3 nightmare interviews for software program builders

This article was initially printed on .cult by Nadya Primak. .cult is a Berlin-based group platform for builders. We write about all issues career-related, make authentic documentaries, and share heaps of different untold developer tales from all over the world.

The tech trade is just not identified for having nice interviewing processes. From the infamous whiteboard interviews to algorithm challenges requiring a pc science diploma to even wrap your head round, there are every kind of outdated requirements and approaches to interviewing builders that ought to have died out years in the past. Sadly, like most legacy techniques we like to hate, these interview processes are more likely to crop up in your profession every so often. Or if you happen to’re unfortunate like me, they may pop up a bit extra usually.

To be clear, I’m not penning this put up to name out any firms particularly or for the aim of naming and shaming. For each firm at which I’ve skilled these points, there are a whole bunch of 1000’s if not thousands and thousands extra. Probably the most widespread methods tech firms apply gatekeeping is by making the interviewing course of so troublesome that it leaves everybody besides (usually) white males with a pc science diploma feeling like they aren’t ok or don’t belong there.

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On this put up, you’re going to learn among the most typical ways in which firms could make your interviewing course of a nightmare and hopefully have the ability to acknowledge them early on so that you just don’t waste your time. I’ll share private anecdotes of how they impacted me and the way I moved on previous them and you may too.

1. White board interviews

Like I mentioned within the introduction, whiteboard interviews are a type of outdated approaches that tech firms nonetheless like to torture us with. The overall concept is that you just go up in entrance of a whiteboard and write pseudo-code mapping out easy methods to clear up an algorithm.

In case it’s not instantly obvious why this strategy sucks, let me clarify. Forcing a developer to jot down code by hand is inherently unnatural as a result of it takes us out of the zone the place we do our greatest work: in entrance of a pc. It additionally robs us of our most useful gizmo: engines like google. To not point out that it has no bearing on the on a regular basis actuality of the job.

It’s particularly problematic for self-taught builders as a result of the inexpensive on-line lessons and sources have a tendency to not deal with algorithms however on extra sensible on-the-job abilities, like constructing functions. Even college students who’ve gone to a standard 4-year establishment and majored in pc science usually have to apply these algorithms each time they go in for interviews as a result of they’re simple to overlook.

I’ve misplaced monitor of what number of whiteboard interviews I’ve had however there are a couple of which can be significantly sharp in my reminiscence. One was for a small startup the place I used to be interviewing 1:1 and the man interviewing me was very awkward. I knew the algorithm he was asking me to jot down was comparatively easy however for no matter motive, my mind simply couldn’t keep in mind. As a substitute of reducing the interview off early or simply giving me a touch, the interviewer insisted on dragging out the whiteboard portion for a ridiculously very long time. I spent properly over an hour in his workplace combating it earlier than I lastly obtained to the answer. Naturally, I didn’t get the job however I used to be so pissed off after the truth that my humiliation needed to be drawn out for therefore lengthy.

The excellent news is that whiteboard interviews are falling increasingly out of vogue. There’s numerous criticism of them within the developer group and I can in all probability rely on 1 hand the variety of builders I do know who really like these kind of interviews.

2. Timed technical assessments

In case you went to highschool in the US, you in all probability have a particular place of hatred in your coronary heart for timed assessments. The primary time I took the ACT I obtained a nasty rating just because I couldn’t cease trying on the clock and worrying about how a lot time I had left. It didn’t assist that midway by way of I needed to go to the toilet, however I used to be too nervous to depart the room due to how a lot time I’d lose.

Just like the whiteboard interviews, timed technical assessments are inclined to have algorithm parts to them. A few years in the past I made a decision to attempt a type of platforms the place you’re taking a coding take a look at to create a developer profile for firms who need to outsource the technical stuff to a 3rd celebration (Employed is one instance).

There have been three completely different challenges I needed to full efficiently to be admitted into the platform. All of them had been algorithm heavy, and I had performed comparatively minimal apply. I ended up getting caught on the second problem and never having sufficient time to finish the third. It may be very demoralizing to take a take a look at and really feel like you’ve nearly no concept what you’re doing. Chances are high if you happen to’re self-taught you’ll really feel fairly demoralized because you didn’t research algorithms in school.

The added stress of timing additionally doesn’t replicate the fact of most developer jobs. There’s just about by no means a state of affairs the place you solely have 20 minutes to finish a job, in reality often coding new options  takes days and even weeks.

The excellent news is there are platforms which have popped as much as assist builders put together for these timed technical assessments. Hackerrank might be the preferred one and is a good device for self-taught and pc science degree-holding builders to brush up on these abilities.

Not like whiteboard interviews, timed technical assessments aren’t going anyplace. They’re handy for hiring managers as a result of all they must do is ship a hyperlink to the developer and the platform administers the take a look at and returns the outcomes. Hiring managers who select to make use of these platforms aren’t essentially lazy, they might simply be operating a small firm or have too many different duties to juggle. However it’s nonetheless value being cautious of this kind of interview and know what you’re getting your self into.

3. Cellphone screens

Not all cellphone screens are technical. A few of them are informal conversations with the recruiter or somebody from HR. In truth, that is often what we consider with a cellphone display. Nevertheless, generally firms get artistic or need to shorten the interview course of by skipping a technical evaluation and simply conducting a Q&A over the cellphone.

In concept, this might be nice. No technical assessments or take-home initiatives to fret about. Only a fast cellphone name and also you’re performed! This was my actual mindset after I first encountered this kind of interview. However my perspective modified rapidly after I obtained the job. I spotted that a few of my coworkers didn’t have the required abilities in any respect and had been capable of fairly simply dupe the hiring supervisor into pondering they had been competent.

The opposite hazard of cellphone screenings is technical jargon. That is once more extra of a problem for self-taught builders, however there’s a lot jargon on the planet of coding that no person’s protected. If I’m requested over the cellphone to outline a technical time period, there’s a good likelihood I do know the idea, simply not by title—however have both forgotten the time period it’s related to or I haven’t encountered it sufficient to attempt to memorize what it means. This has prompted me to fail cellphone screenings previously, or be requested to do further take-home assignments.

It’s fairly uncommon that an organization will solely do a cellphone display and never give some type of in-person or on-line coding take a look at however you would possibly encounter it if you happen to’re doing contract work or making use of for a corporation that doesn’t have numerous technical positions. Simply go ahead with warning.


Self-taught builders must be extra conscious and sometimes put together extra for interviews than their pc science diploma bearing friends. It usually boils right down to the distinction of being much less aware of the technical jargon and algorithms, that are overemphasized within the interview course of in comparison with the precise day-to-day work of software program builders.

Fortunately among the significantly disagreeable interviewing approaches like whiteboard interviews have gotten fairly unpopular, nevertheless it’s nonetheless value getting in ready and realizing there’s a chance you’ll have some sorting puzzles or phrase salad thrown your means.

You also needs to know that there are firms who really give sensible coding challenges that replicate a greater atmosphere for programmers as a result of it means they care concerning the expertise of their candidates (and sure care about their staff extra too). There may be room for enchancment but in addition numerous discourse round easy methods to enhance the interview course of within the trade, and fortunately some firms are literally listening and making huge enhancements.