Below is a running collection of technical interview preparation resources that we've collected at Triplebyte. Yes, it’s very long! But much of it is only relevant to some people. We recommend browsing through to read the sections that are relevant to you.
For more background on the main things you need to know to pass a technical interview, check out this blog post by Triplebyte CEO Ammon Bartram.
Introductory Notes on How to Learn Things
- For most people, it's worth trying to study things in the most enjoyable way possible. For example, if you find coding on a computer much more fun than writing code on paper, you should consider using LeetCode instead of doing problems in CtCI.
- If you want to memorize things, we recommend using Anki. Especially if you have longer (e.g. a month) to study.
Practicing Coding Problems
Pretty much everyone should try to get faster at solving small-scale programming problems of the type you're asked in interviews. Here's some advice on how to do this.
The most important thing to do is to practice solving programming problems. This is obvious, but it's kind of annoying to do, so people don't normally do enough of it. So our main goal here is to present enough different types of useful programming practice that at least one of them will appeal to you. We strongly recommend trying whichever of these best fits your learning style.
- LeetCode. We find this one super satisfying.
- Cracking the Coding Interview. CtCI has lots of questions in it, and it's good if you want to practice on paper.
- InterviewCake has the best walkthroughs of its problems.
- exercism.io has lots of reasonably easy exercises.
- GeeksForGeeks is our favorite source of harder algorithms problems.
Here's one slightly unusual part of our philosophy of practicing for interviews: We think it's fine for you to “cheat” and read the answers to questions you're studying. We sometimes talk to engineers who tell us that they spent four hours thinking about how to solve a LeetCode question. It’s almost always better to give up after twenty minutes and read the answer until you understand it well enough to implement it, then implement it and move on to the next question – and then do this three more times. So if you're trying to solve a problem and can't come up with a solution, we recommend reading the solution and then implementing it.
What else is important? Well, you might find it useful to learn some more about algorithms and data structures. We give some advice about that in the algorithms sections below.
Even in interviews that don't cover the classic algorithms and data structures, interviewers sometimes want you to understand some key algorithmic concepts.
Here's our main other idea: We think you might find it valuable to study up on the powerful things your programming language can do that you don't really know how to use. Often we find ourselves doing things in a way that we know isn't really optimal because we can't be bothered learning the nicer way to do it. We think that it might make sense to try to identify a few language features that you don't use because you're not comfortable with them, and then learn how to use those.
One idea: Go read the docs for the Array class in your favorite programming language and see what methods it has that you didn't know about.
Some examples of fun language features that might be useful to know about in interviews, as well as in your day-to-day work:
- Python: nested list comprehensions, generator functions
- Ruby: tap, group_by, the collect method on Hashes
- Java: Arrays.binarySearch
Core Algorithms to Know
You should definitely know how to write breadth first search and depth first search, because these come up in a ridiculous proportion of interviews and they're a little bit fiddly. A few notes:
- Here are some different problems where the answer is to write a breadth first search (or a different graph search):
- Implement the Microsoft Paint “fill” button—given a bitmap and a starting position and a target color, find all the cells which are currently the color of the starting cell and change their color to the target color.
- Given a maze encoded in ASCII, find the shortest path from the start to the end and print out the path.
- Word chains
- Writing a web crawler
- Breadth first search involves knowing how to use a FIFO queue in your language of choice. You should figure out now what the queue implementation is in your language and how to use it. Remember that using an array as a FIFO queue means that pop_front() takes linear time.
- These notes on graph search here are somewhat useful.
Here are the data structures you should know:
- Dynamic arrays (aka ArrayLists)
- And know how resizing works.
- Hash tables
- You should know how long it takes to insert and update and retrieve values.
- You might enjoy learning how the hash map implementation in your favorite programming language actually works. You can probably find that information in this blog.
- Binary search trees
- You should know how long insertion, deletion, and searching take.
- You don't need to know how self-balancing binary search trees work. But if you’re curious, these notes are good to check out.
- Binary heaps
- You should know how long insert, popMin, and getMin take, and you should probably know how they work.
- Here's an interesting point that a lot of people don't know: Binary heaps aren't actually asymptotically faster than BSTs for most of their operations. But they consume a lot less memory and they're faster in practice.
- Linked lists
- You should know about singly vs doubly linked lists. You should know how long insertion, deletion, and retrieval by index take.
A great algorithms textbook is The Algorithm Design Manual by Steven S. Skiena. A PDF of it is freely available online. Chapter 3 is particularly important. That section is a great refresher on basic data structures. If you're more experienced and want to get a better understanding of how to think about algorithms problems, you should go all the way through chapters 3-6. Either way, we also recommend you take a look at chapter 12. It's fantastic – it's just a long list of data structures and advice on how to choose the right data structure for a given task.
You should know what data structures are used to implement the most commonly used collections in your programming language.
Interesting Advanced Readings in Algorithms
If you're already good at algorithms but want to learn some cool advanced stuff:
- Look into the isometry between red-black trees and BTrees. BTrees are funny because most engineers have heard of them, but very few engineers actually know how they work. Also, if you read this and understand it, you'll understand red-black trees.
- Augmented binary search trees (slide 8 and onwards) are an extremely useful data structure. There are a lot of hard algorithm problems which you can solve to within a O(log(n)) factor of the optimal solution just by throwing an augmented BST at the problem.
- Bloom filters. These are a fun randomized data structure.
- Treaps are an interestingly simple balanced binary search tree implementation.
- A Fenwick tree is like an augmented binary search tree without the BST part.
- The slides to the Stanford course CS166 are great. Reading these slides can help to significantly level-up your data structures knowledge.
- The range-minimum query problem has some surprisingly beautiful solutions. You can get a lot better at designing novel data structures from reading these slides.
Web Systems Knowledge
Specific concepts that are useful to know about:
- Normalization is a really core concept. If you don't know what a foreign key is, read this.
- Companies usually don't seem to want you to know the meanings of the different normal forms (1NF, 2NF, etc), but they do want you to be able to design a normalized schema. You should also know about why denormalizing your schema might sometimes be a good idea. (It can speed up your reads, and it also lets you enforce some constraints you wouldn't be able to enforce otherwise.)
- Database indexes. It is very important to know about these! They speed up reads for the column that they are on, but they make writes slower and increase memory requirements. They are usually implemented with B-trees.
- You can have composite indexes, which are indexes on multiple columns.
- SQL explain
- Query planning in Postgres
- NoSQL. It’s worth knowing a little bit about it. Mongo is probably the most famous NoSQL database. Read this.
- ORMs. There's kind of a cultural association with ORMs which makes it important to know about them. Lots of old-school programmers in PHP or C# (or whatever) don't use them, and startups are wary of hiring people like that. It's useful to remember that ORMs protect you from SQL injection attacks.
- If you want to learn much more about databases, we recommend reading lecture notes from the Hellerstein course.
- Read all about the protocol here. Some fun facts to know: How does chunked transfer encoding work?
- Suppose I'm browsing Reddit at work, over HTTPS. Does HTTPS prevent my boss from seeing that I'm browsing Reddit? Does it prevent my boss from seeing what page I'm on?
- How do cookies work?
- How does a web application control the caching behavior of its clients? check this out
- This InterviewCake question is a great explanation of answering a common system design problem.
- “How PAPER Magazine’s web engineers scaled their back-end for Kim Kardashian (SFW)”
- This is a good overview of common server setups. Definitely read this if you aren't sure of a good answer to, “What are the first couple of routine things that you should do when your web application is approaching its limits?”
- This gist has a bunch of topics which are likely to come up, and it also suggests a good process for answering these questions.
- Another system design primer. This is longer.
Reading and understanding blog posts about how real-world systems are designed can help a lot when answering systems design questions. Here are some blog posts about scaling specific websites: Imgur, Reddit, Pinterest (1, 2), and StackOverflow.
General articles about scaling:
- “Amazon Web Services in Plain English.” This is short and super worthwhile to read.
- “Scaling Your Web App 101: Lessons in Architecture Under Load”
- “A beginner's guide to scaling to 11 million users on Amazon's AWS”
Specific terms to understand:
- Horizontal vs vertical scaling
- Sharding, read replicas
- Load balancer vs reverse proxy
- High availability
- It’s also pretty interesting to know how CDNs can use Anycast.
Key concepts you will benefit from knowing about:
- Mutexes, semaphores. This three-part series does a pretty good job of explaining the differences. Maybe read this article, too.
- Locks and atomic operations
- Readers-writer lock
- Race conditions and deadlocks
- Condition variables
If you want to get a better idea of how to use concurrency primitives to solve problems, we recommend The Little Book Of Semaphores. Most of the book is just a long series of exercises with semaphores, in which you develop a good intuition about how to solve problems with them. You can download it for free. It’s a good idea to do some of these exercises if you're going to be doing interviews about concurrency stuff.
When learning this, it can be really useful to see the concrete details of how you actually use concurrency primitives in practice. So you might find it helpful to read the APIs for the concurrency and threading primitives in your favorite programming language.
- Pthreads resource
- c++ threads resource
- A helpful anecdote from a candidate: “I was having a hell of a time figuring out what each of the concurrency primitives does, until I just read this and used each one in a toy program. So easy.”
If you want to learn a little about computer architecture, check out this fun video.
Here are some concepts that you should know about if you're applying for jobs which require you to know about low-level systems:
- The stack and the heap
- Implementation of Malloc
- Implementation of system calls
- CPU caches
- If you're interested, this long article can tell you about a lot of modern CPU features.
- Threads vs processes
- Green threads are cooperative multitasking implemented by the programming language runtime, instead of being preemptive multitasking from the OS. See also this article.
If you have more time and want a more complete course on low-level systems, the recommendations made here are good.
If you want to read a book with much more detail on all of this, Andrew Tanembaum's books Structured Computer Organization and Modern Operating Systems are really enjoyable. (The latter of which was Linus Torvald's inspiration to create Linux!)
A classic book on Unix is Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment. It’s worth looking at if you have a while and you're going to be doing some unusually hardcore low-level systems interviews.
Simply, you should read the links on this page.
If you're preparing for a front-end interview, you might also want to read up on these sections of this guide: “Practicing Coding Problems,” “Core Algorithms to Know,” and the HTTP part of “Web Systems Knowledge” section.
Here are some mistakes that we often see front-end candidates making in interviews:
- Using technologies they're not familiar with. If you've heard that MobX is really cool (it is, btw!) and you want to try it out, you should install and use it in the comfort of your own home, rather than npm installing it during a coding exercise and wasting 30 minutes trying to figure out why Webpack doesn't understand decorators.
- It's probably worth practicing starting up a new project if you're going to be doing it in interviews. If you like React, create-react-app is probably all you need. Otherwise it might be worth building a skeleton project that you can use as the basis of your code.
- If you know Backbone well and you know React badly, you should probably use Backbone in your interviews, even though it's less fashionable.
- Getting hung up on nested state. Nested state is a common source of complexity in front-end apps, so it's worth making sure you're comfortable with dealing with it. ImmutableJS, MobX and Redux are at least some good ways of dealing with it in React.
It is natural to expect an interview for mobile developers to focus strongly on technologies around building mobile apps, and that is indeed the case most of the time. However, you're also likely to get coding questions that are more focused on algorithms or pure logic. Similar to front-end interviews, you might also want to read up on these sections: “Practicing Coding Problems,” “Core Algorithms to Know,” and the HTTP part of the “Web Systems Knowledge” section.
For mobile-specific stuff, you should be prepared to answer these type of questions (these are common ones, but other types of question do occur):
- Coding up a small mobile app. Most importantly, be proficient with using common UI components and APIs.
- Know common technologies used in iOS/Android apps. Examples: What are the app components in an Android app? What are the ways to store data on the phone?
- Know your programming language well, and be comfortable using it.
- Be comfortable talking about how to implement specific features or effects. That could be some special type of view, infinite scroll, or offline mode.
- Be comfortable talking about product design.
- Expect questions about dealing with common technical challenges that often arise in mobile app development. Think: Multi-threading issues, API design, and making network API calls.
As we’ve written about before, coding skill is really important to an ML engineer, so a lot of the coding-related resources listed above are still useful for practice.
If you feel like a lot of the math used in ML is rusty in your head, it’s probably a good idea to brush up on calculus and linear algebra. Even though you’ll often be implementing things from formulae, it’s useful to know where those formulas come from, and there’s a good chance you’ll be asked about them in an interview context. Check out the Essence of Calculus or Essence of Linear Algebra series on YouTube, or check out 3Blue1Brown for some excellent (and interesting!) animated discussions of various math concepts, including a whole series on the math behind ML.
If you’re just getting started in ML (or if you’ve just scrolled down to this section out of curiosity), check out Andrew Ng’s introduction to the field on Coursera. If you’re more advanced, check out this classic Google AI piece, this article on model evaluation, or this piece on using k-nearest-neighbors in production. Bugs in ML systems aren’t always obvious, so employers look for familiarity with these kinds of production concerns. You may also enjoy these more specific articles that our own ML team really likes.
For more general data science reading, take a look at the Domino Data Science blog, which has lots of articles at varying degrees of specificity.
With editorial support by Buck Shlegeris, Rachel Wolford, Ammon Bartram, Danny Cosson, and Daniel Bean.
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