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6 Tips for Staying Focused when Studying for Programming Interviews

It is no secret that the process of studying for programming interviews can be quite isolating. Not only do you have to worry about the material itself, but also the pressure of needing to perform well in order to get a job offer. This can lead to a lot of stress and burnout, especially if you are not used to this type of environment.

Staying focused when studying can also be very difficult. There are many complex topics to cover that you need to fully understand when studying for these interviews.

Studying for a coding interview takes time and hard work. Programming interview questions can be very abstract and complex. They require you to practice common coding interview questions using problem-solving skills that you learn as you prepare for the interview.

Background

When I was studying for my FAANG programming interviews, I spent around two years preparing. Throughout those two years I was under a ton of stress. It didn't help that I was the only person I knew who was also studying for programming interviews. Trying to learn things like dynamic programming, heaps, and graphs were all difficult topics for me to comprehend. Even when I was using a high level programming language like python, understanding these topics was driving me crazy.

It is natural to get distracted as you study. Fighting that distraction and staying focused is critically important.  however, there are a few things that you can do in order to help yourself stay on track.

It took me a while to get into a good groove of studying. There were many times that I would feel burnt out and give up after seeing only errors for days straight. After going through this burnout cycle several times, I realized it was important for me to take care of myself as I went through this process.

So without further ado, I present 6 tips for staying focused while studying for programming interviews.

1) Find a study group or community

One of the best ways to stay focused when studying for a programming interview is to find a study group or community.  This can help you in a few different ways.

Motivation and Accountability

First of all, it can provide you with motivation and accountability. Computer programming can be very complicated and when you are learning about the bubble sort algorithm or insertion sort algorithm, it is helpful to have a group of people to lean on.

These topics can be hard to digest. But, having someone to hold you accountable will help keep you on the right track. That support from another person who also knows exactly what it feels like to have to read through a diagnostic message or runtime error for the tenth time in a row is essential.

Ask Questions

Secondly, it can give you a chance to ask questions and get help when you are stuck. This will help you to feel less alone in the process, and it can also be a great way to get feedback and advice. It is especially helpful if you are all using the same programming language.

If you are all taking the interview in a particular programming language, all the elements of your studying will be similar to your study group. Dissecting a syntax error or any logical errors will be all the easier.

In addition, asking questions will help you avoid wasting your time on things that don't matter. For instance, for big tech interviews, you don't need to learn any assembly language or machine code. Any low level programming language is just going to get in the way. Instead you should focus on using a high level programming language and mastering that.

Range of Experience

Third, make sure you are studying with a range of software engineers.  You want to be able to relate to the person you are studying with, but you also want to be able to learn from them. If they are more experienced than you, they will likely have some great tips and tricks that you can use. For example, if you are studying with someone who is an expert on a particular data structure based questions or non linear data structure, it will be very helpful to learn from them and hear their experience on the topics. On the flip side, if you are an expert on runtime errors or matching elements, being able to teach someone else those topics will solidify your knowledge.

2) Set realistic goals

Small & Achievable

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when studying for a programming interview is setting unrealistic goals. This can lead to a lot of frustration and even burnout. It is important to remember that you are not going to learn a particular task overnight. Start by setting small, achievable goals and then build from there. If you try to bite off more than you can chew, like numeric constants, you will only end up feeling overwhelmed. Start small with array elements, or binary tree and go from there.

When you set realistic goals, you will be able to track your progress and feel good about the progress you are making.

SMART

When you are setting goals for yourself, it can be helpful to set SMART goals. This stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. This will help to ensure that your goals are actually achievable and that you have a plan. It is also important to make sure that your goals are relevant to what you want to accomplish. Otherwise, you will just be wasting your time. This will set you apart from other programmers and allow you to perfect your time management skills.

3) Take breaks

When you are studying for a programming interview, it is important to take breaks. This will help you to avoid burnout and stay fresh.

Take Time for Yourself

Make sure to schedule in some time for yourself every day. This can be used for things like taking a walk, listening to music, or just relaxing. It is important to remember that you need to take care of yourself both mentally and physically.

Don't Push Yourself too Hard

If you push yourself too hard, you will only end up harming your chances of doing well in the interview.  It is not productive to try and study for hours on end without taking any time off. You will likely just end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.

4) Practice mock interviews

Getting Comfortable

One of the best ways to prepare for a programming interview is to practice mock interviews. This will help you to get comfortable with the process and it will also give you a chance to get feedback. When you are in the actual interview, there is a very large chance you will get a problem you have never seen before. It is important to be able to practice your coding method and modeling language so that when it gets to the actual interview, you are prepared.

Identifying Strengths & Weaknesses

When you practice mock interviews, you will be able to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This will allow you to focus on your weak areas and improve your chances of doing well in the actual interview.

Make sure to find a friend or colleague who can help you with the mock interviews. This will make the process more realistic and it will also help you to get feedback. You can also use online resources like Hackpack to practice mock interviews. We will match you with another software engineer studying for programming interviews. It is also a good way to build a relationship with someone who is going through the same thing as you.

Intimidating but Necessary

Mock interviews can be intimidating , but they are a necessary part of the process. Mock interviews are the same type of formatting as the real interview but allow you to work through any wrong logic that may be holding you back.

How to Prepare for Mock Interviews

Before signing up for a mock interview, make sure to request a relevant problem if possible. Do not request a two strings or binary search tree problem if you have not studied that topic. Go with something that is more in your range.

Ensure that you are not breaking character throughout the mock interview. You want to keep this as real as possible so that it feels like the real thing.

Finally, make sure you are requesting feedback from your interviewer. It may feel  like you are being graded, but this is the entire point of the mock interview. The feedback will help you to improve your interviewing skills.  Its better to realize that you are struggling with binary search trees problems in practice than during the actual interview!

5) Get enough sleep

Keeping Focus

One of the most important things that you can do when preparing for a programming interview is to get enough sleep. This will help you to be at your best and it will also improve your focus. It is important to remember that you need to take care of yourself both mentally and physically.

You'll frequently be pulled to study new programming languages and data structures that don't matter for the interview. If you stay focused, you can start nailing your interview questions faster.

Topics like modeling languages, artificial language, and reversed string are difficult to comprehend and require intense focus. If you are not well-rested, you will not be able to perform at your best. Without sleep you might be making any type of logical error.

Relaxation

Make sure to schedule some time for yourself every day to relax and unwind. This will help you to avoid burnout and stay fresh.

6) Make Mistakes

Understand it is Apart of the Learning Process

Making mistakes is a part of the learning process. When you are studying for a programming interview, it is important to make sure that you are learning from your mistakes. This will help you to improve your chances of doing well in the actual interview.

For example if you forget to test your code during a mock, you can fix that behavior before your actual interview. Interviewers tend to check if you test your code and use that as a proxy for whether you frequently conduct software testing on the job. You wouldn't want to write any code that would instantly  result in a syntax error!

Study Journal

One way to learn from your mistakes is to keep a study journal. This can be used to track your progress and identify areas where you need to improve. It is also a good way to stay motivated. You can look back at your journal and see how far you have come. This will help you to stay focused and avoid getting discouraged. Struggling with how to navigate a binary search tree? Flag it every time you struggle.

Framework

When I was studying for programming interviews, I created a framework for approaching intense questions. This included a checklist, which I could use to approach all different types of problems that I was given. Anything from data structures and data elements to character arrays and weird string args, I knew I could use my framework to approach the problem.

This held me accountable for my mistakes and allowed me to become a master at machine language.

Conclusion

If you want to ace your programming interview, it is important to put in the time and effort. However, you also need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself.

This means setting realistic goals, taking breaks, practicing mock interviews, getting enough sleep, and making mistakes. These tips will help you to stay focused and avoid burnout.

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