Some companies run programming challenges to sift out the wheat from the chaff, and the prizes often include job interviews. Facebook has been running one such online test, allowing two hours to solve the problem it presents. Complete the challenge — which is considered fiendishly difficult — and you get a telephone interview. It’s not a guaranteed job offer, but it’s a step in the right direction.
For those whose resumes always get filed in the trash at recruitment agencies, these events can often be a back door to a job. Agencies can be very conservative in their filtering of applications and passing them on to clients. Some companies have recognized the problem, and programming challenges are the result.
The challenge approach doesn’t work for everyone. But if you’re a cutting-edge company that’s looking for the very best, you may want to include people who have never been to college or who dropped out before getting their degree. Remember, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard to found Microsoft. Of course, that was almost 40 years ago, when jobs were chasing candidates. That’s less of an option now because recruiters are often driven by credentialism.
But there’s hope for the self-taught (with no degree) in the challenge approach. And it may increase soon because of the growth of free online courses.
Of course, it’s not always about finding potential employees. Sometimes a programming challenge can be just to find better ways to make money. For example, in 2009 Netflix offered $1 million for the improvement of its recommendation algorithm by 10 percent. It took three years for someone to win it, but the enhancement may already have paid for itself in increased business.