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Pair Programming Interview?

Bob Hager
Greenhorn

Joined: Oct 23, 2008
Posts: 15
A friend of mine recently interviewed for a position in Toronto, during which he was asked to share a keyboard for about an hour with another programmer (pair programming) to work on a couple of problems and do some bug fixing.

I've done some interviews before, but I've never been subjected to this type of sadism though. I mean it's very difficult to keep a cool head and work under such conditions - at least for me!

Is this form of interviewing common or (hopefully!) rare? With the rise of eXtreme/Agile Programming, is this form of stressful interviews to be expected? If you've been subjected to such torture, what is your observations/recommendations/feedback?
[ October 25, 2008: Message edited by: Bear Bibeault ]
Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
Posts: 19072
    
  40

I have never been subjected to this, but, why do you consider this torture?

It sounds like fun to me. The only awkward part is how much you should take control of the keyboard. It is an interview, so it would be good to show your skills at driving (at the keyboard) and of analysis (off of the keyboard).


On the other hand, it take some time for a pair to gel, so I don't see how two strangers can get into a groove in under an hour.

Henry


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Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 31075
    
233

I don't ask for that, but I do ask people to code on the computer. (a contrived problem, not our real code.) Interestingly, I get similar reactions. Some people think it is good/fun. Others think it is horribly demanding and say "people get nervous on interviews." I don't think they forget how to code. Nervous and small mistakes are one thing. Not being able to do basics is another.

I agree with Henry that it takes more than an hour to get into a good rhythm. It doesn't take as long to show you know stuff though so I'm sure that's what they were looking for.


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Bear Bibeault
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Joined: Jan 10, 2002
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  67

I've never heard of, or conducted, such an interview. I'd not like it much either. Even after over 3 decades tethered to a keyboard, my typing skills are terrible and I wouldn't want my technical skills judged on my hunt-and-peck typing style.


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Henry Wong
author
Sheriff

Joined: Sep 28, 2004
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  40

Even after over 3 decades tethered to a keyboard, my typing skills are terrible and I wouldn't want my technical skills judged on my hunt-and-peck typing style.


I am a "touch typist", and rarely ever look at the keyboard when typing. And depending on what I am typing, can type at a pretty good speed. Brag. Brag. Brag.

My wife is a hunt and peck style of typist. She only uses two (sometimes three) fingers. Constantly looking at the keyboard.... and ... she can type incredibly fast. She can easily beat me, even with her hunt and peck style of typing...

Henry
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 31075
    
233

I'd like to think nobody is using typing style as an interview criteria!

I type like Henry - except for code. I need to look at the keyboard to find the "special" characters like {}.
[ October 26, 2008: Message edited by: Jeanne Boyarsky ]
Edvins Reisons
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 11, 2006
Posts: 364
Originally posted by Bob Hager:

Is this form of interviewing common or (hopefully!) rare?



Oddly, I have never been asked to use a computer during an interview. On very rare occasions, the interviewer would ask me to scribble some code or diagram on paper.

The closest that I recall was, one or two times, the interviewer said: �At the next interview, we�ll look at how you code�, which never materialized (maybe they were just checking how much this scares me ).

While I find it normal that some mouse and keyboard action is required from the applicant, an hour sounds excessive because from what I have seen, an hour is the typical length of the entire interview.
arulk pillai
Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 31, 2007
Posts: 3275
I am a hunt and peck style of typist as well and never bothered to change because what you type is more important than how you type.

I have never been in such interviews, but was asked to write sample code on a white board.

On the other hand, it take some time for a pair to gel, so I don't see how two strangers can get into a groove in under an hour.


I don't think the interviewer is expecting to solve the problem in under an hour. I think what the interviewers are trying to look for is

-- if you know how to go about solving a problem in a real situation, not the exact solution. It is important to think loud as you solve the problem so that the interviewer can hear your approach and technical ability. Suggest best practices, identify potential caveats, recommend open-source libraries like Apache Commons instead of re-inventing the wheel, refer to APIs, evaluate the requirements before jumpting into solving the problem, etc.

-- if you can contribute or add value with being able to propose different approaches and evaluate pros and cons for each in a real situation.

-- Interviewee can get a real feel for the environment he/she will be working in while the interviewer assess his/her team fitness.

I don't think these types of interviews are a torture. I have been in interviews lasting 2-3 hours where you stand in front of a white board and 3-4 people fire question after question at you. The more thorough the interview process the more tempted I will be to join that organization expecting to work with and learn from high calibre professionals. One of the prominent consulting firms where Martin Fowler is the chief scientist is renowned for its high calibre professionals hired via a 6 level screening process (they do a profile match as well - consulting is not everyone's cup of tea). It may be a bit over the top, but why not. They do look after their staff very well as well
[ October 26, 2008: Message edited by: arulk pillai ]

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Pradeep bhatt
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Joined: Feb 27, 2002
Posts: 8919

Candidates who apply for consulting firm where Martin Fowler works have to go through pair programming exercise.


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mani vannan
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Joined: Apr 17, 2006
Posts: 47
To tell you the fact, Agile based projects will have this working model. I have heard from a lot of people that ThoughtWorks has such model - working in a long table, and sharing computers with your colleague or team mates for this part!


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Sameer Jamal
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Joined: Feb 16, 2001
Posts: 1870
Few years back in one company I've been assigned a problem and given 3 hours to do the coding with their specific standard, I solved that in the end what interviewer told me " you didn't added the delete button " , even though I was offered the job I didn't joined that organisation.
arulk pillai
Author
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Joined: May 31, 2007
Posts: 3275
even though I was offered the job I didn't joined that organisation


Didn't like the 3 hour interview? Just kidding . Your confidence would have boosted after that.
 
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