Whether on a whiteboard, a timed challenge at the office, or a take-home project, many senior-level developers and engineers are asking themselves if coding challenges are still something they should have to participate in.
It’s an understandable consideration if you’re an experienced tech professional. Should you, a ten-year veteran of fill-in-the-blank-language, be asked to show your work? More to the point, should a company still consider you if a coding test is rebuffed?
There’s no clear path forward here. If you refuse any part of the interview process, expect the company to stop the process altogether. Put yourself in their shoes: Why would they want to hire someone who refuses an industry-standard practice for the interview process?
If you refuse to do some coding as part of the interview process, this is the likely scenario. To a potential employer, your refusal to show your skillset is not a ‘gotcha’ moment; it shows them you’re willing to be difficult about something fairly standard. In addition to skilled tech professionals, companies are hiring for culture. By refusing to do any coding at all, you’re drawing lines in the sand before you’ve signed an offer of employment.
Some “industry standard” indignities shouldn’t exist. If you’re asked to stand at the whiteboard and invert a binary tree or some such nonsense, most hiring managers would likely accept your counter-offer of a coding challenge or take-home work. But rather than say “I’m not doing that,” position it like this:
I’m not sure a whiteboard is the best showcase for proving my knowledge. I understand why we have them, but I’d be far more comfortable with a mini project where I can use every developer’s two best friends: documentation and the web.
(Many interviewers or hiring managers haven’t thought beyond whiteboards. It’s entirely possible they hate them as much as tech pros do, so offering up an alternative may give them an ‘out’ they didn’t know existed.)
Beyond the whiteboard, there are two core options for hiring firms: take-home projects, and on-site testing. The on-site coding challenges are typically what you’d expect: they sit you down at a machine, explain what they’re looking for, and give you a timeframe to complete the project. Sometimes the company is just looking to see that you know some basics. Other times, the projects are impossible. They just want to see how much you can accomplish.
The on-site challenge is, to us, a fair compromise. It’s not the indignity of a whiteboard, but helps your potential employer see that you grasp core competencies. Take-home challenges are a bit more comfortable, but have their own considerations.
First, consider if the company is asking you to do work on their platform as a ‘test.’ Are they asking you to write code they can reuse or slip into their stack? Did they ask you to squash a bug or add a feature for an existing app or service? That’s not a challenge – that’s work.
Second, take-home coding challenges can be lengthy. Some companies give you a wink-and-a-nod that you should only spend a few hours on your project, knowing you’ll invest as much time as is necessary. One Redditor claims to have successfully billed companies for take-home projects, though we’ve not heard of anyone owning up to this beyond the anonymity of Reddit. But, if a project yielded results the company could use in production, or you’ve been asked to spend a day or better on said challenge, you wouldn’t be out of line to inquire about compensation of some sort.
Refusing any coding as part of the interview process will most likely end the process. This isn’t great unless you’re looking for an easy way out of interviewing for a company you’re unsure of. Asking for projects where you can sit at a computer and actually code are better options, though the company may not be set up for that. A take-home project is far more comfortable, though the scope can be wider, and we’re not a fan of tech professionals spending hours on something that will get the once-over from a busy team lead.
You know your skillset. Potential employers simply want to know you’re the right person for the job. Your best move is to find common ground so they see what you’re capable of, and you don’t feel taken advantage of.