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The Way You Interview for Programming Skills Is Broken

True story. Some of the most successful and talent programmers in the world? They wouldn't be able to pass the most common feature of the average interview for a coding position. 

What feature? The dreaded whiteboard.  This is a common practice in the IT hiring world. Applicants for coding positions prove their skills by solving problems in a whiteboard. Of course, they do this with no access to external reference material.  We're talking about a  practice not dissimilar to ancient school exam techniques.

Last month, David Heinemeier Hansson started a Twitter trend about this practice.  David is the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails coding framework.

Here’s what top performers in the programming field have to say:  

Hello, my name is David. I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard. I look code up on the internet all the time. I don't do riddles.

— DHH (@dhh) February 21, 2017

Hello my name is Jon, I'm the Android lead at Phunware. I can't read an input stream without copying and pasting code from stack overflow.

— Jon F Hancock (@JonFHancock) February 21, 2017

Hello my name is Mike, I'm a GDE and lead at NY Times, I don't know what np complete means. Should I?

— Mike Nakhimovich (@friendlyMikhail) February 21, 2017

Hello, my name is Tim. I'm a lead at Google with over 30 years coding experience and I need to look up how to get length of a python string.

— Tim Dierks (@tdierks) February 26, 2017

Hello my name is Sadiksha, I am working on rails since 2011. I don't know migrations syntax to add/remove column, I google it everytime.

— Sadiksha Gautam (@sadikshagautam) February 26, 2017

Do you see where this is heading? Let’s say that these expert programmers went to interview at your company. You'd probably be willing to kill baby kittens with a can opener if that made these people work for you.  What if you had them take the whiteboard interview test? They would all fail miserably! Your interviewers would send them away. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you. (not)”

And this is how you miss out on amazing talent. By confusing long-standing practices with best practices.

Remember: coding is a creative endeavor. The best programmer is not the one that crams all night before a job interview and has all the formulas in her head. Programming is about mindset, about finding creative and efficient solutions. Anyone can look up formulas and standard code. Creativity takes talent and effort. Focusing on technicalities in a job interview is a lazy way of evaluating candidates.


Check Candidates The Distant Job Way

So what should you focus on when hiring then? Well, the Distant Job official party line is: focus on what matters to you!

Every company is unique. Every business has its own unique requirements.

What about when we at Distant Job hire for ourselves?

We focus on culture first. We try to figure out if working with us is good for the prospect and for us. We try to find out if we’ll enjoy working with him or her. Fit comes first.

Then, we check for body of work. We ask the right questions to find out the person's’ ability to perform to our standard.

So if you're a company asking for our advice, we'd lean toward this method. But in the end, you should ask what matters the most to YOU.

Our clients don’t have to worry about silly whiteboard tests when interviewing. That's because we have a full, international team of expert headhunters. These check the curriculum and actual coding work of our prospects.

When you sit to interview our candidate, technical excellence is already a given. You don’t need to worry about it. The programming chops of the person sitting (virtually) in front of you are already proven. Are already a forgone conclusion. And all you need to do is focus on figuring out if they are a right fit.  Think how nice that is.

It is nice! Need an expert coder? A genius programmer? Ditch the whiteboard. Get in touch with us and we’ll take care of all the hard lifting.


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Luis Magalhaes

Luis Magalhaes

Luis Magalhães is Director of Marketing and editor-in-chief at DistantJob. He writes about how to build and manage remote teams, and the benefits of hiring remote workers. He‘s been managing editorial teams remotely for the past 15 years, and training teammates to do so for nearly as long.

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