back to article You're testing them wrong: Whiteboard coding interviews are 'anti-women psychological stress examinations'

People applying for software engineering positions at companies are often asked to solve problems on a whiteboard, under the watchful eye of an interviewer, as a way to assess technical problem solving skills. But recent research suggests that whiteboard technical tests – so daunting to job seekers that there are books on how …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While it's nice to think all jobs will be happy-go-lucky, relaxing jaunts through life, there will be times when the shit hits the fan and working under stressful conditions will be required. Possibly more often than not in some industries depending on the experience level of the employee.

    Knowing someone can think clearly and make rational decisions during these times can be a useful thing to know.

    That said...

    Who are these people who actually do this? Over the last 25+ years I don't recall ever having had to write actual code on a whiteboard during an interview. I've been asked to describe solutions to problems out loud (and refine those solutions as the goalposts are moved), and been asked to describe what specific code fragments do, but I don't think I've ever written code on a wall. That's not how people write code.

    What I have had to do in the past (and what I've asked someone to do for a technical interview tomorrow, as it happens) is write a solution to a problem before the interview and present and discuss that code in person. Code reviews are (should be) a regular part of the job. (Are you listening, Boeing?)

    1. Oliver Mayes

      I had one interview about... 8 years ago? 3 managers sat around a conference table while I stood at the front with a paper flipchart and a chunky board pen. They read out programming scenarios and I had to write the code to solve them.

      Paper was definitely not an ideal medium, being impossible to erase or change anything I'd written when I realised I needed to insert a line between two I'd already written.

      1. Drew Scriver

        My (Fortune 500) company now has a policy that states that panel interview is no longer acceptable. It unnerves the Millennials and Snowflakes too much.

        We're wondering what will happen if we have a major incident with hundreds of stakeholders, engineers, managers, and executives on a conference call and they're expected to contribute live...

        1. logicalextreme

          Agreed that if something like that is gonna be part of the job then it's prudent to get a feel for how they'll be — even if only to make sure you know you need to send them on some kind of communication or presentation training.

          Me, personally, I like to be as far-a-fscking way from those kinds of calls as possible, preferably working on the solution.

        2. Control Phreak

          Whoever thinks the correct response to a major incident is to set up a conference call with hundreds of participants shouldn't be in charge of incident response.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            That's what the manager is for

            S/he should be fielding the execs and stakeholders, leaving the techies to, you know, fix the problem.

            Every time a developer answers a phone call from some suit asking for a resolution time, the resolution time has slipped by the length of the phone call plus the time taken to refocus after the phone call.

        3. Terry 6 Silver badge

          I'd suggest that if you have a major incident the last thing you need is a conference call with hundreds of "stakeholders, engineers, managers, and executives". And that the second to last thing you'd need was an accumulation of the types who'd got through an interview by confidently BSing a performance in front of a whiteboard.

          I'd even suggest that the best way to avoid a major incident in the first place is to keep such people away from any kind of decision making.

          In a major incident the first rules are 1.) Follow the agreed procedure for the initial response then 2.) stop and have a small leadership team of experts think carefully about the next/recovery stage.

          The worst possible response is to have dozens, let alone hundreds, of people all shouting their own instant responses. Chaos, confusion and paralysis are no substitutes for calm planning.

          1. Drew Scriver

            My company considers itself to be a tech company and the execs tend to be highly technical.

            To their credit, they don't usually speak up during incident calls. For that matter, there are very few people who talk on these calls.

            However, the Incident Response Coordinator will solicit feedback from various engineers and there generally are conversations based on this.

            My point is that if one cannot handle the stress of a panel interview the likelihood of being able to contribute during these incident calls is in question.

          2. logicalextreme

            Heheheh. "Agreed procedure". Where do you come up with these things?

            How do you suggest people advance their own personal careers without being remembered as the loudest and angriest shouter during a major incident?

        4. GerryMC

          Hopefully they leave you to fix things, rather than rambling away on a conference call.

          In nearly thirty years of software development, I can't remember having that sort of situation.

        5. LucreLout

          My (Fortune 500) company now has a policy that states that panel interview is no longer acceptable. It unnerves the Millennials and Snowflakes too much.

          In the City stress and your ability to deal with it is a core part of the job in almost any role. Anyone that cannot handle that is best discovered during the interview process rather than when they're in the role because workplace stress is dangerous as well as horrible for those that suffer from it.

          When something breaks and there is serious money on the line, the people whose money that is tend to get shouty quickly. Screw up a traders bonus and they will not particularly care how you feel about their choice of language or tone of voice, and that applies to the women traders too. The atmosphere goes from peachy to purgatory in a finger snap.

          In return you get to work on projects at a scale few other industries ever manage or need, and you get well paid for your efforts. The downside is that the environment is robust, your performance always has to be good just to make it through next years 20/70/10 [1] review round.

          Some industries are higher pressure than others. Medicine must be near the top of the tree - your surgeon has a bad day and you're dead or crippled, same for the anesthetist and a whole raft of other staff. People want a surgeon who gets to success, not a surgeon who did their best and is sorry that you died anyway. ATC must be there somewhere, soldier in a combat zone etc etc.

          People react to stress differently, and choosing a role with the correct level for your best most comfortable performance is probably the smart thing to do. That being said, if you are pressure testing candidates and all you're actually building is a few websites, then you're probably doing interviewing all wrong. Breaking people isn't clever.

          1 - The top 20% of performers get a good pay rise, the next 70% get a cost of living pay rise, and the bottom 10% get the sack, every year whether we're making reductions in force or not.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "... and working under stressful conditions will be required."

      Yes, but "Kobayashi Maru" tests should be performed exactly with this in mind, not to assess people skills in a given field.

      When I give tests to people I usually leave them alone - just maybe removing all electronic aids to solve them - I don't really need much StackOverflow search capabilities, although even using SO correctly instead of blindly copying the first answer is a skill itself.

      Interactive questions are of a different kind.

    3. anothercynic Silver badge

      I know of at least one organisation in my vicinity that does/did this. I failed horribly because a) I didn't have the full C and C++ specifications (and all the templates in the world) in my head, and because pseudocode would have been so much better. Needless to say, I didn't get that job (maybe it was a good thing given where I ended up in the end).

      That said, the employer before that regularly saw senior software devs spec/scribble out code on whiteboards. It allowed everyone to collaborate on the functionality without having to crowd around a 24" monitor at super high resolution. I found that to be very helpful if/when I was pulled in to contribute.

      But yeah, making an interviewee sweat in front of a white board while the interview panel watched (or wasn't even present at all) is torture and unnecessary.

      1. My-Handle Silver badge

        I'm actually not a fan of pseudocode, especially in an interview situation. I find the lack of specific rules or structures to be inhibitive, as I'm constantly wondering whether a bit I just wrote that made sense to me would make sense to an interviewer.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Pseudocode is useful if you are looking for somebody to do algorithms rather than just grind out code in language X.

          I also try and avoid standard "rebalance a tree" type standard algorithms, I'm not interested in how long ago you revised from SICP - I try and find things in the work we are doing.

          But not asking any write code questions at all? You would be amazed at the number of people with a CS degree that can't program fizz-buzz

          1. Blank Reg Silver badge

            I hadn't even heard of fizzbuzz until a few years ago. I can't see how anyone could fail and still claim to be a programmer. just for fun I sat down and wrote the worst possible solutions I could come up with.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Do a CS degree, be careful to choose all the course options that involve no actual programming. Be the one on the team-project that never turns up and never does any work. Scrape through with a 'C' average by copying homework and just graduate.

              Then apply for every advanced algorithms, we really want math PhD, C++ job.

      2. Diogenes

        Used wrong bubbles

        A long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I failed a "whiteboard" interview, given a scenario & had do a dataflow diagram. I asked the correct clarification questions and got the right result (they used a small system they developed and I matched the analysis document 95% ), but still failed - "oh we use Gane & Sarson symbols (rounded rectangles for process) here, and you used the Yourdan symbols (circles) , so thank you very much for your time".

        Gob was well an truely smacked

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Show the evidence...

      The problem with the 'life might sometimes be tough' school of interviewing is that its fairly rubbish! It measures stress in a particular rather artificial scenario. It might well be that a team needs someone who is a good bullshitter who can think on their feet - but the mild mannered candidate who gets flustered might actually write more elegant code - and under real world 'stress' might be the one who actually works quietly to the 'right' solution.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Show the evidence...

        Totally agree with this. Apart from anything else, job induced stress when you feel comfortable in your environment is totally different from the artificial setting of standing at a whiteboard and having every action being watched by a group of strangers.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

    While it's not a bad thing in itself to see if a candidate can hold up under pressure, from my personal experience as a candidate (numerous times) and as an interviewer (several times), I can vouch for the fact that the mere interview procedure is a stress test for everyone, so I fail to see the need to add to that.

    Especially with a procedure that is apparently made to disqualify a candidate. If I'm looking for a programmer, I want to find one, not spend my time disqualifying the possibles. I wouldn't have done a whiteboard test anyway. I would bring a printed part of code and ask the candidate what is wrong. I find that a very good test procedure ; you can quickly see if the person knows what they're talking about or if they flounder totally.

    Oh, and there will be something wrong in the code. I'm not doing psychological tests, I want to see if the person can find the mistake.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

      Of course there's something wrong in the code. There's no such thing as a perfect program.

      But I assume you're looking for debugging technique more than programming language skills... so start with "where's the input validation?", progressing to "what if someone has set this parameter to zero?", then hitting the language issues "surely this print command should be a printf?" and "still allocating memory manually?"

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

        When I use these "what's wrong with this code?" tests with interview candidates, I'm looking for people who have language knowledge, understanding of particular idioms, debugging skills and can spot typical pitfalls. I've found I can glean a lot more information this way than from asking questions.

        Sure, maybe I'm asking the wrong questions, but this way you get to see the candidates' thought processes, and gain objective metrics to evaluate performance.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

        I think caring about stuff like "shouldn't this print command be printf" is stupid. The compiler will tell you about that stuff, I'd care more about someone thinking about issues like input validation or properly commenting the code than getting the syntax right or memorizing how many arguments a particular library function has. Someone who has memorized all the rules but doesn't consider things like security or documentation important is useless as a developer IMHO.

    2. ciaran

      Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

      I did an interview test like this, many years ago. I found 2 mistakes, not sure which one I was supposed to find, presumably the second was an embarrassment. They never got back to me.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

        Oh dear, brings back memories.

        I went for one bizarre interview where I was first given a basic set of circuit diagrams and asked to fill in the numbers (what level do you want this at? You realise there are missing parameters here?) and then presented with a circuit and asked what it did.

        You may wonder what this has to do with programming military microprocessors to control hydroplanes. So did I.

        But I told the interviewer, a physicist, that I had no idea at all.

        "It's a constant voltage source" he said smugly.

        "No, it isn't," I replied, "because first Hfe and Veb varies with temperature and so that transistor there will change the output voltage as the temperature changes, and second, it's extremely load sensitive."

        There was a silence. Then he said "I designed that circuit" and I made my excuses and left.

        I still have not the faintest idea why he thought a knowledge of bipolar transistors was necessary for writing assembler.

      2. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

        You just reminded me of of a time in the 1960s when I was applying for a job with Radio Rentals.

        They presented a non working set (valve in those days), then told me to write down every step I took and left me alone. They were quite surprised when I asked for a second sheet of paper, and one of the guys sauntered over to have a browse, then went away rather quickly.

        Eventually I finished and presented them with a working set, having found and resolved both faults. I was immediately told I had the job, which rather surprised me. Later I discovered that they'd only put one fault on it, but the set had developed a second one, and I found and detailed both.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "the test is designed to make almost anyone fail"

        Your code displayed "Hello Whirled"?

  3. Cederic Silver badge

    but this can't be true

    I've been told that women are equal to men, and can do anything a man can do. So how could two equally competent software engineers pass or fail a test entirely because of their gender?

    Whiteboard coding tests are nonsense. Getting someone to draw a diagram on the board - a design diagram, a toolchain flow, anything really - is reasonable but only a muppet would expect a software engineer to write code on a whiteboard.

    But they're not sexist. Stop pretending they are. Especially stop reporting that they are without providing data like 'how many men actually passed' which would tell us whether this headline grabbing misreporting is based on a rounding error.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: but this can't be true

      Equal does not mean identical.

      I don't know if it is true that all women have more trouble than men in coping with a whiteboard test, but after 30 years of marriage to the same woman, I can vouch for the fact that my wife does find it particularly difficult to deal with cold calls and other marketing types. She just can't brush them them off. She can't build up the nerve to cut the call short and hang up.

      I don't have that kind of problem.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: but this can't be true

        Er, equal does mean identical. Its either equal or its 'sort-of-like-that'.

        As we all have experienced, some interviews and techniques are good and some are rubbish. Its a thing these days that these experiences are seen automatically through a lens of anti-women or anti-BAME.

        Does an interview identify the characteristics needed for the role? If no, then it prejudices against all potentially good candidates. Its not a women thing, its not a BAME thing, its a rubbish process thing.

        1. MingMong

          Re: but this can't be true

          Extract from the Merriam-Webster definition of 'equal':

          "a (1): of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another

          (2): identical in mathematical value or logical denotation : EQUIVALENT

          b: like in quality, nature, or status

          c: like for each member of a group, class, or society..."

          You'd be right in saying that it means "identical" if this situation fell under definition (a), but this is a definition (b) situation. However that's all a side issue, as you correctly say the process is rubbish and inappropriate so they're simply losing potentially good employees. Not big or clever recruitment design.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: but this can't be true

          Granted the terminology varies across subjects (eg. epistemology, maths, logic...) and local usage, but equal and identical are generally understood to be two distinct relationships. That's why we use the two different words.

          Generally two items are equal in some respect or property if they evaluate to give the same result in that respect, usually for a specific input.

          Generally two items are identical if they are equal in all respects, ie. for all inputs and all variables, and are therefore functionally indistinguishable.

          A kilo of apples and a kilo of gravel are equal in weight, for instance, but they're certainly not identical as you'll discover if you try to eat a gravel crumble.

          1. find users who cut cat tail

            Re: but this can't be true

            Sure, and why you had to write in weight?

            Because no one says just ‘a kilo of apples and a kilo of gravel are equal’. The reaction to that would be ‘WTF?’ – and rightfully so.

            Equal without qualifies means equal in all aspects that could be considered. Equal with qualifies limits the equality to some aspects. The qualifiers can be implicit – you might not have to always add ‘under the law’ if it there is enough context to make clear you mean this kind of equal. But your kilo example is just silly.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: but this can't be true

                You need to get your tardis serviced as "Liberté, egalité, fraternité" still is the motto of France, but it was only adopted in 1848. But as for this starting the concept you might want to dial up 1215 (the year, not lunch-time and have a look at the Magna Carta. I suspect other cultures had some form of equality prior to that too.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: but this can't be true

              > Sure, and why you had to write in weight?

              To make the explanation clear, why else?

              >Because no one says just ‘a kilo of apples and a kilo of gravel are equal’.

              >The reaction to that would be ‘WTF?’ – and rightfully so.

              Wrong, this particular example was deliberately ridiculous to illustrate the point, and therefore requires qualification, but people rightly say that sort of thing all the time about all sorts of things. We generally omit the specifier for the quality that we're considering because it's so obvious from the context.

              If you're loading a ferry you don't need to specify that you mean mass when you say, correctly, something like "1 bus = 10 cars". It's obvious what you're talking about. It's also obvious that you're not suggesting that one bus is literally an identical object to 10 cars.

              Similarly, in explosives work you'd often say something like "100kg ANFO = 82kg TNT". You don't need to specify that you mean with respect to explosive power, and you also don't need to explain that you aren't suggesting they are identical things. Obviously they're not equal in all other respects, just the one that's clearly implicit in the statement.

              Likewise, it's clear to anyone with a mental age higher than about 4 that when we say "men and women are equal" we aren't suggesting that they are identical. The commenter above is saying that "women are equal to men" and "this test favours men" are incompatible statements, based on a deliberate refusal to recognise the clear meaning of the first statement. Of course we're not identical. The average woman has half the upper body strength of the average man, for instance. On average the sexes have markedly different risk appetites, and tend to use different approaches to problem solving in many situations. These differences do not in any way undermine or conflict with the statement that women and men are equal, because they are nothing to do with the respect in which we consider that we are equal, and the latter is clear and implicit in the statement of equality, and this implicit specifier is so clear largely _because_ it would be ridiculous to suggest that we're equal in such mundane respects.

              My five year old had no trouble discerning the obvious meaning of this statement without having to have the implicit specifiers spelt out; any adult of normal cognitive function claiming that the meaning isn't clear is being deliberately obtuse.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: but this can't be true

            What semantic tripe. A kilo of apples and a kilo of gravel have identical weights but they're not equal, so what's your point?

            "Generally two items are identical if they are equal in all respects, ie. for all inputs and all variables, and are therefore functionally indistinguishable."

            So we're not bothering about being indistinguishable from a non-functional perspective today then?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: but this can't be true

              As someone else pointed out, I was wrong - they have equal masses, not weights.

              My point is that they're equal in at least one respect, but that doesn't make them identical. It's not complicated.

              Nope, lots of things are considered identical where they are functionally indistinguishable but not indistinguishable in other respects.

              For example, I manufacture two machine screws using the same process. They have the same material composition, thermodynamic history, dimensions, appearance and physical characteristics. They are functionally indistinguishable.

              They are not indistinguishable in non-functional respects though; say they're assigned with two different serial numbers for example. I can therefore tell one from the other, but I can still justifiably say they're identical.

              If they were equal in every possible functional and non-functional respect then they would no longer be merely identical, they would literally be the same object.

          3. Anonymous Coward

            Re: but this can't be true

            A kilo of apples and a kilo of gravel are equal in weight...

            No they're not. They have equivalent mass. Their respective weights will only be guaranteed to be absolutely identical if they occupied the exact same point in space.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: but this can't be true

              Ha, quite right - I should have said equal in mass. Consider me corrected!

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: but this can't be true

        Whereas I am extremely good at getting rid of them

        - Good morning madam. I am calling you about the car accident you had recently.

        - When did this alleged accident take place?

        - Uhm er umh er I er don't er have this er information right now.

        Also [applicable only in the UK], if the caller ID shows a 0 or 1 after the area code, it is an invalid number, and I reject the call. That filters out about 80% of nuisance calls.

        Note that for the purpose of this test, the area code for Cardiff as an example is 029, not 02920; Reading is 0118, not 01189; London is 020, not 0207/0208.

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: but this can't be true

      Women are about the same[1]on average in their ability to come up with the correct answer as men, but the process by which they come up with the correct answer is not necessarily the same.

      [1] Actually slightly better on average than men, but men are less likely to be average, so a group with the best people will have more men, and a group with the most useless idiots will be mostly men.

      If you go back to the early years of computing when many of the fundamental things we now take for granted were invented, most programmers were women.

      1. Michele.x

        Re: but this can't be true

        Still now, I have noticed that a lot of COBOL and AS/400 programmers I know are women.

        Because I think there were high school course of accountant programmer, with lesson on book keping, touch typing and COBOL. Being a book keeper is seen as a 'normal' job for a girl.

        On the other hand a technical engineering high school had courses of electronics, calculus,PASCAL, C and assembler. Technical engineering was ok for boys.

      2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: but this can't be true

        According to the Commodore, that's because businessmen saw programmers as an expensive extension to the secretary pool, and hired accordingly.

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: but this can't be true


      = ≠ ≡

    4. dcline1701

      Re: but this can't be true

      Imagine if the article was about tests that involve conversations with the customer to get the requirements to build what they really want. One wonders if Cedric would've posted the same complaint if the article said 100 percent of men had failed.

      1. Cederic Silver badge

        Re: but this can't be true

        I'm sure that Cedric would join me in decrying any unfounded claims of sexism.

        I absolutely do want software engineers to discuss with the customer what they actually want, because we all know that it certainly isn't what they asked for.

        Does being a man mean a software engineer can't do that? Only a sexist would suggest such silliness.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: but this can't be true

      I would venture to guess that in the case where "whiteboard talking" is a part of the job description, such interviews might be needed. Back in the day I've heard it called "Chalk Talk" and, as I recall, in high school math contests, most of the 'Chalk Talk' contestants were FEMALE!

      For many reasons I call B.S. on the claim that such things are deliberately trying to weed out female applicants. Maybe they just weed out APPLICANTS, regardless of any other characteristic, not necessarily picking the best candidate, either.

      I can see the person who "talks the best game" is the one who 'wins' this kind of interview process. As for coding skills, most of the decent coders I've known wouldn't want to deal with this kind of B.S..

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: but this can't be true

        Tut tut. No one said "deliberate". Was that a deliberate straw man argument you just put up there? Unintended negative consequences however..... The whole article is about unintended negative consequences. Because it's the wrong way to decide appointments.

      2. DCFusor

        Re: but this can't be true

        It's been awhile, but the last time I accepted applications for the good jobs I had, I was flooded, just overwhelmed with applications. So many that even though a huge majority weren't as good as they tried to claim - resume padding was already an art widely practiced, there were many excellent prospects that were plenty good.

        Coding skill is not the only thing you need in a coder!

        A procedure that ditches most all of them is fine, as long as the one that's going to do the outfit good makes it. It may accidentally toss out a few good ones, but I couldn't hire them all anyway.

        And my killer question - hopefully not sexist or anything else-ist - was "what do you do in your spare time with this skill set - what do you love doing?". A blank stare, no hire. An enthusiastic response, hired - even if it wasn't something amazing. People who love what they do will become great at it regardless of where they are at now. People just looking for a sinecure, any job, in it for the money - they will cost more than they are worth.

        We did really well as an outfit, and our customers often asked me "where did you find these people" and were jealous. It must not have been a stupid method. And we did make plenty of money, but we concentrated on being the best and the money followed. Our enthusiasm for solving customer problems made sales and made our promises stick.

  4. Zog_but_not_the_first
    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: Damore's Caution

      “Careful now. You can get fired for suggesting men and women are different.”

      If men and women were not different, we wouldn’t have heterosexual, gay, lesbian or transgender people, we would all be either bisexual or asexual.

  5. RobLang

    Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

    We don't write code on a whiteboard during our day to day, so why ask them in an interview?

    I know that they are popular with Goomicropplebook but I don't think they are effective. Much better to get someone to bring some of their code with them and get them to talk through it; explain how it works, what they would improve it, ask them how a feature might be implemented. That's more like the real world rather than this nonsense about whiteboard coding.

    As others have suggested, I like to have paper or a whiteboard at hand so that the candidate can explain things by drawing. That's not the same as writing up on a board with a pen.

    The whole whiteboard coding smacks of quasi-faux-academia. "Look how cutting edge we are: algorithms on a whiteboard; just like real science". Yes, I did that in academia but there tended to be two or more collaborating on a problem, not 3 judging another for a job role. And it was never much code, lots of diagrams, some maths and doodles.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

      Exactly this. Whiteboards are a terrible way to wite code, but they can be geat collaborative tool for exploring ideas, getting your point across visually, and just generally working shit out. If you want to use a whiteboard in interviews, do it for the right reasons.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

      Isn't this yet another lurch by Google into shit interviewing technique - that they then arrogantly tell everyone else about how great it is?

      Remember ten years ago when the cool interviewer was asking questions like "how many golf balls can you fit into a school bus" - because Google were doing it. None of them knew why it worked, and then it turned out that it didn't and Google abandoned it for being no better at telling you anything about people than random.

      Probably a good test for my job actually, in technical sales. Because it's a test of how well you can bullshit under pressure while sounding technically knowledgeable about something you are utterly ignorant of. But personally I hate winging it, and am perfectly happy to say, "I don't know, but can find out for you." Which in my experience often boosts your credibility.

      1. TomPhan

        Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

        I can't remember the name these type of tests are given, but the purpose is to see how you'd go about solving a problem rather than getting the right answer.

    3. swm

      Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

      When I was in college writing an executive I would sketch out ideas on a huge blackboard in my office. Yes, a real blackboard of Italian slate with white chalk. A real blackboard has a great tactile feel. If there was any code it would be a short sequence of instructions to see if the sequence was optimum. The actual code was written on backs of listings or other scraps of paper. I would then keypunch it onto cards and assemble it.

      I would never let anyone else keypunch the code as this was my final check and I discovered many errors while keypunching.

      1. Dog Eatdog

        Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

        According to my nephews' Local Education Authority, "blackboard" is racist and unsuitable to be used in polite society. The tell you to say "chalkboard".

        However, a whiteboard is still a whiteboard, not a "penboard".

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

          But blackboard is racist - against those chalkboards that happen to be green...

          Although in my book, the bastards deserve it. We had those stupid green blackboards at school, and they were much less clear and never seemed to clean up as well. So what I'm saying is that Greens are difficult and dirty! And we'll have none of this pandering to PC gone mad, we should launch an invasion of Venus immediately!

        2. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

          When was this? I call BS.

          That sort of nonsense mostly came from Daily Fail articles in the 1980s or thereabouts.

          There hasn't even been a traditional blackboard in a school from, in most cases, even before then. They were all replaced over 30 years ago. I don't think I ever used one after about 1985. And even ordinary whiteboards are a rare breed now. They've been interactive for the best part of the last 20 years. My (adult) kids have never ever seen a blackboard except on the TV.

          From Wikipaedia The Becta Harnessing Technology Schools Survey 2007 indicated that 98% of secondary and 100% of primary schools had IWBs.[3]

          1. conscience

            Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

            And I call BS on 98% of schools using IWBs, at least not in the schools I've visited. Just because a school trialled one that doesn't mean that's what they use every day.

            A school may own one, or sometimes even several from failed experiments, but in my experience they rarely if ever are able to actually *use* them, for a variety of reasons. Some just don't work and never did, some need expensive repairs so are ignored as there's no money to fix them, some will only work with specific older software/OS versions etc. so quickly became obsolete, many schools were told that extra training to use them was not required but that turned out not to be true and so now nobody knows how to use them, some came with default sounds that couldn't be disabled or turned down which interfered with other students/teachers, etc. I have even seen traditional whiteboards and blackboards pulled down over these very expensive IWBs! In the vast majority of cases the IWBs that were present were just unused classroom furniture that were routinely ignored.

            Amusingly, teachers I've spoken to all preferred the old overhead projector... it is write once and works reliably every time despite being far older in age than most of the teachers. Maybe things have changed recently? I'm not that up to date.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Whiteboard coding - never done it, never ask anyone to do it

              If you'd written this 15 or even 10 years ago I'd have agreed some of it. I'll still agree that some IWBs are inactive due to failed bulbs ( they still cost a fortune) or dodgy connections. But those are few and far between these days. Maybe you live and work in some out of the way location that the 21stC hasn't reached. Or maybe the USA?

              It was an "experiment" 20 years ago. They've been reliably in use in UK classrooms for a very long time. Sometimes alongside traditional whiteboards or flip charts. Even those are less common, since the more recent IWBs can be written on with a traditional marker pen without doing any harm. (Most teachers who've been working >10 years will have suffered the horror of coming back from a course or illness and finding a supply teacher has written all over the IWB. Usually the schools' own fault for failing to give the supply a log in to the classroom laptop- so they have no access to the IWB. Most supply teachers these days have trained or taught in the world of the IWB, they've been around so long).

              Most teachers these days wouldn't be able to function without an IWB, to be honest. An awful lot of primary school curriculum material is designed for IWB use. And secondary schools just live by IWB work.

              And old fashioned blackboards went out a long time before then, anyway. Which was the substance of the comment.

  6. Elledan
    IT Angle

    I concur

    A few years ago I flew around the world to attend a wide range of job interviews, including for companies like Apple and Microsoft. I found the 'on-site' aspect to be rather stressful already, with the logistics of train, plane and local transport. Even without jetlag coming into play, finding oneself the next day in front of a whiteboard running through the same 'implement memcopy' question again and again with every question from the person watching you seemingly aimed at raising your anxiety.

    When I put those experiences next to me actually working for a big company (major German car manufacturer) and attending meetings with heads of departments about the project which I was leading... then I must confess to not feeling anxious about these meetings or phone calls at all. Because you know what you are talking about, what has to be done, and how to communicate it to others.

    In comparison those job interviews were pure Hell and led me to instead decide to just freelance things. Stressful as freelancing may be, it also means that you are picked based on your work and (apparent) skills, not through some inane 'job interview'. I don't think I could ever put myself through another one of those interviews.

  7. Terry 6 Silver badge


    We often moan about research Psychologists ( and I was a Psychology graduate working within the field) stating the bleeding obvious. But sometimes the bleeding obvious just needs to be stated.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Psychologists

      Indeed. And the job of management consultants is to tell management what they know already but for company-political reasons haven't got the guts to say out loud.

      1. TomPhan

        Re: Psychologists

        The job of management consultants is to tell management what they want to hear so that an independent outside source has said it.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Psychologists

          Consultants have to sell themselves. By definition they gain employment by telling the employer what they want to hear. They are therefore not likely to tell unpleasant truths to the main bosses. They might damn the middle layers. That's the flaw in the system.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Flak

    The ultimate chalkboard moment

    From Hidden Figures - one of my favourite films - a truly exceptional woman delivering under exceptional pressure:


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The ultimate chalkboard moment

      Without cut and paste

    2. Scene it all

      Re: The ultimate chalkboard moment

      She died just this past February, aged 101. Two NASA facilities are now named after her.

  9. You aint sin me, roit


    I'm not a professional statistician but...

    There were only 48 test subjects, 22 'control' who did the test in private (4 of whom identified as female), 26 were subjected to the stress test (6 women).

    Those numbers don't sound too good to start with... but there's more:

    Of the 22 private tests, 13 of the bottom 14 were male. Isn't that as significant as 13 of the top 14 stress tests being male? So if stress testing favours males, then does non-stress testing favour women? Clearly not, because only stress tests favouring men gets mentioned...

    Crucially they did not test the same subjects in both environments, so I suspect that the results were more related to individual ability than any inherently sexual bias. The study just didn't have enough candidates (particularly women) to be statistically significant. I suspect that the study group was also likely to be biased because it was taken from current students with a knowledge of java and algorithmic representation who volunteered to be tested.

    By the way, I don't think whiteboard coding is a sensible interview test. If you're going to make an interviewee use a whiteboard then make it interactive, see how they react to suggestions, modify solutions according to additional input, etc. You know, like how programmers actually use whiteboards...

    1. find users who cut cat tail

      Re: Statistics

      This all depends on how you define the baseline…

      If your baseline is close to non-stress environment, then stress-free tests show results closer to true skill and stress environment shows the effect of stress. This is probably a reasonable baseline – and the conclusion would be then that even though the women were in fact more skilled they performed worse under stress. You can also choose the baseline differently. The only objective conclusion is the relative shift of performance when the amount of stress changes. In other words, women's performance was more sensitive to stress.

      But unless you think stress the work environment should be as large as possible, it is kind of difficult to argue that removing stress disadvantages someone.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Statistics

      This bit of research is simply a bit of cherry on a well worn cake. (I love mixing metaphors).

      It's perfectly well known that severe stress reduces cognitive performance. Classically exemplified by the students who fall apart in exams and write repeated words over and over again. Or less graphically, by my own daughter who threw up during her GCSEs, and got rubbish grades, did a non-A level 6th form course, got into a degree course that was almost totally non-exam, but with lots of practical assessment and is now a very successful paediatric speech therapist specialising in work with autistic kids.

      All this study does is show that it still applies in the IT industry's latest, fashionable interview technique - as dreamt up probably by some damn fool "consultant". i.e. It's nothing new or unexpected.

      It's also why I ended up working in special education, and not in IT. I'd inquired in IBM's office about careers in computers back in about 1974. I'd literally called in on my way past. They whisked me off into a room and sat me on the proficiency test. There and then. No warning. No preparation. Just wham. Adrenalin at the highest. So my performance was pretty much certainly not the best it could have been.

      They came back with a result. It was good. But not quite good enough. I should, they said, work with computers, but not in computing. So I chose Psychology as my degree, specialised in Psychology of Education for my PGCE and fulfilled the prophecy to some extent by becoming the part-time/add-on trainer/support/technician for the local educational IT when it started to appear in the schools I supported in the mid-80- at one point I was running after school courses for heads and deputies of primary schools in using MS-Dos. All this alongside my proper job. And was still doing a fair amount of that when I retired.

    3. hnwombat

      Re: Statistics

      Sorry, but a sample of 48 tests, roughly half-and-half control and treatment, can most certainly show statistically significant effects. Mind you, it would have been *much* better if there were at least 30 in each case, due to the central limit theorem, but having fewer largely biases the mean, not the standard deviation (until you get to very small numbers, e.g. around 4-5 in each case).

      In fact, that they showed a statistically significant difference (a term of art, by the way) with a small sample, that means the effect is quite large. I'm more impressed with a study this size that shows a statiistically significant result than one with 1000 in each case. With a large sample like that, you find a statistically significant difference for *anything* pretty much. Which is why we don't use the chi-square test as definiitive with large sample sizes (in structural equation modeling, for example).

      (Icon more for my field than for the mic-drop moment)

      1. W.S.Gosset

        Re: Statistics

        Sorry but speaking as a quant:

        You know some of the terms but haven't got a freaking clue what their real-world meaning or applicability is.

        Your mad jumble here is like watching someone use a pie chart to graph a time series. Syntactically specious; semantically void.

        OP is correct. You are not.

        1. W.S.Gosset

          Re: Statistics

          ("Quant": professional statistician working in practical research and modelling. Little stuff like this article since 80s, "big data" since 92)

          1. hnwombat

            Re: Statistics

            You may be a statistician, but you seem to have some problem understanding its application to social sciences (I have a Ph.D. in behaviorally-based information systems (i.e., social psychology)). It may be word salad to you, but not to social psych researchers. My points stand.

            1. W.S.Gosset

              Re: Statistics

              Amusing. I nearly put in something about you sounding like the psych doc candidates and postgrads I had to bail out back at uni for a few years. Throwing around, as you put it so weeningly, "terms of art" very glibly but without actually understanding them nor their inherent limitations, just blindly parroting and applying standard rules-of-thumb even where the situation obviates them. Then hitting major problems with their actual data...

              You HAVE correctly stated some first-year rules-of-thumb. But OP's points are valid: the data flaws mean they don't apply. The data drives the tools, not the other way round.

              Re word-salad/dick-waving: one of my tools in my thesis was generalised auto-regressive conditional heteroscedasticity (GARCH). Due to my previous work, Ken Kroner sent me his own code for it to save me some time writing it myself. Just had to port it to Unix. Google GARCH and observe the name of the primary author of it... Hello Ken!

              You'll have noted of course just from comprehending the maths, that it's very unlikely to have useful application for any real-world situation, but WILL tautologically create a signal on any compound/aggregated set of even slightly correlated items. You would have seen that straight away. But other people, less amazing than you, did not. And were touting it as the new saviour for all sorts of things. This annoyed me so I tested it empirically. Result: the maths and reality were right; the herd was wrong. I tested it vs various other tools, and in fact it was soundly thrashed in nearly all data situations by my simplest tool: a fixed integer. I found this amusing, Ken did not. (It IS lovely maths. To do a 2-step regression in 1? Nice.)(To see that approach's acme, check out Li's Copula Correlation paper. AWESOME maths. Catastrophically broken in any real-world application. Obvious from the maths. BUT a lot of people just looked at the words and if correct it made a major ballache in the financial markets go away, so almost the whole CDO/basket credit derivatives market piled into it. Suddenly you could just trade a single number! 2008's carnage was maHOOsively blown out due to the real-world shifting away from its assumptions...)

              Put it this way:

              Just your "understanding" of Significance makes me wince. That psychological mental muddling is precisely why Fisher tried so desperately to correct his error (his words) in suggesting that word for that concept.


              OP raised major data and partitioning issues. They are valid. They render the current grouping calculations invalid. The second-order numbers literally mean nothing.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Statistics

                It is odd, but I always thought "quant" meant "Generator of huge untestable spreadsheets that helped create the financial disaster of 2008-2009".

                But now I find from H W Gossett that I was completely and utterly mistaken.

                1. W.S.Gosset

                  Re: Statistics

                  Correct. You are completely and utterly mistaken.

                  Google eg "quant dev jobs", for a glimmering of how badly mistaken. C or similar is a typical minimum requirement.

                  Or for a much better glimmering, have a look at Wilmott's forums. for example

                2. W.S.Gosset

                  Re: Statistics

                  ("H W"?)


                  Presumably that's your own private shorthand for "Hoist on my own petard". The ACCURACY! The PRECISION!

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Statistics

                    His Worship.

                    Please don't shout in all caps, you are reinforcing my prejudices.

              2. hnwombat

                Re: Statistics

                Ah, I see the problem. My bad. Yes, your dick is indeed much bigger than mine. Cheers!

                1. W.S.Gosset

                  Re: Statistics

                  Ah! The reverse-weasel! A canny tactic.

                  We have enough fact-dissociated people on this site without a new one going out of his way to play status games.

                  Or to put it another way: if you don't know what you're talking about, dont try to piss all over someone asking a question. Shut up. Learn. Find out. That's what I do, that's what all grownups do.

                  Mate, you kicked off waving your dick at OP, playing the sacerdotal superiority game re Special Learnèdness Correcting The Unlettered. "Term of art" was just the icing on the cake. Your actual attempts were bathetic (sic) so I would have corrected you anyway (OP was bang on).

                  But your dick-waving stank.

                  You then waved your dick at me.

                  Even down to a snotty-nosed allusion to your vastly skilled and learnèd technical terms of art being just too far above me for me to possibly comprehend. "Word salad", ffs.

                  Go look up Appeal To Authority, as a standard fallacious rhetorical device. Your tactics are neither new nor viewed highly.

                  You'd now doubly annoyed me so I just smacked you down. Not hard, to be clear -- I _could_ have explained at length the vast chasm between your understanding and reality.

                  My dick is NOT bigger than yours, because in this field you quite simply don't have one.

                  You demonstrated knowledge/understanding levels which would have you struggling to pass the first assignment in first semester of first year. In any reputable uni.

                  Trying subsequently to clasp around yourself the cloak of wounded but cleverer innocence just makes you look like even more of a gamester. If you're going to try to turn things into a separate game then up the ante as a bluff, you can't complain if someone ups the ante again AND has the cards to back it up.

                  OP is correct. You are not.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Paris Hilton

                    Re: Statistics

                    I have to admit, as an interested observer, that whatever your merits as a statistician (which I am unqualified to judge), you certainly deserve a PhD in ranting.

                    Paris, because even she knows the meaning of tempus tacendi et tempus loquendi.

  10. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "writing code" v. solving a problem

    Being able to code under pressure is not equivalent to (or comparable with) being able to design a robust safe efficient solution to a problem as they demand completely different skill sets. We concentrate vastly too much on the mechanical process of implementation (coding) and far too little on the analytical and synthetic processes of high quality problem solving. Maybe this explains why so much software isn't magnificent.

    1. Doctor Evil

      Re: "writing code" v. solving a problem

      Unfortunately, that damned "time is money" thing does tend to interfere with the analytical and synthetic processes of high quality problem solving. This is often where the stress comes in.

    2. baud

      Re: "writing code" v. solving a problem

      > We concentrate vastly too much on the mechanical process of implementation (coding) and far too little on the analytical and synthetic processes of high quality problem solving

      It depends on what type of position you're hiring for. For an entry-level programmer/intern, making sure the implementation ability is present is important. But even then the live witheboard coding is a wrong idea.

  11. razorfishsl

    time for a new narrative.......

    Jack up the Marxist idea that everyone gets first prize, then when a particular group does not make it... give them an edge ,as long as they are not white & male...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I see you don't understand Marx, because he never suggested any such thing. Using "Marxist" in such a way is just using it as a label that means "bad!"

      Marx never suggested that everybody was equal. The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal (with get out clauses for Native Americans, black people and women, obviously.) No reputable political philosopher has ever suggested, to the best of my knowledge, that everybody should be made forcibly equal.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    When was the last time ...

    ... you had to write - from scratch - the recursive version of Dijkstra's Shortest Path, in 10 minutes or less, while taking heavy incoming artillery fire from the enemy?

    Yeah, me neither.

    That's about how useful and realistic these whiteboard code tests scenarios are.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: When was the last time ...

      I had one like that. It was remote so I had to do it online.

      I was given a task to write some C++ code to take an image and decode some mathematical data from it. That bit was fine - then in the lower text it said "if you can't do this in 15 minutes then the environment might not be suitable for you".

      I thought if there is a firm with coding pressure like that, then it's not worth even going for. A friend sat the same test and did get in, but left after a few months.

  13. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    "The experiment was designed to measure cognitive load and stress through the collection of eye tracking metrics, specifically fixation duration and pupil dilation."

    We call it Voight-Kampff for short.

    (They may be trying to hire the replicants)

  14. Uplink

    So that's why I didn't get that job...

    I had a whiteboard interview once. I was relaxed throughout. I believe I answered all their questions, but I didn't sweat one bit. I guess I failed the most important part then. Everything they asked me I had done on the job in the past, with some even fresh in my memory from the job I was leaving.

    That, and the fact that I really didn't want to be in the office at 9 sharp given that their answer to "how often you guys do long hours" pretty much amounted to "it's rare when we leave on time"

  15. USER100

    Problem-solving interviews are not necessarily a bad thing

    This whiteboard test sounds dodgy, but I wish all interviews just consisted of some technical/physical/mechanical test relevant to the job being applied for.

    Most jobs are easy - the interview's the hard part. Actual ability is far less help in an interview than ability to bullshit (this also explains why so many managers are tools).

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Intervieiw techniques

    I've been subjected to all sorts of techniques.

    This one is particularly bad - not only is a whiteboard totally unsuitable but whilst you're writing - your not on eye contact with the Interviewers.

  17. Scene it all

    I think a better test is to ask the applicant to interview the interviewer, as though they had just been assigned to a project and need to nail down all the requirements. She what questions *they* ask. I remember a situation in real life where there was a lot of back and forth about which sort algorithm to use on some data before merging two transaction files. This was in the days dark ages of tape drives when "sort work volumes" had to be mounted by operations. My boss noticed the question that nobody had asked: "What is the modal sort size?" That is, how many records do we need to sort. So he added some logging to the *existing* way this was being done to find out how many transactions were in a typical weekly run for this application.

    The answer was "zero". So he replaced the whole job step with an in-memory bubble sort, requiring no manual intervention at all.

  18. a_yank_lurker

    Proper Questions

    I think the proper question to a candidate is not ask them about specific syntax or language but to ask them to outline an approach to a problem. Language syntax can be learned fairly quickly when necessary. But the logical problem solving is not. Posing a realistic problem and asking how would you approach it will give a better idea if the candidate can do the job in reality.

    A variation of code writing is to use the language jargon to find out if the person knows the jargon and presumably the language.

    The question for those using code in the interview is are trying find a code monkey or a real programmer? A code monkey can whip out lines of code but may not solve the underlying problem. A real programmer will attack the underlying problem and solve it before writing code.

  19. J27

    The "paper" referenced suffers from a really small sample size. For the public test they had 26 participants, only 6 of which were women. For the private, there were only 24, with only 4 women.

    You're drawing conclusions based on sets of 4 and 6 participants. And all I had to do was scan the pdf for a few minutes to find that out. Why report on things if you're not going to assess the source?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Are you allowed to question the methodology?

      Isn't that typical of the male numbers centered patriarchy that have kept people who deal with feelings oppressed ?

  20. scottyman

    The two interviews I strongly recall for this reason are in no particular order - after being advised to dress smart for an interview at a broadcast tech manufacturer in the UK ... we get most of the way through the interview before the interviewer whips out an email from a developer upstairs and asks if I can solve a half written SQL query, then point to what’s wrong with a block of Java code - it was for a senior broadcast engineering role - and I just wasn’t expecting it.

    I mustered all my confidence and gave a wrong answer - with the caveat that I wasn’t expecting the question; I did definitely know the answer and I’d definitely be able to do better next time they asked... the interviewer’s honest response was ‘oh - we don’t know the answer - we just wanted to see what you’d do and if you would be a good fit’

    I ended up working there for 12 years and having a great time.

    By contrast - interviewing for a major player in the bug tracker and wiki world - I was called in for an immediate interview a week after fairly major eye surgery - and they wouldn’t take ‘can we reschedule’ for an answer.

    The interviewer was seriously pissed off when I told her I couldn’t see the whiteboard where they were administering the test described above - and I was asked to solve it anyway.

    Suffice to say I’m still bitter about it - and even though I asked to reinterview, never had a response back.

  21. Daedalus

    The screaming dread....

    I once had an interview with a funny little company that culminated in "write a small program in C to take input from the terminal, sort it and output it". My Unix was a bit rusty, but nothing ventured. Some input mangling, a linked list and a qsort later, I looked up and 3 hours were gone.

    "Wow, that took a lot longer than I hoped", I said to the nice guy in charge.

    "You did fine," he said. "We had one guy wanted to take the test home with him and do it there. (Yeah, right). Another just ran out screaming".

  22. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    This is a good example of why programs are so buggy these days.

    Asking someone to write code on a whiteboard is easy to do but doesn't really demonstrate everything. When I started you had to demonstrate that you could flowchart a problem, and in my mind that's always been the principal issue with coding, once you are confident that the flowchart is correct then you can write and debug the code to achieve the results that the flowchart documents.

    If you just ask someone to code in front of you then you end up with good clean code from the person that gets the job but without any evidence that some logic issue in the code has not been missed; debug it and you show that the code is fine, not that the code has not missed some internal logical issue. Of course buggy code is not a big problem because any decent app can download an update in a few 4fv6 77ior0r9o362g!@#^ HGT^&(

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: This is a good example of why programs are so buggy these days.

      Ops, sorry my phone just updated itself while I was typing.

  23. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    That's stress?

    I've had far, far too many interviews over the last 24 years. The majority have involved whiteboarding code.

    If folks aren't great at thinking on their feet, then asking them to solve ANY problem on the spot is going to be an issue.

    If the interviews are being nasty, then, sure--that's stress. But by far, for me, that's come from non-whiteboard situations.

    If you're attacking people for syntax errors in whiteboarding, you're an ***.

    If you're jumping on ANY mistake as soon as it hits the board, you're an ***.

    These days, CoderPad and it's ilk have become more favored. That's acceptable 1-on-1, but you need some process to have it work for more.

    And if you can BS your way through a technical interview, that's on the interviewer. I've had candidates try that. I've been polite.

    1. Bbuckley

      Re: That's stress?

      I don't know what companies you have worked for but any company that wants to have well-designed software would never, I repeat never, require software engineers to "think on their feet". How many building architects building, say, a skyscraper, would need to "think on their feet". And would you get in the lift in such a construction?

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: That's stress?

        Ever have to debug something in production?

  24. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Interview questions

    (1 Facetiously) Obviously the response, after the interviewee has been asked to code a solution on a whiteboard or flip chart, at the end of the interview, when they ask "Do you have any questions", is to say something like:

    "Yes. Here's the pen. Please write the code in C++ for determining your position from 12 GPS satellites in Earth orbit on the whiteboard, in the time you allowed me to solve your problem." Then just look at them while they flounder.

    (2 Seriously). I once went for an interview for a security consultant position in a large tech consultancy firm in London. There were two interviewers. When one asked a question, the other would always interrupt my answer whenever I got to an 'and', 'or', or merely paused for breath. And I mean EVERY answer. For a whole hour. The only time they did not interrupt me was when I gave my 5 minute 'presentation' on 'Identity' (which was all the vogue at the time, I wonder what the topic is now). I left that interview in a state of shock. After all, I was being interviewed for a job providing Information Security advice, not Donald Trump's press secretary. After a couple of days I seriously considered writing to them saying their interview technique was so rude and aggressive I would not be working for them whatever they offered me. But then I thought, why help the opposition?

    1. USER100

      Re: Interview questions

      Modern job interviews are indeed rude and aggressive. They seem to have evolved so that part of the point is to entertain the interviewer(s) at the expense of the interviewee. Since the 70s, when arguably the unions had too much power, the pendulum has maybe swung too far the other way (Personnel became HR, now = management goons etc.).

      It's all part of the widening power gradient between employer and employee. E.g. stupid questions like "Why do you want this job?" "Where do you see yourself [at some future point]?" "Describe a situation when you've had a disagreement..." HOW ABOUT NOW, DICKHEAD!

  25. TheSkunkyMonk

    100% agree its a terrible method and one of the reasons I stopped pursuing my programming career outside of my own enjoyment as it is so competitive and most programmers who do get the jobs just seem to write pure over complicated ego code to show off instead of efficiency, its the same with repair these days as well, interviews who don't have a clue asking idiotic questions, ffs I Can tell if a power cable is working just by the noise it makes when it goes into the psu, and no im not going to fuck around when I know all the beep codes off by heart.

  26. baud

    I agree that live coding session (with people looking over your shoulder) seems like a counter-productive idea. But selecting people who can stay cool under pressure (with preparation) can be useful when you have those meetings where head honchos ask questions like 'what happened last week?' 'why won't the project be finished at this date?' 'Why do you need another server'...

    Also copying Google's interview techniques is a bone-headed idea, as Google receive a lot of highly-qualified applications, so it can afford to reject 99% of applicants.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Right, there is no stress in dev shops, no deadlines, no crunch times, and you never have work with a team t even though several by the laws of statistics will not rub you the wrong way and may even be competing with you for a promotion, project lead ect., so lets stop weeding out the player who will fold the second the going gets tough and increase our project failure rate.

    Job interview stress test scenarios are very legitimate. It is probably 95% of what Astronaut testing and selection is all about beyond mere academic requirements.

    Crybabies gotta cry

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      But most people are not applying for jobs where an issue at a specific time-point requires life-or-death decisions*. By all means, stress-test these individuals, but there are so few of these roles that they constitute a special case, not a general condition.

      *which are, by definition, high-stress and can't be dealt with by everyone.

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    It's like the argument for junior doctors working 80 hour weeks to "prove" they can do it.

    Do you actually want competent medal staff or just those who can do the job literally asleep?

    This "stress test" macho bu***hit is exactly that.


  29. Daedalus

    How interesting.....

    Test subjects: undergraduate and graduate students with knowledge of Java etc.

    Uh oh. Haven't we seen this in "studies" before? Psychology papers touting "findings" that turn out to be limited to a small section of the population but are touted as being universal?

    Would a company really subject a freshly minted graduate to that kind of interview? More fool them. Or maybe not. The young "engineers" I have seen handling presentation stress badly, turned out to be pretty bad at their jobs anyway. On the other hand beware of smooth talkers too. Somewhere between puking and blagging there is competency. The real problem is that the interviewers tend to be Peter Principle graduates: equipped for jobs they no longer do, having risen to their own level of incompetence.

  30. fidodogbreath

    Possible solution

    he stressed that's a gross oversimplification because men experience performance anxiety too

    "Ask your doctor if Cialis for Panel Interviews is right for you."

  31. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    I interview tecnical personnel occasionally

    Write code on whiteboard? Never. Some quick'n'dirty architecture diagrams - sure, but not code. I do a first interview, mostly looking at how the candidate presents himself/herself, and how much awareness is manifested of the context of the past job(s). "I wrote C/python/java/C#/whatever" functions - not interesting, next! "There is this huge problem in the Universe and this is how what I did helped solve it" gets full marks.

    And then I ask for some non-confidential code samples or offer a home assignment if the candidate hasn't got a "portfolio". Something that should take no more than a few hours of thinking and maybe 30-40 minutes of actual code-writing. The specification includes a meta-requirement that it does not matter if the code actually compiles, runs, or produces the expected result (good candidates will do their best, anyway). Send in your solution, partial though it may be, by Wednesday and come for another chat on Thursday and explain your design choices, discuss tradeoffs, etc., etc. That's the interesting part, always. This kind of "filtering by design review" works very well, in my experience. I never cease to be amazed by what a really good candidate can produce over a weekend - worthwhile people just shine (and show they are willing to invest time and effort in getting the job). StackOverflow copy/paste, on the other hand, is totally trivial to filter out - it's just a matter of personality, or lack thereof, showing.

    1. DCFusor

      Re: I interview tecnical personnel occasionally

      I like the way you think. That's pretty much the sort of thing I used to look at.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The last time I went for a coding job

    I knew I was in trouble immediately because they asked if I'd brought my own development laptop. Errrr. No.

    So I was sat at one of their PCs and asked to write a number of executable programs in c that would do some trivially simple stuff ('Write out any number with commas separating digits at significant points and so on).

    I could write the functions easily enough - at that point I'd been a programmer for 20 years. But I couldn't for the life of me remember how to turn that into an executable because I hadn't written a self-contained program from scratch since I'd been at university, just adding new functionality and libraries to an increasingly mature product. I could vaguely remember something involving main () and that was about it.

    Never mind, i thought, the algorithms are the main thing, so I presented them with an explanation - 'ha ha been years since, never needed to, good stuff this though etc'. But I could tell by the air of disdain that I wasn't going to get the job and I was dead right.

  33. GrahamRJ

    As an embedded software engineer, I certainly do use whiteboard exercises (actually more usually done on paper). Since we're working with C, I have a standard question for inserting values in a sorted linked list - easy to explain, but with a few corner cases which need to be spotted. As a matter of course, I give them 15 minutes or so on their own for it, because I know that trying to perform with people watching. I'm up-front with them that the purpose is not to have perfect answers to all the questions, it's to use the questions to have a technical conversation.

    If they do the whole thing perfectly, then great. More usually, I'll ask "what happens if you get this?" and then it's a case of seeing how they deal with fault-finding for an input they hadn't anticipated. If they get stuck, I'll lead them with hints to help them solve it. The aim is very much to reduce the pressure on them and make the exercise more collaborative.

    Before that, I have a few more basic questions which establish that the interviewee has actually used C in anger. Some are a little specific to embedded, so if the interviewee doesn't know, I'll explain what they mean and see if they can think of a context they'd be useful.

    As far as sexism goes though, IMO that's already happened before anyone walks in the door. I've reviewed CVs for dozens of people, and I've had precisely one woman's CV sent to me. My uni course had 110 guys and 4 women. If women aren't doing subjects which lead to engineering at school, and they aren't taking engineering at uni, we won't have female engineers on the other side. I've known a few bloody good female engineers in my 25 years in industry, and I never saw any male engineer look down on them. A few managers and sales-drones have, mind you, but there's tended to be push-back if that happens.

  34. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Stupid testing approach seems stupid

    Write actual code in front of an audience in real time with them looking over your shoulder and commenting.

    Are you f**king kidding me?

    That said my 2nd "interview" for a job put me in a room on my own for 2 hours.

    Here are your logins. Here's the job description. If you need them the manuals for the language and environment are over there.

    Code the app (standard kind of business task in this environment). It runs. You're in.

    I got the job. But that's requires the employer do actual work to prepare for an interview. Not this BS.

  35. Bbuckley

    Well the first thing that occurred to me was 'no shit Sherlock!'. Really? It takes a scientific study to prove what is bleedin obvious.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like