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How to Prepare for the Google Coding Challenge

Posted on 
March 25, 2021
Abhishek Som

Did you know that preparing for coding challenges is a great way to become an accomplished coder and land your dream job?

Well, many tech behemoths seasonally conduct coding challenges that witness programmers participating from all around the globe. The main idea of coding challenges is to give programmers a chance to solve complex engineering problems and compete for rewards and cash prizes. 

Google hires developers based on their ability to solve coding problems. The two main technical rounds at Google’s interview - the Coding assignment and the Onsite - test engineers on core data structures and algorithms.
Hiring managers evaluate your approach to problem solving, and how you’re able to look at a problem from different solution perspectives.

What exactly are coding challenges?

Coding challenges are tech events that invite programmers to participate, solve coding problems, and win rewards for finishing on top. Like many tech companies that frequently conduct coding challenges, Google conducts three coding challenges that take place every year.  

Coding challenges are essentially built to test the extent of your knowledge in algorithms and data structures. Technical interviews at FAANG and tier-1 companies also revolve around solving problems in algorithms and data structures. This is precisely why preparing for a coding challenge can get you interview-ready at big tech firms. 

Google’s Coding Challenges

Participating in Google’s coding challenges helps you get noticed by recruiters. It isn’t that Google is going to hire you if you end up among the finalists or the top 3% in the competition. You could, however, land a coding interview with Google for a developer/engineer position. Even if you don’t have any [projects listed in your CV, no open-source contributions, and average grades in college, getting to the final round in Code Jam or Hash Code can get you an interview call. 

Google conducts three main coding challenges every year - the Hash Code, Code Jam, and Kick Start.  

Hash Code

Hash Code is a popular coding challenge that Google conducts once a year for software professionals and students. Hash Code 2021 is going to be a virtual event owing to constraints brought about by the pandemic situation. 

Hash Code is essentially a team challenge where coders are required to participate in groups of 2-4. The competition between teams takes place in Hash Code hubs, where each team is required to solve a coding problem predominantly based on algorithms. 

The Google code Jam is a time-tested challenge. The first round is a qualification round where teams must offer the most optimal solution to the problem at hand within a 4-hour period. Teams are free to use programming languages and tools of their choice.

After the qualification round comes the World Finals where qualified teams compete against each other to solve a more difficult engineering problem. Teams that finish at the top in the finals receive cash prizes and other benefits. 

The Google Code Jam

The Code Jam is Google’s flagship coding competition that witnesses coders participate from all over the globe. The challenge is conducted every year, and comprises three online rounds before the annual Code Jam World Finals that happens on-site. Unlike Hash Code, this isn’t a team challenge. 

Participating programmers wishing to surmount this challenge should be adept with concepts around data structures and algorithms. The Code Jam is a particularly difficult challenge, and only about 20-25 participants finish at the top and become eligible for gifts and rewards. 

Kick Start

Kick Start is another popular coding challenge that happens multiple times through the year. The challenge consists of a single round that involves finding an optimized solution to a coding problem. Programmers from all over the world can participate whenever the challenge takes place. Each round carries points, and programmers with the highest number of points at the end of all rounds emerge as winners.

Kick Start is specifically designed for students and programmers who’re still early in their career. 

If you’re just setting out into the world of programming and want to make a career out of it, Kick Start will acclimate you to the type of skills required to crack coding interviews at Google and other top tier companies. As such, the Google Kick Start is a great way to understand coding competitions and challenges in general. 

Tips to Prepare for Google’s Coding Challenges

Here are some tips that will help you prepare for Google’s coding challenges:

  • Familiarize yourself with concepts around algorithms and data structures. Adequate knowledge in database management, API and distributed systems is an added advantage. 
  • Practice coding problems everyday for at least a month leading up to the challenge. Practicing numerous problems helps build your problem-solving skills and become a better engineer, helping you crack tough coding interviews not just at Google but other top technology firms like Facebook, Amazon, apple and Netflix. 
  • Get acclimated to the platforms used for these challenges. You can get more info in the FAQ section for each challenge. 
  • Pick an Object Oriented Programming language. You must be able to code algorithms in Python, C++ or Java. 
  • Coding challenges are time-bound. So make sure you practice problems within the limits of time. 
  • Practice problems from previous years’ challenges to get an idea of what sort of questions to expect.
  • Use platforms like Leetcode, TopCoder and CodeChef to expose yourself to a wide range of programming problems. 
  • Work on improving your testing and debugging skills. 
  • Make sure your code is easy to understand. The idea of coding challenges is to find the most optimal solution to a problem, not the lengthiest one.  

Topics to prepare for Google’s coding challenges

Below are some topics you must get yourself familiar with to stand a good chance at solving problems in Google’s coding challenges:

  • Arrays, stacks and linked lists
  • Recursion
  • Trees and graphs
  • Hash tables
  • Sorting algorithms
  • Graph algorithms 
  • Dynamic programming

Can acing a coding challenge land you a job?

Well, not quite. But winning a challenge or finishing in the top 1% of participants can prompt recruiters to invite you for an interview. You will have to go through the various rounds of interviews just like other candidates, but the odds of landing an offer are on your side. 

Resources to prepare for coding challenges

The best way to prepare for coding challenges is to practice problems everyday to improve your problem solving skills. Exposing yourself to a wide array of problems with varying levels of difficulty can help you identify and classify problem solutions based on inherent patterns. That way, you can stand a good chance to find optimal solutions to problems you’ve never encountered before. 

You can also refer to good books that will help you understand what areas to focus on, and how to become a good problem solver in general. Books like Competitive Programming by Steven Halim and Guide to Competitive Programming by Antii Laaksonen are great resources to help you through your prep journey.

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