22 Solution Architect Interview Questions With Answers
No matter what stage of the job hunt you’re in, researching solution architect interview questions is a good preparation strategy. In this article, we’ll provide you with some questions we commonly hear and provide you with guidance on answering them effectively. Let’s jump in!
Table of contents
Q1: Explain AWS to me.
A: AWS is Amazon’s cloud computing business. It delivers a number of different services like compute, data storage, development, analytics, and security over the internet using a reliable, scalable, and affordable cloud infrastructure.
Q2: What are some of the main AWS compute services?
A: Listen for any of the following:
Q3: Explain the difference between a public and private subnet.
A: The main difference between public and private subnets is that a public subnet is attached to an internet gateway while a private subnet is not.
Q4: What are some best practices for managing servers in Lambda?
A: Lambda is a serverless compute service, so the best practice is to let AWS take care of managing the servers.
Q5: When would you need to use an AMI?
A: You would use an AMI to launch an instance on Amazon EC2, a compute service from AWS that lets you manage virtual instances.
Q6: What’s the difference between Amazon RDS and DynamoDB?
A: Both Amazon RDS and DynamoDB are services offered by AWS, but there are some major differences between them. RDS stands for “Relational Database Service,” and it’s used for SQL databases. DynamoDB is a NoSQL database service. Unlike RDS, you can’t choose from multiple different databases with DynamoDB—the service is also the database.
Q7: What’s the difference between Amazon SQS and Amazon SNS?
A: SQS stands for Simple Queue Service, and SNS stands for Simple Notification Service. They’re both managed services, but SQS lets you use hosted queues while SNS lets you deliver messages from publishers to subscribers. SQS has a one-to-many relationship, while SNS has a many-to-many relationship.
Q8: How do you use AWS CloudFormation to deploy infrastructure as code (IaC)?
A: Here, the interviewer wants to hear about your personal experience using this tool. CloudFormations handles provisioning and configuring infrastructure, so speak to the specific templates you like to use or how you’ve customized templates in the past to better suit the applications you worked with.
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Situational and developer strategy
Q1: How do you architect with a design for failure approach?
A: “I take a defensive approach, architecting for failure on the server, application, data center, and architectural levels.”
Q2: If our website or application saw a sudden traffic spike, how would you maintain uptime?
A: “I try to incorporate elasticity into architecture wherever possible. This helps to meet demand with appropriate capacity, whether it’s low or off the charts.”
Q3: Tell me about a time when you improved page load time. What approach did you take?
A: Be on the lookout for answers that include compression and caching, but especially caching. Ideally, a candidate will have experience with a content distribution network (CDN) like Amazon CloudFront and can speak to using such a tool for caching.
Q4: Is it better to lean more towards vertical or horizontal scaling?
A: “Horizontal scaling. Vertical scaling is easy, but at some point you’ll reach a performance limit, or the cost will become prohibitive.”
Q5: What’s the difference between scalability and elasticity?
A: “Scalability has to do with software, and elasticity has to do with hardware. Scalability is the ability of a software system to handle a heavier workload by either scaling up (adding more storage or processing power to a hardware resource) or by scaling out (bringing more hardware resources online). Elasticity is the ability of the cloud infrastructure hardware to increase or decrease the number of hardware resources available to the software system.”
Q6: How would you improve application performance using AWS cloud services?
A: Start by using the AWS Well-Architected Tool to analyze, review, recommend, and remediate the application’s architecture. Based on the results of the Well-Architected Framework review, you could use a number of AWS services to improve performance.
For example, you could use EC2 to manage containers and scale automatically as needed, Elasticache to speed up information retrieval, Elastic Load Balancer for load balancing, and CloudWatch for resource and application monitoring.
Of course, it’s better to speak from experience if possible, citing specific examples of situations where you improved application performance with AWS in the past.
Q7: Let’s say you’re building a microservices architecture. How would you architect this using AWS?
A: You’ll of course want to mention all the different compute, storage and networking tools needed to build a microservices architecture, but also be sure to speak to how you would use tools like Kubernetes and Terraform in conjunction with AWS services like EC2. If you have experience working with Docker containers, it’s a good idea to mention that as well.
Q8: What’s your approach to cost optimization for applications running on AWS?
A: Again, speak to specific experiences you have with cost optimization if you can. If you’re short on experience in this area, refer back to the cost optimization best practices put forth by AWS. When in doubt, check out AWS Trusted Advisor for recommendations.
Q9: Let’s say you’ve been tasked with designing a disaster recovery plan for an application on AWS. How would you do it?
A: Thankfully, AWS offers tools for cloud backup and disaster recovery. Depending on the type of data you would be dealing with, you might want to back up the application using S3 Glacier Flexible Retrieval or AWS Elastic Disaster Recovery.
S3 Glacier Flexible Retrieval is best for instances where you would need to access archives once or twice a year and retrieve them asynchronously. AWS Elastic Disaster Recovery lets you replicate data to a subnet staging area in your AWS account from which you can restore previous backups. Elastic Disaster Recovery also comes with failover features, so you can fail back to your primary site if need be.
Of course, you should also speak to recovery time objective (the longest allowable amount of time for an application to be down) and recovery point objective (how old data can be to get the application back to operating normally).
Q10: What are some AWS tools you commonly use?
A: Only you can answer this question, but generally speaking, AWS solutions architect should have at least some familiarity with the following AWS services:
- AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM)
- AWS Single Sign-On (SSO)
- AWS Control Tower
- Amazon GuardDuty
- AWS Key Management Service
- AWS SNS and SQS
- AWS Lambda
- Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)
- Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS)
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good idea to brush up on some of these services if you’re rusty.
Q11: What’s an example of a time where you had to sacrifice short term gain for a longer-term goal?
A: How good are you at seeing the big picture, and what’s your capacity for systems thinking? As a solution architect, being able to see beyond what’s right in front of you is a highly valuable skill for organizations. The more your example speaks to your ability to set aside your ego or personal desires to the benefit of the application or infrastructure in general, the better.
Communication and soft skills questions
Q1: Tell me about an experience where a customer asked for one thing, but you felt they needed something else. How did you approach the situation, what actions did you take, and what was the final outcome?
A: Engineers of all stripes will be familiar with these types of situations. Whether the customer is a paying client or an internal stakeholder from another team or department, navigating these situations can be tricky or awkward. Answering this question with how you handled the situation is just as important as telling the interviewer about the technical solution and its outcome. Be sure to mention the way you communicated your advice to the customer and highlight how your diplomacy led to a satisfactory outcome for both parties.
Q2: Tell me about a time when you shared a good idea with your manager but they didn’t do anything with it? How did you react? What was the result of your reaction?
A: With this question as with the previous one, the interviewer is really interested in your powers of diplomacy—handling situations of competing interests with tact and grace. Your idea might have genuinely been a good one, and you may or may not know why your manager didn’t run with it. The important part is your reaction.
Think carefully about how you answer this question. Your response might be different depending on the company you’re interviewing with. If you have an example of a time when you pushed back against your manager’s inaction, that could be a sign that you know how to pick your battles and respectfully advocate for your ideas when they could really benefit the team or company.
On the other hand, some companies could see this as an indication that you’re hard to work with or that you don’t respect authority. Use your best judgment if you’re asked this question, and pay attention to how the interviewer reacts. Their reaction to your answer might also tell you something about whether or not the company is a place you’d want to work.
Q3: Tell me about a time when you were working on something and you saw an opportunity to go above and beyond the initial project scope. What did you do, and what was the outcome?
A: This is a question of initiative and creative problem solving—two very important qualities in a solution architect for many organizations. Your answer should focus on how you’re able to see the bigger picture even when head-down in the weeds in addition to how you take projects from idea to reality. It’s easy to stay quiet and follow directions, but a company that asks you this question is looking for someone more invested in how their work affects the company as a whole.
How to prepare for technical interviews
Many solution architect hiring processes include a technical interview. This is usually an advanced stage of the hiring process after a phone interview and first in-person interview but before a final interview with senior leadership.
Not all companies conduct technical interviews the same way, but many will have candidates complete a remote coding assessment or perform a coding task during an interview. Coding tasks can be done on a computer set up for the interview, but some companies choose to have candidates complete the tasks on a whiteboard in front of interviewers (whiteboard challenge).
Depending on how the organization decides to conduct this interview, the actual “interview” part of the technical interview might involve you reviewing a remote coding assessment with the hiring manager or a more traditional interview that uses coding tasks combined with questions. Technical interviews sometimes get a bad rap as being pedantic, and there is some validity to that criticism.
Make sure to thoroughly review concepts and best practices before this stage of the interview process to make sure you aren’t caught off guard by some overly obscure questions or by problems for which you would normally consult a reference guide in practice.
Preparing for the interview is only one part of getting the job
Getting a new job can be arduous, but don’t be discouraged! Good interview preparation paired with a well-written resume and cover letter will do wonders for your job search.
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