Solving an Algorithm in a Technical Interview: The Problem-Solving Approach

Solving an Algorithm in a Technical Interview: The Problem-Solving Approach

Five steps in solving an algorithm during a technical interview. There are many resources online that teach you ways on how to solve a problem. The examples and problem-solving approach detailed in this ...

Technical interviews can be conducted in many ways. Some companies will send you a coding assessment to complete at home. Others will have a pair programming session with you to build an app using the languages and frameworks you claim to know on your resume. Most of the time, however, you will be expected to solve an algorithm.

Interviewers choose algorithms because it is a great way for them to get an understanding of how you think. Keep in mind that there are many ways to solve an algorithm. Usually, the interviewer doesn’t care about the actual answer you come up with, but rather your approach to coming up with that answer.

This is why it is important for anyone preparing for a technical interview to come up with a systematic approach to problem-solving. There are many resources online that teach you ways on how to solve a problem. The examples and problem-solving approach detailed in this blog comes from a Udemy course taught by Colt Steele.

The problem-solving approach

1. Understand the problem and start communicating

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s the most crucial to start with. When the interviewer asks you a question, they aren’t expecting you to blurt out the answer right away. Remember, you are interviewing for a position on their team. That means you are expected to clearly communicate what you will be working on so that they know they can easily collaborate with you on a project.

This step is your chance to ask clarifying questions and clearly state out-loud what you think the interviewer is asking of you. Here are some questions to go over that can help you understand the problem:

  • Can I restate the problem in my own words?
  • What are the inputs that go into the problem? How about the output(s)?
  • Do I have enough information to solve the problem?
  • What are the important pieces of data the interviewer has given me? How should I label them in my code?

Use these questions to help you start communicating with your interviewer. The interviewer will be glad you asked these questions and will guide you in the right direction to start solving the problem.

2. Concrete Examples

To further cement your understanding of the problem, come up with a few examples of your own. These examples should have different test cases so that you can cover a wide range.

To start, look at the example you were given. Usually, your interviewer will give you one or two examples with inputs and an output. You can start with one of those examples and go through how you would expect the given inputs to return the expected output.

Then you can ask aloud “what are some use cases I should consider?” This will give you the opportunity to explore examples such as “what if I was given an empty input” or “what if the input was an invalid one?” Another example to consider is “what if the size of my input increased?”

Coming up with more examples will let the interviewer know that you are thinking outside of just the given problem and bringing in real-world cases that may come up during company production.

interview algorithms software-engineering programming coding

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