Whiteboard Interviews

2017/03/02 writing

I think the frustration is a bit overblown.

Lots of people in forums (eg: HN) who say "I'm a great software developer I don't need to debase myself like this", then turn out to be a "left-pad" type, or the types to thoughtlessly drop in an N+1 query in a template. Meanwhile, those same forums have many people discussing just how many candidates cannot code FizzBuzz, or how many people get by for years on no talent. I have an inkling some people in the former group are the people described in the latter case, but they nod along to each other's stories no problem.

A lot could be done to make the interviews a less arcane and grueling to jive with the self-taught culture that tech seems to want to nurture. For example, someone on an interview tried to ding me because I described a process architecture and how I'd use a queue to parallelize something, but didn't use the word "Queue" specifically. It felt weird. There was also the story about the Homebrew guy, where he gets asked to "invert the tree", which he blanked on, but is obviously actually trivial if you phrase it in a less domain-specific way (follow and swap refs as you go or whatever).

Some people then pitch the idea of take-home projects, and yet another crowd perks up to say they hate those and it's humiliating to waste your time like that and so on. Then another group offers the idea of talking about portfolios, and some other people counter that with the fact that their work is top secret.

It's to be expected that no single solution makes everyone happy.

I think one way forward could be for companies or recruiters to not have a single interview pipeline, and instead offer candidates some options as to how they present their skill. Come for a whiteboard, or do this take-home project, or come for a day and give a presentation on existing work; take 1 or 2. Unemployed self-learners maybe would love the project, hired people on the clock can just hammer out a quick talk about stuff they're intimate with day-to-day, and students can use their schooling. Not sure if those three work well together, but I don't see why not.

My contract with the federal gov't ends soon so I may be going through the gauntlet again. Maybe I'll change my mind after some particularly awful whiteboard sessions, however so far it's been pretty reasonable.

Update (2017/10/11)

I had a job interview today and the interviewer seemed taken aback that I didn't really have a ready notion of what 232 was approximately equal-to in terms of RAM. My screening question had to do with HTML generation. Maybe the critics have a point after all!