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Discussion on: Let Your Code Do the Talking

ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

I don't disagree with the code test in principle, but I think it makes a lot of assumptions about candidates. When I am looking for a new job because I am working 60+ hours a week, and I have 5 companies asking for a coding test, I have to prioritize which ones I attempt and which ones I abandon because short of sacrificing my mental and physical health further, I cannot complete it.

If I had a family or SO, I would much rather be spending time with them. I basically disappear from the lives of friends and family members during job searches. If a candidate has a child with a disability that demands intensive care, you're just going to assume they "[don't] really want to work here?" If I volunteer as an EMT and have to fit 6-24 hour shifts into my life, you're going to assume similar?

I understand your intention wasn't to discriminate with a code test, but that's a possible outcome. There needs to be reasonable limits to a code test. I would suggest timeboxing it to 4 hours or less, providing a boilerplate solution so candidates can spend time actually solving a problem instead of setting up Webpack, and accepting open-source contributions in lieu of an assignment.

Even with those extremes, things can still get out of hand. I had an employer ask me to design an API + front-end using idiomatic Go code in 3 hours that demonstrated secure coding principles. I've never used Go before and the employer knew that. This was for a security-related position, so I assumed honesty would be one of the most key factors behind my evaluation, so I turned in an incomplete solution, but gave a list of probably 50 bullet points of secure decisions that I could add to the site that I didn't have a chance to get to. I could tell that they were disappointed (almost to the point of bewilderment) when I admitted I didn't have a running solution because I would have to lie about how long I worked on it to accept it under the conditions I had been given.

They immediately ceased contact with me. By the way, what's up with companies being too lazy to tell candidates they are no longer under consideration? A canned e-mail is better than limbo. Obviously, personally calling the candidate and giving them constructive criticism would be the most ideal scenario, but it's not always possible. I remember the companies that ghost me and it forms a strong opinion about the company in my mind.

And regarding requirements, you better make sure your requirements are damn clear if you are going to take divergence from requirements as a strike against the candidate. What if you give terrible requirements? I always assume a company wants me to make decisions of my own and get something workable rather than bothering them, since the recruiter won't have a clue and you probably want your programmers working instead of having to conduct a requirements clarification session with every candidate.

Also, you said that non-OOP code is "not taking it seriously." What if I prefer functional programming and think that OOP is often a massively flawed solution? Apparently you're going to just make a snap judgment against me and not take me seriously because we have differing opinions on programming styles.

I have also noticed an inverse relationship between length of coding assignment and salary. Companies with ridiculously long coding assessments will almost always pay 15-20% less than companies with shorter assessments. Keep in mind your choice of assessment speaks about your company as well, and you can send loud and clear messages that you don't care about people (ghosting candidates), you disrespect their time or expect wage slaves (ridiculous assessment) or other messages by how you treat candidates and the expectations you set.

If you can't come up with a coding challenge that can accurately assess candidates without requiring them to waste many hours of their precious time, maybe your company doesn't view employees as people with diverse lifestyles outside of their job, lacks the technical knowledge to create a challenging assessment with reasonable completion time, is run by narcissists, has a workaholic culture, lacks get the point.

tl;drCoding tests are a 2-way avenue. They say as much about you as they do about the candidate.

sohjsolwin profile image

Many very good points.

I would suggest timeboxing it to 4 hours or less, providing a boilerplate solution so candidates can spend time actually solving a problem instead of setting up Webpack, and accepting open-source contributions in lieu of an assignment.

Funny you should mention these, because they're all items that we either have currently, or are in discussions on integrating into our process. Our current style of coding tests are typically expected to take between 2-4 hours on average to complete based on your skill level. You're welcome to spend more time if you want to (no time limit to turn it in), but generally what you can accomplish in about 4 hours is enough of a gauge for what we're looking for.

Open-source contributions are a little harder to gauge, since they can have much wider variety than the relatively well defined box the code test fits inside of, but they can often be a more accurate portrayal of the applicant's skill set and coding styles.

you better make sure your requirements are damn clear if you are going to take divergence from requirements as a strike against the candidate. What if you give terrible requirements?

Absolutely true. This is one of the main reasons that all of our current coding tests (we have 3 the applicant can select from) include sample input and expected output, as well as text explanations of the expected usage and requirements for the test. "Divergence from requirements" in this case means that an explicit requirement was ignored, or the stock provided test cases don't produce the provided expected output. We'll test a few extra cases as well and some edge cases to see how you interpreted the assignment, but the base cases are what cover the central logic that you're expected to implement, and if that works properly, everything else is just bonus. You're able to document your assumptions and can reach out to our team (not only the recruiter) if you have questions/misunderstandings of the assignment as well.

At the end of the day, we're looking for people that think and ask questions, not just folks to come in and blindly hammer away at a keyboard for hours. If a ticket or feature request comes through that doesn't make sense (granted, it likely would be caught and marked invalid long before reaching one of our engineers, but every one here's human, so it's not impossible for a ticket to slip through the filters eventually), we want that engineer to ask questions, get clarification, verify, and if necessary, push back on the ticket when necessary. If something doesn't seem right, you're empowered to raise the question.

All in all, your assessment of code tests was entirely valid and eerily spot on (we even have a volunteer EMT on our team as well).

From your profile, I see that you're currently looking for new opportunities. If that's still the case, based on your profile and LinkedIn, I think your skill sets and experience align pretty well with the tools and technologies we use here at DealerOn. Apparently you even have a recommendation from a former classmate of yours and current coworker of mine here at DealerOn.

We have a few full time remote folks now, and I believe we're open to expanding that for candidates with prior experience being fully remote (I see your location and most of your prior experience is in George, but you worked for a company in Maryland for a time, though no indication if that was remote or on site). If you're interested, I would encourage you to apply. I think your skill set, experience, and penchant for asking questions and calling out where you see ways to improve something would fit in well here.

ssimontis profile image
Scott Simontis

I'm going to go ahead and apply! I came very close to applying right before I left Maryland/DC and decided to go back to Atlanta instead. If I can get through the process quickly, it's definitely a position I'd love to consider.

adamrmckee profile image
Adam McKee Author

I don't disagree with much of what you said. Let me first get a couple of things out of the way, just to clarify:

  1. DealerOn doesn't "ghost" candidates. We always review the code tests as soon as is reasonably possible (usually within 24-48 hours) and always get right back with them letting them know the result. While I frequently provide some detailed feedback to our recruiter to pass along, in one recent case the candidate send an email asking what they could have done better, as they were looking to improve. I gave a long response, as I really liked that attitude and felt an obligation to be as clear and transparent with the candidate, given their stated desire to learn from their mistakes on the test.

  2. We have removed the time limitation from our code test for a couple of reasons. #1, it's not enforceable without having the person in our office while they're taking it. #2, things come up in your personal life and we didn't want people to feel that they needed to sacrifice just to get us a code test on time. The fact that we're almost always hiring makes this easier for us.

  3. I actually have a special needs child, and am fully aware of the time commitments associated with that. That being said, I took DealerOn's code test prior to being hired here. It wasn't too bad, and can be done in a few hours if you're efficient.

  4. Our code test is very basic, and the requirements are clear, except in areas where we specifically want to see how you can fill in the gaps. What we're usually looking for are basic attention to detail. For example, we provide a set of sample inputs and the expected outputs. When we receive a submission that doesn't work with the given sample inputs, it's a pretty bad sign. Also, not only do we not require installing webpack for our code test, we specifically state that we only want you to use what comes by default with .Net or Java, depending on what you use for your test. We don't want to have to spend hours setting up and environment just to evaluate your code test either. :-)

Bottom line: Do we miss out on candidates from time to time due to our code test? Almost certainly. But we've also been extremely successful in hiring great candidates and our turnover rate has been very low. The purpose of this article wasn't to defend DealerOn's use of a code test, but to recognize that code tests are a reality in the software industry at this time and there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of doing well on them. It isn't targeted at very senior engineers, as they likely know most of this anyway.

Thanks for the comments.