During coding interviews, after you have finished your initial implementation of the question, your interviewer might ask you “are you finished with this part?”

Instead of saying yes immediately, try the following: “I think I am, but can you give me a minute to check over the code?”

Using that minute to follow this checklist will show your interviewer you care about readability and can help you find common bugs.

  1. Choose self-describing variable and function names

    For variable names, string together 2-4 words to describe the data. For example, activeUsers or indexOfMaxHeight. I like to use variables similar to numFoo or isBar for variables representing counts and booleans, respectively. For functions, use the “verb + noun” pattern. For example, getThing() or isBar().

    Generally, avoid single-character names like x, unless you use i as a loop index for a small (2-5 line) singly-nested loop.

  2. Choose appropriate data structures

    Every data structure has a prototypical element access style, query to run against the data, or both. Here is a non-exhaustive list.

    Data structure Traversal pattern Query
    Queue Accessing the single least recently added item -
    Stack Accessing the single most recently added item -
    Vector Accessing arbitrary elements by index -
    Heap - What is the smallest element contained?
    Map Access all key-value pairs in arbitrary order What is the value associated with this key?
    Set Accessing all elements in an arbitrary order Is this item in the data?

    If you are accessing data from one of these data structures in a way other than the way listed in the table, you likely have chosen the wrong data structure. For example, if you only access the back of a vector and never access an element by its index, consider using a stack instead.

    Similarly, if you find yourself running a query like “is this item in the data” on a heap, consider using a set instead since membership tests are its raison-detre.

  3. Ensure code within the same function is at the same level of abstraction.

    Consider this code:

     bool hasOverdueBooks(ID userId) {
         set<Loan> usersLoans = getLoansForUser(userId);
         for (const auto& loan : usersLoans) {
             string dueYear = atoi(loan.dueDate.substr(0, 4));
             string dueMonth = atoi(loan.dueDate.substr(5));
             if (dueYear < currentYear())
                 return false;
             if (dueYear == currentYear() && dueMonth < currentMonth())
                 return false;
         return true;

    This code is hard for your interviewer to follow because it uses three distinct levels of abstraction in the same function. The first line speaks in the langauge of business objects - user and loan objects. The first two lines of the for-loop speak the language of string manipulation. The last four lines of the loop speak the language of date comparisons.

    Split this into three helper functions to match the three levels of abstraction.

     pair<int, int> parseYearAndMonth(const string& s) {
         // Code in this function uses "string" abstractions
         int year = atoi(s.substr(0, 4));
         int month = atoi(s.substr(5));
         return {year, month};
     bool isLoanOverdue(const Loan &loan) {
         // Code in this function uses "date" abstractions
         pair<int, int> dueYearAndMonth = parseYearAndMonth(loan.dueDate);
         return dueYearAndMonth < make_pair(currentYear(), currentMonth());
     bool hasOverdueBooks(ID userId) {
         // Code in this function uses "library" abstractions
         set<Loan> usersLoans = getLoansForUser(userId);
         return any_of(usersLoans.begin(), usersLoans.end(), isLoanOverdue);

    Our new code is the same length as the old code, but can be more easily read.

  4. Verify const-correctness

    If you can add const in front of variables or parameters, do so.

  5. Avoid magic numbers

    Replace these with well-named constants.

  6. Trace through the parts of code similar to index + 1 or index - 1.

    This is a typical pattern when accessing the previous or next element in a collection, but it is error-prone.

  7. Make sure you handle the “empty input” edge case

  8. Offer to write a few tests for your code

    If you’ve checked the previous seven steps items and are ready to move on, try: “Should I write some tests for this function?”

    Your interviewer would probably have asked you to write a test anyways and will appreciate your taking the initiative. Remember the acronym ZOMBIE (zero, one, many, etc) when writing a comprehensive set of tests. You can learn more about that here.

    Some firms don’t let you write tests. If you are interviewing at such a place, offer to instead trace through your code for a small input.