How to Ace the Coding Interview and Land Your Dream Job
If you want to get a job at top companies like Google, Meta, Netflix, Amazon, Dropbox, or even smaller tech companies and tech startups you’ll have to go through the process of the technical interview.
The technical interview is unlike any other job interview. It is specially designed to test your coding skills, problem-solving abilities, and even your personality and ability to perform under challenging situations.
Most of these companies would follow a simple process that consists of three stages of interviews. Nailing your interview and getting the job will require you to know and prepare for each one of those stages.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to prepare for and ace a technical interview even if it’s your first one.
Find out how to ace the technical interview and land your dream job in tech.
Before we start, let me say that going through the interviewing process in some companies is quite stressful and nerve-wracking. It is an unfortunate reality, so if you are feeling desperate, you are not alone.
Practice and preparation will help reduce the uncertainty and elevate your confidence which can be key to getting the job.
But if you fail one interview, don’t get discouraged, take the chance to learn from the opportunity and focus on the next opportunities, because there will be more.
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Every company has its own technical interview process, but most of them would have four different stages of interviews:
- Phone screening
- Technical screening
- Coding interview
- HR & others
The order of those stages may be different from company to company, but the ideas behind them are pretty much a standard.
Next, we’ll learn about each of these stages and what can you do to prepare yourself.
The technical interview usually starts with the phone screening stage.
In this stage, you will have a conversation with someone from the company usually someone who works in HR, but sometimes an engineer. The purpose of this call is to determine if it makes sense for you to continue to the next stage, which is the technical screening.
During this call, the interviewer will ask you questions about your resume and your background. They will try to understand what are your technical skills, experiences, and abilities and try to determine whether you can be a good match for the company.
Normally during this call, you won’t find many technical questions, but there are exceptions like Google, where someone from HR will randomly ask questions that involve algorithms and time complexities, so make sure you know at least the basics there, and the time complexity for different types of sorting and the most common algorithms. In what was my experience, this person won’t have a technical background, they would just read the questions and check your answer against their DB, so they are very deterministic questions which are either valid or not.
Preparing for the phone screening stage is all about knowing your technical skills and experiences well. You should be able to talk about them in a way that is clear and concise. Be ready to answer questions such as:
- Tell me about your technical background
- Why are you interested in this job?
- What are your experiences
- What is the hardest problem you worked on?
The phone screen is also an opportunity for you to ask questions about the company and the job opening. This is a good time to show interest in the company and what they do.
- Be excited: This is your chance to make a good first impression, so be excited and show it. The interviewer will be able to tell if you are just reading from a script or if you are genuinely interested in the job.
- Research the company: Before the call, take some time to research the company and its products. This will help you ask better questions and show genuine interest.
- Be prepared to talk about your technical skills: As I said before, the interviewer will ask you questions about your technical background, so be prepared to talk about it. Know your experiences well and be able to give examples.
- Be honest: Don’t try to exaggerate your skills or experiences, just be honest about what you know and what you don’t. Nothing can be worst than pretending to be an expert to then getting crushed during the next stages.
- Tell your story: Answer questions with your story, how you approached certain situations, how you helped a previous company get X done, and your learn-to-code story, provide good memorable details.
We resolved that showing your technical expertise and knowledge is key, but that’s not all. Your interview will also be looking for signs of:
- 🧑💻Passion for programming: Do you love programming? Do you have a passion for it? This is your chance to show it.
- 💪 Motivation/enthusiasm: Are you excited about this job? Do you want to work for this company? Do you care about their mission or values? This is your chance to show it.
- 🗣️Communication skills: How well can you communicate your technical ideas and experiences? Can you explain them in a way that is clear and concise? The ability to communicate technical ideas is essential in any job, not just technical jobs.
- 👏 Culture fit: There is no perfect answer to this, but try to show that you would be a good fit for the company’s culture. This can be done by sharing your values or by talking about how you would approach certain situations.
- 🤝 Alignment with company mission/values: This is similar to culture fit, but specifically, companies will often look for candidates who share their mission or values. For example, if you are applying for a job at a company that values diversity, then talking about your experiences with promoting diversity would be a good way to show alignment.
The technical screening stage aims to better understand the candidate’s technical proficiency. It is conducted by a software engineer or a group of them, it doesn’t involve coding, but instead is a conversation among peers.
It is quite often a nice experience, where the interviewers will ask questions about projects you worked on, either on your professional career or portfolio projects. During the conversation, you should be prepared to talk about past projects, specifically, you should be able to at least answer questions like:
- What was your contribution to the project?
- Which design decisions did you make? and why?
- What technical challenges did you face? and how did you solve them?
- Why did you use X library instead of Y?
Those questions have two goals in mind, making sure you have the experience you claimed (remember we discussed you need to be honest) and also evaluating your technical knowledge from a coding or systems design perspective.
This stage is also fantastic to ask questions to your interviewers, things you want to know about their day-to-day life at the company, what they work on, which tech stack they use, etc. They are often very open to telling you all about it, and what better opportunity to learn from those you’ll be working with as peers?
We are getting close to getting hired, but we still have to go through a very important stage, the coding interview, which is the stage where we can prove we know how to code.
The coding interview is very controversial and there are two schools of thought, the companies that prefer coding assignments, such as working on a small project either at home through submission or programming it live, and those that go with the whiteboard challenge.
I won’t get into the controversy, you should prepare for either if you plan on taking job interviews.
The coding challenge will test your coding skills by working on a “real-life” mini-project. Some companies will give you the assignment for you to work from home, but others will ask you to do the coding during the interview while sharing your screen.
Either way, the idea behind it is the same, see if you can really code, how you think about problems, and your ability to write clean and organized code. Also, don’t forget to write tests for this stage, they will be looking for them.
In the case of a home assignment, you’ll get a problem by email, which you should read carefully and ask any questions you may have in advance, you don’t want to get to the situation where you start working on the problem last minute only to find out you don’t quite understand the requirements.
The problem often involves “real-life” problems, like building an app that performs X, writing an API for Y, or building an APP that consumes Z API.
After you submit your code the interviewers will review it, and you will get the opportunity to present your work during an interview, either presential or by phone/live meeting.
So make sure you do your best to write clean, scalable, tested code, following best practices, and make sure you do exactly what you are asked for, not less, and not much more. Sometimes more can be seen negatively.
The live coding challenge is somewhat similar to the home assignment, but you will have to code it during the interview, sharing your screen with the interviewer.
This can be nerve-wracking for some candidates, but if you are well-prepared there is nothing to worry about. The idea behind this stage is for them to see how you think through problems, and how you code on the spot.
The interviewer will give you a problem, usually a simplification of a real-life problem they had to solve at work, nothing too fancy or out there, so no need to worry about that.
Then it will be your time to shine, take your time to understand the problem before you start coding. It is to your advantage that the interviewers are right there, so ask all the questions you have to.
The interviewer will be most interested in your thought process, how you organize your thoughts, and how you go about solving the problem step by step.
Don’t worry if you can’t solve it completely, the idea is not to see if you solve it but how you work through the problem. And if you get stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help, that’s what the interviewer is there for.
💡 Pro tip #1: choose the programming language you are most comfortable with, you don’t want to add an extra challenge by using a fancy new option.
💡 Pro tip #2: programmers love Google, so don’t be afraid to ask if you can Google something specific, in case you forgot a library or the syntax for a particular thing, in most cases, it will be allowed, however, don’t Google for the solution to the problem, that’s definitely a NO.
💡 Pro Tip #3: Don’t be afraid to ask, even if it is a coding question, better to ask than to get stuck.
The whiteboard interview (though it can also be done in a coding environment, or even in Google Docs) is the most terrifying for most candidates, it gained a bad reputation for putting developers in rough positions by giving programming challenges that are far from the day-to-day job requirements and being very abstract and focused on algorithms and data structures .
But there’s no need for you to be afraid of coding interviews, you can practice and learn the skills that you need to ace them.
What you should know about the coding interview
It is not about getting the “right” answer, but about your thought process and how you work with the interviewer, solving the challenge is a plus, but it is not mandatory.
Ask clarifying questions before you even begin writing code.
Never start writing code immediately, slow down, think the problem through, and ask any question you may think is necessary to solve the problem, or that can help you find a better solution. The problems are specifically designed to be incomplete, you’ll have to gather the missing pieces to find the right solution.
Ask questions about your assumptions, and validate them with the interviewers.
Asking the right questions will set you on the right path to success.
Think out loud, and speak as you code.
Part of the interview is to see how you think and organize your thoughts, so it is essential that you verbalize these as you work on the solution. This will help the interviewer understand your process and help them guide you if you get stuck.
Such problems will often have multiple solutions, some more optimal than others, but don’t simply ignore anyone you think of, present them to your interviewer, and explain what your thoughts are, how they can solve the problem, what issues you see with them, and what benefits. Likely your interviewer will engage with you and help you along the way.
💡 Pro tip: think of the interviewer as a college, and you are trying to find the solution to a problem together, like in a brainstorming exercise, sharing is the key, share the good ideas, but also the bad ones, though if you recognize they are bad, explain so why you think that.
Be precise in your explanations
The interview is stressful, but try to stay relaxed, and calm, and take your time to be clear and precise about what is it that you are thinking and what is it that you are planning to do.
💡 Pro tip #1: Don’t try to impress with technical terms if you are not sure of their meaning, or if they are not necessary.
💡 Pro Tip #2: When talking about code don’t use terms like “this function”, or “that variable”, the interviewer may not know exactly what this or that is, call functions and variables by their name.
Don’t rush the delivery, check for errors and walk through your solution at the end
Once you have a working solution, take a step back, walk the interviewer through your code line by line, and explain what each piece is doing. This will help you catch any errors that may have slipped through, and it will also give the interviewer an opportunity to ask any questions they may have about your code or your thought process.
Validate your thoughts once again with your interviewer and make sure they fully understand what you did and why.
- 👩💻 Coding skills
- 🧠 Problem-solving skills
- 🤔 Ability to think creatively, and outside the box
- 🗣️ Communication skills
- 👏 Culture fit
- 🔁 How do you handle feedback
- ✏️ Ability to solve problems in a structured and systematic way
You made it 💪, the technical interview is now over, you can relax, it is now a waiting game.
💡 Pro tip: send a short thank you email to the recruiter/hiring manager after your last technical interview and ask if there’s anything else they need for you. You can talk about your experience during the interview, but be brief, this won’t likely change the outcome of the interview, but it shows that you care, and in case of a tie with another candidate, perhaps it is a deciding factor.
At this stage, we are hoping for good news, in what’s likely a call with HR, they will inform you if they would like to proceed with you or not.
💡 Pro tip: If you didn’t make it, don’t get discouraged, you learned a lot, and there are other opportunities waiting for you.
If you made it, congrats! HR will explain the next steps, follow with an offer, and hopefully, you can have an agreement and join the company you worked so hard to join.
Normally the decision will happen within a week (unless they mentioned otherwise), if you haven’t heard anything back after that time, it is ok to send an email to the recruiter asking for the status, thus reiterating your interest in the role, and asking for potential next steps.
Succeeding in the coding interview has a lot to do with the preparation and practice that happened even before the first call, or applying for a programming role.
We already talk about the steps and how to make the most out of each, now let’s focus on preparing you to crush the coding interviews.
Many companies would let you pick the programming language of your choice for the coding interview independent of the one required for the job, however, in many instances, it would have to be the same.
Picking a programming language would be important because is the one you will use to prepare for the coding interviews, and likely the one you will end up using in your job.
Many people will choose here a programming language like Python because it is a great language for many of these challenges, however, my recommendation is to go with whatever programming language you are the most familiar with.
Even if you are a self-taught developer like myself, and when algorithms and data structures won’t appear in your day-to-day job, it will be important that you learn them for the coding interview.
Here is a list of the fundamentals you must learn:
- Data structures
- Time and space complexity, BigO notation
- Sorting and search algorithms
- Hash maps
- Dynamic programming
💡 Pro tip: Check out the book “Cracking the Coding Interview” (available on Amazon), it contains tons of information, interview questions and answers you’ll need to know to pass the coding interviews.
If you can dedicate 1 to 2 hours a day to practice coding challenges, you can crush the coding interview in any MAANG (Meta, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google), or other companies in just 4 to 8 weeks.
You have to be consistent, and you have to solve coding challenges every day.
Practice on a code editor, on an online platform, writing code by hand, or on a whiteboard, depending on where you apply you may get any of those options during your interview.
Later in the post, I’ll share with you some of the best platforms and courses that can help you prepare for the interview .
You are not the only one on this journey, thousands of people are learning to code and in preparation to take technical interviews.
Find someone at your level, with whom you can study and keep each other accountable.
Learning in a group set up like this one will increase your chances of sticking to the program, and being consistent with your learnings.
Having someone with whom to study is great, but if you or your study group have the support of a mentor can take things to a whole new level.
A mentor can not only hold you accountable, but can provide key guidance and help you along the way when you get stuck in a problem, when you don’t understand a problem, or even with some of the soft skills that are needed to land a tech job.
If you can’t find a mentor, there are sites like Interview Kickstart that can provide that level of support, and much more, though paid and even expensive options, they can make a huge difference and in the end, it will be worth it after you land a job in tech.
Taking on interviews is an art in itself, so don’t miss the chance to take interviews. Now, I’m not suggesting you should go totally unprepared for it, or if you have a total disinterest in joining the organization, be respectful of everyone’s time.
But if you have a genuine interest in joining, and you have the skills that are needed, take the chance, at worst you gained valuable experience. And in the best case, you got a job!
Full disclosure: I’m an affiliate in some of these sites, which means that I earn a commission for eligible purchases with no extra cost to you.
Interview Kickstart offers the whole package, you get to learn the concepts, practice, have 1:1 meetings, mock interviews, great support, and even 50% of your money back guaranteed if you do well in the programs and you still can’t land a job.
I joined them for a bit to test their services and even had the opportunity to talk with people from their team, and I only have positive things to say about them. I even wrote a full Interview Kickstart review in this blog.
If you are planning on taking things seriously I recommend going with them, it is a bit pricey but totally worth it.
Algo Monster was designed by a group of Google engineers who still remember the pain of grinding LeetCode when prepping for an interview. This is why they created a platform that allows you to progress in a structured way and return to the patterns you want to brush up on at any time with our lifetime access. Rather than an endless library of problems, AlgoMonster gives you a structured look at a much smaller, focused selection of coding interview patterns. The course allows you to progress steadily and gain the knowledge you need to solve new questions you’ve never seen before. You will be able to prepare for the technical interview more quicker and with more confidence. Their features include
- Focused on coding problem patterns with an introduction for each pattern ~200 questions
- Object-oriented design questions
- System design with code examples
A BootCamp where you’ll learn and practice all the concepts you need around data structures and algorithms. We love the people at Zero To Mastery, they do fantastic work in all their courses, but most of the practice will be on your side.
Back To Back SWE offers a full platform solution for preparing to pass the technical interview. Their site is full of amazing video content which explains not only how to solve particular problems but also the theory and concepts your need to ace the technical interview. There’s also an option to solve the problems directly in their code editor, which supports multiple programming languages and it’s pretty awesome.
If you want to pass your next technical interview, give them a chance.
LeetCode is one of the most popular platforms with over 1750 questions to practice and a vast community and experts. One of the coolest things is the option to filter challenges by companies like Google, Netflix, Facebook, and practice over challenges commonly asked at those particular companies.
Here are some of the features:
- Filter by company
- It supports a huge list of programming languages
- Free + subscription
Some people, myself included, enjoy reading a good book, and there are great options when it comes to nailing coding interviews. Here are some of my recommendations with links to Amazon (I am an Amazon Associate, so I may earn from qualifying purchases with no extra cost to you).
- Cracking the Coding Interview
- Programming Interviews Exposed: Secrets to Landing Your Next Job
- Elements of Programming Interviews: The Insiders’ Guide
If you followed my advice you are now ready to go and crush the coding interview!
Take advantage of all the tips I gave, also explore some of the resources, and find what works best for you during your interview preparation.
I wish you the best of luck on your technical interview journey!
Please let me know in the comments if you aced an interview, landed a job, or if you have any other advice to help others.
Juan Cruz Martinez
Juan has made it his mission to help aspiring developers unlock their full potential. With over two decades of hands-on programming experience, he understands the challenges and rewards of learning to code. By providing accessible and engaging educational content, Juan has cultivated a community of learners who share their passion for coding. Leveraging his expertise and empathetic teaching approach, Juan has successfully guided countless students on their journey to becoming skilled developers, transforming lives through the power of technology.