A programmer, a coder, and a developer walk into an interview…

Two Three articles about interviewing programmers (or software engineers) caught my eye today.

First Google tells us that “brainteasers are a complete waste of time.” I’ll admit, I’m no “senior vice president of people operations” but as a liberal arts guy who spent a lot of time understanding problem solving in math and physics as well as how to explain both the problem and the solution, I think there is value in seeing how candidates (or even coworkers) go about problem solving. On the other hand I completely agree with giving less weight to SAT scores and GPAs.

At the opposite end, Scott Hanselman has a great list of software engineer interview questions that are good for both interviewers and candidates to practice with. And Scott nails the purpose of questions like this with “it’s ultimately more important to understand if someone can Solve Problems and if Their Head is Screwed on Straight.”

Update: And I just spotted this article too that entry level applicants are close to “useless.” with “Being employable today is all about knowing how to communicate to employers that you have intelligence quotient as well as educational quotient.” It doesn’t matter how great a programmer you are, how many languages you know if for example you can’t communicate what you know, explain why your solution is better, or listen and accept a better solution when a co-worker has one.

Wrox’s 3rd edition of Programming Interviews Exposed has long been the gold standard book for programmers (and their interviewers) to prep for interviews. I think it fits nicely between the “brain teaser” end of the spectrum and some of the more specific questions Scott asks.

I’m also happy to announce that through Wiley we have a new addition for your programming interview prep bookshelf: Wiley’s Ace the Programming Interview: 160 Questions and Answers for Success. The chapters group the questions into some nice blocks such as fundamentals (if you can’t answer these in the interview, don’t apply), quirks (if you are applying for a job as a “Senior” engineer with 3 years experience in XYZ you’d better know the quirks of the language), and yes “notorious” interview questions involving mountains, golf balls, and buses.

One piece of advice from the Programming Interviews Exposed introduction: don’t memorize the questions and answers. You’re not going to be asked specific questions from this list. Use them instead to refresh your memory on topics you might not have formally explained since college. Or use them to identify gaps in your own knowledge and work hard to improve your actual understanding before the interview. If the coding you’ve been doing lately seems rote and doesn’t challenge you and you’re applying for a more challenging position, make sure you’re ready to be challenged at the interview.  I’ll paraphrase Scott and say “if you go into an interview tomorrow and you look across the table and the interviewer … and is reading from [one of these books], that you should excuse yourself and run.”

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One response to “A programmer, a coder, and a developer walk into an interview…”

  1. Java67 says:

    Indeed, I am big fan of Wrox’s Programming Interviews Exposed, an amazing piece, which a programmer just can’t afford not to have, especially at freshers level.

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