How to prepare for a technical interview at Google, Facebook, or Apple

Studying helps, but there
are no guarantees. (Pictured: Lea Coligado).

Courtesy of Lea Coligado

Many top tech companies have
notoriously long and complex
hiring processes, and Lea
Coligado, a 23-year-old software engineer at Google, is no
stranger to them.

Each year she was in school at Stanford, Coligado told Business
Insider, she applied to more than 20 software engineering or web
development internships, including at Snapchat, Pinterest,
Microsoft, Palantir, Yelp, and Whatsapp. She also applied
to Facebook and Apple, where she completed internships.

After the initial “phone screen” — a phone interview and
screen-share where the interviewee is asked to complete basic
coding exercises — she’d be invited to an in-person interview,
sometimes on Stanford’s campus, and eventually, at the company’s

That may sound like a lot already, but the most pressure-filled
part of the process came next.

“Imagine being brought into a room with a complete stranger,
being handed a mysterious algorithm, then being told to implement
and analyze it within 45 minutes while said stranger evaluates
your ability to do it,” Coligado told Business Insider. “On
top of that, imagine knowing your opportunity to secure a
salaried job at this company is predicated on your ability to
perform well in that specific frame of time in front of this
specific stranger.” 

Equally as nerve-racking, Coligado explained, is the fear that
interviewers likely have “preconceived notions about your ability
to code” based on “your race, gender, age, and physical ability.”

Plus, it’s extremely difficult to predict what problem you’ll be
presented with, she said. In fact, during her first recruiting
season, Coligado said she prepared for technical interviews by
reading “Cracking
the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and
,” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell for 30 minutes each
morning to “nail down one algorithm” and then do another at night
after homework.

“I stayed home whiteboarding ‘how to balance a binary search
tree’ while my friends were out partying, and while it sucked at
first, I sure as hell knew how to balance a binary search tree by
my 20th birthday,” she said. “Mind you, I was asked in exactly
zero interviews that year to balance a binary search tree.”

Coligado soon realized that it was impossible to learn
everything, but continued practicing the same exercises in the
book. “It helped me recognize certain patterns in algorithms,
such that even if one algorithm wasn’t exactly like one I’d
studied before, I could analyze it in a similar, methodical way,”
she said.

In fact, the exercises in “Cracking the Code Interview” are “more
than enough to prepare for technical interviewing,” Coligado
said, “because it’s an all-in-one guide; the constraint is it’s
hard to study for technical interviews in college when you’re
already being assigned a ton of coursework.”

“Most importantly, [studying] gave me a sort of exposure therapy
for overcoming my enormous fear of interviewing,” she said.
“Since I was practicing new algorithms every day, solving them in
real-life interviews was a lot less scary.”

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