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System Design Interview Guide

Last updated on: 
February 12, 2024
Abhinav Rawat
The fast well prepared banner
About The Author!
Abhinav Rawat
Abhinav Rawat
Product Manager at Interview Kickstart. The skilled and experienced mastermind behind several successful product designs for upscaling the ed-tech platforms with an outcome-driven approach for skilled individuals.

System design can be overwhelming for candidates. They are not to fault. When getting ready for an interview, there are countless subjects that you may research. Being an important part of the interview process, the right approach to System Design Interview is critical to understand. With recruiters testing the capabilities of individuals in designing real-world software systems, there are no right or wrong answers, making the process tough. It's essential first to grasp the fundamentals. The best way to tackle the interview is by asking the right questions and taking a structured path for learning. Learn more about it in detail in the article. 

Here’s what we’ll cover in this article: 

What is System Design?

System design refers to the process of designing distinct components to meet the user requirements. The variety of component requirements includes architecture, interface, modules, and data. Mostly, every multinational IT company holds a special system design interview round to test the candidate’s capabilities in the domain. 

Candidates who have gone through the questions of the round or faced the round itself might find it overwhelming to answer. Hence, here is a system design interview preparation guide to help you through. 

System Design Interview Step-By-Step Guide

With the increase in challenges and complexity of the interview, it is advisable to follow the step-by-step guide for a simple breakdown of the problem to reach the solution easily: 

System design interview process

Note: There is no source, the image is created by the writer.

Step 1: Get Hold of the Requirements 

Due to the time constraint, the possibility of a wide range of actions, and multiple correct answers, the focus is required on utilizing the right approach. It ensures emphasis on the right aspect while designing. Besides, designing according to the ultimate goal of testing and question stands a higher chance of success compared to ambiguity in this sense. 

To be more specific, try breaking down the understanding of requirements into functional, non-functional, and extended segments. The functional requirements will focus on the action-based demand of the system, non-functional will focus on the quality aspect and extended requirements will help you earn an advantage. Besides the stated requirements, the questioning must encompass queries on 

  • The goal of the system
  • The targeted audience 
  • Type of functions to be performed by the intended users  
  • Handling capability of the system
  • Availability and security details of the system and similar other aspects

Step 2: Beware of Scale and Constraints

Enquire about the scale of the system and its feature set to be designed. You should also know the limitations of the system. Your queries can target areas like: 

  • Read and write ratio 
  • Network bandwidth of users
  • Frequency of requests 
  • Storage capacity 
  • Data limitations 
  • Frequency of concurrent requests and estimated number of users 
  • Type of clients 
  • Authentication 
  • Type of API

Step 3: Design Your Model

The next step after gaining clarification must be to define the database schema to get clear views of the data flow. The designed model should comprise interaction between the different components of the system. The model should also include aspects like data management, partitioning, different entities of the system, number of tables and choice of the type of SQL. It must meet the requirements and constraints as enquired in previous steps. Further, define the API with a simple interface over codes. Include different API requirements. 

Step 4: Head to High-Level Component Design 

Begin with drawing the boxes representing the core components that will actually offer end-to-end solutions. The components in question here are API gateway, load balancers, and others. Based on your understanding of the appropriate service architecture and database type, you should have the first design ready with this step. 

Step 5: Detailed Design

Now, focus on the intricate details of the system based on the requirements. Utilize the interviewer’s answers as the guide. Since there are multiple correct options, the reason behind your approach and strategy matters the most. Further, the consideration of varying pros and cons in choice depending on the scope, estimation, scaling, and constraints will exhibit your expertise in the area. Ensure to be wise while explaining yourself and choosing among different options. 

Step 6: Resolve the Shortcomings 

The presence of shortcomings is obvious. However, knowing the measures to remove them or the reason for their occurrence is critical. Predicting unexpected challenges or probable failures is also crucial to showcasing your observation and knowledge. 

System Design Interview Prep Path

The system design interview guide suggests information with respect to the following aspects: 

Components of Interview: It includes knowledge of time duration, the number of these interviews expected for your role, and the type of questions asked through previous interviews. 

Gain Knowledge: Learn the important concepts and topics relevant to questions in the interview. A list has been provided in the next section as well. You must also have a strategy to tackle the interview questions. Learn the method and decide your approach. Utilize a step-by-step guide, too. 

Work On Your Communication: You must be deemed confident by the interviewer while expressing honesty in your answers. Ensure to express your thoughts and the reason for your choices while answering to exhibit the knowledge base, experience, and possessed skill set. 

Practice: Of course handling multiple questions helps you get yourself a strategy to tackle the questions. It includes practicing designing and taking mock interviews. Preparing with the community or peers also helps. 

Take Help: Never underestimate the importance of a guide and mentor. They remain updated about the industry settings, market requirements, and the important parts of any role. Further, they help you identify your weaknesses and strengths and offer a one-stop solution to all the resource needs, tips, and best practices, saving loads of time and effort. You can utilize these by increasing your productivity. 

Important Topics and Concepts For System Design Interview 

Familiarity with the fundamental concepts is the key to delivering the best representation of your knowledge. Here is what to focus in here: 

  • Scalability 
  • Load balancing 
  • Proxy types 
  • Availability 
  • Content Delivery Network 
  • Fault tolerance 
  • Throughput 
  • Domain name system 
  • Consistency 
  • API gateway
  • Partition tolerance 
  • CAP theorem 
  • ACID properties 
  • Design patterns 
  • Database types and replication 
  • Types of distributed systems and algorithms 

Ace System Design Interview Round With Interview Kickstart 

The System Design Interview is a critical step towards the path of your dream job at FAANG companies. Regardless of how challenging it seems, the right strategy can help you through. It will not only easy the overall process but also help understand the detailed aspects of the interview. Guidance will assist in diving deep into the details of the interview and recruiter mindset. 

And what could be a better offer than guidance from the recruiters of FAANG+ companies? Bringing the treasure trove of knowledge for you, Interview Kickstart offers the opportunity to accomplish your dream. Having trained thousands of candidates for interviews, we can help you identify the best approach for tackling the process. Register for our webinar for free to learn more about us. 

FAQs About System Design Interview

Q1. What is the difference between coding and system design interviews?

The coding interviews focus on specific problems and test the algorithmic thinking and coding skills. The focus in system design interviews is on creating the complete system. The skills assessed here are the ability to utilize the architecture, system integration, and scalability considerations. 

Q2. What not to do in a system design interview?

With time limitations in the interview, the candidate should avoid mismanaging the time, providing superficial answers, and not inquiring about the interviews for feedback or guidance for better understanding. 

Q3. Where can I learn system design for interviews?

There are a wide number of study materials available on the Internet. You can join Interview Kickstart to learn the core and advanced interview aspects of System Design interviews. Alternatively, we provide guidance through our courses and mentors, which is also helpful in learning system design. 

Q4. Which tool is used in the design phase?

Whiteboard, Whimsical, or similar boards are used. The specific type of tool varies according to the company. 

Q5. Share two system-design interview questions. 

The two system-design interview questions are: 

  1. How would you design a search engine?
  2. How would you design Twitter?

Q6. How common are system-design interviews?

System design interviews are part of the recruitment process in almost all multinational and giant IT companies. 

Q7. Is the system design interview hard?

The system design interview is assumed to be hard if the candidate lacks the idea of developing a strategy to answer the question or is unable to deal with the ambiguity associated with the questions.

Posted on 
February 7, 2024

Abhinav Rawat

Product Manager @ Interview Kickstart | Ex-upGrad | BITS Pilani. Working with hiring managers from top companies like Meta, Apple, Google, Amazon etc to build structured interview process BootCamps across domains

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