Further, I think it needs to be said that at smaller companies (read: startups) whats really happening is that applicants are being evaluated for whether or not they're cool enough to join the club. We call it "culture fit" but we're really just trying to vet their personalities.
EDIT: To be clear I do think people's personalities need to be evaluated, especially with smaller teams. I just think we should drop the pretense that "implementing" a depth first tree search on a whiteboard tells us anything other than that they could summon that algorithm at that moment in time with that amount of coffee and whether or not they had a pleasant morning. First of all, I want engineers that are good at working with others, and second of all it takes months to truly evaluate an engineers ability to do their job. We gain nothing by pretending this isn't the case.
Whiteboard problems absolutely do work.
The vast majority of applicants cannot code at all. And I mean that literally: they're at a loss at how to write a function that adds two numbers or counts the number of elements in a list.
Worse is that these guys can be employed as developers (even 'senior' ones!) for years and years in 'serious' enterprises.
How, you ask? By using copy-paste and cleverly navigating their enterprise processes and dodging responsibility.
Maybe this is what you mean by 'being good at working with others', but it's definitely not what I want in a software developer.
Source: I've interviewed a great deal of people for lots of positions over the years.
Of course once I did land a job it took about a week to shake off the rustiness, and the company that hired me is thrilled.
The point is that companies like Google and Facebook can afford to miss out on those devs. But smaller companies should be looking for diamonds in the rough, not trying to mimic the FAANGs and getting their leftovers.
I speak from personal experience. I failed my first FAANG style interview both because I had not prepared nor understood how white board interviews really work and because a huge subset of my skill had gotten rusty over the years. But when I first failed I was really upset and very quickly wrote off the entire process as a ridiculous test. Looking back I was a true negative and needed to brush up on a range of skills.
When I was a junior dev I spent nearly all my time studying programming, CS and software. But as I got more senior I definitely relaxed a bit on all of that and coasted more on the inertia of past successes than I should have. Yes I was good at my current job, and the ones before it, but those only represent a small subset of the skills a senior engineer should have. What made me a great engineer in one specific company allowed me to let other skills that I wasn't using decline a bit.
By being a bit more honest with myself I spent a long time getting back into the things that I used to love and also learned how to practice whiteboards. All my white board interviews after that were a success.
I think a huge push back by senior devs against these interviews is that they don't want to admit that, while they have gained a ton of valuable experience, they might not be as strong of a software engineer as they once were.
However, and I think this is the crux of the problem, you're not paying senior developers for that. I've never had to actually do any algorithm slinging on this job. The fanciest it usually gets is chaining some maps and filters.
On the other hand, I have had to do "rocket surgery" on critical path legacy code, write business logic in a maximally predictable and readable way, figure out how to land a non-backwards compatible change with no downtime, convince other teams to help with an initiative my team is leading, design an internal API, etc.
Doing that stuff requires experience, rigor, resourcefulness, and I'm sure you can come up with more "senior" traits. My personal complaint about whiteboard interviews, even systems design interviews, is that they only indirectly measure those traits.
From this perspective, a technical whiteboard interview is one of many tools. Interviews I give usually start with “so your boss asks you to solve problem X ... where do you start?”. Then I throw more and more problems at them (technical, organisational, etc) and see how they respond. “It’s in production and people start complaining that it’s slow. Where do you look first?”. “What problems do you foresee with this design down the line?”. “If you had $1m/yr budget to hire a team to scale this system, what would your ideal team look like? How would you spend the money?”. “An inexperienced team implements this and it’s buggy. What mistakes are you worried they might have made?”
Ultimately we get the traits we hire for. Being able to code (and debug!) is important. But I also want employees who I can delegate to, and trust that they’ll figure things out. I’ve been able to pass whiteboard interviews since second year uni. But I have not stopped learning, and the non technical skills I’ve gained since then are at least as important. Test for them.
However I can confidently say that it only took a few weeks of being thrown back in the mix to shake the rust off and get going again.
If I was an employer and could extend contracts at fairly low risk, I'd give devs with a strong resume and a demonstrable open-source library a chance - despite them being a bit shaky on the whiteboard.
Good on you for having the introspective skills and awareness to identify the problem and do something about it.
I mean, sure go ahead and prepare for interviewing, brush up on whatever you think will help. But if a company has a policy of consistently rejecting candidates based on testing of skills that are never used on the job, it sounds like there's a lot of room to improve that interview process.
If someone is effectively testing for these more difficult subject matters then it's quite possible that they themselves and other co-workers are competent in them (as they passed the same test).
As a senior devops engineer, I write a lot of trivial Groovy code for Jenkins pipelines. But the interesting part isn't the code, which for the most part a monkey could do. It's redesigning the release process. The rest is just implementation details.
Thinking coding is important is a failure mode.
The thing that I find when conducting interviews is that people who have trouble writing a concrete solution to a problem often have trouble formalizing any solution. They can handwave stuff that maybe makes sense, and given enough good faith is "correct", or at least not obviously incorrect, but at the same time it depends on a whole suite of libraries that don't exist, or a domain specific language that someone would need to come up with, or something.
And if you need to invent a DSL to parse a string, I'm worried about how complicated your actual solution would be when redesigning the release process. Because sure, any monkey can write some groovy code that does something. But I'm more worried about if that code will be well designed. Note, not the system, but the code itself. Because in reality the code defines the system, and a beautiful architecture implemented terribly is still terrible to work with.
To see the second thing, I need to see concrete code.
This is far more real-world than a coding test, imho. Coding happens on the micro level, but understanding happens on the macro level.
This guy has the right approach imo: https://www.karllhughes.com/posts/rethinking-hiring
I'm honestly nervous that next time I have to go out and interview, I'll be in the same shoes as OP. Despite many years of managing software for small companies, I have no desire to go back and re-learn Leetcode just to get a job.
But being able to map the macro to the micro is a vital part of being a competent SWE. This includes being an architect. If your plan only considers macro-issues, but is difficult to actually implement on a small scale, its not a good plan.
I want to gauge both, and a coding test is a good way to measure the micro.
(And by the way I realize in a lot of companies, 'architect' is a completely bogus term for someone who's more of a flim-flam man than actual doer. So just substitute "staff engineer" or whatever you call it.)
But the main parts of my job I have to get right are picking the right approaches technology-wise, and setting up frameworks and patterns to make devs' lives easier in building out the actual features. You can't test that stuff on a whiteboard imo. You have to just talk it through and try to get a sense of how the potential architect/lead thinks about problems.
It also takes a good architect to interview an architect imo. There's plenty of great devs who just haven't acquired that level of scope yet - not of thinking not just about how easily it is for you to get something done - but how easily it will be to maintain as a team, within the greater ecosystem, over the life of the product.
And that's the underlying problem behind this coding-test nonsense. You don't ask an architect candidate to implement a binary tree in an interview because it's relevant - you ask that question because you don't know how to ask questions that are relevant. For anything but actual low/mid level coders, these coding tests are just evidence of a failure to interview effectively.
As an aside, I don't find most architects to be "flim-flam men". They are usually quite hardworking and competent, although their job is frought with risk. They're often asked to do the impossible, and they have to do the best they can with it.
Code is a liability as much as it is an asset.
Companies don't get excited about a dev who just passes. Even though that dev might be by far the best candidate - they just need a few days to chew on various architectures - or they take the test literally and don't add bells and whistles. Etc.
Companies get excited about a dev who aces it with flying colors.
which explains the paradox of too many developers chasing too few jobs versus all these companies complaining that they cannot find enough good developers
I'd say it's the opposite. Big companies can afford to take a shot on someone and miss without materially impacting the business.
If I'm hiring developer #2 at my 5 person startup, I want someone confident and cool under pressure who has done something similar to what I'm building so many times in real life that the coding test is a cake walk.
A dev hire on a small engineering team (< 5 people) can make or break the business. I'm trying to de-risk that hire as much as possible. I want to design a test that 90% of people will fail so I can find that top 10% developer.
Once I get to 15-20+ devs, I'm much more likely to relax my criteria and look for a diamond in the rough.
Seriously, Where are you finding these candidates? seriously.
I've worked at a number of mid-sized companies, and interviewed dozens of candidates, and I have never, ever, ever come across a candidate that couldn't write code on this level: "write a function that adds two numbers or counts the number of elements in a list".
Considering the rate of false positives in any software engineering interview process there is every incentive for the underqualified and unqualified to "fake it 'til they make it". It's also difficult to tell the difference between someone failing upwards and someone aggressively managing their career by switching positions with lateral raises in this hot job market, hence the need to distrust the skill of even senior developers and force this rigmarole on every level of engineering talent.
The included such brilliant things as cut and pasting an answer from a forum that was followed by a dozen comments of people explaining how wrong that answer was, and someone who answered what should have needed a short sentence with two pages from an Oracle manual giving an answer that did not apply to the question.
It's not that we expected everyone to be honest about not using Google - it didn't matter, it was an initial screening question. But we did expect them to at least bother to restate the answer in their own words if they looked it up. And get it right..
This has a surprisingly high failure rate even in cases where we just email it to the candidate and discuss in a phone interview the next day. I don't think it has anything to do with a persons ability to program but likely derives from a person's ability to understand a work request.
Innumeracy is the norm: I'd guess > 85% of people don't understand the concept of a function.
And they probably can code if they were working independently. Or they've done some classes, wathced some videos and think they understand it.
But when you add the pressure of an interview, your unpracticed skills fall apart. Also, you have to think on your feet to fill in the blanks in a question.
That's how it should be, because we're not hiring hobbyists; candidates need to be able to demonstrate that they're pros, and able to do so under the pressure of an interview.
I've done my share of phone screens who were flatly unqualified as developers. (Thankfully we've never had someone completely clueless land an in-person interview. That's also a disservice to the candidate as we should provide better guidance through the phone screen.)
Some of them are junior, possibly they lie on their resume and simply keep applying to job after job. That's the 99% that Joel wrote about.
You also occasionally get guys who were in management or similar roles and are looking to transition to being engineers. And I think these may have a similar problem to the senior engineers: they have lost the skill (or never had it) and are finding out the hard way.
It's not an analog. It's the actual skill up close. They should be explaining their thoughts as they go, and you're asking why they do A instead of B.
> I spend a minuscule fraction of my time writing algorithms in my daily practice
A good problem isn't simply an algorithm, but also tests how they break a problem down, how they compose a solution, how they think through engineering tradeoffs, and how they communicate all this to you.
Consider the difference between an artist and an amateur painter. That the artist has practiced brush strokes is not surprising, anyone can practice painting a lot. What really matters is the artist can take the image in their mind and composing it into a complete scene and then express it all that through their medium of choice.
> but problem solving and troubleshooting are way more valued skills in my group
Is that a good thing? If your group wrote better code, wouldn't they have less troubleshooting to do?
Yes, that's a tautology, but I've worked on code that was kludges on top of kludges. And while kludges can be inevitable, if they persist, it indicates the person doesn't have the mastery to see a better way to express a problem. That's a skill deficit.
When I'm analyzing someone's ability to code, I'm presenting it as a problem to solve. We solve problems by restating them in such a way that the solution falls naturally from the question.
The candidates who can do this well will put together well structured, coherent code, and my team will spend more time delivering features and less time troubleshooting.
Without giving away the question I ask, I can tell you the solution is a for loop and an if statement. If I told them exactly what they needed to solve the problem, I'm sure most could write the code (though honestly some would have still failed). It's a question I would think could fit as one of 5 on an intro to programming class final, yet I've had candidates with 10+ years of experience fail it. I even had one such candidate argue with me over asking a coding question when his resume shows so much experience at different roles.
Talented people frustrated at the process just don’t get how bad bad coders are. I would never have believed it myself until I experienced it.
People who would ace the entire interview would look at me funny when I asked the first question, and I just said, "I mean, look: about 25% of the candidates fail this first question." Lots of others got partway through it.
It is very true that you need to qualify someone's ability to write code at all.
I think there's usually a lot less utility in some of the "clever" coding challenges that require you to remember some difficult-to-derive-from-first-principles data-structure or algorithm. But on the other hand, if we literally just give fizzbuzz to everyone, we'll eventually see people who have memorized fizzbuzz but can not create any other program.
There's a real challenge to creating a coding problem that hits the sweet spot between "doesn't just test that you had a particular intuition," "does actually test real coding skills" and "isn't so common that people have memorized the solution."
At the time, their marketing department did all of their web development in-house. I don't recall all the specifics; there was a round table meeting between the manager of the unit, the team lead, and one of the senior developers. At the end of it, they sat me in the cubicle area with their other developers, gave me an MBP with MAMP on it, and a piece of paper outlining what they wanted me to code - a simple CRUD app. It didn't have to have any fancy styling, but it had to look ok, and it had to work. It was "open book" otherwise; use google or whatever other resource as you needed it. Also, all this happened while the other devs were in the area; it was basically a time slot from 2:30pm to closing time...
I'm thinking - really? Something this basic...
But given what you had to do - essentially from a blank slate, including the database, set up the tables, build the SQL, code the PHP, integrate the form to talk to the PHP "backend" and update things, refresh and show the updates, etc...
...well, isn't that basically what most software dev work is, at the core? And if you can't do any of that...
Of course I got the position, and worked there for a couple of years; not the easiest environment I've ever been in, but certainly very interesting.
During it, though, I got to experience, from the "other side" what I went through - and I was amazed and dismayed to see how many people were interviewed who couldn't do it. Who had what seemed like great resumes who couldn't even start. Who'd sit there for 2+ hours, and not type a thing. Who didn't even google up something, or ask a question, or...
We had one guy sit for a while, then just got up and walked out without a word.
As I read comments like yours, and others elsewhere, I can see that this is more common than not. You are right to believe that there will be those that will "memorize" fizzbuzz, which I why I think a challenge similar to what Fender asked for is a better test. I know that some developers would balk at it, but I think the time invested may be worth it, to show you are able to do the job, and can come up with your own solution to a problem, and not just some regurgitated answer.
A colleague of mine I had worked with prior, unknown to me, applied for the same position at Fender and was given the same laptop as I did. But they had forgotten to wipe it! He saw my code, and didn't know if he was supposed to expand on it or what; he told them "hey, this looks like my friend's code...?" - and they realized what they forgot. They thanked him for his honesty, wiped it, and continued on with the process. He also ended up getting the position as well.
How have you not grokked how useless those questions actually are when it comes to knowledge about writing software? Those are both trivia in the same category as "implement the TCP acking mechanism".
Someone who knows the 'trivia' may remember how to implement quicksort without actually being any good.
But someone with even a little bit of understanding and some prodding to not worry about efficiency will be able to come up with some sort of solution, even if bubblesort. If people appear truly petrified, it's easy to give them a chance by breaking down the problem and see if they can reason about it. E.g.whay if you start with a two element array? Then how about 3? How do you generalise that?
Someone with both the trivia and the smarts will give you a good solution and be able to muse about tradeoffs of different implementation methods, pivot selection and the like.
It's usually fairly simple to find out if people understand the solution they offer up and can reason about it, and that's often a lot more important than whether they come up with a great solution.
Depth first search I would now be a little less eager to do (I was asking these questions ten years ago), but there were a few things that I felt came out well from it: if someone wrote something like:
if (DFS(node.left) || DFS(node.right)) return true else return false
That seems to me like it demonstrates at the very least some immaturity of how to write professional code. If the person doesn't know how to do recursion, that stands out. If they fundamentally don't know how to deal with a stack, that stands out.
If someone has never encountered DFS and just gets fundamentally stock on what the algorithm is at all, then that's, I agree, not wildly meaningful. But that was not, in general, a reason why people didn't get the DFS question.
EDIT: I will also note that I've had a couple of people on HN react with horror at the notion that someone might be asked to impelement DFS or BFS. While I agree that these aren't perfect questions, I think they're pretty radically different than some of the puzzle-y or impossible-to-re-derive questions that you sometimes hear about. The algorithm for DFS is:
1. Check to see if the input is null. If it is, return false.
2. Check to see if the input's value is the searched operand. If it is, return true.
3. Return DFS(left) || DFS(right)
Breadth-first is a tiny bit harder, but it's still a while loop on a queue and just test equality and push the children onto the queue. It's about ten lines of code and it's far from rocket science. If nobody ever taught you about binary trees at all, you might still be a great programmer. But if you're a good programmer, and you ever got taught about binary trees (which most people who have traditional backgrounds have), then you should be able to recreate those algorithms from first principles in, I don't know, 15-30 minutes.
One place I worked at, the company hired a developer who claimed to have a CompSci masters.
He was completely unable to code anything. I thought it strange.
I started to ask him some basic questions that any actual CompSci degree holder should be able to answer (and I don't have a degree in CompSci at all - everything I know I've learned on my own, from other sources, for the most part); I didn't make it like a grilling session, just polite conversation about a shared interest - but he either had difficulty, or couldn't answer at all.
He only stuck around a couple of weeks.
I've often joked that an interview question should be asked akin to "What basic logic function is needed to implement a computer? Show it's truth table, then design one in 2-dimensions on a whiteboard as a virtual 'rope-and-pulley' system."
Couple that with a random-style fizzbuzz-like challenge, and maybe a more difficult open-ended programming challenge (ie "build a simple CRUD app") - that would give you a good idea on their real skills.
Note: That first question I wouldn't expect many to be able to pass the last part; even the first two parts many perfectly capable developers would have difficulty with. But I would be disappointed if they claimed to have a CS degree and weren't able to at least tell me what it was and the truth table for it.
I should note that my statements below may be FOC; I do not myself have a CS or EE degree, so take what I say with a modicum of salt...
But first, note that I wrote "function", not "circuit".
It could be argued that CS, on the whole, is a subset of mathematics, particularly that of boolean algebra and logic. As such, the functional equivalency between the abstract of boolean logic/algebra, and its implementation on a physical substrate, could be considered among the most important of CS concepts.
One could also argue (maybe?) that Turing's "equivalency theorem" might be related to such as well. Consider the case of an emulation of hardware done in software; one could consider that - at a base level, it is boolean logic expressed physically, being expressed equivalently as boolean software functions.
The opposite it also true, of course - that it is possible to express software boolean functionality in the equivalent physical form.
What form it physically takes does not matter (other than speed of course), which is why I also didn't ask for an implementation/representation in electrical terms or schematic form, but rather a diagram of something that could be expressed as a physical and mechanical object. If the person were so inclined, they could express it as a series of levers and marbles, or in LEGO, or Meccano, or any other similar option.
EE knowledge is not needed here, I don't believe (Martin Gardner might agree).
did you talk like this to the CS masters, no wonder they left
Sometimes people move between senior eng. and management positions and back depending on organization sizes.
I certainly have had engineering manager positions where I went several years without needing to code for my job. If I'd stayed longer and not coded for fun, and then gone on to the type of positions I did next, which were much more hands on, and using different labguages I can imagine I might have found it hard.
Thankfully I've always enjoyed programming on side projects too, so staying up to date has never felt like a chore.
As another poster said above, best guess is some version of copypasta and navigation of bureaucracy.
I'm genuinely curious how you manage to find all these folks. I've been on the interview team at my company for a several years now(mostly in house, some first pass phone screens) and I've never encountered a single person who was literally unable to code a trivial problem. The last time I met a "programmer" who couldn't code was first semester university, and I thought most of them quickly flunked out/changed majors. I wonder if there is something about your company/recruiting process that is particularly attractive to them, or if our prescreen(which I'm admittedly no expert on) is just particularly good at filtering them out, or if there's some other explanation.
I saw him do SQL joins on the wrong column, cause accidents in source control, lose changes because he wasn't looking at the file and folder names on screen, and so on. Hard to realize for him, and hard to guess in an interview.
No, you mean that hyperbolically.
Not only does it simply not happen that "the vast majority of applications cannot code at all" -- this literally has never happened at all, in my experience.
What does happen is that you get a range of people on a spectrum. And yeah, a fair number of them can't code very well. They're slow, they don't see smart solutions, whatever - or are just plain sloppy. But that's quite different from "not being able to code at all."
As to those people who (supposedly) can't "write a function that adds two numbers or counts the number of elements in a list" -- most likely they're simply freezing up from the anxiety of being whiteboarded by a perfect stranger for the first time in a great while - or perhaps ever. (In fact that's exactly what happened to me, on my very first on-site interview after college).
Or that is to say: they haven't internalized -- and produced defenses for -- the (intentionally) awkward and humiliating ritual of the modern tech interview process.
And again, you should only be actually seeing these people once in a blue moon. Unless the people running your incoming "pipeline" are utterly incompetent, and are constantly feeding you a stream of unqualified candidates. In which case your companies much bigger problem a lack of engineers who are able to "ace" HackerRank problems in 59 minutes or less.
 Which, lest be honest now -- basically can only happen after extensive time spent on practicing these problems in advance. Or that is, by blatantly gaming your hiring "filter".
And one more thing:
How, you ask? By ... dodging responsibility.
No - their jobs just have different metrics for "responsibility" than yours. That's just the way many businesses are run, whether you like it or not.
I've screened people like you describe, but the only time I've interviewed them face-to-face was when they didn't have a technical phone screen for whatever reason.
FWIW, one of the ways I screen companies when I'm looking is whiteboard problems. I refuse them and move on. In my experience, only HugeCos and places with problems use them. I'm sure that's not true, but I have a necessarily small sample-size, and skipping over firms that do it has worked well for me so far, and there are plenty of fish in the sea. (I do in fact suck at writing on whiteboards, I just don't consider it a skill worth developing to pursue jobs I probably don't want.)
I agree with you 100% if "whiteboard problem" means, sit with them while they type up a function in an IDE that does something common (e.g. validates a string, implements some error handling, do a failure backoff, etc).
I disagree if it means, ask them to implement an algorithm on a whiteboard to steer a robot through a maze in a time with optimal algorithmic complexity. This is completely useless and the people that can do this have little overlap with people that can implement easy to read/debug code worthy of production and maintenance.
From an interviewing perspective, asking someone to "solve" this kind of problem on a whiteboard would be interesting to see.
One thing I'd tell them is to not worry about the code; that is, if they just want to write the process in pseudocode or something like that - as long as the logic can be followed, that would be ok. In other words, give them the leeway to not worry about proper coding, knowledge of functions, etc - but instead let them concentrate on the problem.
I wouldn't expect anyone to solve such a question - but it would give a good insight into how they go about solving a problem. Do they ask questions? What happens when they get stuck? Can they explain their reasoning? And so forth.
Let them do what they can, give them 30 minutes or so; if they look lost, ask them some questions, see how they respond, etc.
I think such a question could be very valuable - if presented in the right way.
I've been interviewing devs for years, and this is not my experience at all. The vast majority of applicants that I've interviewed can code, although they tend to be minimally competent at it.
>The vast majority of applicants cannot code at all.
You kinda set up a strawman here. If the purpose of the whiteboard problem was just to establish some very low baseline of coding ability then I doubt many people would argue about their effectiveness. But companies don't use whiteboard problems for that purpose. In my experience (on both sides of the table) they are given with increasing levels of difficulty to see how far the candidate can go. They do not simply ask a few basic questions like "how would you write a function that returned the sum of two numbers" or "count the number of elements in a given array."
I'm not saying there is a really good answer to this. The best I've seen is that some people just seem to be good at hiring and others are not. I am one who is not. I am also a terrible interviewee. The whole process whigs me out.
We have 'hard' questions in our pool we can ask (where optimization actually comes into play) but I've found that the easy questions weed out so many candidates it's not worth it. There's no room for debate if someone tries to write 15+ if statements rather than creating a loop and one if statement.
Absolutely untrue in my experience, I can't speak for other people. To imply that this is absolutely untrue in the global space would require that I have interviewed everyone.
Whiteboard problems absolutely do work in my interviews. Again, use of the word absolute indicates that I've never interviewed without a whiteboard. Given the high number of candidates I've interviewed, this might indicate a flaw in the interview process.
The vast majority of applicants I select for interviews cannot code at all. And I mean that literally: they're at a loss at how to write a function that adds two numbers or counts the number of elements in a list. I should consider the possibility that I'm selecting the wrong people for interviews.
Worse is that these guys can be employed as developers (even 'senior' ones!) for years and years in 'serious' enterprises. Clearly other companies are making the same mistakes I am making in their candidate selection process.
Source: I've interviewed a great deal of poorly selected people for lots of positions over the years.
I'd just note that you can smuggle nasty behavior into any formal mechanism. Witness the legal system (which you'd engage here) - whining about bad-faith arguments in court is basically a national sport in the US, until the whiner is the plaintiff.
Fortunately, the management chain caught this and ... corrected the issue.
My wife showed a sign of mild disapproval, and that was it. She was rejected for "not a culture fit".
Perhaps check references to determine if either candidate was able to work well in the type of environment you provide.
For example - the nice person may be lazy, or the abrasive person may productive and helpful.
It's been my experience that contacting the candidates references will flush that information out. Even in this age of litigation - I've always been able to get an answer to "Please rate on a scale of 1 to 10"
We've avoided some people that interviewed well and had great skills but were horrible human beings - and we've picked up some people that are hard workers that are willing to learn that didn't interview well.
If your hiring criteria excludes groups like that by a "fast friend" proxy test, then yeah, you should be taking the better programmer.
Sure, it'll be more productive for everyone if I tell someone that we think they're just not smart enough to learn shit as fast as we need them to. But that hurts. So we say "You're great, but we're looking for someone with just a few more years of C++ experience". Similarly, when we think you've been acting like an arrogant dick, we say "lack of culture fit".
I once rejected someone whose English was so bad that I couldn't understand them on the phone. That's a hard thing to tell a foreigner who has the courage to call you up, by phone, in a language they probably know they're not great at, for an internship position! So I lied and I told them they had insufficient React experience. Am I proud of that? No. I'm still not sure what I should've done.
I see this trope a lot on HN that "lack of culture fit" means "wrong brand of sneakers" and it's usually nonsense. "No culture fit" means "there's something specific that we dislike about the way you behave or communicate but we don't want to hurt your feelings more than necessary".
Candidate one gives off slightly anti-social vibes but is brilliant, candidate two jokes around with me during the interview and is smart as well, but less so than candidate one. Am I justified in going with candidate two on a hunch?
Which is also why there are usually multiple stages in an interview process, or at least, you pass a candidate to 3 or more team members to interview the candidate.
In my experience, it's hard to find good candidates, but not that hard to figure out which of the candidates will be a good fit, and a strong contributor, to a team. I've also hired mostly for team sizes of 10-20 developers, not 200.
This doesn't even touch even more difficult situations like when your friend messes up and needs to be dealt with in a professional but non-personal manner.
So yeah, hire the better coder.
Culture is preference between two otherwise value-neutral positions.
For example: encouraging collaboration vs. encouraging independent work.
Or supporting self-organizing teams vs. all work having a WBS/charge code.
Culture is not choosing between being respectful and not; or choosing between being openminded and not; or choosing between being honest or not.
I look younger than I am, but my patience for over-working too many hours is at an end. Years of stress have led to health issues that have to be managed.
But this all rolls into "not a cultural fit."
I don't blame them for not wanting to hire someone pushing 50. They just don't know if they're going to get the cool 50-year-old or the grumpy old troll who won't listen to anyone.
Of course they can never come out and say that for obvious reasons.
I play video games. I have all of the last two generations of consoles, a smattering of older consoles I've managed to hold onto over the years (lost most of them for one reason or another) and a half-decent gaming PC where I prefer to play games if possible. On top of that I've done game development on the side, and have run multiple gaming communities for approximately a decade now.
If I went to go interview with a company and they talked about how they were all "gamers", I'd be running for the hills.
You know what I want to do at work? Work.
You know what I want to talk about at work? Not video games.
You know what I want for non-monetary compensation? Not a weekly autochess tournament or PUBG squad night.
You know what kind of people I want to be surrounded with? Not a bunch of clones who all have the same beliefs and values and (lack of) experiences.
You should be a good fit for the company, and the company should be a good fit for you. It goes both ways.
The worst engineers I have had to work with were sometimes pretty skilled technically, but their ego or shitty personality was preventing them from being somebody the team could benefit from.
I would have thought that it is why we have cultural fit interviews though.
Personally I would sooner drop whiteboards than cultural fit interviews, but the later probably need way more training for the interviewer than what I got.
Sometimes those people conducting the interviews are on their first or second job, and generally those younger coders have a tendency to emphasize things like obscure syntax for whatever programming language and the latest programming paradigms. It is overly language centric rather than dealing with how to solve problems. That is a terrible metric for the issue at hand "will this person be an effective at their job".
I don't ask algorithm questions, and I wouldn't even dream of asking brain teasers. I ask questions like "Here's a pile of text that claims to be CSV, let's explore how you'd generate an HTML report out of it", and branch out from there depending on how the interview goes. I've got all sorts of directions I can go from there, from screwing up the input in various real-world ways, discussing HTML security and injection attacks, algorithmic complexity of the report, how to build a service out of this, how we're going to handle reporting errors, there's just an endless number of ways you can take the interview from there.
CS 201 doesn't usually come up.
The ideal would be pair programming for an afternoon.
Even if their "solution" is incomplete I look at if they get the gist right.
I've seen this end up in teams that lack diversity several times. My last company was big on interviewing for fit. Then a year goes by and you realize most of the people you've hired are a clone of everyone else. I had a co-worker that once argued that you can't judge people based on personality in an interview and I tend to agree with that now
- Whiteboarding: algorithmic knowledge not relevant to daily tasks, we have google, obtuse coding environment
- Take home exams: companies have less incentive to respect time of candidate, favors candidates with lots of time to spend interviewing
- Small consulting gigs: not practical for programmers with existing jobs, draws out job search
- Informal conversations, reading resumes: not stringent, susceptible to talented bullshitters
To be 100% clear, none of the above is my opinion, I am simply restating what is regularly posted at this online watering whole.
A discussion of the failings of white-boarding without the context of alternatives is meaningless because interviewing techniques are search functions that all have precision/recall tradeoffs. That there are negatives to white-boarding is a given.
For example, consider that white boarding interviews are short (3 hours). This naturally limits the company's ability to evaluate candidates (less precision), BUT it saves time for the candidate and company (more recall).
So what happens here at HN every week is you get five people all bad mouthing a different interviewing technique, but we never get any closer to a consensus on a technique that would please even a simple majority of programmers (let alone everyone).
TLDR; you don't like white boarding, so what about making a compelling case for something else?
Whiteboards are for writing down algorithms and quick charts and other design-phase stuff, not writing compilable code.
Even when given as a "take home" challenge, they can't even copy-pasta an example off the internet...
make part of the test a reverse question where the interviewers have to work out what language your solution is in
v _@>v >v>:#<.>1+:2^
We need to admit that interviewing is hard, and we aren't good at it. In fact, we don't need to admit it, we know it already.