Coding Challenges Can Get You a Job

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.

The most recent company to offer jobs based on programming ability is the online document website . It asks you to write a really good bot that can win in an online game. Using JavaScript and their API, your bot goes head to head against another one to try and capture the most fruit.

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.

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3 Responses to “Coding Challenges Can Get You a Job”

  1. Thanks for the post, David! As you noted, one of the great things about coding is that it can be learned outside expensive universities and other costly courses. Learning to code definitely requires a whole lot of motivation and patience, but is doable.

    Btw, what do you think the “democratization” of coding in the form of free online courses etc. will lead to? Will there be more seriously good programmers or will there simply be more code-literate people? Or, even worse, will there just be a lot of self-proclaimed “coding experts”?

  2. I think it will be mostly fad programmers… ya know people who code VB and Mobile Platforms, but cant tell you what a pointer is. I’ve been scoping InterviewStreet/CodeStreet and all challenges I see are for mobile apps. I knew I should have learn javascript instead of ASM 🙁