I was contacted by a Meta recruiter for a product design role in early 2021. She mentioned one of the rounds I can expect is a whiteboard design challenge, and that’s the first time I encountered it.
As an introvert, I structure my thoughts through writing, more than anything else. So I was anxious as hell.
My soul shrivelled and shrank at the prospect of getting a random prompt, working through the chaos in my head to reach a solution, and talking through it all without sounding like an incompetent idiot — all while an interviewer watched and listened and judged every fibre of my being for 35-40 mins.
I didn’t get an offer from Meta, but I did receive one from Google a few months later.
So if I can make it through a whiteboard challenge at one of the top companies in the world, you can too.
Breathe. Relax. We can do this.
Let’s see how.
This article is going to be a bit different from the usual kind that tells you how to ace a whiteboard design challenge. This will go beyond and a bit deeper.
If you do a quick search for whiteboard challenge methods or structures or approaches, you’ll find a huge number of resources — articles, videos and even a book or two. There are some incredible designers at some of the top companies in the world who are willing to share their secrets to cracking this incredibly scary round.
So how do you decide where to start?
The short answer is, it doesn’t matter at this point. You could go through any one of the top three results you find in your search and start. I’ve curated some of them for you at the end of this article. But there will be a time when your structure matters, and it isn’t now. I’ll tell you when that happens.
During my interview prep, I spent way too much time at this step rather than moving to the next one, which is…
Practice makes perfect, as they say, and that holds very true here.
Some forums and websites list whiteboard prompts from top companies, but I won't recommend them because
- Companies frequently update and change their prompts, so it’s likely that what you practice may not show up
- You may end up getting a false sense of preparedness by just rehashing a few of these challenges
Instead, set aside time to work on random design prompts that let you exercise your muscles of adaptability and design thinking. Sharpen and Designercize are two of my favourites. For virtual whiteboards, I’d recommend Excalidraw.
Aim to whiteboard at least a few design challenges per week. You can start doing them alone with the help of a timer, but I’d recommend partnering with someone as soon as possible.
Find a designer friend. Or sign up for a peer group or community of designers where you will easily find others who are willing to help you practice. The actual challenge you're preparing for will involve another person, so the sooner you can get to that experience, the better.
Your first few rounds will probably feel like exercises in masochism.
You may blank out. You may kick yourself for not thinking of certain use cases or solutions or ideas that seem obvious in hindsight.
Let it go.
We get better at anything by sucking at it first. That’s how most journeys have gone since the dawn of time, and the realm of whiteboard challenges is no different.
Be patient with yourself, and review each session. I’d recommend recording them so you can play them back later.
See where you did well. See where you could improve.
Do you spend more time thinking about the problem space or the solution space? Are you responding well to prompts from your partner? Do you go wide before you go deep or do you pick something and run with it? How do you adapt when you realise that time is running out?
During my practice, I realised I often spent too much time in the problem space and too little in the solution space. This made me realise where my strengths lie and where I need to balance things out a bit more.
Do this for yourself. Each round should lead you to a deeper understanding of who you are as a designer.