[Author Interview] Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of Cracking the Coding Interview

Gayle Laakmann McDowellGayle Laakmann McDowell is the author of Cracking the Coding Interview, a featured book in our Tech Publishing Festival. She used Pothi.com to bring out an Indian edition of her book which is available for sale on Pothi.com, Flipkart, IndiaPlaza and other Indian retailers. Cracking the Coding Interview is the #1 book for Software Engineering interviews preparation currently.

[Pothi.com] Please tell us about your book. What inspired you to write it?

[Gayle Laakmann McDowell] Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Answers is focused on helping software engineers prepare for technical interviews at top tech companies, like Microsoft, Amazon and Google.

It grew out of my company’s website, CareerCup.com. CareerCup offers thousands of free interview questions from tech firms added by users after their interviews.

I realized though that providing sample questions to practice on isn’t enough. Candidates also need to learn how to solve problems.

So, I took the best 150 of interview questions and wrote up thorough solutions for all of them. I showed multiple ways of solving problems, in a way that candidates can follow along with to improve their solutions, and offered concrete strategies to develop new algorithms. The book is now over 500 pages long!

[PC] Tell us about yourself. What is your background?

[GLM] I have worked as a software engineer for Google, Microsoft, and Apple, and I have a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Computer Science. In addition, while I was at Google, I became very involved in the hiring process. I was in the top 1% of interviewers at Google, and served on its hiring committee. In addition, I have interviewed with 12 of the top companies (including Amazon and IBM) and received offers from all of them.

In short, I know both sides of the software engineering hiring process thoroughly!

[PC] Have you written any other books? Tell us about those.

[GLM] I have written one other book, called The Google Resume: How to Prepare for a Career and Land a Job at Apple, Microsoft, Google, or any Top Tech Company.

Whereas Cracking the Coding Interview focuses just on software engineering interview prep, The Google Resume is a more comprehensive book that details the entire recruiting timeline, from college projects and majors to designing a resume, writing cover letters, and negotiating an offer.

Getting a great job starts well before the interview and continues long after, and The Google Resume shows candidates that process.

[PC] Why did you decide to self publish your book? Did you first try the traditional publishing channel or had you decided to self-publish from the beginning?

[GLM] Being an engineer, I took an “iterative” approach to writing. Actually, I really hadn’t intended to write a real “book” at all.

I wrote Cracking the Coding Interview as a PDF interview guide which I sold directly from CareerCup. Candidates loved it, so I continued to expand the contents. Pretty soon I had written a book – only it was a PDF instead of a physical book. Finding someone to print it was the next logical step, so that’s how I wound up self-publishing. It was mostly an accident!

I’ve since gotten a number of offers from publishing houses to publish my book for me, but there’s no reason for me to do that. With enough work, you can do almost everything that a traditional publishing house can do – and make far higher royalties in the process.

For my second book, The Google Resume, I did decide to publish with Wiley, which is one of the largest US publishers. The reason that I did that is that I knew that there was an awful lot I didn’t yet know about publishing, and I wanted to learn from how they did things.

[PC] How much time and work went into each revision?

[GLM] For the most recent edition, I worked on it for about nine months.

[PC] How is the book doing?

[GLM] It’s doing better than I ever expected! It’s currently Amazon’s #1 book in Interviewing, #1 in Software Development, and #361 out of all books. (PC: The Indian edition is also in the top 100 bestsellers across all categories on Flipkart for past 7-8 months.)

[PC] We recently saw a Russian version of your book. How did you decide which all markets to cover and how did you go about releasing the book there?

[GLM] The book is being translated and published in Russian, Traditional Chinese (Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan), Simplified Chinese (China), Japanese, and Korean. I’m also working out some other deals right now. The publishing houses have all approached me. They are, presumably, finding me from my high sales rank on Amazon and picking my book based on the large technical audiences in those countries.

[PC] It is clear that writing a good book takes a lot of effort. Do you think it has been worth it? Has it helped you in advancing your career?

[GLM] I’m a bit unusual as compared to most non-fiction authors. I actually support myself from my book sales. So, yes, it has helped my career a lot!

My book has also landed me a number of speaking engagements at top schools around the US, a major conference in Canada, and an NIT and an IIT in India. And when I start my next venture, I’m sure the credibility and name recognition will be very valuable.

[PC] Do you get fan mail? 🙂 How does it feel when someone comes back and thanks you for writing the book?

[GLM] I get a number of emails, tweets (@gayle), or Facebook comments (http://www.facebook.com/gayle) from people thanking me for my book and telling me how it helped them land their dream job. I try to respond to all of them, and it always feels great to know that I helped someone.

[PC] Thanks a lot for talking to us! We wish you all the success and even more readers in time to come!

Note: We also asked Gayle for her advice to fellow authors in the technical genre. That will be coming up in the next post. Stay tuned!