How to Tackle a Problem You’ve Never Seen Before

Learn tips to prepare you for the unknown.

In an interview, it’s not uncommon to encounter a problem you haven’t seen before.

Even a well-prepared candidate can get stumped because they are unfamiliar with the specifics of the system they’ve been asked to design. For example, being asked about the architecture of a company such as Stripe can be quite challenging when you’re unfamiliar with what services Stripe offers or with the complexities of payment gateway systems.

Let’s go over two tips to help you pass this type of obstacle.

Relate the unknown to the known

Let’s say that you are asked about how to design Ticketmaster in your interview, and you are unfamiliar with that product. Maybe you don’t spend much time going to concerts and therefore haven’t used Ticketmaster. You may be a bit lost if you’re asked to design Ticketmaster’s cart and checkout service.

To start taking steps forward, try relating the unknowns of your new problem to your existing knowledge. For instance, you can relate using Ticketmaster to the time you spend shopping on Amazon. Based on your knowledge of how the checkout process looks on sites with a similar goal, you can figure out the design of an unfamiliar product.

If you’re unclear on the details of a system, don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer to clarify any missing information. The hiring committee is much more focused on how you articulate your design solution than whether or not you know the specific inner workings of a particular service. As long as you can be honest about what you don’t know and think critically through the problem, you can move forward.

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