Meet Gayle, Author of Cracking the Coding Interview

Gayle L. McDowell is the author of Cracking the Coding Interview, Cracking the PM Interview, and Cracking the Tech Career. Her career focus on hiring and tech interviews can be seen in her website and blog, her commitment to creating new and updated editions of her essential books, and her work as a consultant. We got a chance to chat with her and gain some insight on how to land a valuable career in tech. And her most important piece of advice for anyone wanting to learn to code.

How did you get started with writing? What led you to write Cracking the Coding Interview?

Interestingly, I never really saw myself as a “great writer” growing up. I could never write the flowery prose that some of the best writers I knew could. I was much more matter-of-fact and to the point. It turns out that this style lends itself well to a technical point.

I wrote Cracking the Coding Interview after running for a while. People needed more help on interviews — more careful guidance — and a dump of interview questions wasn’t really doing it.

What is your favorite thing about your book? What makes it different?

The distinguishing factor is really the emphasis on problems that make you think. That’s really what these interviews are about: seeing how you think.

Some resources try to teach you lots of fancy algorithms. That’s great for certain things, but that’s not really what the interviews are about.

What is your educational background?

My background is in computer science. I have a Bachelors and master’s degree in Computer Science (along with a minor in math) from the University of Pennsylvania. I also have an MBA from Wharton (don’t judge!).

What is the importance of learning code in today’s work force?

Technology is the backbone of so many companies now, so coding is very helpful to understand how that works. If you choose to really make coding your career, there are so many opportunities.

What coding languages do you think are the most important to learn in today’s work force?

Languages like Python and Javascript are very popular and have lots of opportunities. Additionally, Swift/iOS is also a great language to learn if you want to pursue a new career angle. Because Swift is a brand new language, you won’t be competing with people with 5 years of experience.

What job experiences have you had, coding/tech related or otherwise?

My first “real” job was as a web designer just after graduating high school. That helped me land my first coding job as a software engineer intern at Microsoft, where I ended up doing three internships during college. I did one last software engineering internship at Apple, then worked for Google for three years (software engineer again). I worked briefly at a startup after Google and then began focused full-time on CareerCup.

What main or most important piece of advice would you give someone just starting to learn to code?

First, don’t worry if the pieces aren’t quite falling into place immediately. Coding is literally learning a brand new language. It’s a totally new thing, unlike anything else you’ve learned. It will be totally foreign to you. That’s okay. Push through.

Also, take the time to play a bit. It’s good to work off some tutorials, but don’t feel like you need to stick to those 100%. Once you’ve learned some basics, poke around and try to write something on your own. Deviate from the examples a little bit. It makes it a lot more fun and you will have a better understanding of what you’re learning.

What main or most important piece of advice would you give someone just starting to look for a job in tech?

Either look for a company that’s growing or one that’s got good name recognition. Both will open doors. The one with good name recognition will establish credibility. That credibility will help you land future jobs. A rapidly growing company, on the other hand, will have lots of opportunities internally.

What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?

I’ve got a 1.5 year old son and one year old puppy. My free time is mostly trying to keep them from chewing or climbing on each other.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was very young, I wanted to be a vet. I figured that they got to play with dogs all day. Then a vet put my dog to sleep. I did not like vets anymore.

I started coding when I was 14 though and knew I wanted to be a programmer after that.

What is your favorite book, and when was the last time you actually picked up a hard copy of a book?

For fiction, I love the Time Traveler’s Wife.

For non-fiction, I found Stumbling on Happiness fascinating.

If you could order any food and have it in front of you right now what would it be?

Sushi. Always sushi.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I like Emma Watson a lot. I appreciate that she seems to have her life together, she’s smart and she’s not afraid to speak her mind.

Is there anything particularly exciting that you’re working on right now?

I’m working on the next edition of Cracking the Coding Interview. Each edition has been a big improvement over the previous one, and this one will be huge. The only issue is that I’m hitting up on the max page size to print (820 pages). Eek!

Originally published at on January 21, 2015.

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