Over the last couple of months, this column has covered dynamic languages such as JavaScript, and how they differ from traditional statically compiled languages like C or C++. Since many readers have requested a discussion on programming interview questions, this month’s column takes a break from JavaScript and features a medley of interview questions.

1.    You have been asked to design a price comparison website for online gold jewellery sellers. One of the ways of getting the data from online stores is to crawl their websites and get their product price lists. Hence, you need to design a code snippet that, given a URL, will crawl all URLs reachable from the page at that URL, and store the page contents of each URL as separate files in a directory. Write a C code snippet to do this. (Clue: Try to consider this a graph traversal problem.)
2.    We are all familiar with the spanning trees of a graph. A spanning tree of a graph G(V,E) is a subset of the graph’s edges, such that it forms a tree spanning all vertices of the graph. The Minimum Spanning Tree (MST) of a graph with weighted edges is a spanning tree whose sum of edge weights is the minimum among all the spanning trees possible for a graph. Questions on spanning trees and MSTs are quite popular in software interviews, so do make sure you read up on algorithms to construct MSTs. Kruskal’s algorithm and Prim’s algorithms are popular for constructing MSTs. Both are greedy algorithms, which we have discussed in one of the earlier columns. Here is a variant of the standard MST question: If you are given a weighted graph, how can you find the maximum spanning tree? (The maximum spanning tree is the spanning tree whose sum of edge weights is the maximum.) Is it possible to use a greedy algorithm to determine the maximum spanning tree?
3.    Given a sequence of ‘n’ integers a1, a2, a3. an, what is the maximum number of inversions that are possible in any permutation of the sequence? An inversion is a pair of elements that are out of sorted order. For instance, an array of integers sorted in ascending order has zero inversions. Can you write a code snippet to determine the number of inversions, given a permutation of ‘n’ integers? What is the expected time complexity of your algorithm?
4.    Many of the popular programming languages like Java, Ruby, Scala, JavaScript, etc, support automatic memory management, which means that dynamically allocated memory can be freed automatically by the language runtime once it is no longer needed. This is popularly known as garbage collection, and a number of complex algorithms have been developed for this purpose. However, C/C++ requires the programmer to perform explicit memory management by freeing the memory through free/delete calls. What makes it difficult to implement an automatic memory reclamation facility for C? How would you design a garbage collector for C? What language features would you ask your developers to forego if you wanted to design an efficient garbage collector for C?
5.    We are all familiar with the concept of adjacency in a graph. Two vertices are said to be adjacent if there is an edge connecting them. A set of vertices, S, such that no two vertices in S have an edge between them, is known as an independent set of the graph G. Given a graph G(V,E), can you find the maximum independent set of G? The maximum independent set is that independent set containing the maximum number of vertices among all independent sets. Given an arbitrary graph G, can you design a polynomial-time algorithm to find the maximum independent set of G? If so, give the algorithm. If not, explain why no polynomial-time algorithm is possible? Would your answer change if the graph was determined to be a tree? If you are asked to colour a graph, and you are given the different independent sets present in the graph, how would you use that information to colour the graph with a minimum number of colours?
6.    Given strings A, B and C, find out if string C is an interleaved version of strings A and B. Basically, the same order of letters, but mixed together, is an interleaving. For example, A = abcd; B = xyz; C = abxcydz is an interleaving but not if C is baxcdyz. Write an algorithm to determine if string C is an interleaving of strings A and B. How would you handle the case if a character in A is also present in B? What is the complexity of your algorithm:
(a)     when there are no duplicate characters in strings A and B, and
(b)     when there are duplicate characters in strings A and B?
7.    We all know that eggs break when dropped from a height. If you are present in a skyscraper with N floors, you are told that if you drop an egg from floor K or any floor above it, to the ground, then the egg will break. If you drop the egg from a floor below K to the ground, then it will not break. You are given a supply of eggs, and asked to determine the value of K. What would be your strategy of determining the value of K if you are given an infinite supply of eggs? How would your solution change if you are given only three eggs?
8.    You are given two sets of integers:Set A and Set B, both containing n integers each. You are given a value ‘k’. You are asked to find out whether there exists a pair of integers (a,b) such that a e A, b e B and a + b = k. A brute-force method would be to test each pair of integers (a,b). However, this would require a complexity of O(n^2). Can you design an algorithm which can be more efficient than the brute-force algorithm? Can you design a solution which has O(nlogn) complexity?
9.    We are familiar with different synchronisation mechanisms like mutex, semaphore, etc. Is it possible to implement these different synchronisation mechanisms if the underlying architecture does not support an atomic way of testing a memory location for the presence of a specific value, and changing it to a new value? (By atomic, I mean that both the events the testing of the memory location and the writing of a new value to it either happen successfully, or neither of them happens.)
10.    We are all familiar with algorithms for finding the median in linear time. A popular one is the variant of quick-sort based on the partition procedure of quick-sort, so that we limit our search for the median continuously to one side of the given array. (For a detailed discussion of the implementation, see However, consider a large stream of integers that are continuously getting generated and passed on to you. You are asked to return the median for the stream of integers already received. (Clue: Remember that you are asked for the median, multiple times. So spending a lot of effort on setting up a data structure such that repeated queries are faster, would amortise over the multiple queries you would receive.) Design an algorithm that returns the median for the stream of integers that have been received till that point in time. What is the complexity of your algorithm?
My must-read book for this month
This month’s suggestion for the must-read book/article comes from me, though it actually is neither a single book, nor an article. I wanted to suggest that you look through the online algorithms course on the COURSERA website ( The algorithms course is taught by Robert Sedgewick, author of the popular book on data structures.
Another online course I would like to recommend to our readers is the Design of Computer Programs (CS212) Programming Principles, which is available at Udacity ( This is an excellent course to improve your problem solving skills.
If you have a favourite programming book or article that you think is a must-read for every programmer, please do send me a note with the book’s name, and a short write-up on why you think it is useful, so I can mention it in this column. It would help many readers who want to improve their coding skills.
If you have any favourite programming puzzles that you would like to discuss on this forum, please send them to me, along with your solutions and feedback, at sandyasm_AT_yahoo_DOT_com. Till we meet again next month, happy programming and here’s wishing you the very best!


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