By Frank Kane
In this article, we will be sharing some basic DO’S and DON’TS for the System’s Design Interview. These basic tips will help you master your interview and impress your future employer.
What They Want:
What are hiring managers really looking for in terms of perseverance?
Let’s dive a little deeper into that:
- What they want to see is evidence of independent thought.
- Can you research solutions to new problems on your own?
- Can you invent things?
- Can you come up with new, novel solutions to new problems that nobody’s ever seen before?
- Have stories ready to go to prove that.
2. Can you learn things independently?
There is nothing more annoying than a new hire who demands help on everything that they’re asked to do when they could just look it up on the internet. If you are faced with a new technology to learn, can you just go learn it on your own? Have some evidence of a time you were faced with having to learn a new technology, and you just dove in and learned how to do it. As well as, how you applied that knowledge to build something. That’s what future employers want to see.
3. Demonstrate grit:
“Never give up, never surrender,” to quote Galaxy Quest. Do you have the grit to see challenging problems through to completion? Employers love to hear stories about how you were faced with learning a new technology and solving a new problem. And not only did you learn it, but you applied it, and you deployed a system that worked and solved a real-world problem. Stories like that will be especially powerful.
4. Are you self-motivated?
You should not have to be told that you cannot just spend your whole day watching cat videos because your boss didn’t give you specific instructions of what to do today.
If you don’t have specific instructions for what to do today, you should be asking your project manager or your manager, “what should I be doing today?” And if they don’t have an answer, then you should come up with something new to do on your own that will bring value to the company. Experiment with some new idea you have and make it happen and see how it performs. Those are great stories to have: stories of pure initiative, where you had an idea of your own, and in your own spare time, you made a prototype and experimented with it to see how it worked.
It would be a really happy ending if that thing made it to production in the end, but it doesn’t have to. Just the story of self-motivation, where you had some extra time on your hands and made the best possible use of that time, is powerful. Hiring managers love that sort of thing. If you have a story about that kind of individual initiative, find an excuse to talk about it, because it will really endear you to your future manager.
What They Don’t Want:
One thing people don’t want on their team is the guy who’s constantly burdening the rest of their team with simple questions that they could have answered on their own with a little research. If anyone ever told you, “Let me Google that for you,” you have a problem. You can’t be someone who’s constantly leaning on others for basic guidance.
I run into a ton of people as students who are looking for recipes, step-by-step instructions, hand-holding, and explicit guidance on how to solve every problem they’re given. Don’t be that guy. That is not the kind of person that these big tech companies want to hire. They want people who will have the determination and perseverance to find those solutions on their own. If the answers you need are on the internet somewhere, you need to go find them yourself and not burden the rest of your team with finding it for you. You need to be as self-reliant as possible.
If you’re being asked to design some big new system, of course, you should be collaborating with your team on that. But for the simple stuff, look it up on your own.
If you’re the kind of person who can’t accomplish anything without a step-by-step recipe, you need to work on that. It’s a sign of experience that you don’t need recipes to get things done, that you can put things together on your own, and can assemble different technology components to create new things.
So, don’t talk about a time when you had step-by-step instructions to do something. Talk about times when you figured it out yourself.
Hiring managers also watch out for people that have a failure to focus.
You must appreciate that the work you do has zero value until it’s in front of customers. That understanding can provide a strong drive to get stuff done. Have stories ready of where something you built made it all the way into production, and you played a role in pushing it out the door and making sure that it had a real impact on the business.
If you spend the whole year just doing R&D and trying out cool new ideas because you think it’s fun technology when you were supposed to be building customer-facing systems, good for you, but that does your company no good. That does your manager no good. In fact, it does some harm because they’re wasting resources that could have been better spent.
Have stories prepared that show you have a focus on the result, and you realize that you need to work hard to get something out the door. And until it’s out the door, it has zero value to the business. Those are good things to talk about and demonstrate in your interviews.
Hopefully, this insight gave you some technical knowledge on what your interviewers are looking for in your interview. To learn more strategies like these on how to Master your System Design Interview, we’d like to invite you to check out our Mastering the Systems Design Interview Course.
In this course, Frank Kane, previous hiring manager at Amazon headquarters, shares a behind-the-scenes look at what interviewers are looking for, and how you can stand out from the crowd. So you can land your dream job.