Learn System Design from Real-world Scenarios

Steven(Liang) Chen
3 min readJan 4, 2023

This blog post is based on my takeaway from System Design Interview Volume 1 and Volume 2 — by Alex Xu

These books are the best (interview-oriented) system design books I have read.

Introduction

Firstly we need to understand the structure of the system design interview. Let’s take the Atlassian system design interview as an example.

Atlassian system design interview description

According to their description, we can get some key points:

  • 60 minutes session
  • many viable solutions
  • scale system under specific conditions
  • tackle the problem from real-world scenarios

The key points show us what a typical system design interview looks like and what the interviewer expects to hear during the interview.

The Frame

Like playing tennis, you need to have your framework to hit high-quality shots. We need this kind of frame in the system design interview as well.

system design interview frame

This is the frame from the book System Design Interview.

Step 1 Understand the problem and establish the design scope we need to discuss with the interviewer the functional and non-functional requirements of this system and the scale of the system.

Step 2 high-level design and get buy-in take the news feed from this book as an example

example from System Design Interview — Alex Xu

The goal of this step is to provide a blueprint of the design and reach an agreement with the interviewer. Rather than spending too much time on the detail, you can make use of some concrete examples to explain your high-level design.

Step 3 Dive Deep

Within one hour interview we cannot explain all the details of our design we need to listen to the feedback and confirm with the interviewer to decide which part we need to explain further in detail.

above is a detailed version of the news feed example.

Step 4 Wrap up

There are several things worth doing in this part.

  • Summarize your design
  • Identify the bottleneck
  • potential improvement
  • Scale up plan

How to prepare

Grab yourself a hard copy of the system design book I find these two are really good and I have finished reading both of them.

Step 1: Prepare your frame

Before you practice system design interview with a real person make sure you already have a frame in your mind.

Step 2: Practice with a real person

Conclusion

To wrap up the top 3 priority

  • Communication
  • Pros and Cons of different solutions
  • Practice with your frame

The interviewer would really value your communication skills as you are the potential colleague with them so interviewers would like a person easy to communicate with.

Wish you good luck in your next system design interview.

Reference

  • System Design Interview an insider’s guide — Alex Xu
  • System Design Interview — An Insider’s Guide: Volume 2 — Alex Xu, Sahn Lam

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