Imagine this: you’re a software engineer with years of experience in your field and seeking a new position. You’ve brushed up on your resume and are ready to tackle the interview process. Then you find yourself in an interview room, where instead of discussing your relevant skills, experience, and projects, you’re faced with a barrage of technical puzzles and obscure trivia questions. This all-too-common scenario underscores the glaring disconnect between the hiring process and the actual job of a software engineer. While assessing problem-solving skills is essential, the interview process should not feel like a game show for developers.
The Trivia Trap
One of the most glaring problems with the current software engineer hiring process is the overwhelming emphasis on trivia questions. Candidates frequently face questions about obscure programming concepts or fine details that rarely feature in their day-to-day work. While testing a candidate’s knowledge is undoubtedly important, the trivia-centric approach can place excessive stress on candidates and fails to reflect the skills necessary to thrive in the role accurately.
These trivia-based interviews can inadvertently penalise candidates with considerable practical experience who may not readily recall theoretical concepts when put on the spot. Evaluating candidates’ ability to regurgitate esoteric trivia under pressure can overshadow their potential to excel in real-world software development applications.
The pitfalls of this approach have not gone unnoticed by industry leaders. Even Google, once infamous for its dauntingly complex interview questions, has recognised the limitations of this method and significantly dialled back on the use of esoteric questions. This shift in strategy by one of the tech industry’s most influential companies clearly indicates the need for a broader change in the hiring process.
The industry needs to move towards a more nuanced evaluation process. This process should recognise the value of practical experience and real-world problem-solving skills rather than an ability to recall obscure trivia under pressure. By doing so, companies can foster a more inclusive and equitable hiring process and identify candidates who are genuinely equipped to excel in their roles.
Technical Puzzles vs Real-world Problems
Tackling complex algorithmic problems under the stress of an interview is a skill set distinct from designing, building, and maintaining sophisticated software systems. The reliance on technical puzzles is an aspect of the software engineer interview process that has increasingly drawn criticism. Although these puzzles are intended to assess a candidate’s problem-solving capabilities, they frequently bear little resemblance to the actual challenges developers encounter in their daily work.
Focusing on these puzzles can lead companies to miss out on exceptional candidates who excel in the hands-on aspects of software development. These individuals may not necessarily shine in puzzle-solving, but they possess a wealth of practical experience and knowledge that would make them invaluable team members. By over-emphasising the importance of technical puzzles, the hiring process risks sidelining candidates who can deliver tangible results and effectively address real-world problems.
To create a more comprehensive and accurate representation of a candidate’s abilities, interviewers should consider integrating real-world coding challenges and situational examples that reflect the day-to-day experiences of software engineers. By doing so, companies can better identify candidates with the practical skills necessary to succeed in the role while fostering a more realistic and relevant interview process.
The Insult to Experienced Developers
A distinct paradox in the current software engineer hiring process becomes glaringly apparent when considering seasoned developers. With their substantial portfolios and proven track records, these professionals have already showcased their ability to deliver high-quality software. Their contributions are often openly available for review and critique on platforms like GitHub, providing tangible proof of their skills and accomplishments.
However, the overall hiring process seems to disregard these verifiable credentials. It’s an insult to these experienced developers to be subjected to the same hiring process as a fresh graduate. Their relentless focus on trivia and abstract puzzles is not representative of their years of practical experience and proven ability to deliver real-world solutions.
Instead of acknowledging their achievements, these seasoned professionals find themselves on an uneven playing field, their track record seemingly tossed aside. Their extensive experience and proven value should warrant a more nuanced evaluation process that respects and acknowledges their real-world accomplishments rather than testing their ability to solve contrived puzzles under high stress.
The irony of the situation is that many of these highly experienced professionals might struggle to pass the tests these companies administer. This doesn’t imply that they are mediocre or inadequate developers. On the contrary, their extensive experience in the real world has honed their ability to apply and use the skills demanded by actual software development, not regurgitate information from a college curriculum they completed years ago.
The Ideal Interview Process
The ideal interview process should be designed to assess a candidate’s ability to perform in a real-world working environment. An effective interview should include the following:
- Real problems from the company’s backlog: Instead of relying on artificial challenges, provide candidates with solved tasks from your Jira board or other project management tools. This will allow candidates to showcase their skills while working on relevant problems to the role.
- Access to resources and tools: In a real work setting, developers have access to the internet, documentation, and various tools to help them solve problems. Depriving candidates of these resources during the interview process is unrealistic and fails to reflect the working environment. Allow candidates to use the tools they would have on the job to create a more accurate assessment of their abilities.
- Avoiding irrelevant questions: It’s ludicrous to expect candidates to know everything about their field, just as it would be absurd to quiz a chef on the manufacturing process of non-stick frying pans. Focus on asking questions pertinent to the role and the technologies the candidate will work with daily.
The interview process for software engineer roles is laughably disconnected from the actual job. It’s time employers reevaluate their hiring methods and focus on creating a more relevant and realistic interview experience. By doing so, they will create a more enjoyable interview process for candidates and increase their chances of finding the best person for the job.