on my performance so I could improve and do better. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching myself, and found that even a sentence of feedback could be worth hours of head pounding.

Sadly, “coaching” at IK was a misnomer, what they really provided were teaching assistants like the ones I had in my Psych 101 class in college. The coaches weren’t familiar with individual students and would not review our homework. The coach’s job was just to field questions on individual homework problems and talk through the problems. Let me reiterate because this is important there was no individual 1:1 technical coaching in this program. They may not explicitly say they provide individual attention in any of their information sessions or marketing materials, but they sure do imply it, if by nothing else, through claiming they have “technical coaching.”

So what do the coaching sessions look like? In each 2 hr session, there were typically 4–5 questions addressed in depth. To have a question addressed, there was a Google sheet to sign up ahead of time and they filled up immediately each week. The sessions were mobbed with students, especially students from prior months who, like me, still hadn’t nailed the concepts.

The coaches were prepared to show proofs for each problem, and sometimes I got my question answered. However, any time I had an issue with the coding platform or feedback on the homework problems they just told me to email operations.

I can’t complain too much because after trading multiple emails with the founder he finally assigned me a personal tutor, however this was after most of the technical portion was complete. In the end, I only got one tutoring session. There wasn’t anyone monitoring my progress, providing feedback, or guiding me through the process.

**UPDATE 2020**

I’ve spent hours with Nick who is a career counselor at IK. We discussed the guidance he provides to students on tackling interview questions. Since I took IK over a year ago I’ve had the chance to sit on both sides of the interview table at my current company. I learned that answering questions is more about how you solve a problem than the answer you get. After talking with Nick, it appears IK has really stepped up their game in providing 1:1 guidance on communicating and problem solving in an interview setting.

Systems Design

After the technical interview section, the coursework switches to systems design topics. Instructors would review the architecture of major tech companies (Uber, Instagram, etc). The teachers asked a bunch of open ended questions that most of the students didn’t know how to answer and the instructors would rattle off a bunch of information on the company’s tech stack. This would be helpful except the information is available for free on YouTube via channels like Tech Dummies. They did provide a good strategy for approaching systems design interview questions, but I’ve seen similar advice on a number of blogs.

**UPDATE 2020**

Like the class portion they’ve rethought their systems design section and present the content cleanly and concise. The improved web UI has made the experience of reviewing their system design material better. The videos and questions provided form a good platform from which students can prepare to be successful in a systems design interview.

General Career Support (2019)

There is a web portal with a list of resources, but it wasn’t very well organized. There was an option to sign up for up to six mock technical interviews. Upon request, they provide offer negotiation strategy sessions. I tried signing up and was notified the next available session was over a week away, which was too late to be helpful.

**UPDATE 2020**

I got a tour of their job search tools and was very impressed. I feel the support network IK provides is one of the biggest value of the program. The technical interview is only one part of the equation, but if you are rusty at company research, salary negotiation, or marketing yourself (i.e. resume writing) it’ll be hard to close your next opportunity. I feel IK has really thought this out and provides solutions from resume support to company research assistance to guide you. I can’t understate the value of having a coach in your corner, and IK is prepared to help you in this way.

Summary (2019)

I spent at least 40 hours a week studying over three months since I was unemployed while taking the course. Once I started interviewing again, I did feel that I could more calmly and strategically break down and answer problems, but much of that was earned through raw effort. I am very self motivated and did not gain much efficiency from the program. By the number of past students swarming the coaching sessions, it appears that even for those who need a program to keep them accountable, it’s way too easy to get left behind.

IK strives to prepare engineers for interviews. However, it costs $5,000. For the same money, you could attend two years of California community college or pay a Sr. Developer on Codementor to personally tutor you for 100 hours. To me, it would be worth it for 10% of the cost given how automated and impersonal the whole process is.

If I were to do it again, I would skip IK entirely and doing the following:

In the end, there is value in the IK program, however it wasn’t worth the price for me, given the limited services they provide. I do hope IK can improve their program. I feel the technical interview process is broken, and there needs to be a better way to prepare candidates with diverse educational backgrounds.

**UPDATE 2020**

Choosing an interview study strategy should largely be driven on what you need to be successful. If you are someone who needs more structure, accountability, and guidance IK is a really great option. They’ve done a great job iterating on their platform and now are in a stronger place to help more students.

Additionally their career services provides guidance that’s not easily aggregated online unless you have a particularly well resourced alumni or social network. If you are really dedicated or have experience answering logic questions then the DIY approach above will be fine. But if you’ve been out of the interview game for years, or really struggle getting through interview questions, IK could really help you out.

At the end of the day intent and passion count for a lot, and from my experience what drives the leaders of IK is a sincere desire to help people who are willing to work hard to build a career in tech. This is evident to me not only in the conversations I’ve had with the founder but also in the changes I’ve seen them make over the past year. I’m excited to see how they continue to innovate the tech interview prep space in the future.



Justin Rich

Web Developer, Pug Daddy, and Texas BBQ Connoisseur. Sometimes I write stuff about working in tech.