CRACKING THE CODING INTERVIEW: 189

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Something’s Wrong
We walked out of the hiring meeting frustrated—again. Of the ten candidates we reviewed that day, none
would receive offers. Were we being too harsh, we wondered?
I, in particular, was disappointed. We had rejected one of my candidates. A former student. One I had
referred. He had a 3.73 GPA from the University of Washington, one of the best computer science schools
in the world, and had done extensive work on open-source projects. He was energetic. He was creative. He
was sharp. He worked hard. He was a true geek in all the best ways.
But I had to agree with the rest of the committee: the data wasn’t there. Even if my emphatic recommendation could sway them to reconsider, he would surely get rejected in the later stages of the hiring process.
There were just too many red flags.
Although he was quite intelligent, he struggled to solve the interview problems. Most successful candidates could fly through the first question, which was a twist on a well-known problem, but he had trouble
developing an algorithm. When he came up with one, he failed to consider solutions that optimized for
other scenarios. Finally, when he began coding, he flew through the code with an initial solution, but it
was riddled with mistakes that he failed to catch. Though he wasn’t the worst candidate we’d seen by any
measure, he was far from meeting the “bar.” Rejected.
When he asked for feedback over the phone a couple of weeks later, I struggled with what to tell him. Be
smarter? No, 1 knew he was brilliant. Be a better coder? No, his skills were on par with some of the best I’d
seen.
Like many motivated candidates, he had prepared extensively. He had read K&R’s classic C book, and he’d
reviewed CLRS’famous algorithms textbook. He could describe in detail the myriad of ways of balancing a
tree, and he could do things in C that no sane programmer should ever want to do.
I had to tell him the unfortunate truth: those books aren’t enough. Academic books prepare you for fancy
research, and they wilt probably make you a better software engineer, but they’re not sufficient for interviews. Why? I’ll give you a hint: Your interviewers haven’t seen red-black trees since they were in school
either.
To crack the coding interview, you need to prepare with real interview questions. You must practice on
real problems and learn their patterns. It’s about developing a fresh algorithm, not memorizing existing
problems.
Cracking the Coding Interview is the result of my first-hand experience interviewing at top companies and
later coaching candidates through these interviews. It is the result of hundreds of conversations with candidates. It is the result of the thousands of questions contributed by candidates and interviewers. And it’s the
result of seeing so many interview questions from so many firms. Enclosed in this book are 189 of the best
interview questions, selected from thousands of potential problems.

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