System Design Interview Questions

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System Design Interview Questions

When you’re looking to hire a system design team member, the best way to conduct this process is to develop a thorough understanding about what a system designer does and what kinds of skills are required for successfully filling the position. This may involve interviewing people who are currently in the position or who have been in the past, as well as a volume of online research to ensure that your team has a thorough understanding about what kind of candidate would be most successful in the role. 

When developing system architecture interview questions, it is important to consider the specific needs and goals of your organization. Start by listing out all of the components that will need to be included in the system architecture and then break them down into smaller sub-components. You can then create a set of questions related to each component, tailoring them to evaluate the potential candidate's knowledge, experience, and understanding of the system architecture. For example, you might ask a candidate to explain how they would design a secure authentication and authorization system or to discuss which cloud hosting services they are most familiar with and why. Additionally, it is helpful to ask the candidate questions about their experience with developing systems in similar environments so that you can understand the spread of their expertise. By asking the right questions, you will be able to determine the best candidate for your organization’s system architecture needs. 

Once you have loaded your selected system design interview questions into your interview intelligence software, you will be able to conduct standardized and complete interviews that are free of bias. These interviews will allow you to compare your candidates in terms of knowledge, skills, quality, thoughtfulness of answers, and more. Interview intelligence platforms, like Pillar, allow you to standardize your interview approach to ensure that you are not conducting different interviews for different people. While it can be fun to modify your process with a candidate that is an eager talker or a strong people-person, it is possible for a team’s opinion of a person to be clouded by their charisma, causing the team to miss red flags about their skillset or knowledge. Standardizing the process makes it more fair and equitable, plus ensures that your team will find the candidate who is truly the perfect match for your needs. 

System Design Interview Questions With Solutions

Creating a system design interview cheat sheet is one way to give yourself an edge during the hiring process. This resource can help ensure that you have all of the necessary information for each question, and it can provide a quick reference point when you simply want to fact check one of your questions. Your own interviewees may also be using a cheat sheet to allow them to answer simple questions as well, so you may wish to ask them to expand on their answers, simply so you can tell for sure whether the understand the answer they’ve provided to you. An interviewee’s cheat sheet will likely include system design principles such as scalability, performance, modularity, and fault tolerance. Additionally, specific technologies like databases, programming languages, and frameworks that they are familiar with and can provide examples of. 

Developing this list for yourself will help you move further along in your interview process without confusion, even if you don’t currently have a system design expert on staff to act as a guide to the process. Here are a few examples of system design interview questions with solutions. If the candidate is not answering the whole question, as outlined below, you can prompt them to continue providing more information. 

1. Design an online shopping cart system - The candidate should start by describing the main components of the system, such as user accounts, products, payment gateways, order management system, and analytics. Next, explain how these different components would interact with one another to allow users to purchase items and manage their carts. Finally, discuss how they would handle scalability and performance issues.

2. Design a distributed system to store and retrieve large amounts of data - The candidate should explain how they would partition the data into shards that could be stored across multiple nodes in order to increase scalability. Discuss replication strategies for ensuring high availability, as well as methods for caching frequently accessed data for improved performance. Finally, detail how you would handle consistency and data integrity issues.

3. Design an API for a social media platform - The candidate will likely outline the different components of the system such as user accounts, relationships between users, posts, messages, and notifications. Then they will explain how these components interact with one another to allow users to communicate and share content. Finally, they should discuss how they would handle authentication, authorization, and security concerns.

4. Design a distributed file system - The candidate will likely describe the different components of the system such as storage nodes, metadata servers, replication strategies, and data partitioning. Then they will explain how these components interact with one another to enable efficient storage and retrieval of large amounts of data. Finally, they will discuss methods for ensuring high availability, scalability, and data integrity.

5. Design a real-time analytics system - The candidate will start by outlining the components of the system such as data ingestion, streams processing, storage, and visualizations. They will then explain how these components interact to enable near real-time insights from streaming data. Finally, they may address considerations for scalability and performance when dealing with large volumes of data.

6. Design a recommendation system - The candidate will explain how they would use collaborative filtering or content-based algorithms to generate personalized recommendations for users. They may then discuss methods for dealing with cold start and sparsity issues, as well as strategies for handling scalability and performance concerns. Finally, they may detail how they would evaluate the accuracy of the system's predictions.

System Design Questions

When you are developing system design questions, you may go to the internet or other system design experts to gather some ideas for what to ask as well as what answers are considered accurate or acceptable. It can even be helpful to have a person on your hiring team who is or has been in the role you are hiring for so that they can vet the quality of the answers received by the candidate. 

You can load your chosen system design questions for the interview into your interview intelligence software, if you are using a program like Pillar. This system allows you to sort your more important and relevant information so that you can easily access it during the interview without losing track of your intended purpose for conducting the interview. 

Potential questions that you might ask will showcase your candidates’ skills and knowledge, indicate how well they would be able to understand and implement the practices that your company requires, and more. Some possible system design questions include:

1. Describe a system design problem you solved in the past.

2. How would you design a web-based control panel?

3. How would you scale an existing system to handle millions of users?

4. What are the considerations when designing an API for third-party integrations?

5. How would you build an architecture for a streaming system?

6. How would you design a distributed caching strategy?

7. What techniques do you use for improving the availability and scalability of a system?

8. How would you design an authentication and authorization system?

9. How can you implement redundancy in a data storage solution?

10. What do you consider when designing for scalability and performance?

11. How would you design a system to protect against data loss due to hardware failure?

12. How can you ensure security when implementing distributed systems?

13. What techniques do you use to debug and troubleshoot problems in a system?

Of course, some of these questions may not be directly relevant to your needs or more may be required, but these can provide you with a basis to begin from. Also, please note that most of these questions are very open-ended which will allow your candidate to elaborate in their response. You want to avoid yes or no questions and always give your candidates the opportunity to explain more about their knowledge and thought processes. 

Hiring a system design specialist can be a key step in your tech company’s growth. A system design specialist can provide insight into the various elements that make up a successful system design, as well as important details on how to ensure your systems are designed in an efficient manner. Ultimately, understanding the fundamentals of system design is necessary to help create and maintain a successful business. With the assistance of a specialist, businesses can ensure that their systems are designed in a manner that supports their strategic goals and meets customer needs.