DEV Community


Discussion on: I failed an interview because of an algorithm

grok profile image
Sterling Hamilton

The industry is in a weird place. We've never truly had a "way". There was never a Tao for developers or technical people in general. The educational paths are inconsistent and often dated. The interview processes do not answer fundamental questions like "Can this person do job A?". Salary is often tied to intangibles and is mostly based on soft skills and timing. It has been brain washed and established weird corporate cult followings.

I've been fortunate to be in the hiring position and I was privileged to be able to sit down and meet with many developers in my career. When I first started hiring and doing interviews, I didn't know what I was doing — so I went off the playbooks that the industry recommended and that HR peddled.

  1. Academic Questions: "Reverse Binary Search", "Linked List", "Fizzbuzz".
  2. Tropes: "What makes you a good fit?", "Tell me about a time you worked through a problem with a co-worker."
  3. Take home work: "For $$$ please build a blog and we'll tell you how you did." or "For free, please build an e-commerce site and we'll compare it to what we do."

None of that works. It's cruel. The people that do well at those are people who have become really good at interviewing — not people who will be good at the job.

I decided that was not how I was going to hire people.


  1. All questions had to be answerable in the room.
  2. All questions had to be in a category you could prepare for prior to the interview.
  3. All questions had to be directly related to the job.
  4. All questions have to be reviewed and critiqued by the team they will be joining.
  5. All team members need to have buy-in to the line that is being drawn on who is brought in and who is not.
  6. No take home work.

The goal was that at the end of the interview, I should be able to confidently say "This person can do the job, because they did it in the interview."

Stayed away from asking about degrees. Stayed away from academic questions. Became more interested in applied knowledge and demonstrated experience. Focused on things that were only relevant to getting the jobs done.

Lo and behold, the interviewers were happier, because if they didn't qualify it was apparent as to why. Interviewees were happy for the exact same reason.

Our quality of hiring went up, our pipeline for hiring filled out.

It also allowed us to frequently gauge where we needed growth internally because we'd have to look inwards about what we wanted and what we already had, and whether or not there was a discrepancy.

Remember that when you interview at a company, academic questions are probably a red flag. You are also interviewing them. If they demonstrate that they don't know how to interview, they may be demonstrating that they may not be worth working for.