Coding interviews are fine and useful posted on 16 February 2024

There is a constant flow of posts complaining about some form of coding interviews, whether these are leet code style, take home, peer programming etc.. Here’s my take on them: Any format is fine as long as these 2 conditions are met:

  • The format of the interview is provided to the candidate
  • The expectations of the interview are provided to the candidate and are relevant to the job

If that’s the case, it is a level playing field. From there, some candidates will have an edge on others because of their background, experience etc., but at least those who may lag behind can prepare for it. To give more colors to my previous statement:

  • Coding interviews are probably easier for people enjoying playing on leetcode, hackerrank etc.
  • Take home assignments are probably more difficult for people with busy schedules (e.g. parents with kids).
  • Pair programming sessions are probably more challenging for people with social anxiety.

This is akin to an exam where what you can do is to make sure all examinees have access to the same content. If you don’t want to train for your interview, it’s fine but you can’t complain if you perform less well than a candidate that will invest time in it.

Another aspect that people often point out is how relevant these coding interviews are with the job. While I’m not a fan of questions with an exotic solution (e.g. finding the repeated integer in a list of sequential but unsorted integers), there’s more to a coding interview than writing working code – you have to structure your thoughts, communicate about them and translate them to clear/concise code. Even as a senior IC, you should be able to write good code – I’m a senior staff engineer and still spend most of my time writing code.

The only exception to what I wrote I could foresee is for DEI purposes where some candidates may not have a fair shot even if they are given the content/expectations of an interview, but this is a whole different problem that probably warrants its own post.

Thoughts? Are you a friend or foe of coding interviews?

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