This page contains a guide for the Amazon Software Development Engineer (SDE) interview process. We will cover the different stages of the hiring process as well as the different skills that the interviewers will look for when assessing candidates.
The Amazon Software Development Engineer (SDE) interview is really a set of interviews (as many as four in one day) evaluating candidates’ technical and behavioral aptitudes.
After completing an application and passing an Online Coding Assessment, the SDE candidate must go through the interview process in order to get accepted as an Amazon employee.
Only those candidates that successfully pass all interview rounds are allowed to move on to choose the team they will work at and eventually receive a final job offer from Amazon.
The Amazon Software Development Engineer (SDE) interview process includes four rounds of interviews, typically held within the same day.
Before you start the interview, you must make sure that all the devices and software that you need for the interview work reliably.
Make sure that both your computer’s webcam and microphone are working reliably and that Amazon Chime is running smoothly. (Amazon virtual interviews can only be held through Amazon Chime).
You should dress neatly, although the virtual interview is not a formal black-tie event. Each interview stage can last up to an hour, so you should have water and snacks ready next to your computer so you can be reasonably full and hydrated throughout the process.
You are expected to sound polite, professional, and confident throughout the interview process. You can achieve this by practicing for the interview in advance so that you can perform better under pressure.
Moreover, you are expected to answer certain types of questions using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) format. Stick to this format when answering behavioral questions in the interview.
Throughout the SDE interview process, you will meet a variety of different interviewers. These interviewers will form a sort of committee called a ‘panel’ in which they will discuss your application and take a vote on whether to hire you. To succeed, you must understand what the role of the different interviewers is in this process.
Normally, the hiring manager is the person who will be your direct superior in your job – in the case of an SDE role, this will be a Software Development Manager. In some cases, the manager is not available to interview you directly, so instead, you will be interviewed by someone who acts as a proxy for the hiring manager.
This is considered to be the easiest part of the interview process because the Software Development Manager is the one who is looking to take someone on to fill an opening in his or her team. Talking to the manager (or his proxy) is also a great opportunity for you to ask about the challenges and requirements of working for Amazon as a Software Development Engineer.
The bar raiser is a supposedly ‘impartial’ participant in the interview process, and he’s there to ensure that the interview process is fair and unbiased.
In truth, his job is to ‘raise the bar’ as the name implies – to ask complex questions and to drill down to get you to elaborate on your previous answers. The Bar Raiser’s job is to challenge you, so get ready in advance!
During the interview process, experts in the specific field you are applying to work in are going to be present. The technical experts’ job is to ask questions that evaluate your technical skills related to their field of expertise.
All Amazon employees are encouraged to take part in the hiring process and in the training of other employees. During your interview, you may encounter some of these employees who will be taking part and ‘shadowing’ the other interviewers. This is part of Amazon’s interviewer training process.
The Amazon interview is not a mere formality. It is designed to genuinely challenge candidates and to be an impartial process.
For this reason, you can expect the interviewers to pause multiple times to take notes during the interview, challenge you with complex questions, interrupt your responses to ask you to provide more details or ask follow-up questions.
In some cases, the interviewers might prompt you to provide more information in your replies. On the other hand, interviewers will often be available to answer questions about their own experience working for Amazon, which you can use to improve your own knowledge.
When a company wants to build a large and complex software system, there is a myriad of ways to create a piece of software that works.
But if one wants to have a software system that can be maintained and used by many different employees over the course of many years, employees that don’t necessarily know each other or even talk to each other, it’s necessary to have a system that is well designed and easy to maintain. For this reason, Amazon evaluates candidates for system design skills.
This competency evaluates candidates’ ability to design a software system, in other words, to explain the system’s overall layout rather than discuss specific code issues. You should be able to discuss system design in the context of requirements such as latency, redundancy, scalability, reliability, and performance.
You should review the various elements of a system such as data storage and decision components, APIs, and processes.
You should also review your knowledge of SOA, distributed systems, and multi-tiered software architecture.
Finally, you should be practicing your whiteboard skills and your hand-drawing skills because you will almost certainly be asked to present your system design on a whiteboard.
Don’t be too embarrassed to ask clarifying questions during the interview. Your ability to ask for help and communicate clearly is part of the skills that you are being assessed on.
Your system design must meet the requirements that the interviewer asks for – in some cases, a system must be designed for speed of response, in other cases, you optimize for storage capacity or reliability. You must be certain what exactly the objective of the task is.
It’s not sufficient to have a design that responds to the client’s requirements. It is necessary to also think of operational limitations and requirements. The system must be something that a company can use in its day-to-day work.
For this, you must be aware of the key technical and business metrics for the system’s performance, and the system’s potential points of failure. In a well-designed system, you should minimize single points of failure and implement redundancy where possible.
Finally, a system should have a usable maintenance interface that can be used to produce error logs or other information for debugging in the event of a problem.
Any software designer should be able to identify problems and drawbacks in his approach. You should be able to clearly discuss the tradeoffs of different approaches to your system design.
Moreover, you should be able to identify your own shortcomings. If an interviewer asks you to talk about a subject you’re unfamiliar with in detail, you should admit that you’re not familiar with the subject and suggest a different topic in which you do have detailed expertise.
For Amazon Software Development Engineer candidates, it’s important that they be able to identify software that can scale effectively. This is because Amazon is an immense company and its software must be able to deal with increasing loads.
Another item you must keep in mind is fault tolerance and redundancy. For a customer-oriented company such as Amazon, it’s necessary that all software be designed to be as reliable and redundant as possible.
Amazon Software Development Engineers – like anyone working in a software development role for Amazon – are expected to maintain design competencies beyond just writing code. The three main competencies that you will be assessed on are described below.
Because Amazonians work in a team, you are required to produce code that is readable, reusable, maintainable, and understandable – in other words, code that can be understood and maintained by other employees without them needing your help.
To demonstrate your skills in this area, you should be able to provide clear technical descriptions of your solutions and write clean-written, syntactically correct code in real-time during the interview (rather than just answering an assignment).
Software Design Engineers should have a clear understanding of data structure design. Here you should rehearse your knowledge of binary search trees and scalability methods, common algorithms, and the data structures used in core libraries (e.g., hash maps, lists, trees, queues, arrays, etc.).
As a Software Design Engineer, you should be able to solve complex technical problems by breaking them down into simple tasks and translating the solution into good code.
You should not only rehearse your technical skills, but practice understanding complex and vague problems – the interviewer will usually pose the problem in a deliberately vague way and is looking to see your own ability to clarify it by asking questions.
Amazon is a technology company, and candidates are expected to have a broad knowledge of technical topics beyond the direct issues they’ll be assessed for. Knowledge of internet technology, artificial intelligence, big data, and multiple programming languages is expected, as well as familiarity with object-oriented design and distributed computing.
Amazon Software Developers are expected to adhere to a series of principles in their work, and in your interview, you should try and demonstrate how you will work towards them.
You are expected to:
Have excellent functional skills: design, develop, build, test, and operate the best code.
As a company, Amazon has summarized its corporate ethos in the 16 Leadership Principles.
These appear in Amazon promotional materials and training materials and on posters in Amazon offices.
In the interview, you will be expected to demonstrate how your work practices apply these principles – a topic that Amazon takes very seriously.
To demonstrate your understanding of the Leadership Principles you are expected to make use of the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to describe your past work experience or potential workplace situation. Learn about it and make sure you can improvise answers based on this method.
Amazon Software Development Engineers participate in designing systems that are deployed at a large scale across Amazon’s business units. If you’re using an Amazon service of any kind – whether AWS, Audible, or Kindle – then a team of SDEs helped design it.
At the entry-level, an SDE is paid $168,000 per year on average. Software Development Engineer wages increase as one rises through the ranks, and reach an amazing $968,000 at the higher levels, not to mention benefits and stock options – so it’s obvious you want to nail that interview!