The Interview Coding Challenge

As part of the “Get a job as a programmer” ordeal, you are required to walk the catwalk in your skimpies. Well…not really, but you are required to complete a coding challenge, which feels pretty much the same.

This torture tactic generally takes one of two forms:

1. Screen Share, a.k.a Virtual Peeping Tom: The interviewer uses a screen sharing program to watch you complete a coding challenge. You are uncomfortably aware of their presence, but Thank God you at least have access to documentation and text highlighting. You still feel dirty even after uninstalling the Screen share program, restoring your system to the factory image, and taking several showers.

2. Whiteboard (not to be confused with Waterboarding): You use a dry erase board to complete a coding challenge with no access to documentation, and without the comforting feel of your beloved keyboard. I have not had to experience this, or if I have, I am currently repressing the memory and would appreciate it if you steer clear of possible trigger words, such as “FizzBuzz” or “dry erase marker”.

Okay, so I’m being a bit melodramatic. In actuality, the interview coding challenge was not nearly as horrific as I had imagined. The night terrors ended after a few weeks, and my husband tells me the I’ve stopped mumbling in my sleep.

“Recursion. Don’t eat me. You can have the Rspec. Arrays and polymorphism. Hide the children.”

Because the goal of a coding challenge is to see how a developer thinks, the interviewer is supposed to be quiet while the programmer is supposed to talk out loud about what they are thinking.

It’s kind of like practicing a speech in the mirror, only it’s a double-sided mirror, and the person on the other side gets to decide if you get a job. And you’re in your underwear.

I have been told the underwear part is optional, but being inappropriately dressed makes me feel more like a developer. Flannel pajama pants and a stained Metallica t-shirt also do the trick.

Throughout the entire coding exercise, I was distracted by thoughts like, “Wow, Julie. You are totally bombing this” and “Oh my God, did you really just say that out loud?” and “I’m sure he has interviewed pumpkins with a more intelligent approach to this problem.”

After enduring about 15 minutes of awkward one-sided conversation, I solved the problem. Or at least, I thought I had, but I wasn’t really sure because I had no way of checking my answer, and apparently the interviewer hadn’t worried about being able to check it either.

The whole point, apparently, was to prove that I could talk to myself while faking confidence.

After I finished, the first thing he said to me was, “Well, clearly you have skill.”

My immediate thought was “I do?” followed by “Oh, yeah…of course I do. I should pretend I knew that.”

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5 thoughts on “The Interview Coding Challenge

  1. Grim. I was a software development manager for a Large Unnamed Online Retailer for 2 years and I hate this type of interview. Coding on demand without reflection and thinking about the problem (and, y’know, maybe talking to users and stakeholders and others who have interest) is not what I consider to be what makes a great developer.

    Although I _do_ love hearing how people think through things, but not everyone is as .. verbose and (ok, let’s be honest) inclined to narrate all their thoughts as some of us are. I’ve worked with lots of people who are excellent problem-solvers who prefer to take a bit more time to think about what they’re going to say out loud than others.

    But more than that (and part of the reason I left LUOR) one of the most important parts of being a developer is being able to work with others, not work solo. It’s interesting to see how you think and figure things out, but I’m also very interested to know how you work with others. The best interview process I’ve heard of is one where you take a real problem the company has, sit down with a few people who work on that problem, and try to solve it with them.

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  2. (as an aside, I don’t know if WP.com has any sort of DM-like functionality, but I would be very interested in talking to you about how you decided to pursue this career – as a woman who’s been in the s/w industry for.. ugh… 20 years now, I’ve seen a lot of people leave and while it looks like there’s finally real awareness about some of the root causes of the diversity issues in tech, it’s still an uphill battle. If you are interested in talking, please let me know!)

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