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Over on TechCrunch, there's a spirited discussion about what emphasis should be placed on coding during software engineering interviews. The common complaint is that people who can't get the "easy stuff" right shouldn't be hired, period. The counterargument (which I tend to agree with) is that it is not practical to commit specific algorithms to memory (particularly for the purposes of regurgitating them at interviews), because this is not required on the job. It is more important, IMO, to understand what the fundamental algorithms do, how well they perform, and to be able to implement and/or debug them using reference material if necessary.

There is a growing movement to have people bring in their own programs to discuss. I don't have a problem with this, but it may be problematic for people who work on projects where the code is proprietary and therefore cannot be let outside of the company (except under a nondisclosure agreement, which would suggest that you needed to tell your employer that you are in the process of interviewing, if you're currently employed). Working on an open-source project under a GPL license can make it possible for you to bring something to the interview to discuss that is not proprietary, and also protected from unauthorized use. (If you use it, you have to include all of the licensing info.) Some people don't have time or the inclination to work on open-source projects, however.

I've mentioned before that the current ethos of software engineering interviews is captured in Joel Spolsky's essays. Some people (like me) have questioned this approach. I found another individual, an ex-Googler named Jean Hsu, who notes that there may be some people who do not do well on these interviews, but are at least as competent on the job as the people who do. It would be interesting to have a panel discussion between people who espouse the different points of view with regards to software engineering interviews. It would also be good if some members of US Congress could attend the discussion, in order to better inform them why some companies claim to have trouble finding qualified people, and compare their interviewing strategies to accepted norms in other professional disciplines.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
jessiehl
May. 15th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
and compare their interviewing strategies to accepted norms in other professional disciplines.

I don't know that software engineering should WANT to ape other professional disciplines. Have you ever talked to corporate lawyers about their interviewing processes? Among other things, they judge people on how polished their social skills are (and they have a much higher standard for polished than geeks do), and most of the decision to interview in the first place is based on grades and grades-related honors.

My mother is a patent lawyer at a corporate firm. This firm requires each candidate to be evaluated by at least one person outside of their prospective department. The outside evaluator is the bane of the patent law department. Because patent law tends to attract geekier people (like science and engineering majors) than the rest of corporate law, their candidates are forever getting dinged by the evaluators for social reasons. They recently had a former molecular biologist, who got a PhD and a few years of biotech industry experience in before going to law school, interviewing for a patent law job, and the outside evaluator gave the person a bad rating and said that the firm could do a lot better. Everyone else - the people who actually know things about patent law - gave the candidate stellar reviews. They managed to overrule the outside evaluator and hire the guy.
gregbo
May. 16th, 2011 01:33 am (UTC)
It's not so much that I think the software industry should emulate other industries' hiring practices, but before raising visa caps or creating new visas, the US Congress should investigate why the software industry continues to claim that it is unable to find qualified people. Are there really actual shortages? Perhaps the questions being asked do not provide enough information to be able to determine whether candidates are qualified, or the industry is discouraging people who might otherwise enter it from doing so.
jyhsu
Oct. 19th, 2011 06:03 am (UTC)
hello
Hi,

Thanks for stopping by jeanhsu.com and I appreciated your comment on the last post I had. I agree with you whole-heartedly--I enjoy doing other things outside of work, though sometimes if I am excited about a side-project I may work on that as well. I don't think that makes me a bad coder or a half-way bad coder =). Anyways, just wanted to say hi and thanks!

Jean
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