A comprehensive guide to acing your technical interview as a UCLA computer science student. Here are the top 6 tips to help you succeed.
Preparing for a technical interview may seem scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Most, if not all, software engineering positions require you to complete at least one technical interview before you’re hired. The interview consists of a set of questions designed to test both your coding skills and your problem-solving abilities.
These interviews can feel stressful, and rightfully so! Interviewers intentionally give interviewees challenging problems to test their skills. You may be overwhelmed by the thought of sitting in front of your interviewer, feeling your mind go blank as they ask you tough questions about your algorithm’s complexity. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to prepare for these interviews.
Here are 6 tips to help you ace your interview and get the job:
1. Practice, practice, practice.
As with many things, the most important thing you can do is practice.
Do as many practice interview problems as you can. A great place to find practice problems is the website LeetCode. LeetCode has thousands of practice problems you can use to prepare. The more questions you answer, the more likely it is that one of your real interview questions will resemble a problem you’ve previously solved. Then, you can adapt your old solution to the new problem.
If you want to start smaller, consider sites like NeetCode and cses.fi. These sites provide smaller sets of practice problems grouped into common interview question categories. The groupings help you begin to recognize patterns in the questions, so when the real interview comes along, you’ll be able to look at a problem and think, "hey, that's a Dynamic Programming problem."
2. Pretend you’re in the actual interview.
The best method for practice-solving problems is to pretend you’re in an actual interview. If you solidify your processes on your own time, you’ll have a much easier time solving problems quickly and efficiently in the actual interview. If you’re having trouble with a particular problem, don’t give in and look up a solution. Instead, try to work through the problem, just as you would in the actual interview. It may sound cliche, but truly, cheaters only cheat themselves.
3. Formulate a plan.
As tempting as it may be to rush, start by formulating a solid plan for how you’ll tackle each problem. Write it down on paper if you like. Rushing directly into the code is a recipe for disaster, and will likely cause you to spend more time fixing bugs than making actual progress. Take your time and plan out a creative and efficient solution. Once you’ve got a good plan written in pseudocode, you can begin to implement it.
Bonus Tip: CS 180 (Algorithms and Complexity) is a course that will help you design your algorithm. If you haven’t taken it yet, take it ASAP! This class will teach you how to solve the kinds of problems you’ll see in interviews.
4. Ask questions.
Take advantage of your interviewer. You can ask them clarifying questions to make sure you understand problem specifics. Once you’ve created a solution you’re comfortable with, make sure to test it. A lot. You’ll want to be sure that even if it works in the vast majority of situations, it also works in edge cases.
5. Get involved with ACM ICPC.
For some UCLA-specific advice, I highly recommend checking out the club ACM ICPC (Association for Computing Machinery-International Collegiate Programming Contest). They host a lot of helpful interview-related events including programming contests and weekly courses on helpful CS topics and interview tips (with great slides too!). A lot of the advice I’ve given so far I learned in their Interview Prep track.
6. Don’t stress.
A final, very important piece of advice is: don’t stress. If you feel you’re making mistakes, take a deep breath. Remember that you can ask the interviewer questions that may point you in the right direction.
Keep in mind that there will always be another opportunity. You will probably do tens, if not hundreds, of technical interviews throughout your life. You won’t ace them all. But that doesn’t mean you should ever give up. The most important thing is to learn what went wrong and improve upon that for your next attempt.
Again, the key to passing these interviews is repetition. Do a lot of practice problems, and you’ll start to recognize the patterns in questions. Treat each practice problem as if it's real to get your process down. If you do this every time, eventually the work will pay off and you’ll receive that juicy acceptance letter we’re all searching for. Good luck out there!
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