In my recent job search I was asked very few coding questions. Not sure why not—I was interviewing for individual contributor roles as per usual. Anyway, two coding questions stand out for basic errors I made. One was at the whiteboard, one was a “homework” problem.
The whiteboard problem had a very simple statement: Code, in Java, a breadth-first search, but switch the traversal direction at each level. A nice twist on a typical problem! I did it by inserting a sentinel into the standard queue of pending nodes. Using a Java
Queue<Object> I inserted an (arbitrary)
Integer as the flag, but it would have been just as reasonable to use a
Queue<Node> and insert the tree root as sentinel. Remember to check for termination: if you’ve just dequeued the sentinel then if the queue size is zero, you’re done. Very short and sweet—but wrong! It hit me like a ton of bricks as soon as I drove off! It doesn’t traverse alternate levels in different directions, but only the nodes of alternate levels in different directions. Bungled! The error, my fault, was that I didn’t fully work things out, with an example, before I started coding. Had I, I would immediately have caught my error. In my defense, the interviewer and I were under very tight time constraints-it was a screening interview, it started late (scheduling mishap at their end), and we did a bunch of design questions first. On the other hand, he seemed very happy with the solution: he complimented it and said I would be invited back for a full loop (though I bailed on that for unrelated reasons). (Anyway, the correct solution. which immediately followed my shocking realization, is here.)
Now, what is it that you should never do with an interview homework problem? Continue reading ‘Two coding interview questions done badly, for different reasons’