If you’re applying for a software engineering position, chances are you’ll encounter some technical interview or coding challenge. For newer engineers applying for software programming roles, the coding interview is often the most terrifying part.
However, with a few interview preparation tips and things to consider, the technical interview will seem a lot less scary and will hopefully be a valuable learning opportunity during your job search. Let’s break down a few helpful tips:
1. Essential Hard Skills for a Coding Interview
Get in the habit of regularly doing code challenges. It’s a much more effective way to prepare for coding interview questions than trying to cram a bunch of studying in before the big day.
It’s important to schedule time each day to attempt at least one code challenge. You’ll get better at solving them, and you’ll also get better at outlining your process and speaking to it. A few great websites to help you practice code challenges in varying degrees of difficulty include LeetCode, Codewars, and AlgoExpert.
These code challenges help build the essential hard skills you need to perform well in a coding interview technically. If you’re applying for a mid-level position as a software engineer, you’ll want to feel pretty solid with these types of practice problems in your interview preparation. If you’re gearing up for your first technical interview as a junior engineer, you’ll want at least some exposure and practice with these.
2. Prepare your Technical Interview with Strong Soft Skills
Coding challenges are important, but mastering them is only part of the preparation for coding interviews. Don’t overlook the significance of soft skills. During the interview process, including the technical coding interview, interviewers seek more than just coding abilities.
These other skills have to do with how well you communicate your thought process, collaborate, talk about the problem at hand, your leadership skills, your drive to learn, and generally speaking, how nice you are. Soft skills are often overlooked by candidates and can be deal breakers for a lot of coding interviews.
A company that’s worth applying to will want candidates that have strong soft skills, sometimes more so than hard skills, because they show how well a person can grow within the company and develop those hard skills over time. This is especially the case for junior software engineers.
When you practice your code challenges, see if you can buddy up with someone and take turns doing mock interview. Practice talking through the coding problem as you work, asking questions, giving each other hints here and there, and revealing your ability to lead, collaborate, and persevere through the coding test.
3. Acknowledge multiple solutions
The ideal candidate for an interviewer is not only skilled and a good fit for the company culture but also capable of defending their solution and considering alternative approaches. This demonstrates that they have a broader understanding beyond what they were taught or read online, and they recognize that there can be multiple solutions to a problem depending on the context.
As an interviewer, I value simplicity in a candidate’s solution because it allows for more discussion time. However, if a candidate can also propose alternative approaches and explain their choice, it’s a definite win.
For example, when tasked with designing a search function for a video streaming app, a candidate may opt for a quick but inefficient algorithm during the interview, while acknowledging a more suitable algorithm for real-world usage.
Speaking of algorithms…
4. Study your algorithms and data structures
This goes hand-in-hand with the hard skills but deserves its own section. You don’t need to be a master of computer science to ace a coding interview, but there are some standard algorithms and data structures that you should feel good about referencing, or at least mentioning and talking about. For instance:
- How does a bubble sort work vs. a merge sort?
- What’s the difference between a stack and a queue?
- What’s a linked list? What about a hash table?
It’s likely that you’ll be asked one algorithm question in a job interview, so becoming familiar with and being able to speak about them to a degree is a good thing. Cracking The Code Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell is a great book covering all of the essential algorithms, data structures, and how to implement and use them in sample code challenges.
The coding interview is an opportunity for you to not only show off your skills as an engineer, but also to demonstrate how well you work with others as a data scientist. It’s designed to simulate what it’s like to work with you on a team. So be yourself, study, know the programming language(s) and practice, take a deep breath, and crush that coding interview!