Interview questions and tests

The StuyCS Family mailing list was host to an interesting discussion today. One of our younger members asked if the practice of giving technical problems during an interview was going to follow him throughout his career or if it goes away for more senior applicants.

An interesting discussion followed.

It reminded me of a time I was talking to a few senior engineers at a large tech company. A couple of younger engineers were with us along with a new hire. The youngsters started talking about the new hires technical interview questions. One older engineer light heartedly asked another "I don't recall any tricky technical questions, how about you?" "I don't recall any either…" and on around the table.

Of course these senior engineers had track records that stretched for miles.

I never liked those tech interview questions. If you just took algorithms, you've got an edge and it really seems to be more of a test of "have you seen this problem before" rather than a true test of ability.

I much prefer those few companies that give "take home assignments" or use other ways to determine fit.

The tech interview reminds me of the pop quiz or a poorly designed test. If you just ask the question that the kid doesn't get, the kid's in trouble. A kid could know how to handle 90% of the work but if the question is that last 10%, zero credit.

As teachers, we end up using many forms of assessment and try to develop an overall picture of a student.

Companies should try to do the same.

Why to companies still use these technical interview questions?

Quite simply because they can.

A company might miss out on a number of great candidates by using a bad technical question but they will probably get at least a reasonably strong hire that passes the test. For the company, mission accomplished.

As teachers, we can't do that. I'm not given a class of 32 kids and asked to pull out a couple of software engineers. As teachers, we're supposed to pull everyone along.


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