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How common is it to actually code in the interview?

Matt Kidd
Ranch Hand

Joined: Jul 17, 2002
Posts: 259
Just got out of an interview that I thought put me through the wringer. The environment I code in at work is WebObjects and java 1.4. I was taught/told at that job to whenever possible use the WebObjects methods because it's native and handles a lot of the headaches for you.

Well this company seemed to be strict java and java 1.5 at that. There isn't a need, at least from what I've seen and I'm pretty much left alone in what is more or less a support role, for assertions so I make due with what I know.

That distinct difference aside I was placed in front of a laptop and pretty much told "have at it". The problem I was given (which I will solve...grabbed the paper before I left) I didn't feel was all that hard and probably could of been finished in the hour allotted but it was so weird to be in a pair programming situation but it was more like I'm being graded as I code.

That is totally different from how i work in my job. I'm pretty much given a task and told "make it work".

Is this common in interviews? It's been 3 years more or less since I've looked for a job.

Don't get me wrong...I'm grateful for the interview and will say that in the thank you letter because if there was ever a barometer for a job it's being put on the spot, asked to do what you say you can, and then being told you're not good enough.
Jeanne Boyarsky
internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30293
    
150

Matt,
I wish it was more common. Amazon, Google, Microsoft etc are known for giving coding in the interviews. I do ask to code on a computer (and not just on paper.) And I do pair for a few reasons:
  • I can provide guidance when the candidate gets stuck so we can move onto other questions.
  • The candidate can explain the thought process
  • I can see comfort level will tools
  • I can see how the candidate approaches the problem - this seems like a combination of the others, but I see it as a difference. I professional developer is familiar with certain idioms and you can see the fluency.


  • I recognize people may be nervous and try not to stare at them as they code if this is the case. At the same time, I don't believe people forget the basics just because someone is watching. Do you forget the alphabet if you have an audience?


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    Matt Kidd
    Ranch Hand

    Joined: Jul 17, 2002
    Posts: 259
    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Matt,
  • I can see comfort level will tools
  • I can see how the candidate approaches the problem - this seems like a combination of the others, but I see it as a difference. I professional developer is familiar with certain idioms and you can see the fluency.



  • fluency. that's the exact word they used when I left. now I can understand wanting someone to know the language but I hear fluency and I hear "walking compiler". That's not someone i want to be as in my mind it evokes a very rigid robotic approach to the work. Almost like being a "code monkey". I'm still confused about the whole thing but I'd rather be in a place where problems are solved using technology and I'm not coldly developing code.

    The comfort level with tools is another issue too. As I'm coming from a fairly non-standard j2ee coding environment, I have to wonder how skilled I can get learning by myself especially since I'm still in the start of my career and could use guidance. Maybe that's an indication that the place isn't for me but then I have to wonder what the heck have i been doing the past 3 years and if it was worth it.
    John de Michele
    Rancher

    Joined: Mar 09, 2009
    Posts: 600
    I'm of two minds on coding in interviews. On the one hand, I see where Jeanne is coming from, especially if the task is 'reasonable'. Watching someone code is a good way to find out how they think, and, in my experience, you're not expected to have memorized the entire language API. On the other hand, no one I know codes on whiteboards, which are the usual place where coding takes place in an interview. Additionally, few people code on a daily basis while competing to get a job .

    John.
    Jeanne Boyarsky
    internet detective
    Marshal

    Joined: May 26, 2003
    Posts: 30293
        
    150

    Matt Kidd wrote:fluency. that's the exact word they used when I left. now I can understand wanting someone to know the language but I hear fluency and I hear "walking compiler".

    That's not what fluency means to me. If you write a loop in <pick your favorite language> to find the sum of a list of numbers, how long does it take you? Do you write in one pass? Do you think about it a lot? If you are an experienced Java developer, it should go very fast and be as easy as writing a sentence.

    Matt Kidd wrote: I'm still confused about the whole thing but I'd rather be in a place where problems are solved using technology and I'm not coldly developing code.

    And yet, if someone is stumbling along with the basics and can't write a loop, how are they going to solve hard/interesting problems with technology. I don't want a copy/paster that doesn't know the basics. And it may not be Java. If someone knows another language well, many companies will do the interview in that language. The other problem is that it's hard to test for ability to solve interesting problems at an interview. It is possible to definitively state if someone will struggle with the basics.

    Matt Kidd wrote: I have to wonder how skilled I can get learning by myself especially since I'm still in the start of my career and could use guidance.

    Eclipse is free. NetBeans is free. IntelliJ is free. NotePad is free. vi is free. (you see where this is going.) Eclipse is pretty intuitive, but if someone said they are used to NetBeans and would rather code in NotePad at the interview, I think I'd be cool with it.

    John de Michele wrote:you're not expected to have memorized the entire language API. On the other hand, no one I know codes on whiteboards, which are the usual place where coding takes place in an interview.

    I agree with all of this, so I don't consider it "the other hand." My give all coding interviews on a computer. The candidate has access to Eclipse and the internet (google, JavaDocs, etc.) I don't mind if something is looked up within reason. Double checking an API is fine. Looking up the syntax of a while loop when you claim to have coded Java for the last 5 years, not so good. I agree that a whiteboard is unrealistic for real code - pseudocode maybe - but not mastery of a language.
    Jeanne Boyarsky
    internet detective
    Marshal

    Joined: May 26, 2003
    Posts: 30293
        
    150

    John de Michele wrote: Additionally, few people code on a daily basis while competing to get a job .

    Can you elaborate? Does one forget how to write easy programs while job hunting? If so, what should an employer expect the ramping back up to be?
    John de Michele
    Rancher

    Joined: Mar 09, 2009
    Posts: 600
    Jeanne:

    Well, for me at least, my last interview wasn't too bad, but the round before (between March and July of this year), I had a lot of additional concerns, like "If I don't get a job, how will I feed my family?" and "How will I pay the bills?". I didn't forget all of my Java, but I know my mind blanked more than once . Personally, I find interviewing stressful, and doing it for three months was extra stressful. I guess I find normal day-to-day coding different than coding during an interview.

    John.
     
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