jwasham/coding-interview-university


A complete computer science study plan to become a software engineer.

License: CC-BY-SA-4.0

Keywords: algorithm, algorithms, coding-interviews, computer-science, data-structures, interview, interview-prep, programming-interviews, software-engineering, study-plan


Google Interview University

Translations: 中文版本

What is it?

This is my multi-month study plan for going from web developer (self-taught, no CS degree) to Google software engineer.

Coding at the whiteboard - from HBO's Silicon Valley

This long list has been extracted and expanded from Google's coaching notes, so these are the things you need to know. There are extra items I added at the bottom that may come up in the interview or be helpful in solving a problem. Many items are from Steve Yegge's "Get that job at Google" and are reflected sometimes word-for-word in Google's coaching notes.

I've pared down what you need to know from what Yegge recommends. I've altered Yegge's requirements from information received from my contact at Google. This is meant for new software engineers or those switching from software/web development to software engineering (where computer science knowledge is required). If you have many years of experience and are claiming many years of software engineering experience, expect a harder interview. Read more here.

If you have many years of software/web development experience, note that large companies view software engineering as different from software/web development and they require computer science knowledge. Read more about that here

If you want to be a reliability engineer or systems engineer, study more from the optional list (networking, security).


Table of Contents

---------------- Everything below this point is optional ----------------


Why use it?

I'm following this plan to prepare for my Google interview. I've been building the web, building services, and launching startups since 1997. I have an economics degree, not a CS degree. I've been very successful in my career, but I want to work at Google. I want to progress into larger systems and get a real understanding of computer systems, algorithmic efficiency, data structure performance, low-level languages, and how it all works. And if you don't know any of it, Google won't hire you.

When I started this project, I didn't know a stack from a heap, didn't know Big-O anything, anything about trees, or how to traverse a graph. If I had to code a sorting algorithm, I can tell ya it wouldn't have been very good. Every data structure I've ever used was built into the language, and I didn't know how they worked under the hood at all. I've never had to manage memory unless a process I was running would give an "out of memory" error, and then I'd have to find a workaround. I've used a few multidimensional arrays in my life and thousands of associative arrays, but I've never created data structures from scratch.

But after going through this study plan I have high confidence I'll be hired. It's a long plan. It's going to take me months. If you are familiar with a lot of this already it will take you a lot less time.

How to use it

Everything below is an outline, and you should tackle the items in order from top to bottom.

I'm using Github's special markdown flavor, including tasks lists to check progress.

  • Create a new branch so you can check items like this, just put an x in the brackets: [x]

    Fork a branch and follow the commands below

git checkout -b progress

git remote add jwasham https://github.com/jwasham/google-interview-university

git fetch --all

Mark all boxes with X after you completed your changes

git add .

git commit -m "Marked x"

git rebase jwasham/master

git push --force

More about Github-flavored markdown

Get in a Googley Mood

Print out a "future Googler" sign (or two) and keep your eyes on the prize.

future Googler sign

Did I Get the Job?

I haven't applied yet.

Right now I'm doing programming problems all day long. That will continue for a few weeks, and then I'll apply through a referral I've been holding onto since February (yes, February).

Thanks for the referral, JP.

Follow Along with Me

I'm on the journey, too. Follow along:

John Washam - Google Interview University

Don't feel you aren't smart enough

About Google

About Video Resources

Some videos are available only by enrolling in a Coursera, EdX, or Lynda.com class. These are called MOOCs. Sometimes the classes are not in session so you have to wait a couple of months, so you have no access. Lynda.com courses are not free.

I'd appreciate your help to add free and always-available public sources, such as YouTube videos to accompany the online course videos.
I like using university lectures.

Interview Process & General Interview Prep

Pick One Language for the Interview

I wrote this short article about it: Important: Pick One Language for the Google Interview

You can use a language you are comfortable in to do the coding part of the interview, but for Google, these are solid choices:

  • C++
  • Java
  • Python

You could also use these, but read around first. There may be caveats:

  • JavaScript
  • Ruby

You need to be very comfortable in the language and be knowledgeable.

Read more about choices:

See language resources here

You'll see some C, C++, and Python learning included below, because I'm learning. There are a few books involved, see the bottom.

Before you Get Started

This list grew over many months, and yes, it kind of got out of hand.

Here are some mistakes I made so you'll have a better experience.

1. You Won't Remember it All

I watched hours of videos and took copious notes, and months later there was much I didn't remember. I spent 3 days going through my notes and making flashcards so I could review.

Read please so you won't make my mistakes:

Retaining Computer Science Knowledge

2. Use Flashcards

To solve the problem, I made a little flashcards site where I could add flashcards of 2 types: general and code. Each card has different formatting.

I made a mobile-first website so I could review on my phone and tablet, wherever I am.

Make your own for free:

  • Flashcards site repo
  • My flash cards database: Keep in mind I went overboard and have cards covering everything from assembly language and Python trivia to machine learning and statistics. It's way too much for what's required by Google.

Note on flashcards: The first time you recognize you know the answer, don't mark it as known. You have to see the same card and answer it several times correctly before you really know it. Repetition will put that knowledge deeper in your brain.

An alternative to using my flashcard site is Anki, which has been recommended to me numerous times. It uses a repetition system to help you remember. It's user-friendly, available on all platforms and has a cloud sync system. It costs $25 on iOS but is free on other platforms.

My flashcard database in Anki format: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/25173560 (thanks @xiewenya)

3. Review, review, review

I keep a set of cheat sheets on ASCII, OSI stack, Big-O notations, and more. I study them when I have some spare time.

Take a break from programming problems for a half hour and go through your flashcards.

4. Focus

There are a lot of distractions that can take up valuable time. Focus and concentration are hard.

What you won't see covered

This big list all started as a personal to-do list made from Google interview coaching notes. These are prevalent technologies but were not mentioned in those notes:

  • SQL
  • Javascript
  • HTML, CSS, and other front-end technologies

The Daily Plan

Some subjects take one day, and some will take multiple days. Some are just learning with nothing to implement.

Each day I take one subject from the list below, watch videos about that subject, and write an implementation in:

  • C - using structs and functions that take a struct * and something else as args.
  • C++ - without using built-in types
  • C++ - using built-in types, like STL's std::list for a linked list
  • Python - using built-in types (to keep practicing Python)
  • and write tests to ensure I'm doing it right, sometimes just using simple assert() statements
  • You may do Java or something else, this is just my thing.

Why code in all of these?

  • Practice, practice, practice, until I'm sick of it, and can do it with no problem (some have many edge cases and bookkeeping details to remember)
  • Work within the raw constraints (allocating/freeing memory without help of garbage collection (except Python))
  • Make use of built-in types so I have experience using the built-in tools for real-world use (not going to write my own linked list implementation in production)

I may not have time to do all of these for every subject, but I'll try.

You can see my code here:

You don't need to memorize the guts of every algorithm.

Write code on a whiteboard or paper, not a computer. Test with some sample inputs. Then test it out on a computer.

Prerequisite Knowledge

Algorithmic complexity / Big-O / Asymptotic analysis

Data Structures

More Knowledge

Trees

Sorting

If you need more detail on this subject, see "Sorting" section in Additional Detail on Some Subjects

Graphs

Graphs can be used to represent many problems in computer science, so this section is long, like trees and sorting were.

You'll get more graph practice in Skiena's book (see Books section below) and the interview books

Even More Knowledge


System Design, Scalability, Data Handling


Final Review

This section will have shorter videos that can you watch pretty quickly to review most of the important concepts.
It's nice if you want a refresher often.

Coding Question Practice

Now that you know all the computer science topics above, it's time to practice answering coding problems.

Coding question practice is not about memorizing answers to programming problems.

Why you need to practice doing programming problems:

  • problem recognition, and where the right data structures and algorithms fit in
  • gathering requirements for the problem
  • talking your way through the problem like you will in the interview
  • coding on a whiteboard or paper, not a computer
  • coming up with time and space complexity for your solutions
  • testing your solutions

There is a great intro for methodical, communicative problem solving in an interview. You'll get this from the programming interview books, too, but I found this outstanding:

No whiteboard at home? That makes sense. I'm a weirdo and have a big whiteboard. Instead of a whiteboard, pick up a large drawing pad from an art store. You can sit on the couch and practice. This is my "sofa whiteboard". I added the pen in the photo for scale.

my sofa whiteboard

Supplemental:

Read as a review and problem recognition

  • Algorithm Design Manual (Skiena)
    • This book has 2 parts:
      • class textbook on data structures and algorithms
        • pros:
          • is a good review as any algorithms textbook would be
          • nice stories from his experiences solving problems in industry and academia
          • code examples in C
        • cons:
          • can be as dense or impenetrable as CLRS, and in some cases, CLRS may be a better alternative for some subjects
          • chapters 7, 8, 9 can be painful to try to follow, as some items are not explained well or require more brain than I have
          • don't get me wrong: I like Skiena, his teaching style, and mannerisms, but I may not be Stony Brook material.
      • algorithm catalog:
        • this is the real reason you buy this book.
        • about to get to this part. Will update here once I've made my way through it.
    • To quote Yegge: "More than any other book it helped me understand just how astonishingly commonplace (and important) graph problems are – they should be part of every working programmer's toolkit. The book also covers basic data structures and sorting algorithms, which is a nice bonus. But the gold mine is the second half of the book, which is a sort of encyclopedia of 1-pagers on zillions of useful problems and various ways to solve them, without too much detail. Almost every 1-pager has a simple picture, making it easy to remember. This is a great way to learn how to identify hundreds of problem types."
    • Can rent it on kindle
    • Half.com is a great resource for textbooks at good prices.
    • Answers:
    • Errata

Read and Do Programming Problems (in this order):

If you have time

  • Programming Pearls
    • The first couple of chapters present clever solutions to programming problems (some very old using data tape) but that is just an intro. This a guidebook on program design and architecture, much like Code Complete, but much shorter.
  • Grokking Algorithms
    • This is a great book for review of CS concepts, and a very quick read.
    • Did not have as much Python code as I had hoped for, but has a great chapter on dynamic programming, so I worked through that and finally got the concept.
  • Write Great Code: Volume 1: Understanding the Machine
    • The book was published in 2004, and is a bit outdated, but it's a terrific resource for understanding a computer.
    • The author invented HLA, so take mentions and examples in HLA with a grain of salt. Not widely used, but decent examples of what assembly looks like.
    • These chapters are worth the read to give you a nice foundation:
      • Chapter 2 - Numeric Representation
      • Chapter 3 - Binary Arithmetic and Bit Operations
      • Chapter 4 - Floating-Point Representation
      • Chapter 5 - Character Representation
      • Chapter 6 - Memory Organization and Access
      • Chapter 7 - Composite Data Types and Memory Objects
      • Chapter 9 - CPU Architecture
      • Chapter 10 - Instruction Set Architecture
      • Chapter 11 - Memory Architecture and Organization
    • For a richer, more up-to-date (2011), but longer treatment, pick up Computer Architecture, Fifth Edition: A Quantitative Approach
  • Elements of Programming Interviews
    • all code is in C++, if you're looking to use C++ in your interview
    • a good book on problem solving in general.

Perhaps

  • Introduction to Algorithms
    • Important: Reading this book will only have limited value. This book is a great review of algorithms and data structures, but won't teach you how to write good code. You have to be able to code a decent solution efficiently.
    • To quote Yegge: "But if you want to come into your interviews prepped, then consider deferring your application until you've made your way through that book."
    • Half.com is a great resource for textbooks at good prices.
    • aka CLR, sometimes CLRS, because Stein was late to the game

Removed

  • "Algorithms and Programming: Problems and Solutions" by Shen
    • A fine book, but after working through problems on several pages I got frustrated with the Pascal, do while loops, 1-indexed arrays, and unclear post-condition satisfaction results.
    • Would rather spend time on coding problems from another book or online coding problems.

Coding exercises/challenges

Once you've learned your brains out, put those brains to work. Take coding challenges every day, as many as you can.

Challenge sites:

Maybe:

Once you're closer to the interview

Your Resume

Be thinking of for when the interview comes

Think of about 20 interview questions you'll get, along with the lines of the items below. Have 2-3 answers for each. Have a story, not just data, about something you accomplished.

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What's a tough problem you've solved?
  • Biggest challenges faced?
  • Best/worst designs seen?
  • Ideas for improving an existing Google product.
  • How do you work best, as an individual and as part of a team?
  • Which of your skills or experiences would be assets in the role and why?
  • What did you most enjoy at [job x / project y]?
  • What was the biggest challenge you faced at [job x / project y]?
  • What was the hardest bug you faced at [job x / project y]?
  • What did you learn at [job x / project y]?
  • What would you have done better at [job x / project y]?

Have questions for the interviewer

Some of mine (I already may know answer to but want their opinion or team perspective):
  • How large is your team?
  • What does your dev cycle look like? Do you do waterfall/sprints/agile?
  • Are rushes to deadlines common? Or is there flexibility?
  • How are decisions made in your team?
  • How many meetings do you have per week?
  • Do you feel your work environment helps you concentrate?
  • What are you working on?
  • What do you like about it?
  • What is the work life like?

Once You've Got The Job

Congratulations!

Keep learning.

You're never really done.


*****************************************************************************************************
*****************************************************************************************************

Everything below this point is optional. These are my recommendations, not Google's.
By studying these, you'll get greater exposure to more CS concepts, and will be better prepared for
any software engineering job. You'll be a much more well-rounded software engineer.

*****************************************************************************************************
*****************************************************************************************************

Additional Books

Additional Learning

Additional Detail on Some Subjects

I added these to reinforce some ideas already presented above, but didn't want to include them
above because it's just too much. It's easy to overdo it on a subject.
You want to get hired in this century, right?

Video Series

Sit back and enjoy. "Netflix and skill" :P

Computer Science Courses

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