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Google Systems Engineer Interview Questions & Reviews

Updated Apr 14, 2014
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Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer

I applied through a recruiter and the process took 1 week - interviewed at Google.

Interview Details – The initial screening was straightforward. The problem arose when my first phone screening was with a network engineer despite my indication that I was not strong in the area of networking.

He repeatedly asked networking questions despite my reiteration that networking was not my area of expertise.

Interview Question – How does ARP spoofing work.   View Answer

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4 people found this helpful

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Neutral Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer

I applied through a recruiter and the process took 3 weeks - interviewed at Google in April 2013.

Interview Details – I was contacted by a Google recruiter via LinkedIn to see if I was interested in exploring an opportunity with the Site Reliability Engineering team. Even though I'm very happy in my current position, who turns up their first chance to interview with Google? I was contacted on a Thursday and had an initial recruiter phone screen set up for the following Monday.

The recruiter started by asking me to talk about my background and experience, then explained the position to me. After rating myself on a number of different topics (networking, UNIX internals, UNIX administration, Python, Java, C++, C, Shell scripting, etc.), I was asked six fairly basic questions. I got all of them correct (none were very difficult), and the recruiter told me that someone would reach out to me in the next few days to schedule a technical phone interview in a couple weeks. She also let me know that she'd be providing me with some documents that discussed what kind of information I should brush up on to prepare myself.

A couple days later, I received an email with a time for the phone interview as well as the link to a Google Doc they'd use for scripting questions to simulate a whiteboard. The interview was scheduled for about a week and a half later, so I had time to review the interview prep docs.

The docs themselves were definitely helpful. After reviewing them, I was able to identify places that I needed some refreshers and concentrated there.

When the interview itself came, the call came on time. The interviewer was friendly and easy to talk to. He introduced himself and asked if I had any questions (I told him I'd wait until the end in case any were answered during the interview, though I was never given a chance to ask again -- probably due to time constraints), and then we dove right in to the technical questions.

I was asked a series of increasingly complex networking questions that started out *very* basic (How does a switch work?) and became more complex as he got a feel for my skill levels. After a while, we moved on to Linux/UNIX internals (processes, signals, etc.).

The second half of the interview was a scripting exercise in the shared Google Doc. Without giving too much away, I was asked to write a script that would parse data from a passwd file and return some information. Though I expected this, I found scripting in a word processor significantly more difficult than I had anticipated. It took me much longer than I'd hoped, and after the interview I kept thinking of little problems I hadn't caught.

By the end of the scripting exercise, the interviewer seemed pretty disinterested and abruptly ended the call with a promise that the recruiter would follow up after he'd submitted his feedback.

A great credit to Google, I received a call about a week later from my recruiter who let me know that they decided to pass. She also mentioned that the feedback from the interviewer was that I was very strong in networking and UNIX questions, but that they felt that I didn't have enough scripting experience. She invited me to apply again down the road and told me that she'd keep me in mind in the future for similar positions.

All in all, though I'm disappointed, it was definitely refreshing to be provided actual feedback on the results of my interview as well as a phone call rather than a canned email or complete silence.

Interview Question – How much faster is DNS considering that it uses UDP instead of TCP?   View Answer

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3 people found this helpful

No Offer

Negative Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Anonymous Interview Candidate
Mountain View, CA

I applied through an employee referral and the process took 6 days - interviewed at Google in March 2010.

Interview Details – I am a seasoned software engineer with 15 years of excellent experience in developing highly performant software systems, and am well-rounded enough to have participated in everything from design of hardware, operating systems components, all the way to GUI widgets and interface systems.

A friend of mine who works at Google worked hard to convince me to interview there, and submitted my name to his manager, who arranged for the recruiter to contact me.

The recruiter was extremely arrogant from the start. He never really understood my core capabilities and seemed to discredit much of my prior work experience. I cannot easily handle personal calls during my work house, but I agreed to be able to take some phone interviews when he explained they set them up a day in advance. In actuality, both phone interviews I had a maximum of 45 minutes to leave work and make it home to take the phone call. The recruiter was very unprofessional in many aspects of communicating important details like this to me. (Details matter, unless you work at Google!)

Both phone interviews went poorly, primarily because the interviewers were being exceptionally obtuse. I couldn't get a straight answer out of either of them. One interviewer tried to ask me things in non-sensical language and when I tried to ask for clarification, he got mad at me. I guess his impression of engineers are that they can read minds, or perhaps can learn his special short-hand speaking style in a 30 minute call.

The worst part was the final call from the recruiter, and he said to me "At least you got to interview with Google... not everybody can say that". What an arrogant and classless attitude. I responded by saying that they should be thankful that at least they got to interview with me, because not every company can say that.

Interview Questions

  • Wanted to know how to implement a traceroute routine and what ICMP and TCP details would need to be developed to write the command.   Answer Question
  • Wanted to have me explain a number of different sorting algorithms that I believe are only used in file systems. The interviewer could not explain what the question was and would not clarify what he was looking for. Total failure to deliver the interview question in a way that a computer scientist could understand what was needing to be answered.   Answer Question

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Declined Offer

Negative Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer
Santa Clara, CA

The process took 2 weeks - interviewed at Google in December 2008.

Interview Details – Google has the most obtuse hiring process of any company I've spoken with in my 12-year career. Interview questions have little to no relevance to the job being applied for, and seem to be little more than a means by which the academics working there can massage their enormous egos.

Interview Question – How many trailing zeros are in the number 5! (5 factorial)?   View Answers (8)

Reason for Declining – After meeting with several people at the company and in the group I would have been working for I found that, while the company wants to harbor a collaborative academic type of environment, the job I was applying for and the required number of hours equated to this being no better than a high-paid sweat shop. The interview process was highly misleading and deceptive, and without substantial bonuses that were promised but likely would not have been delivered upon in this economy the salary was mediocre.

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Declined Offer

Positive Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Anonymous Interview Candidate
Bangalore (India)

I applied online and the process took 3+ weeks - interviewed at Google in February 2014.

Interview Details – very tough

Interview Question – Why u want to join google   Answer Question

Reason for Declining – depends on my mood

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No Offer

Positive Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer

I applied online and the process took 3 weeks - interviewed at Google in April 2013.

Interview Details – 1st Phone interview - questions : developer skills, preferite language, time in a day spent programming, IP, pthread, firewall, inode content, signals, python in general, C malloc, C++ delete, MAC, DNS header, quick sort
2nd Phone interview - questions: PID, PPID, precesses, thread, zombie, init, bash command top. Python: newbie questions, range() vs xrange()
3rd Phone interview - write a Python to read a file and extract significant data from it

Interview Question – Qhich is the relation between the init process and zombie processes.   Answer Question

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No Offer

Positive Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer
Dublin, Dublin (Ireland)

I applied through a recruiter and the process took 3 weeks - interviewed at Google in July 2012.

Interview Details – Contacted by a recruiter through Linkedin, we set up a first phone interview where I have been asked basic questions like how many ip addresses are in a /23 subnet, difference between hard and soft links, filesystem related syscalls. At the end recruiter asked me to rate in many areas of expertise.
Then we set up two 1h phone technical phone interviews with some of their systems engineers, these were more in-depth: again questions covered networking, Linux commands and syscalls and also included coding in a shared google doc.
Both recruiters and engineers have been very cordial and professional; my idea is that they look for people with great knowledge in Linux internals, scripting and designing/troubleshooting large scale systems.

Few days after the third phone interview I received a mail that we won't be continuing the process.

Interview Question – Differences between TCP and UDP, find all files that share the same inode number   Answer Question

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1 person found this helpful

No Offer

Neutral Experience

Average Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer
Zürich (Switzerland)

I applied through a recruiter and the process took 1 week - interviewed at Google in January 2013.

Interview Details – I got some typical and untypical questions ...

- bunch of questions related to system calls (sockets and network programming, open/close connect/listen inode, etc. ). I had to know (in details) a large number of system calls and what they are changing.
- mergesort in details (best, average and worst case)
- comparison between TCP and UDP (e.g. congestion and flow control)
- graph to find the shortest path

Interview Question – - sys. call changing inode   View Answer

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2 people found this helpful

Declined Offer

Neutral Experience

Difficult Interview

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer

I applied through a recruiter and the process took 4+ weeks - interviewed at Google in August 2012.

Interview Details – Google's hiring process is everything that you might expect it to be for a technical position with the preeminent technology company at this time. I didn't apply to them, they found me, so I suggest you have filled out things like LinkedIn and any other jobs sites you are on filled out and ready.

It is clear that they do take a lot of effort in looking for candidates, and they do multiple screens. Their questions are legendary, but I'd say that the only argument I have with the process is the idea of using corner-cases to test knowledge. A number of the questions had little to do with problem solving, and more to do with whether you remembered this or that command switch or algorithm. This makes the interview a little more haphazard as some questions I got, I would only know because I happened to do something related to it recently, and some that I know I flubbed, I would have gotten right at some point years ago where they actually came up. And all of them could have been discovered in less than five minutes of searching Google. So, if you are someone who works efficiently, but has a poor memory for certain details, you are going to be at a disadvantage. That said, there are also some coding sections and problem solving questions where you could shine, if you can think on your feet.

One thing for systems engineers to remember with Google is that they do a lot more coding than a system engineer might do elsewhere. This is due to the high level of automation that they have to deal with. So, you will get asked questions that may well be heard more frequently in developer interviews. (I do imagine that actual coders would have gotten much worse). I was prepared for this, since I like coding as a hobby and work on a number of open source projects, but if you relied on the normal experience of many sys admins I have worked with in the past, you may well find yourself a little shocked.

I also suggest that you have something ready to show them online about what you have worked on in the past. It's good to show that even though you may not like taking tests, you still get things done. It's hard to tell if that mattered for me, but they definitely ask you if you have worked on open source projects or if you have anything out there.

Interview Question – Design and describe a system/application that will most efficiently produce a report of the top 1 million Google search requests.

They provided particulars that I don't recall right now, but they told you how many servers you have to work with, how big the logs are and what state they are in, and you could designate an open source product or you had to write something on your own to do it.
  View Answer

Reason for Declining – In the end, it turns out that they do pay well, but unless you have written a book, you're not going to make much more than you could make elsewhere. For me, if I didn't have to move a few states away to work for them, I would probably have taken the job. As it was, I could not justify moving to Mountain View for what was a modest rate increase.

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No Offer

Neutral Experience

Systems Engineer Interview

Systems Engineer

I applied through a recruiter and the process took a day - interviewed at Google.

Interview Details – As others already mentioned, recruiter is gonna ask you some basic questions like how many ip addresses are in /23 subnet, inode definition, system calls name for getting the file path, how to make an executable suid. I was put off by the fact they really want you to have this information memorized instead of being able to look it up but maybe it is just me with my lazy memory. So we did not move forward.

Interview Question – They really want you to have memorised the answer rather than being able to find out in few seconds using google!   Answer Question

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