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I'm not sure if this is a common problem or I just have a bad memory. Problem is, whenever I go to an interview and they start asking (technical) questions about my previous jobs, I can only remember the general ideas and very very little about the technical details of implementation and how we did it.

It's frustrating for me in different ways, like I got an upvote for an answer to a 3 year old question on SO and when I opened it, I couldn't remember ANYTHING about it, although it was my job for over 2 years, now I feel like I wasted my life.

I must say, I understand that most of my technical abilities today are coming from those working experiences but can't help but thinking maybe I didn't dive deep enough to subjects that I was working on.

Worst part is, I work in a different country now, and it's near to impossible for companies here to track my previous job records (I'm coming from a kind of a problematic country), so whenever these questions come up, I start stuttering and feel like a fraud, and after that it'll effect my whole performance in an interview because I feel like now they are looking at me as a liar.

Most of the times I'm capable in passing general phases of technical interviews (like technical questions about underlying language or coding sessions) but this usually happens in the last round talking to big guns, like CTO or technical lead.

Is this a normal problem to have? How can I (if even possible) turn an interview after not being able to properly describe my old jobs in a technical level? Is there anyway to fix this? Should I study about my previous field again before interviews?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 26 at 12:52
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I think your experience is fairly common - I'm sure I'm not alone in having searched for an issue and found my OWN answer to it on Stack Exchange. I've got nearly 20 years in the industry now and while I feel like I have a lot of memory of it, it's often not until coming across old work documents or speaking to somebody do they remind me of a project/situation/customer/etc that I'd totally forgotten about.

I think you're approaching this question the wrong way - you don't have a memory issue, you have an interview preparation issue. You need to start compiling bullet points of major/interesting projects you've worked on, along with the broad talking points such as technologies involved, what you did etc.*

These should act as aide-memoire's and help you in answering interview questions accurately and usefully.

*For context, what I do is have a spreadsheet of projects I've worked on. It contains key details that people tend to want to know (For me, it's things like number of users, and the technology). On top of that, I have a handful of specific "situations" that I'm proud of - for example, I once got sent to a company and managed to resolve a 6-month ongoing issue in a couple of days. For things like that, I'll always review the details prior to the interview - as in, I'll actually read the e-mails I sent concerning it and review my documentation so it's all fresh in my head.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 26 at 12:52
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As one answer already said, keep brief notes. But I'd do it differently.

You know that the past tends to blur, for you. So keep a kind of diary on your computer. Just bullets, rough format, nobody else is ever going to see it. When something happens good or bad, make a note with the date.

That doesn't just help you with interviews. It also means if you ever end up in a bad workplace or a bad project, you have the notes to show what happened, who pressured it or gave it badly thought out goals, so you can defend your position. Also if you do a lot that's good, and you want to.ask for promotion or a raise, you know what you did as well.

Look on it as insurance.

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    Also, write down stuff that might have only taken a day, and that you think might be irrelivant. "Added initial tests using technology x, y, on project with no existing tests". Might not seem like much, but you could spend 5 minutes in an interview talking about that, and what you learned. Go to your interview as well, with a bullet point list of projects. – element11 Jan 25 at 17:47
  • The diary will also come in useful when preparing for performance reviews and as a mental boost whenever you get a bad case of imposter syndrome. – Llewellyn Jan 25 at 21:58
  • If someone ever asked me about the details of my early projects, starting in 1992, I'd probably just laugh at them. – Frank Jan 26 at 12:29
  • I'd look up my records and have an answer. – Stilez Jan 26 at 14:00
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Should I study about my previous field again before interviews?

Exactly. You need to do some prep work before an interview.

For me, that always involved reading over my resume, along with some notes I had collected about each relevant job, and perhaps scanning some books in my professional library. And that involved learning as much as I could about the new, potential job so that I could tie the past together with the future.

You want to be able to talk about your past roles and also to show how they give you an advantage for your future job.

To do that, collect some notes about the job you are currently in, for using in future interviews, so that you don't forget important details. Details might include the technology, the important project you led or in which you had a major role, the important customers, and anything else of significance. File it all away for future reference and pull it out as needed.

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Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind - Dale Carnegie

People are not computers, and human memory isn't a hard drive where we can dump things and retrieve them later, unchanged. People forget things that they don't use on a daily basis. That's how the brain works.

If I look at my SO profile, I can't remember the details in answering many of those questions either.

So if you are worried about how you look in interviews, then prepare for them. Take your CV, walk through all of the roles you had, and try to remember what you did. Read your SO posts and match their dates with your employment jobs, to jog your memory. Then revisit some of the topics until you have a good confidence that you can handle questions at the interviews if someone asks about them.

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Forgetting most details even after a few weeks is perfectly normal. Only a small percentage of what you learn will stay in memory for longer periods of time, especially if not retrained.

When someone expects you to describe a former job, just tell them the key points and only add so much detail as you feel comfortable with.

If an interviewer presses you on specific figures, they most likely don't expect an exact answer, but want to assess your judgement. With short preparation on relevant projects, you will easily be able to remember enough to give the magnitudes of important figures, e.g. '1K users' or '3 people worked a year, full-time'.

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I would expect people to have memory of events a few years past. Not in detail, but definitely on the level you described. I can recall those questions for the past 20 years of my working life. That does not mean I remember every Stack Overflow post I made or even every program I ever wrote. But I remember the big picture and at least some of the details. I certainly remember them from the past 2-3 years.

If you cannot remember those details from just 2 years ago, I would suggest you see a medical professional about it. All the tips you get here how to handle it are good, but maybe you just need to change something in your life or get something treated. Maybe not, maybe it's perfectly normal to forget that much and I'm the weird guy. But your interviewers seem to expect it, too, so maybe you forget more than the average person.

That said, everybody has different life experiences. I don't know your life. You mentioned you come from a "problematic" country. My life was peaceful and happy. I went to work knowing I can sleep 30 minutes on the subway each morning and nothing bad would happen. Other people might have to go to work expecting to get mugged every day, or are otherwise preoccupied. Your work is a large part of your life, but if it wasn't the most pressing matter, that might explain a lot why you cannot remember those things as well as people with different backgrounds expect you to.

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  • This comment is kinda irrelevent to the topic -- What you say is interesting to me because now that I'm thinking about it, it kinda happened in reverse. I didn't have this problem back in my country but when I moved, memories from time before moving started to perish way faster, sometimes I feel like they never happened. I don't want to make it dramatic because it wasn't really, I had somewhat normal life, but now I think maybe a part of me just wants to forget. Thanks for your answer. – HMD Jan 25 at 12:57
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You are trying to remember at the wrong time, and under pressure.

Write this stuff down a few days beforehand, at least the general bits. Try to integrate the highlights as bullet points into your resume, if the format and conventions of resumes in your country permit it. Then, when you are under pressure, you'll have enough information to hopefully remind you of the major points.

If they want specific details, odds are they are details common to all solutions using similar technology. After all, it's not like they'll know the exact implementation of your last project. Armed with this knowledge, reply with your general method of solving a problem, should you lose the details they are asking for. Don't forget "I don't remember that item, because it's so well documented I pull up the docs each time." is an acceptable solution, as long as you sound like you really do use the technology as opposed to 100% programming by Google search.

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We got a call from a client that he wants 'boat' tracking tool, same as the car one.
-What car tracking tool? We didn't make any car tracking tool. What is tracking tool?
-Well you know, your car tracking app - we now want a boat one!
Boss and I laughed it out on a confused client.
As it turned out, few years before both of us together made an web app that was connected with client mobile app (made by colleague) which collected, calculated and stored anon data for better inventory management. It worked so fine for years, calculating and growing in db size without problems - even used by client daily, that we completely forgot about it!

And there are two events I can remember clearly.

One is dear to me as I managed to improve car sales fleet app. The old one took 5 seconds to collect and calculate one car model info, and I managed to make it almost instantaneous for a whole model range! And I got a call from a client... price is calculated wrongly, fix it! As it was informal model builder so you can configure your vehicle with different options, packages and parts, I said I was busy right now but can fix it afternoon. Nooo - screamed client, whole region is waiting for a price list, we need it ASAP!
Price list?
This model builder is made for 6 countries with specialized options and discounts for each but I managed to put it into 2 connected codebases. It was fast. It was powerful. It was very user friendly. And it was total opposite of their official must-use-by-official-dealers in the world - so for a whole year they used it as their official price list! I still remember my comment - so how did we get from For informational purposes only to a official price list used by all dealers?!

And second one is not that pleasant. There is a chocolate candy that keeps me reminding me whenever I see it in the store: there was request for a prize game website, and generation for unique codes accompanying it. It was Friday early afternoon after a busy week. So I commented how it's maybe time for early weekend and boss said we can generate codes for this. I was tired, documentation was of course non-existing and you had to scramble it from communications. My guts told me not to rush - and really there was no deadline. I didn't want to do it - didn't know the story, the need, the usage, nothing. But they forced me anyway. So I hanged on variable I knew - make it unique on the promise it will be printed.
It was wrong. Long story short, I generated few million codes in short time, guaranteed unique, but you could guess the sequence by seeing few codes. Remember, I thought it would need to be printed and sent. Chaos ensured. People entered their own numbers. Game failed. Two client employees was fired.
All because.. let's squeeze all the work hours from developers, and because you saved those two hours, you lost hundred in fixing it (literally).

TLDR;

I think that concentrating on the technology is wrong. Tech comes and goes. asp? Web Forms? MVC? .NET? .NET Core? Flash? Silverlight? jQuery? Knockout? Angular v1? Are we still connecting to db with ODBC? How many authorization frameworks did .NET had? ES6? ES2016? NodeJS?

What they should ask is - what did you learn? Your stack will be obsolete sooner or later, with right design pattern or architecture your project will be prepared when time comes to replace modules. EF is great, but do you know what SQL will it generate when joining dozen tables for a report? Big picture comes first, technology follows it.
What technology I used? What was appropriate for that time - not the bleeding edge, not older than 3 years. Never failed me if I knew the scope of the project.

TLDR;TLDR;
It's normal. Try to remember project highlight, details will pop-up.

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