A Whiteboard Backlash

On more than one occasion I’ve hated on whiteboard interview. Paraphrasing the late great Douglas Adams I’ve frequently described most whiteboard interviews in my life as “Almost, but not quite, entirely useless.” But this isn’t really about me, it’s about what these do to already underrepresented groups in our industry.

Tech Blogger Ted Dzubia (an admittedly controversial figure) described the only fan of whiteboard interviews as:

“…a sequentially numbered employee at a company with a well-tracked ticker symbol, and his only outlet of authority is sweating down some poor sod in a windowless interview room, asking questions about sorting integers in linear time.”

I found the recent trend of high profile figures confessing that they would fail a whiteboard interview. It started with David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the RoR framework.

“Hello, my name is David. I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard. I look code up on the internet all the time. I don’t do riddles.”

The post immediately struck a chord with many people… and it went viral. Check out Adrianne Jeffries great post on this, and why it matters.
Programmers are confessing their coding sins to protest a broken job interview process

Personally, I’ve always been interested in how a candidate will solve a real-world problem. If you’ve ever been interviewed by me, the chances are before the interview you got requirements to solve a fairly typical problem (1-2 hours work). You weren’t timed, you had access to any tools and resources you wished, and nobody was standing over your shoulder. I clearly state they can use any language, framework, tools, resources, etc.

In the actual interview we would discuss what you did and why you made the decisions you made. I can learn more about a candidate in 30 minutes this way than I could in a week of whiteboard riddles.

How do you handle the interview process?


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