My First Taste of the Coding Interview

Over dinner, I spoke with my close friends Zac and Elliott about what my next steps should be if I want to break into a software development job. “First, buy Cracking The Code Interview,” said Zac, “and just read the whole thing.” I immediately took his advice, and the next morning I walked to the closest bookstore and bought the Cracking The Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. While at the store, I picked up an Arduino Starter Kit as a fun way to apply some of the stuff I’ve been learning.

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“When I first started on the problems in Cracking The Code Interview, I spent a lot of time banging my head against a wall,” Elliott told me. Zac chimed in “But it’s just practice.” My friends explained that if I spent a little bit of time working on code problems in the book, I would become familiar with more complex problems than the ones I am currently solving. “It’s all about putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Part of being a software developer is dealing with problems that you have no idea how to solve,” said Elliott.

After dinner, we drove back home and I flipped through Cracking The Code Interview. Suddenly, Elliott slapped down a stack of papers and a red Sharpie in front of me. “We’re going to solve some problems,” he said. We picked two questions (ranked “easy” on leetcode.com) and Elliott had me talk through the problems and tell him how I would solve them. A couple times I offered solutions using JavaScript methods and he laughed. “I want you to solve this with math,” he told me. I got a crash course in modulus operators and common pitfalls from dealing with loops and arrays. I lost track of time, but we probably worked on the problems for more than an hour.

“I threw a lot of stuff at you but you handled it well,” said Elliott, swirling a glass of wine. “When I was preparing for my interview, the first thing I did when I woke up in the morning was answer code questions. I had to be ready to solve complex challenges under any circumstances, so my mom would ask me stuff from Cracking The Code Interview at random times.”

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This kind of training and diligence thrills me. I remember watching the movie Somm and hearing something like this: There are some people who hear about difficult tasks and think “wow that’s really incredible” and others who hear the same thing and think “I want to do that.” I definitely fall into the latter category. Zac told me he felt similarly, that always when someone tells him about something that was really difficult, he immediately wants to try it to see if he can go about it in a smarter way.

A lot of getting good at anything is just training, so today I’m putting in the time to get through Cracking The Code Interview while getting my feet wet with Java. It really helps, though, to have such a supportive friend group. I told Elliott that helping me solve problems on paper felt really useful. “Anytime. Not literally,” he said,  before shutting the door.

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