Welcome to the Spring 2012 semester, ACM members! In response to recent recruiters visiting campus and career fairs popping up left and right, our club decided to discuss one interview topic rarely covered in most interview help sessions: answering the dreaded “design ___________” questions. Just under 40 recorded attendees learned about how these questions are asked and approached and then had the opportunity to try one out for themselves and hear how other students answered. Here’s a quick recap of the meeting and design activity:
Before popping the design question to the attendees, Jeff Lopert (President) and Shane Chism (Vice President) had some housekeeping topics to cover including announcements (THIS JUST IN: hot, fashionable ACM tees are available for only $10! Order them before they’re all gone!).
Afterwards, Shane and Jeff demonstrated what exactly a design question entails by using an example: simply “design an elevator.” Shane took the role of the interviewer and Jeff of the interviewee. Jeff started by clarifying what kind of elevator this should be:
- Where is the elevator located? (a high-traffic area)
- What will be placed inside the elevator? Deliveries?
- Is there a set weight limit for the elevator?
- What size elevator is necessary?
After covering a few more questions, the problem soon unfolded from the generic question of “design an elevator” to “design an elevator for human beings, in a high-traffic area, for office professionals.” After asking enough preliminary questions, Jeff then noted that this is when you start drawing or listing features that will be included in the elevator. It’s important to first understand who the target audience is then design for that audience. Always explain why you show a particular feature or approach. This will give you the opportunity to justify yourself, use your technical background to impress the interviewer, and to help guide yourself through your thought process. Ultimately, the interviewer wants to see your creativity and your understanding of the audience while touching almost every facet there is to consider (e.g., safety, usability, or elements outside the scope of the elevator or object itself).
After answering a few more questions, Shane and Jeff switched roles and did another example that was more software oriented. The question was “design a file upload site.” Immediately Shane started asking questions such as, “Who is this for?” (college students), “What kinds of files?” (all files), “Do you have to be a college student to use the site?” (yes), “Is this for collaborative work?” (yes). Rather than list features as Jeff did, Shane started to wire-frame his design. Wire-framing means to draw a rough sketch of what your design looks like. Typically in an interview, you will be given paper or a whiteboard to do your thinking and sketching on.
Shane thus drew out a system that would include an introductory page for validating the student’s school e-mail address, perhaps incorporating a theme for that particular school such as using the school colors and having news related to the school along the bottom of the screen. At the actual screen for the file upload, he started to talk about file type and the inherent security issues that come along with allowing any and all types. His solution is a simple scanner for viruses and a warning if there’s a potential for infection.
He then started talking about HTML5 and Ajax to build the site itself and perhaps a function to detect the operating system used by the user that will let the file browser reflect the native system of the user. And of course the upload screen itself will have the address bar for the file big and in the center as that is the purpose of the site.
After the second example about how the design questions work (interviewer gives you a general goal and your job is to understand who you are really designing for by asking many questions and justifying each choice you make) then we asked the attendees to split into groups, and with an officer assigned to each group as the interviewer, discuss another object to design and get use to the process of asking questions and thinking creatively.
The example was a parking garage. Meaning, the only question the officers asked of the groups was “design a parking garage.” It was up to the attendees to ask questions of the officers and to understand who exactly was going to use the garage, where it was going to be located, what facets to consider such as crime rate or safety. After deliberating, each group stood up at the front of the room and explained their final designs much as they would have to do in the actual interviewing process. Many groups went over the time limit explaining features such as sensors to detect if a particular level of the garage is full and directing a driver forward, to mobile applications that find a free spot, to helipads on the roof for hot-shot corporate executives. Each attendee had the chance to see how the process works and were able to actively participate in a mock interview design challenge.
Below are links to the presentation documents in full-detail for those who were not able to make it. For those who came, thank you for your ideas and support. We’ll be seeing you next week; stay tuned!
LINKS TO PRESENTATION DOCUMENTS
January 26, 2012 – Design Challenge
January 26, 2012 – Design Challenge Solution Doc