It is nonsense. I feel more strongly than you can apparently imagine about this issue, and I would never knowingly interview for a job that requires coding on a whiteboard or on paper. I made a single exception for Google, and I had to take tranquilizers not to throw up during the interview. I consider this kind of interview to be borderline abuse. It serves no useful purpose that can't be better achieved through different means other than to humiliate those whose brains don't function well under this kind of pressure.
Btw, as far as I'm aware, Google didn't traditionally allow coding on paper--they always required coding at a whiteboard. As I understand it, Google Boston softened this requirement because it's rather counter to MIT culture. In four years of undergrad schooling at MIT and quite a few additional classes as a special grad student, no one ever made me work on a whiteboard, or do any kind of work at all with someone staring over my shoulder.
Yeah, I'm very curious to find out how this whiteboard stuff got to be considered universal. I too am an emacs user who programs in diverse languages (and never uses an "IDE" unless you count emacs), and find it disturbing that corporate gatekeepers really seem to believe things like, "Being unable to program on a whiteboard means you don't really know the language you are using."
I have two whiteboards and a chalkboard at home; I never code on such contraptions. (I like to draw pictures for programmers, but using Balsamiq or something.)
Now, obviously if I were in a situation where showing off whiteboard-coding were useful to me, I'd practice until fluent. But it's so bizarre, this fetishization of whiteboard technology.
Maybe it's good to communicate using pictures, rather than symbols. But if that were the real reason for whiteboard interviews, interviewers would speak of pictures; not whiteboards, nor syntax. Or one can argue that companies like rely on whiteboard tech to communicate; but then why not ask prospective workers to practice it as they would vi or emacs? Or spread the gospel somehow? Is this some weird entrance test, to see if a candidate proactively adapts to this weird obstacle?
As an interviewer, I'd feel I've ironically failed a meta-test, if I didn't accomodate a significant number of people's feelings on this matter. I would therefore not be fit to judge anyone's ability to think effectively.
"I made a single exception for Google, and I had to take tranquilizers not to throw up during the interview. I consider this kind of interview to be borderline abuse. It serves no useful purpose that can't be better achieved through different means other than to humiliate those whose brains don't function well under this kind of pressure."
Is this really because of the whiteboard though? Interviewing is a stressful thing to go through, and no process is going to be perfect for everyone. I agree that in general it can be harsh on candidates who are not glib and extrovertive, but this doesn't have much to do with the whiteboard.
Yes, I have no problem at all with a "traditional" job interview. Even ones where I've been given a paper exam and then left alone for a while have been okay. Though I also find that kind of interview to be rather distasteful, I've never actually had any problem doing well on the exam. Doing well on written exams (with solitude) is a skill that anyone who has graduated from a good school probably has already been forced to acquire.